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The City of Pittsburgh (Harper's Magazine, December, 1880) - Page 54

View of Pittsburgh from the Opposite Heights
[View of Pittsburgh] FROM THE HURRICANE DECK

anything over eight feet. This occurs when both rivers, swelled by rapid thaw or continued rains, send down their quickened tides, so that both freshets reach the Ohio at the same time. About the mouth of the Monongahela, or safely moored in its slack-water "pools," float hundreds of great clumsy craft that have the draught of a small ocean steamer.
These are laden deep with millions of bushels of the wonderful bituminous coal and matchless coke of Western Pennsylvania. The coal, in glistening irregular cubes, is fresh from a hundred collieries up the beautiful Monongahela Valley, and the coke, in huge barges that hold 35,000 bushels each, is the output of the adjacent regions, where 5000 coke ovens blacken the fair land and sky with their dense smoke. In 1879 62,000,000 bushels of coal and 3,500,000 bushels of coke passed through the locks of the Monongahela, dependent for its going upon the caprice of Jupiter Pluvius. These awkward-looking boats, with their load of carbon, may have lain thus for months, while the price of their cargoes has doubled in the far-off markets for which they were loaded, and their owners are moved to profanity, or pray for rain to float off their waiting cargoes.
Pittsburgh is the home of 130 tow-boats of a pattern incomprehensible to Eastern eyes, for they do not "tow," but push. Their homeliness is outweighed by their bull-dog tenacity of purpose, when it comes to their legitimate business of harbor and long-trip towing of cumbersome fleets of coal-laden craft. These are lashed in a solid fleet, of which the steamer is the hindmost hull. In cost these craft range from the perfectly appointed monster representing a fortune of $50,000 and the power of 1700 horses, down to the battered veteran that might bring $2000. This motley fleet is huddled in port, each boat ready and anxious to move these coal craft over the hundreds or thousands of miles of tortuous Ohio or muddy Mississippi. Their fires are laid and their boilers are filled, and when the coal-boat stage comes at last it finds Pittsburgh boats and their crews galvanized into intense action.
It may be that this long-expected rise is an affair of a single day, or of forty-eight hours' duration at best. The rivers of Pittsburgh rise and fall like a jack-in-the-box. There may be three feet of water on Saturday, thirteen on Sunday, and Monday's sunset will redden "six feet scant" in the channel. Between these extremes is the tide which, taken at the flood, leads the coal fleet to Southern and Western markets, and brings long-deferred cash to the shippers. The amount of systematically directed energy, backed by experience and ability, necessary to get out a coal shipment of, say, 10,000,000 bushels (twenty-six and a half bushels to the ton),