On behalf of the Pennsy Barge Collective I pass along the following..
From the late 19th to the late 20th century hundreds of covered barges plied New York waters, transferring cargoes from ships to railcars at landside terminals in New York harbor or transporting them north to ports along the Hudson River. Back then the movement of goods was powered by muscle, steam and diesel. But soon the technologies that spurred globalization diminished the rich culture of bargemen and stevedores, and eventually rendered these barges obsolete. Today a group of experienced, dedicated mariners is working to save a barge that is the last vessel of its kind.
In December 2009, a group of marine engineers, workboat captains, and railroad aficionados learned that the last intact wood-and-steel barge that had been operated by the Pennsylvania Railroad Corp. was at risk of being destroyed. Determined not to let this piece of maritime heritage disappear, they banded together to acquire the craft. Their immediate goal has been to stabilize the barge to prevent further damage. Thereafter, they hope to share this rare industrial artifact with waterfront communities along the Hudson River, New York State Barge Canal and Long Island Sound. The special appeal of Pennsy 399 is her authenticity. She’s rare both because no other vessel like her still exists, and because the barge is not a replica but rather a genuine artifact of a lost era. As a work vessel, she has humble origins, yet the craftsmanship with which she was built is a testament to the tough duties she performed, and certain design elements reflect her lasting quality.
Despite having been built to last, the barge is imperiled after enduring two decades of inconsistent upkeep. Currently Pennsy 399 is berthed in the New York Canal Corporation graving dock in Waterford, N.Y., where her new owners and volunteers are busy cropping and renewing wasted steel from the hull, repairing steel bulkheads and framing, and replacing deckhouse wood siding in preparation for a complete paint job.
The Pennsylvania Barge Collective, as the ten partners call themselves, are asking your help in raising $30,000 for this first round of stabilization work which needs to be completed by September. A full restoration, which will take place over the next two years, will cost between $50,000 and $100,000. Your donation will offer much-needed support.
Each of the Collective members brings multiple, relevant skill-sets to the project. All have experience with historic restoration and historic vessel operation, and most are U.S. Coast Guard-licensed marine engineers and captains. With this high level of skilled participants, Pennsy Barge Collective brings an unusual breadth of knowledge to the restoration effort. The Collective possesses the in-house ability to correctly assess what work needs to be done, and can leverage contacts in the marine industry—including tug owners, welders, shipyard workers—to ensure that the work meets high standards.
Once the barge has been restored, Pennsy Barge Collective plans to operate the vessel in New York waters as a unique educational and recreational venue. The barge will travel with a tug to communities for scheduled programs and special events. Potential on-board guests may include school groups learning about the working history of the river, Sea Scouts holding a fundraiser, and the general public attending lectures, art shows and other community events.
The barge, with its evocative, historic character, may also be used as an extraordinary venue for private parties, meetings, and even special musical performances recalling the boisterous folk entertainment of the bargemen. Onboard this peerless craft, visitors will reconnect with the river and its long history as a commercial waterway.
Constructed in 1942 by the American Bridge Company, a division of U.S. Steel, Pennsy 399 is a composite barge, with a steel hull and wood house, and is the only remaining one of her kind. The only other known surviving New York railroad covered barge is the all-wood Lehigh Valley #79, which is preserved as a museum in Brooklyn, New York.
Pennsy 399 measures 30 feet wide by 80 feet long. She draws 3.5 feet light barge (no cargo) and her deckhouse stands 16 feet above the waterline. She has “workaday post and beam” construction, with an expansive, open interior space reminiscent of a timber barn. Cargoes moved in covered barges commonly included sacks of coffee and cocoa beans, and wooden crates of produce hauled onboard in cargo nets through the four large doorways. These cargo doors, two on each side, display an ingenious free-hung and cantilevered design. Topped by a moveable hatch in the roof and requiring neither lower nor upper rails, the doors float off a pivot point to create a completely open space that permits loading and unloading by overhead crane. Another intriguing feature is the aft cabin. Sheathed in tongue-and-groove bead board, it is furbished with a coal stove, bunk and desk. Here, the barge captain lived aboard for days, and sometimes months, at a time, taking care of the vessel, guarding the cargo, and tallying the transfer of goods on and off the barge.
At one time long lines of barges—20 or more were typically strung behind a tug—were a common sight on the river. They were so plentiful that barges were simply abandoned along the shore when they fell out of use. Surely now, 40 years after the last working railroad-owned barge shuttled product upriver, we can appreciate the tragedy of losing this artifact of the days when railroads reigned supreme in New York harbor – when they owned tugs, barges and lighters, and, for a time, even owned the coal that was used to move cargo from ships anchored off the tip of Manhattan to warehouses all along the waterfront. Restoring this authentic Pennsylvania Barge and opening it to the public will enable people to actually see, touch, and experience a piece of that vanished world, and learn a little bit of how we arrived where we are today.
You can be part of this restoration effort. Volunteers are needed for many tasks, please contact the group at “firstname.lastname@example.org.” Or consider making a donation to save this irreplaceable artifact of New York’s commercial marine heritage. Please make checks payable to “Pennsy Barge Collective” at PO Box 1055, Port Ewen, NY 12466.
I wish they wouldn't keep calling it a barge. While in ordinary operations they were sometimes loosely referred to as "covered barges", they were technically "lighters". They were so designated in tariffs, and the whole operation of transferring freight from the railroad piers in NJ to the steamship piers around the harbor was called lighterage. I believe the technical distinction is that a barge carries cargo in the hold while a lighter carries cargo on deck, and the craft shown in the photograph is clearly a lighter. The only thing below the deck of a lighter is a hull filled with air, and the only thing above the hold of a barge is the hatch cover. A good illustration is the barge "tows" on the Mississippi River system, where the hatch cover is barely above the water line.
According to the New York Harbor Tariff they were lighters, and in those days of ICC regulation, if the tariff said something was a lighter, it was a lighter. In the railroad lighterage business in New York Harbor, the term barge was used only informally in conversation.
A lighter is a barge. A stone boat is a barge. A carfloat is a barge. A scrappie is a barge.
Actual RR blueprints, show covered barges, as guess what, "Covered Barge, Steel, Railroad Service".
I don't dispute its not a lighter by any means, but to say it isn't a barge is just plain wrong. I think there is bigger things to worry about then this, like helping out the group that saved it in the first place, not arguing about the name of it.