Rockin’ Thunder offers two-day trips between its home base in the Ohio River town of Madison, Ind., all the way to Frankfort and back — taking advantage of the reopening of four historic locks on the Kentucky River.
The river is pooled behind dams at different levels, and the locks, built in the 1830s, allow boats to move between levels. Locks 1 through 4, located at Carrollton, Lockport, Monterey, and Frankfort, respectively, were closed for eight years for renovation. With their reopening in spring of this year, 82 miles of the river are navigable from Frankfort to the Ohio River at Carrollton.
Rockin’ Thunder owners Capt. Paul Nicholson and wife Janet Harding offer several excursions, but the two-day Kentucky River trip is their favorite.
“It’s our riders’ favorite trip,” Capt. Nicholson said. “We spend the night in Frankfort. Our guests get to tour the Buffalo Trace bourbon distillery, enjoy the historic parts of Frankfort, have music in the park.”
Harding appreciates the history of the locks which were built to make it possible to transport coal and timber down river.
“To think when we pull up into those locks – and those locks were completed in 1838 – [to see] the same stones that were set there by German immigrants that were hand cut and hand set – it just gives me goosebumps,” said Harding.
Passengers enjoy breathtaking views of the Kentucky River’s scenic canyons and surrounding forest and wildlife. “The Kentucky River is beautiful,” Harding said. “It’s pretty much untouched.”
While a river trip may sound leisurely and relaxing, these high-powered jet boats can really fly—they’re equipped with Corvette engines. Although Rockin’ Thunder offers a thrill ride with spins and fishtails, the Kentucky River ride is a more sedate trip that might include a spin, if, as their website says, “everyone in the boat is up for it.”
In Their Own Words
The year 2015 is the 40th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War. An estimated 125,000 Kentuckians answered the call to Vietnam on behalf of their country; more than a thousand were killed.
Three veterans —- U.S. District Judge Joe Hood of Lexington and David Cowherd and Rick Uhey, both of Elizabethtown -— remember their experiences aboard the Tango and Tiger boats of the Mobile Riverine Force. The MRF, known as the Brown Water Navy, operated in the rivers and canals of the Mekong Delta in southwestern Vietnam.
Cowherd served on a Tiger boat. “Our main job, when we were on the boats, was to inspect the sanpans and the Vietnamese traffic to make sure there was no contraband on them,” he said.
Cowherd said they were also sent up the canals to try to draw enemy fire so the U.S. helicopters could strike.
The boats, which looked somewhat like cabin cruisers, offered very little protection from enemy fire. “Really, the only thing that protected you on those boats was the fact that they were so fast,” he said.
Tango boats transported troops throughout the delta. Judge Hood recalled his doubts about the Tango. “Everything I learned about setting ambushes and things is to do it quietly,” he recalled thinking. “You couldn’t go in quietly because they had big diesel engines on them. … This looks just like a place for somebody to shoot up.”
His concerns were realized on June 19, 1967, when U.S. soldiers were ambushed. Rick Uhey was there. “My company walked into a 400-man Viet Cong unit. The enemy was in a triangle shape ambush,” he said. “They had 50 caliber machine guns on the ends and in the center. And when we were almost in the middle of it all, that’s when they opened up, and they took out 66 guys, killed 66 right away. And about 50 other guys were wounded.”
The men who sent soldiers out on missions suffered when their men suffered. Judge Hood recalled the night the war hit home for him. He had spent three months in Vietnam without losing a man. “I didn’t have anybody hurt for three months and I thought I was really good. I thought it was a tribute to what I was doing,” he said. “And then one night I had an ambush patrol overrun. It brought me back to reality.”
Eight men were lost. “I had to do the memorial service for these people,” he said. “Had to write the letters to their parents. Devastating, devastating.”
The experiences of the Vietnam War have stayed with these veterans for a lifetime. Their stories will be part of a KET special about Kentucky’s Vietnam veterans, Kentucky Veterans of the Vietnam War: In Their Own Words, scheduled to premiere in November 2016.
Old Louisville is famous for its ornate mansions, built between 1885 and 1905, in 45 square blocks of its historic district. David Domine, author of “The Ghosts of Old Louisville,” gives ghost tours and history/architecture tours of the neighborhood.
Old Louisville homeowner Ron Harris said Domine has done thorough research for his tours. “He’s worked hard to make sure they’re correct and that he has as much information as possible packed into each story,” Harris said.
St. James Court was built on the site of the Southern Exposition after the fair closed. “This neighborhood has been designated as America’s most haunted neighborhood,” said homeowner Susan Shearer. “The people who live here feel the spirits. They’re always with us. Some are not so friendly. Most are.”
The Pink Palace was built in the 1890s as a “gentlemen’s club,” but is known now as a private residence with a ghost named Avery, who makes appearances when people who live there are in danger, Domine said.
“He’s what they call a ‘crisis apparition’ in the paranormal world,” he said. “If you have to have a ghost in your house, he’s the kind that you want.”
Shearer said her home is haunted by the ghost of a little girl in a white dress who stands on the staircase. Domine researched her home and discovered that a little girl who lived there was killed in about 1915 or 1920 when she was hit by a car.
In Louisville’s Central Park, one of the DuPont brothers is said to haunt the area. In 1893, it is said that his mistress showed up pregnant at the Galt House. DuPont refused to claim the child, and his mistress shot and killed him. “They say that it’s because of this scandalous tragedy that Uncle Fred, as he is known still, haunts this neighborhood today,” Domine said.
Domine’s wealth of information brings the history of Old Louisville to life. “We don’t really own these houses. We are caretakers,” Shearer said. “The structures actually have a life of their own.”