River Workers Keep America Moving

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The Arkansas River is one of the most important rivers in the nation and not just for fishermen. Every day, local men and women do their part to keep America moving.

"It takes a unique person to work out here,” said Mark Reynolds, who is one of seven men who works on the barge Dorothy Janoush.

From chemicals, rocks and coal to grains, the barge uses the country’s rivers systems to move materials from state to state.  

“We take them from this river to the Mississippi and then bigger boats take them down to New Orleans," Reynolds said.

Reynolds has been working on barges and living in towboats for the past 27 years. He started as a deckhand and worked his way up to navigating the river.

 "It's like our highway,” he said.

According to Reynolds, life on the boat has a starting salary of around $25,000 but depending on the position, like a captain, you can work your way up to making more than $500 dollars a day.

Crew members say there's no other job like running a towboat and barge, but the hardest part is being away from family for weeks at a time. A shift for these guys is 28 days on, two weeks off.

"Being out here this long, you can tell the day dreamers, you know, the ones that have got their minds at home and not on their job and that’s just… you can't have that out here,” Reynolds said.

Lead man Marquis Reed is in charge of making sure the crew's work flows with the river.

"The inexperienced guys, I mean, they really showed their inexperience last night, so I had to put the cape on, rescue the crew,” he said.

When they're not connecting barges or going through locks, they have some down time.

"You've got your TV's and new furniture and everything,” Reed said. “I like the boat."

Some are used to years on the water while others are just getting started.

"It's actually my first job that I've had,” said Dylan Randleas. “I'm 18."

But regardless of how long they’ve been on the barge and a part of the system that keeps the country moving, each said they take pride in being a part of an American tradition.