John Beatty's Navy - Ohio

John Beatty's Navy - Ohio

Following item is from the Cincinnati Post, 9/16/1998.
Thanks to Beatty Collins L-073
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Proud armada rusts in river's graveyard

By Monica Dias, Post staff reporter

MAYSVILLE, Ky. - The Ohio River has bested the Hercules, a once mighty barge with a crane that could lift sunken vessels.

Sapped of its strength, the Hercules rests at the bottom of the river, only its crane and two steel beams jutting above water near the shoreline.

Next to it, a towboat lies partially submerged, its pilothouse listing like a drunken sailor. And next to that, the rusting hull of an old Navy minesweeper breaks the river's surface like the belly of a dead whale.

The wreckage of the barge, minesweeper and towboat blights the western outskirts of Maysville and has aggravated city officials ever since the fleet - once known as Beatty's Navy - sank in a doomed attempt to rescue one sunken barge. One man's effort to salvage the fleet has been as jinxed as the vessels.

''We've ... near gone broke,'' said Darrell Wallace, who traveled from Florida a year ago to begin what has become an impossible task. ''It's hard to decide whether there's any profit left in the job at all.''

Wallace had heard about the wreckage from a colleague. He searched the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Web site on the Internet, which lists sunken vessels. When he saw a list of several wrecks clustered at one site on the Ohio River, he figured he could hit salvage gold.

If he'd heard the story of Beatty's Navy, he might have stayed away. It began about six years ago, when a barge sank just off the western shore of Maysville.

''It probably just rotted away, like a lot of them,'' said Petty Officer Chuck Mathis of the U.S. Coast Guard in Cincinnati.

In 1994, a salvage crew tried to raise the sunken barge with a fleet once owned by riverboat captain John Beatty of Warsaw. First they tried the fleet's oddest weapon - two old Navy minesweepers lashed together with a beam and carrying a crane. The minesweepers got stuck in the mud. The towboat Clare Beatty damaged its engines pulling the minesweepers free from the mud, Mathis said. Without a towboat to move them, the minesweepers - which had no engines - were useless.

The Hercules barge and crane hoisted the original sunken barge, but it broke as it reached the surface and sank again, Mathis said. Later, the Hercules sank, partially pinning the barge it was supposed to save. In 1995, the minesweepers sank, breaking apart and resting more than 20 feet under water, Mathis said. Eventually, the towboat sank, too.

''It's the Bermuda triangle of the Ohio River,'' joked Steve Wright, spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Huntington, W. Va., which includes Maysville in its district.

The joke has long lost its humor in Maysville, where City Manager Dennis Redmond has grown exasperated with the eyesore of the rusting heap of boats and the inaction of the Coast Guard and Army Corps of Engineers. ''The city's powerless,'' Redmond said. ''It's a junkyard off our riverbank.''

Neither the Coast Guard nor the corps can do anything about the wreckage. Since the sunken vessels aren't a threat to navigation, the corps can't spend money to remove them, Wright said.

Ownership of the wreckage is tangled, so the corps has no one to order to clear the mess. Neither potential owner could afford the job anyway, said Wright and Mathis.

Beverly Acree inherited Beatty's Navy from her father, who earned a national reputation in the salvage trade and died in 1994. Andy Barnett of Clay City had promised to pay Mrs. Acree $200,000 for the fleet before he took it to the ill-fated job in Maysville, but Barnett's company eventually went bankrupt, said James Cobb, Mrs. Acree's attorney.

Barnett won't say much about the wreckage, but he blames sabotage for the sinking of the minesweepers and the Clare Beatty towboat. ''Those things could sit there 30 years and not sink if somebody didn't pull the plug on them,'' he said.

Last fall, it looked like the wreckage might be moved at last.

Wallace, owner of a salvage company called Underwater Constructors, moved his rescue boats from Green Cove Springs, Fla., to Maysville last October. At first, it looked like the job would go well. He bought the original barge that sank from David Cartmell, who's running for mayor, and promised to raise it by Oct. 1, 1998.

Instead of raising that barge right away, Wallace concentrated on easier pickings - one barge that was beached and another that was partially submerged. He cut those and sold them for scrap. Setbacks have plagued his attempts to raise the barge he bought from Cartmell.

Wallace broke his ankle and thumb in May, shutting down the salvage operation for six weeks. A flood in June further delayed the work - and sank his diving barge. He raised his barge, but thieves took tools worth $20,000, diving helmets, even fishing poles and a cooler.

He can't find anyone who will rent him a floating crane, which makes it unlikely that he will be able to lift the minesweepers with the crane he has stationed on shore.

He's had to lay off five of his crew. Wallace and two other crew members do all the work.

Wallace said he's likely to give up and move back to Florida after he cuts his barge free from the weight of the Hercules and lifts it from the river.

''To me it's just another job,'' he said. ''When one gets to be too much of a headache, I've got others to do.''

Last update: July 07, 1999