A Barge is Born

For several decades the Zidell Marine Corporation has resided close to downtown Portland. It is now adjacent to Oregon Health Sciences University’s sparkling fresh South Waterfront campus. I like this picture that shows the rusty old crane next to the modern tram structure:IMG_2814

Zidell’s has specialized in building barges since the 1960’s. Now it is wrapping up the barge business and will turn its focus on developing the 30+ acres of waterfront property where the barge operation sits. The last barge to ever be built by Zidell’s – number 277 – was launched on Friday, June 16, and many community members were invited to view the spectacle. Visitors were greeted in this huge building:



Industry and elegance, juxtaposed.


Hints of more typical uses of the building.


Relic from a (somewhat) bygone era.


Old shelves, probably tidied up for the occasion.

After a few minutes, visitors were invited to walk down to the barge to watch as it was launched into the Willamette River:


Visitors walked the path to the barge.


Walking toward the river. The big black thing in this picture is the barge.


Walking under an enormous blue crane.


This picture showing workers underneath the barge provides a sense of its size.


An ensemble from the Oregon Symphony Orchestra played the Star Spangled Banner and more.


The press was everywhere.


The white platform is where the mayor and others gave speeches, blessings, and where Charlene Zidell christened the barge with a bottle of champagne.

When the speeches were done, the blessings had been given (thank you for the beautiful words, Rabbi), and the champagne had been cracked over the bow, the moment for the launch was at hand. Camera phones were set to record the big-as-a-skyscraper barge sliding down the ramp and splashing into the water. People waited and waited, but the barge did not budge.


Waiting. As long as we’re waiting, here’s an interesting fact: “Double Hull” means the vessel has inner and outer hulls, with three feet space between the hulls on the sides and five feet of space on the bottom.


A half-dozen tugboats were waiting to “catch” the barge.


Still waiting.


The media folks brought in their drones because their batteries were running low.


Worker waiting.

We heard a sound like metal hitting metal. I imagined someone striking the bow with a hammer to give it a nudge – ha! After about 45 minutes of waiting, an announcement came over the loudspeaker: the barge was “reluctant” to leave, they were working on the problem, and meanwhile we were invited back into the building for lunch.

We were greeted at the building entrance with a “sculpture” of the barge:


Barge cake!


Wonderful food, and vegans were not forgotten!

After lunch I went to the OHSU tower next door to charge my phone and continue the barge watch.


View from above: the large black object at the right edge of the picture is the barge.

I returned to the barge at about 3:14 p.m., luckily just in time to see it slide gently into the river. A barge was born. The tugboats caught it because it cannot sail under its own power at this point.


Now there was only space where the barge had been. Clean up began right away:


Birth of a barge. Not something you see every day.


The tugboats gathered around the new barge.

Thank you, Zidell, for hosting a fascinating afternoon.

IMG_2997A few facts about this barge:

  • It will carry petroleum products between Alaska and the US West Coast.
  • For now, it goes by the name Zidell Marine 277. It will be given a different name when it is paired with another barge.
  • It is 421 feet, six inches long, and 76 feet 8 inches wide.
  • Its gross weight is 3,400 tons.
  • The cargo capacity is 80,000 barrels.
  • A link to video of the launch:

Safe journeys.


4 responses to “A Barge is Born

  1. Thanx for a visual of the ‘birthing of a barge!’

  2. End of an era. One of my first memories of Portland was riding in my folks 41 chevy in 1942 Crossing steel bridge and seeing the Willamette river lined with military ships apparently being outfitted for sea.

    Shipbuilding ends, Shop salvaging ends, Barge building ends,timber economy slows, high tech flourishes. What will the future bring for our grandchildren.

  3. What a wonderful memory you shared here, Don. Dramatic cultural change happens so fast that it’s hard to grasp. People of our generation are probably the last to see the nobility of industrial America as you described seeing it as a child. Thanks.

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