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Fleet executes major surgery at Montgomery

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District
Published Aug. 17, 2021
Updated: Aug. 3, 2021
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Kevin Asmus, a welder for the Medium Capacity Fleet, cuts out metal plates to install onto a valve at the Montgomery Locks and Dam, operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District, on the Ohio River in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, Aug. 2, 2021. The medium fleet crew began work at Montgomery L/D in late July, and they will spend approximately a month to replace and repair components of the gate system and valves. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District photo by Michel Sauret)

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A tow barge moves along the Monongahela River during a sunrise in Pittsburgh Aug. 2, 2021. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District ensures safe navigation on the riverways in the region. The district's footprint covers 328 miles of navigable waterways, 23 navigational locks and dams, 16 reservoirs, and more than 80 local-flood damage-reduction projects across five states: Maryland, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District photo by Michel Sauret)

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Joe Stipkovitz, a derrick boat master for the Medium Capacity Fleet, walks up a service barge at the Montgomery Locks and Dam, operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District, on the Ohio River in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, Aug. 2, 2021. The medium fleet crew began work at Montgomery L/D in late July, and they will spend approximately a month to replace and repair components of the gate system and valves. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District photo by Michel Sauret)

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Crewmembers and maintenance operators for the Medium Capacity Fleet walk across a beam over a hydraulic cylinder pit at the Montgomery Locks and Dam, operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District, on the Ohio River in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, Aug. 2, 2021. The medium fleet crew began work at Montgomery L/D in late July, and they will spend approximately a month to replace and repair components of the gate system and valves. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District photo by Michel Sauret)

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Joe Stipkovitz, a derrick boat master, and Martin Litzinger, a lock and dam maintenance and equipment operator, discuss a plan for an underwater inspection for the Medium Capacity Fleet at the Montgomery Locks and Dam, operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District, on the Ohio River in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, Aug. 2, 2021. The medium fleet crew began work at Montgomery L/D in late July, and they will spend approximately a month to replace and repair components of the gate system and valves. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District photo by Michel Sauret)

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Martin Litzinger, a lock and dam maintenance and equipment operator and dive supervisor, briefs a team of divers before performing an underwater inspection for the Medium Capacity Fleet at the Montgomery Locks and Dam, operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District, on the Ohio River in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, Aug. 2, 2021. The medium fleet crew began work at Montgomery L/D in late July, and they will spend approximately a month to replace and repair components of the gate system and valves. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District photo by Michel Sauret)

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Martin Litzinger, a lock and dam maintenance and equipment operator and dive supervisor, briefs a team of divers before performing an underwater inspection for the Medium Capacity Fleet at the Montgomery Locks and Dam, operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District, on the Ohio River in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, Aug. 2, 2021. The medium fleet crew began work at Montgomery L/D in late July, and they will spend approximately a month to replace and repair components of the gate system and valves. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District photo by Michel Sauret)

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A maintenance operator for the Medium Capacity Fleet walks across a beam over a hydraulic cylinder pit at the Montgomery Locks and Dam, operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District, on the Ohio River in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, Aug. 2, 2021. The medium fleet crew began work at Montgomery L/D in late July, and they will spend approximately a month to replace and repair components of the gate system and valves. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District photo by Michel Sauret)

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Crewmembers and maintenance operators for the Medium Capacity Fleet stage a barge to begin work at the Montgomery Locks and Dam, operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District, on the Ohio River in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, Aug. 2, 2021. The medium fleet crew began work at Montgomery L/D in late July, and they will spend approximately a month to replace and repair components of the gate system and valves. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District photo by Michel Sauret)

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Crewmembers and maintenance operators for the Medium Capacity Fleet stage a barge to begin work at the Montgomery Locks and Dam, operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District, on the Ohio River in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, Aug. 2, 2021. The medium fleet crew began work at Montgomery L/D in late July, and they will spend approximately a month to replace and repair components of the gate system and valves. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District photo by Michel Sauret)

