As promised we are up with no sun and see the steam from the river drifting into the harbour lights. There is a slight fog starting. Scott starts up those engines, tests the spotlight and we are off into the abyss of the canal. With 4 miles to travel through the canal to the lock we keep an eye out for any tows and barges. Scott checks the AIS, (a GPS maritime system), us boaters use. Our AIS sends out our positions as well as receives the position of any other boat that has AIS on. The Tows do have the system and there are none in sight on this dark journey. The 4 miles takes us about a half hour as we carefully make our way toward the huge lock doors. We wait at Wilson Lock for another 20 minutes before heading into the deep cavernous lock.
The Wilson Lock’s original project was completed by the Corps in 1927. In 1959, Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) completed the main single-lift lock, along with several related improvements, to replace the old and inadequate double-lift lockage system. It began operating Nov. 10. 1959. The modified auxiliary lock was reopened on Feb. 9, 1961.
The Wilson Dam was the largest hydroelectric installation in the world when construction began in 1918
Named for President Woodrow Wilson, located on the Tennessee River at Muscle Shoals, Al., was constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to provide hydroelectric power for nearby nitrate plants, as well as to improve navigation for river traffic on the Tennessee River.
When construction began on the dam in 1918, it was the largest of its kind. At its completion in 1926, the Wilson Dam was the largest hydroelectric installation in the world. A test site for draft tube design, three different designs were incorporated in the first three turbines.
The dam is 137 feet high, 4,862 feet long and 105 feet thick at the base. The cost of the project was $119,000,000.
In addition to providing 630 megawatts of electricity, the Wilson Dam also serves as the basis for the Tennessee Valley flood control system. The lock allows commercial and recreational traffic to flow up and down the river, while the 16-mile, 15,500-acre lake formed in the rear of the dam provides beauty and tourism to the area.
The design and engineering of the structures established two world records, one for the length of the dam and one for lock lift height. The knowledge gained from ongoing studies of the ecology and environment surrounding the Wilson Dam may help to solve problems associated with most single large dams around the world.
Originally constructed with eight hydro generators, the Wilson Dam has been expanded to include 10 additional generators capable of generating 630 million watts of power per hour at full load, which is equal to or greater than many fossil power units built in the state or in the Tennessee Valley Authority system. A new single-lift lock has replaced the original locks, increasing barge traffic and providing community and visitor access to recreational facilities up and down the river.
Even with these great engineering feats the problem with this lock is not the lock itself. From what we have heard is that there was a large floating dock wall, similar to the one in the pics of our journey from Costello Lock a few posts ago. The entire structure sank. The tows and barges would use this wall to tie up while waiting for the lock. Without that area there is no area for them to prepare to enter the lock. Along with this occurence happening just a couple weeks ago. the original chamber of flight locks has been shut down and under maintenance for the next 3 months. Traffic is now a problem and the lockmasters must schedule to keep the commerce moving
…and this is not the only lock. There is another about 10 miles down. Before we get there Wilson Lake presents some scenes of its own. The water seems clearer. The lake is still the Tennessee River but flooded with the dams many years ago so these open areas are said to be lakes within the river. On the charts there are again areas that were once structure but long since seen and likely decayed. Hills and valleys and the sun make for a great cruise to the lock
This is the Joe Wheeler Lock. Construction of the Wheeler Auxiliary Lock was started in 1933. Although work continued on it until 1937, the lock was put into operation in 1934. The main lock was begun in 1960. It began operating May 8, 1963.
The Wheeler Locks are named for a Confederate cavalry general named Joseph Wheeler. One of his more famous encounters was a raid on the Federal forces as they moved from Nashville on Dec. 26,1862 on their way to attack the Confederate forces under General Bragg at Murfreesboro. Wheeler skirted the Federal Union, destroying most of four wagon trains carrying Union supplies for the coming siege.
Later, General Wheeler headed U.S. volunteers in the Spanish-American War. He was eventually elected to Congress as well. In 1898, he introduced a long series of bills proposing the Muscle Shoals be developed for navigation. These bills eventually led to the creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA).
It was an easy pass through with the lock waiting for us. It’s only 8:30 in the morning. We have decided to stay at a free dock at the City of Decatur, AL. It’s a long dock with approx 600 feet for cruisers. At this low winter stage water we notice that the charts are off at least 3 feet. The dock entrance shows 7 feet total depth. We’re good with a 4.3 ft draft. As we pass through the entrance it quickly elevates to 9 feet alongside the dock. There is 100 amp power but that is it. No water. Restrooms are a short walk at the adjacent park area. It’s fairly early so we head into the city. Walking we find a “Trails of Tears” that starts just after the community centre. It weaves throughout the city with historical plaques telling you the story of Decatur. For those interested read the next paragraph. We are able to view some of the old buildings, the downtown is very similar to the original in the late 1800’s.
Decatur, is on the Tennessee River. Sometimes known as “The River City,” Decatur has a rich and colorful history. A ferry crossing over the Tennessee River was established by Dr. Henry Rhodes around 1818. The community that developed around the ferry was known as Rhodes Ferry until 1823, when it was renamed Decatur for the U.S. naval officer Stephen Decatur. The City of Decatur was incorporated a few years later in 1826, by the Alabama Legislature. Its fertile river valley soil and relatively easy river access to other cities drew many settlers to the community at that time. In 1833, the State Bank of Alabama opened in Decatur, its building being an impressive edifice in pre-Greek Revival style. Decatur was a much disputed objective during the Civil War, with the result that the Old State Bank was one of only three or four buildings still standing. The Decatur Land and Development Company promoted a new city called New Decatur to the southeast of Decatur around 1886. The new city, named “Albany” was incorporated in 1887. In 1927, Albany merged with Decatur to become a single city. During the early 1900s, many new homes were built and civic improvements were made as the city focused on providing a better quality of life for its citizens. A livery stable was renovated to become the Princess Theater in 1919. Decatur is located on the banks of Wheeler Lake, which was created by the TVA when the agency dammed the Tennessee River with the dams.