Amherst Madison Deckhand Focus Of Media Series Video

The Waterways Journal
30 January 2017
By Heather Ervin

Ryan Gilleran (photo courtesy of Ryan Gilleran).

Last month, The Allegheny Front’s series “Headwaters” featured an episode on Amherst Madison deckhand Ryan Gilleran, who described life on a towboat transporting barges full of coal and other materials up and down the Ohio River.

Produced by Ryan Loew, the video was created in partnership with West Virginia Public Broadcasting with support from the Benedum Foundation and the Foundation for Pennsylvania Watersheds.

Since the video was first published in early December 2016, it has gone viral on various social media platforms. Several companies in the industry have shared the video on Facebook and Twitter.

Set on board the mv. Alan P. Hall, a 4,200 hp. towboat owned and operated by Amherst Madison, the video is one of many in the “Headwaters” series, which explores the environmental and economic importance of the Ohio River.

Alan Hall, the boat’s namesake and vice president-operations of Amherst Madison, said he is very proud of the video and the response it has elicited from the industry. “It was indeed impressive,” said Hall. “We are very proud to be a part of it.”

Joining the film crew and Gilleran onboard the mv. Alan P. Hall was Bill Barr, vice president-safety and compliance. Barr said the coming together of the video is a story in its own right. “There’s more to the story than what people see in the video,” he said.

The American Waterways Operators, for example, put the journalists in charge of the video in touch with Amherst Madison, according to Barr.

It’s the behind-the-scenes story that Barr alluded to during an interview with The Waterways Journal that led us to contact the video’s star, Gilleran. Who is he, how did the film come to be, and why was he chosen as the face of the towboat industry for the series? Check out the deckhand video below.

Waterways Journal: Before we dig into the video and how it came to be, tell us about yourself and your experience in the marine transportation industry.

Gilleran: I grew up in a city just outside of Detroit, Mich., and I went to college at Central Michigan University. Sometime around graduation, I started having “what am I going to do with my life” thoughts. The ones all young people have.

My grandfather was a private pilot, who grew up in West Virginia. He would bring me down to Charleston to a small, private airport and told the guys there what my plans were after graduation. One of the guys at the airport told me about Amherst Madison. One of the pilots, George Jones, is a relative of Charlie Jones, the CEO of Amherst.
To make a long story short, I was told to apply for a deckhand position. So I did. I was given a chance. My girlfriend and I packed up our lives and moved to West Virginia a week later. I didn’t know anything about the job or industry. I never thought I would find myself floating on a river for weeks at a time. Now, I’m coming up on three years on the river.

—photo courtesy of Amherst Madison

The video was filmed onboard Amherst Madison’s Alan P. Hall, where Ryan Gilleran works as a deckhand (photo courtesy of Amherst Madison).
WJ: Getting to the video, why and how were you selected to be the main focus of the story? What was your reaction?

Gilleran: About a year ago or so, a couple of journalists from Pittsburgh got in contact with people involved in the industry and also with the people at Amherst. The journalists explained that they had both seen towboats go through the city and always wondered about the job. They wanted to put together a piece to provide viewers a different perspective of the day in the life of a river crew.

They interviewed everyone on the boat and had hopes of making a larger piece that they could sell to a company like NPR. One of the journalists had to move for work and wasn’t able to create the piece she had hoped to make.

So, the footage sat collecting dust for nearly a year. That changed recently when a cameraman (Loew) got hooked up with The Allegheny Front. They wanted to do a series of videos about blue-collar workers. Loew told them about the footage he had and reached out to me while I was on the towboat and asked if I wanted to be a part of the project.

At the time, I didn’t know much about what he was trying to accomplish. I was just excited about the prospect of being able to represent Amherst and the industry as a whole. I am always talking with people at local pubs and gatherings about the industry and sharing my perspective on such a vital and necessary industry for so many aspects of industrial America that many people, including myself, had not considered.

Loew had me do a phone interview with a local NPR station the day I got off the towboat. That was nice, and anyone who knows me can attest to my passion for audio and the spoken word. I rarely listen to music anymore. Instead, I spend my free time during my hitches listening to audiobooks. As a side note, I recently challenged myself to listen to the biography of American presidents and podcasts about everything from business, health and comedy.
WJ: What was the filming process onboard like?

Gilleran: The filming took place over the course of about five hours. We picked up the crew at Pittsburgh. They stayed on the boat as we went through Locks and Dam 2 and did some tow work.

The crew got to see the whole boat, talk to Capt. R.L. Cadd as we passed some tough bridges, and they got to go down to the engineroom. They saw our rooms and watched us do some work with the barges.

WJ: What did you enjoy most about doing the video?

Gilleran: The best part of being in the video was being chosen to give my account of life on the river. I kept joking on the boat that I was going to be the face of towboating.
I really was glad to do it, because I have done my best to document my journey on the river through pictures and videos for myself and friends. This video was really a great way to highlight the industry and Amherst as a company that has been great to me and my fellow coworkers for decades.

WJ: In your experience, how has the industry responded to the video?

Gilleran: The industry response to the video has been great! I’ve had several guys on the river give me the “ole-that-a-boy” for doing it.

Funnily enough, my favorite part has been getting recognized by lockmen in the Pittsburgh Engineer District. I always try and form relationships with lockmen as I go through. I like learning about their lives and it’s a welcome change of pace from the boat, as there are only seven of us onboard at a time.

WJ: Is there anything you want our readers to know about the video, you or the industry?

Gilleran: I want people to know that this is a great career for people. It’s also great for those looking for a second chance at a life and a career outside of some of the negative lifestyles and choices they have been a part of in the past.

I’d really like to thank Amherst for helping me set roots in West Virginia and allowing me to make a living and memories as a deckhand up and down the Kanawha and Ohio rivers. I hope to continue growing in the industry and seek out new opportunities as a steward of the industry.

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