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Jules McCallum, a maintenance work leader for the Medium Capacity Fleet, stands watch while a barge moves away at the Montgomery Locks and Dam, operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District, on the Ohio River in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, Aug. 2, 2021. The medium fleet crew began work at Montgomery L/D in late July, and they will spend approximately a month to replace and repair components of the gate system and valves. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District photo by Michel Sauret)

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Jules McCallum, a maintenance work leader for the Medium Capacity Fleet, works a line on a barge during major maintenance work performed at the Montgomery Locks and Dam, operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District, on the Ohio River in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, Aug. 2, 2021. The medium fleet crew began work at Montgomery L/D in late July, and they will spend approximately a month to replace and repair components of the gate system and valves. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District photo by Michel Sauret)

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Jules McCallum, a maintenance work leader for the Medium Capacity Fleet, guides a cage in position that will be used for an underwater inspection at Montgomery Locks and Dam, operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District, on the Ohio River in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, Aug. 2, 2021. The medium fleet crew began work at Montgomery L/D in late July, and they will spend approximately a month to replace and repair components of the gate system and valves. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District photo by Michel Sauret)

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A maintenance operator for the Medium Capacity Fleet signals to a crane operator to lift a cage used for underwater inspections at Montgomery Locks and Dam, operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District, on the Ohio River in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, Aug. 2, 2021. The medium fleet crew began work at Montgomery L/D in late July, and they will spend approximately a month to replace and repair components of the gate system and valves. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District photo by Michel Sauret)

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A towboat captain for the Medium Capacity Fleet steers a barge with equipment into position at the Montgomery Locks and Dam, operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District, on the Ohio River in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, Aug. 2, 2021. The medium fleet crew began work at Montgomery L/D in late July, and they will spend approximately a month to replace and repair components of the gate system and valves. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District photo by Michel Sauret)

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A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flag flutters on a barge at the Montgomery Locks and Dam, operated by the Pittsburgh District, on the Ohio River in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, Aug. 2, 2021. A medium fleet crew began work at Montgomery L/D in late July, and they will spend approximately a month to replace and repair components of the gate system and valves. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District photo by Michel Sauret)

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Jules McCallum, a maintenance work leader for the Medium Capacity Fleet, cuts a line lose from a barge during major work performed at the Montgomery Locks and Dam, operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District, on the Ohio River in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, Aug. 2, 2021. The medium fleet crew began work at Montgomery L/D in late July, and they will spend approximately a month to replace and repair components of the gate system and valves. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District photo by Michel Sauret)

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Crewmembers and maintenance operators for the Medium Capacity Fleet begin major work at the Montgomery Locks and Dam, operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District, on the Ohio River in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, Aug. 2, 2021. The medium fleet crew began work at Montgomery L/D in late July, and they will spend approximately a month to replace and repair components of the gate system and valves. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District photo by Michel Sauret)

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Crewmembers and maintenance operators for the Medium Capacity Fleet begin major work at the Montgomery Locks and Dam, operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District, on the Ohio River in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, Aug. 2, 2021. The medium fleet crew began work at Montgomery L/D in late July, and they will spend approximately a month to replace and repair components of the gate system and valves. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District photo by Michel Sauret)

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A miter gate closes at the Montgomery Locks and Dam, operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District, on the Ohio River in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, Aug. 2, 2021. The Medium Capacity Fleet crew began work at Montgomery L/D in late July, and they will spend approximately a month to replace and repair components of the gate system and valves. Eventually, all of the gates will be lifted out of the water for additional repairs. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District photo by Michel Sauret)

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Kevin Asmus, a welder for the Medium Capacity Fleet, cuts out metal plates to install onto a valve at the Montgomery Locks and Dam, operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District, on the Ohio River in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, Aug. 2, 2021. The medium fleet crew began work at Montgomery L/D in late July, and they will spend approximately a month to replace and repair components of the gate system and valves. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District photo by Michel Sauret)

