Blackhawk Fleet, Inc. operates towboats and barges along the Mississippi River
out of Davenport Iowa. The city, on the Mississippi River
300-miles up river from St. Louis, has long been a maritime center. When 84-year old Capt. David Tipton died at the wheel of his snag-pulling steamboat in 1904 he was buried here. To honor the Mark Twain contemporary, his crew hauled an anchor from the river to mark his grave site. His vessel, the Col. A. Mackenzie was renamed the David Tipton.
Tipton's death was declared the end of an era, but it hardly marked the end of riverboat work around Davenport. Today,Blackhawk's eight boats and 35 barges have a variety of capabilities including crane, deck and sand barges. General Manager Vaughn McDaniel explains that the company aims for maximum versatility with seven of the eight boats, all built in Houston Texas, as virtually identical. To this end, Blackhawk has been carrying out a repower program since 1995 to standardize on Cummins engines.
Each winter since 1995, they have installed a pair of 500 hp KTA19 engines in one of their 60 by 22-ft. vessels. This winter, they are installing the new engines in their push boat Lauren. As with the two most recent vessels the Cummins engines in the "Lauren" turn 62 x 46-in. propellers through Tonanco model TM939 5.9:1 gears supplied by Lake Charles Diesel. "It is three years since we put in the first Tonanco gears and they haven't given us any trouble," explained McDaniel. The fleet's generator sets are also being upgraded to Cummins as well, with each boat getting a pair of Cummins 4-B- 35 KW Systems.
Blackhawk Fleet does their own repower work at their shipyard, which has two floating drydocks. A lot has changed around Davenport since Capt. Tipton's crew dragged the anchor to his grave. Steam power is long gone from the river. Fifteen years after Tipton'’s death, the Cummins Engine Company was formed one state over in Columbus Indiana. William Irwin — a successful Columbus banker-investor — supplied the starting capital for the Cummins Engine Company. The new company's namesake, Clessie Cummins, was a self-taught mechanic-inventor. The Cummins company quickly built a reputation for reliable marine engines. That is a reputation that continues to grow at the Blackhawk Fleet’'s Davenport operations.