Monday, June 29, 2009

#7 Tow Boat Festival - Grafton, IL - June 28, 2009

#7 Tow Boat Festival - Grafton, Il - June 28, 2009

It was a small festival but the Tow Boat was the star. Meet the Twyla Luhr, a seaworthy vessel that hauls "rock" better than any other barge bully from St. Genevieve, MO to New Orleans.

Capt. Gerald was every bit as salty as I had expected. I understood every third word, and he had a look of "why the heck are you on my ship?"

These are not the little RC boats you may remember at Six Flags. These are serious showpieces for many a retired seamen. I was told this particular "Creole Queen" took 8 months to build. Yes they built it from scratch. It looked like an expensive hobby but a man in a captain hat told me that it was cheaper than RC airplanes because you don't lose everything if you crash it. Time to get some wood and motors.

They offered a Crawfish Boil! Twist, pull, squeeze and suck. That is the common eating method (For the squeamish, add a discard the yellow stuff step). For those that don't know, the yellow stuff attached to the crawfish tail is actually the liver and pancreas of the crawfish. Also referred to as Crawfish Fat. It is a delicacy for most Cajuns and an essential ingredient for Cajun/Creole cooking and especially Crawfish Etouffe.

Video of the Week. This is a good ole diddy that sums up the old time fun of this festival. Olden times but fun.

This was a last minute addition to my festival schedule. I can't honestly say I was expecting very much as an addition to my Food Festival quest, but I was happily surprised. Only a few hundred people were there and maybe 10 booths, but it provided everything a solid festival provides (Good food, Good people, and Good information). It was a beautiful drive along the the Mississippi River on a perfect sunny day, and for a minute I wished I owned a motorcycle (or a boat).

Crawfish oh Crayfish. For some good info on the crawfish and name history click here , surprisingly it is from Illinois.Or if you need a crawfish toothbrush holder than click here. Either way they are delicious, although my hands still smell like them. I did the normal "sucking of the head" but found little to no juice as hot food holding at festivals continues to be an inherent problem (you have to hold a lot of food warm for an extended amount of time). Yet, the tail meat was tasty, and I noticed the spice level after I was half way done (yes I ate the whole tray). Normally the problem is that people put too much Old Bay in their boils, but that was not the case here. On Saturday a professional Crawfish Chef even put on a "how to eat crawfish" demonstration, which I was sad to miss.

I stood in a long line in order to tour the tow boat. I know I hadn't heard the term tow boat before and thought I had heard tug boat. Apparently a tug boat pulls and a tow boat pushes. The Twyla Luhr is capable of pushing 25-30 barges carrying up to 2,000 tons of cargo. The captain produced a printout of interesting facts of his towboat which pointed out how many miles of train or semis it would take to carry the same cargo. Interesting fact: According to the Army Corps of Engineers you only need a 300' wide by 9' deep channel to push a barge. The ship has two engines with 6,800 horsepower, and has a dual strike (combustion and exhaust) piston which is 10" wide. And anyone that knows anything about a dual strike engine knows that it burns a lot of oil (ok I learned that today).

I wondered how they push that many barges without them ever going diagonal or lose control. Apparently the barges are all wired together extremely tightly with the tow boat, and it was a stupid question to ask a captain of a tow boat. I was also surprised to see the quarters and lounges, as they had leather couches and big screen tv's. We were introduced to Nancy in the galley, and she gave an extremely detailed description of how she is able to stock the kitchen and feed the mates. I wish I had a picture, but the galley looked like any kitchen in any home I have seen. I'm not sure what I was expecting by looking at the ship, but some aspects were better than how I live on land. There are always about 10 people on board and they work shifts of 12 hours on and 12 hours off 7 days a week (84 hours a week!). On this particular company they work 28 days on and 28 days off, apparently on other companies they only get 14 days off in between. The Twyla Luhr hauls "rock" from the quarry in Ste. Genevieve, MO to New Orleans and then returns for more cargo all year round. The trip takes about 14-15 days each way.

This was a great last-minute addition as the weather was perfect for a riverside affair. I'll be back in January when the Bald Eagles come to nest in Grafton. Until then, this landlubber will dream about life on the Muddy Mississippi.


  1. I enjoyed the clip of the band in the video of the week. Sure beat the Barber Experience. And gave it just the right feel for the festival, even with the river in the background and everything. I didn't know the difference between tow boats and tug boats. But are you saying there was only one boat of any kind at this tow boat festival?

    PS Kudos to the Six Flags boat reference.

  2. I'm not sure anything can be better than the Barber experience. Yes there was only one boat, but it was a nice one. Sorry again for the mis-communication, I wish you could have made it.

  3. The food looked good! I enjoy your travels...