River Rats

Wiped out or not, for most tug crew men, their boats and the river are their lives. Roy Tollette, 47-year-old captain of the Hercules, began working for ®MDNM¯Backus Towing when he was sixteen. Carlin Nunez, 33 years old and captain of the Anita Backus, is a native of Forked Island, Louisiana, who rode boats with his dad when he was seven. Alvin Cavalier, a 26-year-old deck hand on the Tiburon from Donaldsonville, Louisiana, worked on push boats plying the Mississippi after he graduated high school. He came to the Miami River in August 1989. "This is like what I grew up to do," he says. "It's family. It's my daddy's life, my daddy's brothers were on boats, my mother and grandmother were cooks on boats. It's a way of life for us."

"What other life is there?" asks Rex Barnes, the father of four daughters and a son. "It's really a state of mind more than anything else. We're on the water all the time. We can do our jobs at our own pace and not kill ourselves to get the job done right. As a truck driver I was always having to worry about getting there to unload and whatnot. This way we just drop it off and we're gone. Free. Then we sit and goof around for an hour or two and hit it again. For me it's not really a job yet. Right now it's just a lot of fun. And believe me, the first time I did this, it was scary as hell. I was running the Atlas, looking up at these big things, never thinking in my wildest dreams I'd be doing a boat like this. But it still ain't a job. The day it turns into one, I'll be gone.

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