Scenes from the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal

portrait of Antonio Lopez
Antonio Lopez, a deck hand for Illinois Marine Towing, looks on as a barge loaded with components for gasoline passes by on October 20, 2010 on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal near Lemont, Ill. Perez, who is in his sixth year in the industry, has already earned his steerage license and plans to make a career on the canal. | Canon 5D Mk. II and 24-70mm f/2.8L lens @ 51mm | Exposed 1/200 sec. @ f/3.5, ISO 100.

Last Wednesday I had an opportunity to spend most of a day on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal with three men who make their living pushing cargo up and down the man-made waterway created 110 years ago.  Bill Russell at Illinois Marine Towing, a small barge company in Lemont, Illinois, granted me access to one of the fleet boats as it repositioned barges and other tug boats around the shipyard and up and down a stretch of the canal.  Capt. Dan Egan, Antonio Lopez, and Steve Gray were all very open to the idea, and basically allowed me great access to the work that they do, although there are some safety precautions that certainly limit how much of their job I could photograph from close range.  But I didn’t want to be the victim of a snapped line or fall into the water, either!  Be sure to see the rest of the images after the jump.  And there will be more to come!

view from the pilot house
View from the pilot house: Capt. Dan Egan watches as Antonio Lopez, right, a deck hand with Illinois Marine Towing, prepares to detach a barge from their fleet boat. | Canon 5D Mk. II and 24-70mm f/2.8L lens @ 30mm | Exposed 1/60 sec. @ f/10, ISO 100.

Rudder control
Capt. Dan Egan adjusts the rudder on Illinois Marine Towing's fleet boat, the "Albert C." | Canon 5D Mk. II and 24-70mm f/2.8L lens @ 70mm | Exposed 1/80 sec. @ f/2.8, ISO 100.

Cleaning out a barge by hand
A cleaning crew scrapes the last bits of the previous cargo from the bottom of a barge at the yard near Lemont, Ill. Most barges that hold dry goods are swept clean first by a Bobcat with a large "broom" and then spot cleaned by hand. | Canon 1D Mk. III and 70-200mm f/4L IS lens @ 135mm | Exposed 1/250 sec. @ f/5.6, ISO 200.

6 thoughts

    1. Thanks August! Elizabeth had a very similar reaction to it. I wish Antonio’s eyes were a little sharper, but it’s hard to tell in the small, blog version of the image.

  1. I second August- the light in the first portrait is beautiful, and I love the orange burst of color in the life belt! (Is that a life belt? It looks like something safety-related…)

    1. Thanks, Ivy! And yes, it’s a Seahorse Work Vest so it’s different from a more traditional life vest in that the foam pads can be beat up but still provide buoyancy. I wore one, too, and they’re a lot bulkier than a normal life vest, which can be kind of annoying when you’ve got two cameras swinging around!

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