Floating Food Down the Mississippi. West Memphis, ARK.

Posted on October 11, 2013



The harvest was in full swing when we passed through southern Illinois a few days ago.

Now that we’re in Memphis, camped along the Mississippi River, we have probably seen some of that grain float by.

The Mississippi, of course, is a watery highway for barge traffic. Every type of commodity you can think of goes up and down the river 24/7.

After all, the five ports on the lower Mississippi combine to form the nation’s largest port complex in terms of tonnage.

During harvest time, places like Consolidated Grain and Barge Co. – whose West Memphis terminal is just east of our RV park – are really humming. On our way back to the park the other day we saw 15 tractor trailers parked along the side of the road at the CGB entrance, waiting their turn to offload into barges.photo (14)

It takes 60 semi loads of grain to fill up one barge, and we’re seeing at least two consists of 12 to 15 barges chugging down river every day.

Barges are lashed together with steel cables usually 1 to 1.5 in. in diameter, and are pushed by a towboat.  The term “towboat” is a left-over from steamboat days. When their  fortunes began to decline thanks to competition from railroads, steamboats began to “tow” wooden barges alongside to earn additional revenue.

Towboats range in size from less than 600 horsepower up to 11,100 horsepower. Most towboats are from 35 to 200 feet long, and 21 to 56 feet wide.

And once they set off, they don’t stop until they reach their destination.  Groceries, mail and fuel are delivered by boat when needed, and transferred on the fly so all that grain can continue to go, as Johnny Horton said, …” down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.”barge