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Kevin Asmus, a welder for the Medium Capacity Fleet, cuts out metal plates to install onto a valve at the Montgomery Locks and Dam, operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District, on the Ohio River in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, Aug. 2, 2021. The medium fleet crew began work at Montgomery L/D in late July, and they will spend approximately a month to replace and repair components of the gate system and valves. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District photo by Michel Sauret)

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A project engineer walks up to a tow boat for the Medium Capacity Fleet while the fleet’s crew begins major work at the Montgomery Locks and Dam, operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District, on the Ohio River in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, Aug. 2, 2021. The medium fleet crew began work at Montgomery L/D in late July, and they will spend approximately a month to replace and repair components of the gate system and valves. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District photo by Michel Sauret)

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The sun rises over Pittsburgh while the Duquesne Incline trolley rides up to Mount Washington Aug. 2, 2021. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District ensures safe navigation on the riverways in the region. The district's footprint covers 328 miles of navigable waterways, 23 navigational locks and dams, 16 reservoirs, and more than 80 local-flood damage-reduction projects across five states: Maryland, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District photo by Michel Sauret)

PITTSBURGH – The work of a maintenance fleet is not exactly medical surgery, but when it comes to repairing massive machinery on the water, it’s close.

“It’s like an emergency room setting. We just come in to a facility, we do whatever we need to keep it operational, and keep the traffic going up and down the river,” said William Lynch, the superintendent for the Medium Capacity Fleet.

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Medium Fleet
A towboat captain for the Medium Capacity Fleet steers a barge with equipment into position at the Montgomery Locks and Dam, operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District, on the Ohio River in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, Aug. 2, 2021. The medium fleet crew began work at Montgomery L/D in late July, and they will spend approximately a month to replace and repair components of the gate system and valves. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District photo by Michel Sauret)
Photo By: Michel Sauret
VIRIN: 210802-A-TI382-1152

The fleet is composed of crewmembers, mechanics, captains, divers, multiple tow boats, barges, and cranes, able to navigate anywhere east of the Mississippi River for one purpose: to provide maintenance and repairs for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the water.

The fleet is headquartered at Neville Island, just 10 miles from Downtown Pittsburgh, but it operates under the Huntington District.

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Medium Fleet
Jules McCallum, a maintenance work leader for the Medium Capacity Fleet, works a line on a barge during major maintenance work performed at the Montgomery Locks and Dam, operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District, on the Ohio River in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, Aug. 2, 2021. The medium fleet crew began work at Montgomery L/D in late July, and they will spend approximately a month to replace and repair components of the gate system and valves. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District photo by Michel Sauret)
Photo By: Michel Sauret
VIRIN: 210802-A-TI382-1266

Right now, the fleet is at the Montgomery Locks and Dam to perform four weeks of repairs as part of a larger, multi-phased effort to restore the facility before major construction begins.

“We’re basically condensing 10 years of maintenance down to about two-and-a-half years. It may be causing headaches [for navigation] now, but it will make things a lot smoother in the future,” said Derek Callihan, project engineer for the Pittsburgh District.

Montgomery was originally completed in 1936. It was designed to last 50 years, but 85 years later, it is the second oldest facility on the Ohio River and in bad need of repairs. Montgomery underwent 26 emergency repairs in the past four years, covering anything from fixing hydraulic pumps to replacing seals or gear assemblies. The last time the facility received a major rehabilitation was 40 years ago.

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Medium Fleet
A miter gate closes at the Montgomery Locks and Dam, operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District, on the Ohio River in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, Aug. 2, 2021. The Medium Capacity Fleet crew began work at Montgomery L/D in late July, and they will spend approximately a month to replace and repair components of the gate system and valves. Eventually, all of the gates will be lifted out of the water for additional repairs. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District photo by Michel Sauret)
Photo By: Michel Sauret
VIRIN: 210802-A-TI382-0950

When the fleet arrives on site to perform work, it stands out from anything else on the river, said Callihan.

