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1959 Chevrolets and 1950 Fords Shipped by Barge on the Mississippi River

We have posted a number of interesting images of vehicles being shipped by barge on rivers in the past, although the two photos below taken close to ten years apart, show the dramatic changes in automobile styling in that short period.

The source identifies the lead photo as having been taken at St. Louis, MO, in July of 1959. It contains a load of 1959 Chevrolet cars and trucks on a barge docked on the Mississippi. The black and white photo below contains 1949 Ford cars being pushed by a boat that was taken on August 19, 1949, on the same river.

Please share with us what you find of interest in these Arthur Witman photographs courtesy of the State Historical Society of Missouri.


39 responses to “1959 Chevrolets and 1950 Fords Shipped by Barge on the Mississippi River

  1. The Ford collection would be neat in color.
    Looks like about 180 on board that barge. This ship that turned on its side in Georgia last year had around 4000.

  2. No 2-tone paint jobs on the 1950 Fords. I hadn’t thought about it, but I guess 2-tone schemes were not available on 1950 Fords except for the Crestliner. Mostly blackwall tires in the group.


    • Yes Don, whitewalls were just starting to become popular then. But not only that, while most of the Ford’s have split windshields there are a few of them that don’t; not sure why that is so, perhaps it was a difference in the model, but Ford kept using split windshields on some of its cars up through 1951 and then after that they were permanently out of style.

      • All do have split windshields. Most have a bright trim strip that makes it easier to see. We rarely see base model cars without that strip. Only 2 station wagons on the upper level. 3 or 4 convertibles. Lots of 2 door sedans. A handful of business coupes with the short roof and long rear deck.

      • MP,

        Good observation concerning the “FORD” barge photograph.

        The cars on the “FORD” barge, that appear to have a single pane windshields, are most likely the least expensive & plain FORD models [non-Custom models] without chrome moldings around the windshield panes.


    • It appears the barge of Fords are not 1950s’but rather 1949 models . These appear to have the speared parking lights (turn signal) produced in 1949 only. The 1950 came with light contained within a rectangular type bezel. Check out the good looking woody.

  3. Though the Chevy barge appears to have a raised panel at the front to block the cars from launching off the deck in case the barge abruptly runs aground or hits an underwater object, the Ford barge appears to have nothing like that. Still, seeing either barge would’ve been an amazing sight!

  4. Apart from the white Impala Sport Sedan near the front and the white Sport Coupe (Impala or maybe a Bel Air) seen just over it and to the right…and maybe another white Sport Sedan to the left of the yellow pickup, the rest seem to be Bel Air and Biscayne sedans. I bit unexpected when you consider the Impala was about a third of total Chevy car sales in ’59.

    • Also, just two or three two-tone and none of the cars in front seem to have whitewalls.

      A general GM question…they are before my time .
      Are all the “flat tops” hardtops? If so, did they make a pillaged version?
      I see the sloping roof cars seem to be sedans.

      • John, in ’59 and ’60 all GM flattops built on A-bodies (Chevy, Pontiac), B-bodies (all Olds and the Buick LeSabre and Invicta) and C-bodies (Buick Electra and Cadillac) were (pillarless) 4-door hardtops…with the exception of the ’60 Corvair (as built on a Z-body from ’60-’64)

        In ’61, with a new roof structure, flattops were both hardtops and both 2 and 4-door sedans…as a hardtop on the C-body (now used by the Olds 98, the Buick Electra and the Cadillac) and as a sedan (with pillar) on the B-body (used by the rest of the full-sized makes)…but wasn’t available on all models of each make…i.e.: there was no flattop sedan Impala, Bonneville or Invicta.

        In ’62, the flattop was dropped on the all but the Corvair.

  5. I believe those are ’49 Fords, not ‘50s…no Ford emblem on the hood and no wraparound chrome band and turn signal bezel beneath it that a ’50 would have, I do think I see a ‘49’s screw-off gas cap just below the wind-split on the rear quarter panel…but just barely.

  6. Only slim drivers need apply to load these cars. How did the drivers get out of those ’59 Chevys once they were parked?

    • If it is like modern ship loading it is by lines so no problem.Can anyone explain the cant on the GM lighter?

      • The first thought that pops to my mind is that an angled deck would help water run off to the sides. I don’t know if that’s why, but maybe somebody else will know for sure.

    • I’m looking at the well worn loading ramp in front of the white car.You’d think, with the rocking of the barge, it would damage the cars, that don’t seem to be secured in any fashion. Appears the green and white one at the back barely made it, on a similar worn ramp.

    • 58L8134,

      Good question concerning the loading of cars.

      On the “FORD” barge:

      Stability, during loading, is most important, as if too much weight is on one side of the barge could cause the barge to tilt too much and tip over.

      Facing forward, most likely the two rows on the left [port side], on the bottom deck, were loaded first. Then cars were loaded on an upper deck on the far right [starboard side] and ending with far left [port side] and followed in the same order on the other upper deck. The last cars to be loaded would be on the bottom deck on the right side [starboard] to the center row.

      What appears to be five rows on the bottom deck [versus six rows on the on the upper two decks] is to let the drivers out, and later into the vehicles for unloading.

      Also for stability, the unloading would be need to happen in reverse of the above.


    • It makes no difference which side of the barge is parked on first…the driver simply gets out of the car through the door opposite of previously-parked cars. In the case of the Chevy barge they could park on both sides along the side of the barge, followed by the two center lines of cars, since they left a center aisle down the middle.

