MOUNT VERNON, Ind. — Josh Rogers jokes he was born on a boat. Some of his earliest and fondest memories are of growing up on a towboat. His dad Randy Rogers and son Rocky Rogers did the same.
Josh, of Mount Vernon, is a fourth-generation towboat captain since 1997, working for years longer as a deckhand, on the water towing barges up and down the Ohio River. He’s a boat captain at Mount Vernon Barge Service in Mount Vernon, Indiana.
“Guys would ask me all the time, ‘How can you drive so good? You just got licensed!'” Josh joked. “What they didn’t know is that I’d been driving a boat since I was knee-high to my grandfather and he taught me how to drive. I grew up around it my whole life. It’s what I do.”
And now his son Rocky, 21, is by his side as his deckhand and working to become licensed so he can become a boat captain himself.
While most of their family worked more as line crew – tow operators who take long-term trips, gone weeks at a time living on the boat – Josh and Rocky do harbor service. They shuffle barges to and from nearby areas waiting to be taken down river.
“We’re also the only ones on the Ohio River,” Josh said. “The rest are Mississippi (River) guys” with much of their family in Louisiana, where his dad grew up.
“Watching Rocky, I couldn’t be prouder,” he said.
Growing up, Josh watched his dad Randy. And Rocky is now doing the same.
“I couldn’t have been much older than 2, and my dad worked here and was the pilot on the Marty B,” Rocky said. “I remember playing with the throttles and stick. This is all I’ve wanted to do. I want to be outdoors. I want to do this work. It’s what my whole family does.
“Working with my dad has its ups and downs, but he’s one of the best pilots out there. He makes sure I’m safe and I do the same. And he’s pushed me to get where I am now. My dad’s my hero. I’m going to follow in his footsteps.”
The two work seamlessly together, almost seeming like they can communicate solely in just a few key phrases and hand signals as Rocky works to unhook a barge, stepping from the towboat to the tiny ledge of the barge.
The history goes far beyond Randy, Josh’s dad and Rocky’s grandfather. Josh’s grandfather, John Wolfe, was a well-known boat captain on the Mississippi, as was his great-grandfather Edward Wolfe. They even have records of his great-great-great grandfather driving a paddleboat, although they are still looking for more history. If they got that confirmed, Rocky could be a sixth-generation boat captain.
And his little brother, Harley Rogers, will be working for the same title too. He turns 18 in March and plans to join them on the boat soon, hoping to join as a deckhand. And their sister, Tabitha Davidson, 25, also in the past had expressed a desire to be a deckhand, although women are not often hired for the job.
It’s a physically and mentally demanding job. The testing to get your license isn’t easy. The responsibilities are huge. You’re driving a heavy, costly boat and hauling millions in product weighing thousands of tons. The return though is good. It’s a nice living – six figures — and neither Josh nor Rocky could imagine being in an office setting.
“I love this job,” Rocky said. “So does dad. He’s said to me, ‘Can you believe they pay us to come out here and play with these toys?'”
Angela Rogers is Josh’s wife. The couple has been married 22 years.
“She loves us both doing this,” Josh said. “She will come and ride some, but boats put her to sleep.”
“Winters suck,” Josh said. “Barges freeze up and it’s just so cold you can’t ever get warm. But I enjoy being outside. It’s a passion. And when it’s nice, it’s really nice to be able to be on the river and on the water each day.”
And family, after all, is a big part of Josh’s desire to do this job – to support his family and spend time with them.
This is an Indiana Exchange story shared by The Courier & Press