His name is Daniel. It’s the name he was christened with, the name known by all of our sisters and brothers, cousins, aunts and uncles, family and friends. However, during the years he worked as a deckhand on towboats that transport thousands of tons of cargo up and down the Mississippi River, his name was “Chicago.”
I drew this portrait of him when we were on board the Twain Marengo, a twin-engine 5,600 horsepower vessel on its way upriver from Baton Rouge, Louisiana to St. Paul, Minnesota. I was a guest passenger; he was working as part of a crew of nine bargemen. (By the way, the vessels are called ”towboats” even though they push the barges ahead of them rather than pull them behind.) On this voyage, the Twain Marengo was towing/pushing 15 barges loaded with 22,000 tons of coal, road salt, wheat, paper, corn and tinplate. Each barge measured 33 ft. wide and 200 ft. in length. When they were all yoked together with steel cables and cabled to the Twain Marengo, the whole lot measured nearly a ¼ mile in length, longer than the length of the Queen Mary. And all of this tonnage of boat and cargo was pushing against the flow of one of the most relentless forces on Earth, the Mississippi River.
In spite of the massive sizes of the boat and the barges, a malfunction of one of the smallest components can shut down everything. In this watercolor, my brother is repairing a small part of one of the diesel engines. The painting is only a small memory of our time together on the River. I intend to write a longer story of that voyage. The first part, of course, will be an answer to the question: Dan, how in the world did you get the name, “Chicago?”