  7. The “FORD” barge appears to have had a slight accident to the vertical beam on the “starboard” side forward.

    The “FORD” barge operator must have had the same type of marine insurance as current container ships – if freight goes overboard there’s no problem as the loss is covered by insurance.

    Interesting that the two top decks of the “FORD” barge appears to have six vehicles abreast, but the bottom deck looks like it may have only five across.

    • AML, that’s likely because the bottom deck has more support pillars since it has to support the weight of the two decks above it.

      • Pat,

        Thanks for your comment.

        The barge’s superstructure appears to be interlocking box construction [without sides, but with top & bottom], somewhat like the steel frame of a building.

        More than likely there would be no need for additional vertical support columns on the lower deck; at most heavier vertical beams to carry the weight of the upper two deck might be needed. The horizontal beams would be carrying approximately the same weight each, if each deck carried the same amount of FORD cars. The horizontal beans spanning the central sections of the two top decks look thicker than those to either side, to carry the weight carried on the larger expanse.

        In the hull there may be extra vertical beans to support the central expanse of the lower deck, rather than heavy beams to support this deck.


  8. The first photo is indeed St. Louis, MO. In the background is the Eads Bridge built in 1868 and still in use. Beyond that is the Martin Luther King Bridge, formerly called Veteran’s Bridge. Beyond that today is the new Stan Musial Veteran’s Memorial Bridge, locally referred to as the Stan Span. To the north of that is the old Chain of Rocks Bridge that carried Route 66 across the Mississippi River. To the left of the photo is about where the Gateway Arch, started in 1964 stands, and about 2 blocks further west is Busch Stadium, home of the St. Louis Cardinals.

    • One of my best high school friends and later best man at my wedding got the olive-drab 59 Chevy from his parents when he got his license. (They bought a Camaro). I spent a lot of time in the co-pilot’s seat in that car. Thanks for the memory.

  9. At least on the Mississippi, you don’t have to worry to much about sinking…I was told by a Riverboat captain that the river is less than 20 feet deep, so the cars in the top deck of the Ford carrier are safe.

    • John, good point! When you consider that in the 2300-mile length of the Mississippi from its origin at Lake Itasca, the elevation drops only 1400+ feet…and drops about 600 of those feet by the time it reaches Minneapolis, you’d think the speed of flow would be great. But they say it takes about 3 months for water leaving Lake Itasca to reach the Gulf, so the average speed is just 1.2 mph, which doesn’t seem enough to carve a very deep river.

      And while south of Minneapolis, the river elevation average drop is less than 1 foot per mile, which is pretty flat, it’s the greatly increased volume of water south of the confluence of the Ohio and Missouri Rivers and many others, that carve a deeper river.

      The Army Corps of Engineers maintains at least a 9-foot channel from Baton Rouge to Minneapolis, but south of there, a 45 foot deep channel is maintained, though in some places in that area, it’s over 200 feet deep.

    • John,

      The Mississippi River had the United States’ worst marine accident 155 years ago today.

      The Steamer SULTANA, grossly over loaded with passengers & crew, on an up river passage. Near Memphis, in the early morning, she had boiler explosions which caused approximately 1,200 people to die. The vessel was licensed to carry less than 400, but it was at the end of the Civil War and most passengers were returning Federal soldiers.


  10. I’ll take one of the what I assume are Suburbans or panel trucks please. Wouldn’t want to be responsible for the possible damage to the green one hanging over the edge in the back row. My aunt had a “59 Impala, the only souvenir left is a yardstick that shows the roof height of “59 Sport Impala’s as 54 inches. From a 1956 model, thank you for keeping up this site and for the knowledge that is passed on by all of you that reply.

  11. Up until the late fifties Chrysler operated a Plymouth assembly plant here in Evansville, Indiana. Evansville is on the Ohio River and Chrysler would routinely load Plymouths onto barges and send them downstream. At some point in the early fifties one of these barges sank near Memphis. I don’t know if all of the cars got wet or just some of them; in any case for the wet ones Chrysler dried them out and sold them. Knowing what I do about how businesses operate I would be surprised if Chrysler informed the car owners that the car had been for a swim before it was purchased.

    A passing comment about the Mississippi River; if you have ever seen an aerial shot of where that river and the Ohio come together it is fairly obvious that the Ohio River is considerably bigger by volume. If the original European settlers had known more about hydrology it would be the Mississippi terminating at Cairo and the Ohio that flowed into the ocean. Hope that everyone is staying safe during the current situation.

    • Joseph, per Wiki: “The Ohio River at Cairo is 281,500 cu ft/s (7,960 m3/s); and the Mississippi River at Thebes, Illinois, which is [about 25 miles] upstream of the confluence, is 208,200 cu ft/s (5,897 m3/s). That’s about 35% more, but the Ohio, being much broader, as you said, appears to have considerably more volume.

      I suspect the Mississippi got the nod simply because the Ohio River wasn’t navigable east of Louisville (where the river is obstructed by rapids known as the Falls of the Ohio River where the water level falls 26 ft. in 2 miles) until 1830 when they built the Louisville and Portland Canal to bypass it. The Mississippi was navigable to the St Anthony Falls in Minneapolis.

      • Pat ,
        The Mississippi originally was not navigable north of Keokuk Iowa due to the Des Moines Rapids. A channel was blasted through in 1837 and a canal was built around the rapids in 1877. The Keokuk power dam, completed in 1913 raised the water level to obliterate both the rapids and canal.
        The other upper Mississippi river obstruction was the Rock Island rapids that stretched 14 miles from
        Le Claire, Iowa to Rock Island ,Illinois.

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