- Associated Press - Sunday, April 20, 2014

GREENVILLE, Miss. (AP) - Cary Lewis has the best view of anyone who plies the Mighty Mississippi. His office - better known as a pilothouse - sits atop the Motor Vehicle Mississippi five stories above the waterline.

Lewis is the pilot-on-duty of this massive towboat - the largest and most powerful in the world - and, like a nervous cat, he can’t help but regularly glance about, in his case downriver from this perch high above the treacherous, yet serene appearing, Mississippi River.

Lewis is a slightly corpulent man with a steady gaze, both of which evince a life spent with the responsibility of steering barges up and down the river and its tributaries.

He is 62 years old and has been on the water, now, the better part of half a century.

“I started out when I was 18 as a deckhand and worked my way up to the pilothouse,” he said.

It was then, before he was old enough to vote, that a towboat pilot working for the former Missouri Barge Line Co., which had brought Lewis on board, challenged him by saying, “Why don’t you steer this afternoon? Or, why don’t you make this bridge?”

Lewis has been steering and making bridges ever since.

Six years ago, St. Louis-based AEP River Operations, a subsidiary of the publicly traded American Electric Power Co., purchased the Missouri Barge Line Co., and Lewis, who has lived in the company’s home port of Cape Girardeau, Mo. - a city the size of Greenville - since his family moved from Chicago when he was eight, elected to seek employment elsewhere.

At the time, he said, “the Corps was needing a pilot, and I signed on.”

Doing so continued a certain familial tradition.

“My dad,” he said, “was in the Corps years ago, on the dredge Hurley.”

The Motor Vessel Mississippi, aka The Boat, as its deckhands refer to it with obvious affection, was built at Pascagoula-based VT Halter Marine Inc.’s Moss Point shipyard.

It is the fifth boat to bear the proud name - the first was commissioned in 1882 - and given the responsibility of keeping an eye on the rivers that comprise the Mississippi watershed.

The current iteration’s keel was laid on March 31, 1992, and the boat was commissioned the following year.

The MV Mississippi is the flagship of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and is based in Memphis, Tenn.

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