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Missouri River Barge Photo

Date: c. 1960


Description: This photo shows a large, heavy duty river barge on the Missouri River, a common sight for many Sioux Cityans after 1950. Sioux City has long depended on the three rivers flowing through it, and in its earliest days the most reliable way in and out of the city was by steamboat. However, the Missouri River was not well suited for steamboat travel. It was wide, shallow, very muddy, and often carried flotsam and debris unseen by ship captains, causing damage to boats. It was also the source of many of Sioux City’s worst floods. The introduction of the railroad made steamboat traffic a less efficient and nearly obsolete means of travel. That is, until the 1950s, when flood control projects on the Missouri reduced the width of the river and lessened the extent of the floods considerably. These projects made the Missouri much more navigable so that in this era, even though automobiles and trucking were on the rise, barge traffic became a huge means of trade for Sioux City. Barges are low, sturdy boats used for transporting goods. Most barges have no engine and rely on towboats or “pushers,” like the boat shown in this photo, to move upriver. Barges are ideal for transporting large, heavy goods that are unsuitable for trucks or railcars. This was especially true in the 1950s and 1960s, when the railroad was on the decline due to the automotive industry but large-scale commercial trucking was still in development. Barge ports and terminals like the Big Soo Terminal in the Bridgeport Industrial Park in the south end of Sioux City cropped up in this time period to take advantage of this now reliable means of transport. Sioux City even formed a new festival to commemorate the resurgence of the river trade: Port of Sioux City River-Cade. Today, similar to the railroad, barges are still in use but to a lesser extent. The development of interstate highways and commercial trucking decreased the need for the large barges limited to the river. But terminal companies like Big Soo and barges are still important for hauling grain and other goods on the river, and River-Cade is still celebrated in Sioux City every year.


Donor: Blair Chicoine

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