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Triple-Deck Ohio River Barge Transports New Cars and Trucks

Most new cars are delivered by truck or rail, although in the center of the US, the home of largest rivers in the country, auto-shipment by a barge used to be fairly common. This set of photos contains new cars and trucks being loaded and unloaded and shipped on a barge near Cincinnati, Ohio on the Ohio River.

The lead photo contains circa 1950 Ford cars and trucks being driven off of a barge at a location near the City.

View an earlier post of cars being shipped on the Mississippi River.

Share with us what you find of interest or any knowledge you have about the barge or the shipping line that operated it in these photographs courtesy of the Cincinnati Museum Center.

  • Hudson, Packard, and Chrysler Products automobiles being loaded, near Cincinnati.



  • Piggy-backed Dodge trucks being loaded onto the top level of the barge.

  • This image clearly shows the three sections of the barge and the gaps between them, and cars visible on the bottom deck. The Cincinnati public dock is in the background. 


48 responses to “Triple-Deck Ohio River Barge Transports New Cars and Trucks

  1. In the 2nd picture [1st expandable photograph], center, is a 1948 PACARD Club Sedan [with “two-tone” bumper]. Hard to tell what model.

  2. Never knew cars were shipped like this in the US at one time. Recently, I’ve seen barges filled with cars on the Danube in Europe and even that surprised me.

  3. In the 2nd picture [1st expandable photograph], on ramp to the barge, is a 1948 CHRYSLER New Yorker Town & Country Convertible.

  4. In the 4th picture [3rd expandable photograph], docked beyond the vehicle carrier barge, is the Str. ISLAND QUEEN. The ISLAND QUEEN entered service in 1925 running between Cincinnati and Coney Island amusement park, along with other runs on the rivers.

    • The Commercial Barge Line, whose vehicle carrier barge is featured, was started in 1915 and is still in business as American Commercial Barge Line, based in Jeffersonville, Indiana.

      • AML, Is that “str.” part of the name? Or a title or ownership? Regardless, thank you for the identification. I have always had a historic interest in riverboats of that type (some family history from way back). Can’t say I know a lot about them, or have or know any good references for them.
        I also see two smaller “twin stack” riverboats at the dock behind the Island Queen. Since I do not see smokestacks on the Island Queen, I would imagine it may not be steam powered? Perhaps Diesel?

        Thank you David G for some more interesting pictures!

          • It is short for Steamer. The two steamboats pictured below the ISLAND QUEEN are the Str. TOM GREENE and Str. CHRIS GREENE of the famous Greene Line Steamers which owned the Str. DELTA QUEEN. The ironic thing is that both the TOM and CHRIS are laid up in the photo awaiting sale after having hauled cars between Cincinnati and Louisville since 1935.

        • Wayne,

          Thanks for your comment and question. “Str.” is short for steamer; as” M.V.” is short for motor vessel.

          The picture with the Str. ISLAND QUEEN in Cincinnati, docked at the CONEY ISLAND WHARF, has to be before September 9, 1947 as she was in Pittsburgh that day undergoing some type of repair work. Her engineer, using a blow-torch, cut open one of her oil fuel tanks, setting the vessel on fire, and causing a great explosion, killing 19 of her 40 member crew.

          Her two stacks were forward of the pilot house. In the picture, it is difficult to see [had to enlarge the picture a lot], but they appear to be hinged on their aft sides and are “bent” backward.

          About 35 years ago, I took a trip on a much smaller side-wheel river steamer in Hungry. It was interesting to see the stack lowering operation under bridges.

          My forte is Long Island Sound night steamboats which were larger than the Str. ISLAND QUEEN.


          • Thank you AML for the additional information! As a life-long student of history, I keep trying to learn more and more about even more.

            For whatever it is worth, my family’s history with riverboats is that my great great grandfather was one of the survivors of the Sultana explosion in 1865. I have been interested in riverboats almost as long as I can remember. However having very little opportunity to experience them in person, I never really studied them.
            Again, thank you.

          • Wayne,

            The Str. SULTANA explosion was the worst American marine disaster; well over 1,000 persons died. Glad your great great grandfather survived.


          • Frank X. Prudent,

            Thanks for your comments.

            Knew I read somewhere about the Strs. CHRIS GREENE & TOM GREENE.

            As you wrote they carried cars from 1935. Found in an old clipping, the two steamers last transported cars in February 1947; seven months before the Str. ISLAND QUEEN ended her days on September 9, 1947.

            The photograph was taken between these tow dates.


    • I thought Coney island was near New York?
      I used to live near Dayton (not that far north of Cincinnati) and never heard of an amusement park in Cincinnati.

      • Coney Island is Cincinnati’s original amusement park with the worlds largest recirculating swimming pool. Still open but fewer rides since the 1970’s when Kings Island opened. The remaining rides are being taken down this year as the park is focused on being a water park and picnic area. Also next our outdoor music venue Riverbend.

