National Geographic : 1977 Feb
the river and poured the coal from a spigot like mouth into the waiting barges. It was a gloomy, unrewarding task, but the kind of necessary labor that keeps the fur naces roaring in power plants, and the econ omy on an even keel. About 33 percent of this nation's presently recoverable bituminous coal underlies the Ohio Basin, a reservoir expected to last for centuries and a fuel increasingly in demand as the United States strives for energy inde pendence. And of the nearly 116 million tons of coal moved on American river systems in 1975, about 86 percent was carried on the Ohio and its tributaries. "This job makes you feel pretty secure right now," reasoned Wilbert Rideout, Jr., a second-generation coalworker. "I'm 27 ... I'll retire in 23 years. I don't think they'll come up with a good energy substitute by then." Mile 360 Past Portsmouth, Ohio, the steel-coal economy of the upper river is essentially behind us. The southern bank is a land of quiet fields and white fences. In the river twilight Maysville, Kentucky, seems like an image frozen by a 19th-century photographer. It is a handsome town with stately white mansions and solid buildings of commerce-a town known for its burley tobacco. Nothing grows in Kentucky like burley, the state's chief agricultural crop. From late No vember to early February, Kentucky's 219 warehouse auctions handle half a billion pounds, currently estimated as worth $1.15 a pound to the farmer. We pass the Ohio village of Ripley, and on a hill a simple brick building looking toward the Kentucky hills: Rankin House. A lantern glowing from its upper window once signaled Heralding autumn in Gallipolis, Ohio, the Gallia Academy band entertains in the city park. Away from the heavy industrial belts both upstream and downstream, Gallipolis depends on agriculture and two big medical centers for its prosperity. Professionals and artisans fleeing revolu tionary France founded the "City of the Gauls" in 1790, after discovering that the site swindlers had sold them nearby was mosquito-infested frontier, not the promised "semitropical" paradise.