Towboat built in 1975 gets new engines, new pilothouse and a new lease on life


“Out with the old and in with the new” was certainly the theme carried out during a repowering and rehabilitation project completed recently of Capt. R.P. Gettelfinger, a veteran Mississippi River line-haul towboat.

American Commercial Lines (ACL), the line-haul towboat operator based in Jeffersonville, Ind., gutted the twin-screw vessel and replaced virtually everything, including engines, generators, crew quarters, interior furnishings, pilothouse console and electronics, galley equipment, plumbing and electrical components and underwater gear, including new propellers and Rice propulsion nozzles.

Originally called J. Russell Flowers, the 168-by-50-foot boat was built in 1975 on Neville Island in Pennsylvania by the former Dravo Corp. The boat was named in honor of the president of Flowers Transportation Inc., of Greenville, Miss., where it operated until being sold to Valley Transportation Inc. of St. Louis. That company’s assets were absorbed by American Commercial Lines in 1992. With 2,300 barges and more than 100 towboats, ACL is the nation’s second-largest liquid cargo carrier and the third-largest dry cargo barge line.

ACL employs approximately 2,200 people throughout its fleets, terminals and vessel service facilities along virtually the entire inland waterway system.

The new panel with Rexroth electronic throttle and clutch controls.

In December 2010, ACL was purchased by Platinum Equity, a Los Angeles-based global acquisitions firm. Under this corporate umbrella, ACL has embarked on an extensive repowering and refurbishing program that includes its smallest to largest vessels.

When Capt. R.P. Gettelfinger was christened in December 2012, ACL President and Chief Executive Officer Mark Knoy said it was the 26th vessel to have been refurbished and/or repowered during the preceding 18 months. Almost a dozen more have either been completed or are nearing completion. “Each completed project has set the bar a little higher as we invest in our teammates and assets,” Knoy said. “We’ve invested about $300 million to date and we plan on continuing to improve our boats and barges that we ask our teammates to work on.”

The virtually new towboat still carries the distinction of being the tallest vessel in the ACL fleet, with a vertical clearance of 57 feet. Throughout its career, the high-profile towboat routinely worked along the Lower Mississippi River, handling tows of 30 to 40 barges and will continue in the same service for ACL.

However, the workload will be handled now with an increase in power while greatly reducing fuel consumption. The original 3,600-hp, 20-cylinder EMD diesels were replaced with a pair of new 12-cylinder Caterpillar C280 diesels, upping total output to 7,800 hp.

Jim Mundth, segment manager-inland waterways for Caterpillar Marine Power Systems, said the C280 engines are built on the same platform as the 3612 engine. They comply with Tier 2 EPA standards and incorporate electronic fuel injectors producing high power output and good fuel efficiency.

The pilothouse console was reconfigured with a stainless steel dashboard and new cabinetry, file drawers and navigation equipment.

ACL has operated three of its higher-horsepower towboats with the Caterpillar 3612 engines for the past few years with great success, Mundth said. “We are excited and invigorated to partner with such a premier brand as ACL and be helping to support their mission to deliver premium transportation services with the highest standards of performance in reliability and efficiency,” he said during a christening ceremony at Paducah, Ky., in December. “We anticipate the MV Capt. R.P. Gettelfinger will be the envy of the rivers because of the distinguished standards being set.”

ACL recently brought other boats in for similar refurbishing projects that have included new C280 Cats, including at least one triple-screw vessel. The projects have taken place at James Marine Inc. in Paducah and at National Maintenance & Repair (McGinnis Inc.) in Paducah and Hartford, Ill.

To accommodate the increased power and combat the effects of 37 years of service, James Marine added more than 50 tons of reinforcement steel while replacing hull-mounted heat exchangers, underwater shaft bearings and bushings.

Electrical power requirements are now accommodated with a pair of new Cummins-powered 150-kW generators.

The boat’s overall dimensions and profile remain unchanged, but inside the cabin and throughout the engine room, little remains from the original construction. All interior spaces were gutted and stripped to bare metal and refurbished with new paneling, ceilings and sound-deadening insulation throughout. All interior furniture was scrapped and custom furniture and bedding were installed in all quarters. They include single staterooms, double staterooms and bunkrooms, all equipped with flat-screen televisions for the crew’s convenience and comfort. The upper deck features an attractive lounge forward with a small dining table, an icemaker and a sink.

Capt. R.P. Gettelfinger’s starboard engine is a Caterpillar C280 with original Falk reduction gears. The vessel’s two new 12-cylinder Cat diesels boosted total output to 7,800 hp.

The galley was refitted with new appliances, including a commercial-style stainless steel electric cook stove, new cabinets and stainless steel countertops, dishwasher, icemaker and refrigerator/freezer.

The pilothouse was also taken down to the bare floor, with only the original steel console remaining. Custom-designed cabinets and countertops were crafted to accommodate all the new communications and navigation electronic displays and controls.

Included were three new Standard VHF radios, two Furuno digital depth sounders, Furuno digital radar, CEACT digital chart display, DeHart rate-of-swing indicator, Furuno AIS display and transponder, intercom unit, computer and fax machine. To replace the original Wabco air-controlled clutch and throttle assembly, the boat now possesses a more compact Bosch Rexroth electronic throttle and clutch control unit with built-in engine synchronizer. Exterior improvements included new LED navigation lights and CFL deck lights.

The refurbished Gettelfinger was renamed in honor of an ACL captain who began his river career with the company in 1984. He had been the regular captain on ACL’s triple-screw Charles F. Detmar Jr., which returned to service in April after its own refurbishing, renamed David A. Lewis Jr.

By Professional Mariner Staff