    • I thought Coney island was near New York.
      I used to live in Dayton and never heard of an amusement in near Cincinnati…so it must have been a long time ago.

    • I had friend who was musician on boat when it blew up. He was bachelor and had all of his worldly possessions with him in the hotel, including his bass!!!!

  5. You know, the Mississippi gets all the thunder, but the Ohio River was just as important. More so, even. Since train shipments were a ways off, this was the only way to get about 250 cars( looks like about 20 /row, maybe 4 rows /deck) someplace at one time. Demand was huge and trucks could only carry 4 at a time. So, obviously, you have new Fords a coming, possibly from Detroit and other makes , which also look new, going back. Looks like 2 ’48-’50 Packards, a Hudson, Plymouth, weren’t they made in Detroit too? Wonder where they are coming from? Dodge trucks too, must have been assembly plants for these makes in Ohio. It was a common way to “ship” cars. Lake Michigan has several wrecks where car shipments went down. I bet that boat ran non-stop for years.

    • Right you are about auto shipments on the bottom. Three come to mind. In November (?) of 1929 the GT carferry Milwaukee sank about 10 miles NE of the city of Milwaukee in a ferocious Lake Michigan storm. The skipper was Bad Weather Robert McKay, who often bragged that he never once ever ran from a storm. The belly of the vessel holds several Kissel automobiles. Then there is the Prins Willem V , resting quietly on the bottom of Michigan 10 miles or so east of Milwaukee. She mixed it up with a barge in 1954 and took a substantial number of Nash products to her grave. And finally there is the Chysler Norseman, the one off Chrysler concept headed for the 1956 New York auto show in the hold of the Italian luxury liner Andria Doria. She was a beauty.

  6. The barge looks to be self propelled…no tug.
    This summer we took a cruise down the Mississippi, never say anything remotely like that. All the modern barges were Powered by a tug and were used for bulk shipments, except for one loaded with long wind turbine blades, the only deck cargo we saw.

    • No “tugs” on the Mississippi River system (which includes the Ohio & Illinois rivers & tributaries). We call them “towboats”. While it’s true that some of the smaller towboats perform “tug service” for the larger towboats, calling a towboat a tug is highly incorrect.

    • The tow was made up of three separate units. Only the one on the stern had diesel machinery to propel the tow. Four Seasons Marina still uses one of the unpowered barges as it’s headboat.

  7. I guess what surprises me more than anything is the man-power needed to load/unload all those cars. Perhaps even then, a pack of “temps” were hired to get it done? I picture many trips back/forth to park cars, run back and grab another.

    • Hi Will, I think of that stuff too. And that loading ramp is pert near an engineering marvel in itself, not to mention the boat. Being post-war, I’m sure there was no shortage of help. While one got to drive a varied type of vehicles, I bet it was a boring job.

  8. The Fords in the Lead Photo appear to all be ‘49s including at least three of the beautiful new station wagons. Interesting to note the steam locomotive in the background.

    In Item 1 of 3, it seems odd the same location is also a shipping departure pier for these Chryslers, Packards and a Hudson…and there also appear to be at least some GM cars.
    I wonder if this inlet pier might lead to some sort of interim storage area….one that takes delivery of individual makers cars from the factories and then distributes a mixture of them to various dealers.
    In any case, by ’49 there were evidently plenty of whitewalls.

    In Item 2 of 3, that’s an interesting way to piggyback and double piggyback the Dodge trucks…including what appears to be a Power Wagon on the first truck.

    In Item 3 of 3 at Cincinnati there appear to be a lot of GM cars on the second deck while the top deck seems to have Chevy or GMC trucks along with some Chrysler Corp cars piggybacked on some of them.

  9. Technically, the featured vessel is a ferry, as it has it’s own power source. A barge is pushed up and downstream by a tug. This instant critter appears to be a twin screw, with pilot house high. My guess is she’s a converted railcar ferry.

      • I believe you are right. Most barges are unpowered, but they can be powered, as is often the case in Europe. Also, this is not a ferry because it’s designed to ship cars along, not across a river.

      • That’s correct David. The fuel barges on the Pasak River in Thailand are self powered; the coal, sand, gravel and grain barges are not and are pulled in strings of three or four by tug boats. Fuel is clearly where the money is!

      • With all due respect for our friends in Thailand and Europe, here, 46 CFR Section 170.055 (c) defines “barge” as “…a vessel not equipped with a means of self propulsion.” Therefore, a self propelled unit cannot be registered as a barge with the Coast Gaurd. Call it what you wish, but the Coast Gaurd will not recognize any such vessel as a barge. The hull design of the featured vessel matches that of early cross river ferries, straight across on bow and stern, twin screws and a high overhead pilot house. Think car ferry Windsor. George Hilton has written a scholarly book on great lakes car ferry history.

