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Even towboat workers practice coronavirus safety on the Illinois River

April 26, 2020   Peoria Journal Star

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ON THE ILLINOIS RIVER — As a towboat approaches a Lacon grain terminal Wednesday, the boat’s captain, Russ Edwards, alone in the pilothouse, scales back the power to the 460-horsepower Detroit diesel engine to slow its advance to the dock.


Below him on the boat’s deck, in the newest addition to the process, deckhands Aaron Rusher and Cayden Edwards don protective masks. The extra step in the face of the coronavirus epidemic is what Edwards hopes will keep the crews safer in an already challenging work environment on the Illinois River.


“Our greatest interaction with others outside of our own crew is with the transfer process with the line boats,” says Edwards.


The crew members of the line boats, larger towboats that travel the river between St. Louis and Chicago and beyond, work in close proximity with the Trumbull crew.


Trumbull River Service works out of its Lacon base where it fleets barges, dropped off empty by line boats, in a holding area along the river. When called, they pull a designated empty barge and delivers it to a river-side terminal to be loaded with grain.The crew then later retrieves the loaded barge and fits it in with the dozen or so other barges lashed to the front of the line boat, sending it on its way north or south on the river.


That is the part of the process in which Edwards mandates the crew don its masks as their way to protect themselves from COVID-19. He watched the number of cases of contamination advance around the world in the past two months and knew he had to offer the dozen employees the opportunity to protect themselves. He ordered the special masks that arrived six weeks later and handed them out to the employees, replacing the dust masks crews had used up to that point.


“I’ve noticed the increase in the use of masks on the line boats,” Edwards noted, “It depends on the company, but on some you see the whole crew wearing masks. Even out here on the river, it’s never very far from our thoughts.”