James E. Casto

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To get a personal look at what it is like to work on the Ohio River, newspaperman James E. Casto spent eight days aboard the Blazer as it traveled the Ohio from Huntington, West Virginia, to Pittsburgh, up the Allegheny and the Mongahela, and then back to Huntington. The Paul G. Blazer, a gleaming white towboat owned and operated by Ashland Oil, pushes a group—or “tow,” as the rivermen call it—of nine barges on this trip. Along the way, Casto introduces us to Captain Ronnie Davis, pilot Ronnie Burge, engineer Steve Bellomy, the mates, the deckhands, and the cook, as well as the river itself, the life and the beauty that are the Ohio.

Interwoven with the narrative of the trip upriver and back is the history of commerce on the Ohio—of how the flatboats and keelboats gave way to the steamboats and how, in turn, the steamboats were replaced by today’s powerful, diesel-powered boats such as the Blazer.

Mark Twain wrote that the Mississippi had a new story to tell every day. The same can be said of the Ohio. As engaging as it is informative, Towboat on the Ohio tells one of the many stories of the busy, hardworking Ohio River.

James E. Casto, associate editor of the Huntington Herald-Dispatch, has written articles on the Ohio River for several periodicals.

"Recounts not just a narrative of [Casto’s] trip but also the colorful history of commerce on the Ohio, along with stories about the communities that grew up along the river and were nurtured by it."—Herald-Dispatch, The Ironton Tribune

"The leisurely voyage provides an occasion for reflection on the history and current condition of Ohio River navigation, engagingly delivered by a seasoned journalist of the region. James E. Casto was born by the riverside. He writes from a lifetime of observation, and from his heart."—Ken Sullivan, Editor, Goldenseal

"Our inland waterways and particularly the Ohio River system are crucial to the economic vitality of our region. In our fast-paced modern day lives, with the interstate highway bridges, it is easy to forget the importance of the river. Jim Casto's book recalls our attention to the life of the mighty Ohio in a personal and easy style. His book is a valuable addition to the lore and literature of the Ohio River."—Dan Lacy, Ashland Oil, Inc.

"Interweaving Ohio River history among his firsthand accounts of towboat travel and life, Towboat on the Ohio kept me turning the pages."—Molly Lightfoot Blom, Editor of HeartLand Boating

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






Towboats, Ohio River Valley, Ohio River


Cultural History

Towboat on the Ohio
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