  10. At the top left corner of photo number three I spy what looks like a Curtiss Aerocar fifth wheel bus trailer. It was probably used as a transport vehicle to shuttle the drivers back to the origin point to drive more vehicles to the ferry site. Neat and unusual set of photos David.

  11. The lead picture and the 1st expandable photograph appear to have been taken from the same location and very close to the same time [the foreground & background are nearly identical in both; and the same cars are on the top & middle decks of the barge]; FORD vehicles are being off-loaded and HUDSON, PACKARD, and Chrysler Products vehicles are being loaded.

    The 3rd picture [2nd expandable photograph] appears to be of the on/off ramps shown in the above pictures.

  12. Interesting photos. The first one shows 1949 Ford products being off-loaded. The second shows cars being on-boarded. I wonder why one set would be shipped one direction and the other batch the other? Also, it’s odd so see hub caps on cars coming from the factory.

  13. Coney Island is pretty famous as a New York attraction, but the one served by the Island Queen was 10 miles up the Ohio River. The Island Queen (2) seen here was an oil fired steamer and it was burned to the frames in 1947 after the chief engineer was welding near the fuel tanks! $1 was also burned in 1922 I think, due to a big dockyard fire. You can still see paddle wheelers and a variety of barges doing yoeman duty in this area, though the views are better from the Covington KY side (the Marriot also has some really nice rooms with true balconies overlooking the river and all the great stuff on the Ohio side).

  14. I have lived in Cincinnati since 1984 and have never seen these pictures despite always looking at old pictures of our town and being a car collector. In fact I live very near these and drive past the 4343 Kellogg Ave location every day. It is near Lunken Airport which was our first airport that Charles Lindbergh and many others like the Beatles flew into before our airport was moved to Northern Ky.

  15. What was the safesy record on this type of transport? any mishaps ? occasionally hear of car ferry mishaps, which are often deadly.. This photo seems to be “top heavy”.

    • Chrysler used to operate a Plymouth assembly plant here (Evansville, Indiana) and cars were routinely barged down the Ohio and all the way down to New Orleans. There was at least one incident where a barge load of Plymouths sank in the Ohio; there used to be some reference to this online but I couldn’t find it this morning. According to local legend the barge was refloated, the cars were dried out and then sold as new cars; this may or may not be true, I heard it from an uncle who was never one to let the truth interfere with a good story. I’m sure that shipping cars via barge was probably safer than shipping them via truck, fewer knuckleheads on the river to get in your way and cause problems. The issue would be that, in case of a serious accident, you could lose hundreds of cars as opposed to the half dozen or so that would be on one transport truck.

  16. Commercial Transport Company operated several car transporters in the late 40s and up through the 50s. Pretty sure they were all out of service by the early 60s. CTC later merged with American Barge Line and a few others to form American Commercial Barge Line.

    The last time I saw one of the car carriers was when I surveyed one on behalf of my employer, in 1980 or ’81. It had been out of service for many, many years and we had in mind using it for a “shop barge”, which would be permanently moored and would house tools, equipment and office space for our personnel engaged in maintaining our fleet of towboats. While I remember finding it in serviceable condition, for our purposes, we decided to pass on it. I imagine it has been scrapped, long ago. I also remember it as not being a self-propelled unit and the hull configuration was that of a “bow piece” of a “unit tow”.
    Although I can’t say, for sure, what ended the operation of these car carriers, I suspect it was due to the cost of the empty back-haul, since the barges were just not suitable for any other high-volume commodity other than cars and light trucks.

  17. Moving new cars by water was somewhat rare, but not unusual. I’ve seen a photograph of a similar operation on the Hudson River. There was also the TRANSFORD II, owned by New England Steamship Company during the early 1930s, which moved new FORD vehicles from New Jersey to ports of Southern New England via Long Island Sound.

  18. I wonder if maybe my Dad’s brand new 1950 Ford that he bought in KY had come in on one of these barges. I grew up watching the barges going up and down the Ohio in the late 1940’s and well into the 60’s. These photos take me back. Thanks for them!

  19. By the mix of Chryslers, Packards and Hudsons in the second view, the barge company must have contracted with one of the major Detroit haul-away companies that provided distribution transportation to ports further than truck or railroad freight was practical.

    In front of the ’48 Packard two door club sedan appears to be a Packard Custom Eight touring sedan, one of their top-line models. Note also the Chrysler Town And Country convertible just heading up the ram. Do wish the image quality was sharper so cars on the top deck could be identified.

  20. David, I bet those piggybacked Dodge trucks must have been a real handful to pilot up those wooden ramps, especially when wet and raining. Given the horsepower those trucks had individually, how on earth they could carry/tow two other vehicles up those narrow deck ramps (and only have the lead unit’s brakes to stop the trio) makes me shudder!

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