A roaring river; remembering Soc

By G. Sam Piatt - Contributing Columnist



I’ve never seen the Ohio River take such a quick jump as it did this past week.

The week before I had mentioned that the river level at Portsmouth/South Shore stood at 16 or 17 feet and how unusual it was to fall to summer pool like that in December.

Fishermen casting from the concrete pier in the tailwaters of the Greenup Dam should be filling their stringers, especially on the sauger, I wrote.

Then came that downpour.

It rained all night and all day, steady rain up and down the old river.

It quickly rose from that low mark to push into the willows, maples and sycamores along its banks, reaching 45 feet.

And so ended the efforts of the wintertime river fishermen.


And also ended, temporarily at least, the production of electricity to the city of Hamilton, which owns the fall-of-the-river power plant built on the Ohio side of the dam.

Since the hydroelectric plant produces electricity from the fall of river water powering its three generators, plant officials said when the lower level rises to five feet below the level above the dam, the plant cannot produce electricity and the generators are shut down.

It was just such a fluctuation of river levels that led to Hamilton owning the plant. Vanceburg’s utility company designed and built the plant, along with about 25 miles of transmission lines across the hills from the plant to Vanceburg.

The plan was for the hydroelectric plant to produce all of Vanceburg’s needs.

The city had a contract with Hamilton to sell it the excess power produced by the plant. A long spell of high water kept Vanceburg from supplying the amount of power to Hamilton it had agreed on.

Hamilton sued for breech of contract, won, and wound up as the plant’s new owner.


The Greenup Dam power plant, built at a cost of about $190 million, employs a dozen people – nine operators, a maintenance worker, and two supervisory people.

It was prefabricated, built at a shipyard in France, shipped across the Atlantic Ocean, and barged up the Mississippi and Ohio rivers to the dam to be placed on concrete supports built to house it.

“Soc” CLAY

Somehow or other I got off on catching fish in the dam tailwaters to catching falling river water and turning it into electricity.

I want to pay tribute to my friend Clarence “Soc” Clay. It’s still difficult for me to believe that we buried him up in Mount Zion, three miles from the Fern Hollow home he shared with his wonderful wife, Wanda, at about noon on the day the world would celebrate the passing of the year 2021.

We shared so many wonderful outdoor adventures together: float trips by canoe down the Kinniconick, down the charging rapids of the New River Gorge in a dory, chasing walleye on Lake Erie and smallmouth on Dale Hollow.

We shared expenses on trips 50-50. I remember one time at a room we would share … he unlocked the door and went in ahead of me. Suddenly he stopped and backed up. I looked over his shoulder and saw the reason why: one bed, and it was hardly as big as a queen size. Share a room? Yes. Share a bed? No, no. Back down to the clerk’s desk.

He started writing an outdoor column in the late 1960s for the Portsmouth Daily Times while still working at the steel mill in New Boston.

At the discussion of salary, Editor George Stowell wrote down a two followed by two zeros. Wow! That was pretty good, Soc thought, for a couple of hours writing a column.

But then Stowell put a period after the two.

I started my 30-year newspaper career with The Portsmouth Daily Times in 1971. I took up the banner where Soc had left of. We both wanted to clean up the Ohio and its tributaries.

He liked to tell everyone that between the two of us we had a century of writing about the outdoors.


When the mill closed its furnaces forever in 1980, Soc was free, free to roam and write stories and take photos and send them off.

He went all out for the magazines. I stayed with the newspaper and that check that came in every two weeks.

In an upstairs room in the Portsmouth Public Library there are stacks and stacks of back issue magazines.

He spent hours up there studying outdoor publications, how the writers wrote the stories running in them.

During the next 20 years his stories and photos would grace the pages of just about every outdoor magazine in the nation.

He described himself as a commercial writer.

He told me that one month he received 13 checks for his published works.

He was honored in 1984 as Kentucky’s Poet Laureat.

Maybe the honor he was most proud of was when he was elected to the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame as a legendary journalist – the only one up there in that category.

We were brothers, Soc and I. Not biological brothers. But you know what I mean. We closed our telephone or in person talks with, “Love you, brother. Love YOU, brother.”

In a hospital room back in October or November, I asked him if he wanted to be saved. “Yes,” he said, almost before I could finish the question.

We prayed the sinner’s prayer. He accepted Jesus Christ as his savior.

And so Soc and I have some more adventures awaiting us.


By G. Sam Piatt

Contributing Columnist

Reach G. SAM PIATT at gsamwriter@twc.com or (606) 932-3619

Reach G. SAM PIATT at gsamwriter@twc.com or (606) 932-3619