“I don’t know of any other group of people who could do the work they do with us, anywhere near the effectiveness they do,” said Callihan.

The fleet is equipped with cranes able to lift huge miter gates, which are large enough to crush a two-story home. The fleet has specialists and welders who can fabricate most of the materials and parts they need for the job.

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Medium Fleet
Kevin Asmus, a welder for the Medium Capacity Fleet, cuts out metal plates to install onto a valve at the Montgomery Locks and Dam, operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District, on the Ohio River in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, Aug. 2, 2021. The medium fleet crew began work at Montgomery L/D in late July, and they will spend approximately a month to replace and repair components of the gate system and valves. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District photo by Michel Sauret)
Photo By: Michel Sauret
VIRIN: 210802-A-TI382-0262

“We couldn’t ask for a better partnership. Everyone is focused on finding the best solution we can and making the best use of the resources we have,” said Callihan.

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Medium Fleet
Kevin Asmus, a welder for the Medium Capacity Fleet, cuts out metal plates to install onto a valve at the Montgomery Locks and Dam, operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District, on the Ohio River in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, Aug. 2, 2021. The medium fleet crew began work at Montgomery L/D in late July, and they will spend approximately a month to replace and repair components of the gate system and valves. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District photo by Michel Sauret)
Photo By: Michel Sauret
VIRIN: 210802-A-TI382-0782

Montgomery has two lock chambers, a main and an auxiliary. The facility averages 300 commercial lockages every month, plus another 150 lockages of recreational boats during busy summer months. Industries rely on Montgomery to navigate along the upper Ohio River to transport coal and other commodities.

Montgomery’s main chamber is approximately four times larger than the auxiliary chamber. Beginning in 2024, the Pittsburgh District will replace the auxiliary chamber with one the same size as the main, measuring 600 feet long by 110 feet wide. When that happens, Montgomery will operate only on one chamber. Right now, and until 2023, the medium fleet is providing maintenance to the main chamber to prevent future emergencies, especially during construction.

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Medium Fleet
Crewmembers and maintenance operators for the Medium Capacity Fleet begin major work at the Montgomery Locks and Dam, operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District, on the Ohio River in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, Aug. 2, 2021. The medium fleet crew began work at Montgomery L/D in late July, and they will spend approximately a month to replace and repair components of the gate system and valves. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District photo by Michel Sauret)
Photo By: Michel Sauret
VIRIN: 210802-A-TI382-0964

“We’re trying to do everything we can in this large chamber, so when they start construction on the new chamber, this facility does not get shut down for any reason,” said Lynch.

This August, the fleet is replacing hydraulic cylinders that operate the miter gates, and inspecting and repairing valves that drain and fill the chamber with water. Within two years, the Pittsburgh District will also address the miter gate anchorage systems and other projects.

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Medium Fleet
Martin Litzinger, a lock and dam maintenance and equipment operator and dive supervisor, briefs a team of divers before performing an underwater inspection for the Medium Capacity Fleet at the Montgomery Locks and Dam, operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District, on the Ohio River in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, Aug. 2, 2021. The medium fleet crew began work at Montgomery L/D in late July, and they will spend approximately a month to replace and repair components of the gate system and valves. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District photo by Michel Sauret)
Photo By: Michel Sauret
VIRIN: 210802-A-TI382-1600

The current work is expected to rejuvenate the main chamber, giving it at least 10 more years of life. Once the Pittsburgh District completes the new chamber, it will extend Montgomery’s lifespan even further. Unlike medical surgery, these efforts take years, not hours in the operating room, but the intent is to extend the life of facilities for the future.

“We’re trying to do our best to maintain what’s been handed down to us and build the best we can for the generations that coming after us, and continuing that tradition,” said Callihan.