VIDEO: Towboat Deckhands, the Ohio River’s Unsung Heroes

You probably know them as “pushers” or “towboats.” But whatever you do—under penalty of ridicule—don’t call them tugboats. They don’t actually pull or “tug” their multi-ton loads of coal or road salt or whatever humble building block of modern life is sitting atop the barge deck on any given day. Instead, these shallow-draft boats slowly, but skillfully push their freight through America’s inland waterways on chains of barges that can stretch hundreds of feet. For deckhand Ryan Gilleran, life on the towboat means long days on the Ohio River. But playing a key—if unsung—role in keeping your roads clear and lights on is work that’s easy to find pride in.

WATCH: My Life as a Towboat Deckhand

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This story is part of our Headwaters series, which explores the environmental and economic importance of the Ohio River. Headwaters is funded by the Benedum Foundation and the Foundation for Pennsylvania Watersheds, and is produced in collaboration with West Virginia Public Broadcasting.