Executive Times






2007 Book Reviews


From the Bottom Up: One Man's Crusade to Clean America's Rivers by Chad Pregracke




(Highly Recommended)




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If you’re looking for a book that will excite you and your team about hard work, teamwork, accountability and persistence, forgot any of the Who Moved My Cheese fable genre, and pick up Chad Pregracke’s From the Bottom Up: One Man's Crusade to Clean America's Rivers. Pregracke grew up on the Mississippi River, and as a teenager became aware and shocked by how much garbage was littering the river. Unlike most of us, Pregracke decided to do something about it, and began to clean up the garbage. He’s been doing it for over ten years. He started a not for profit organization, Living Lands & Waters, and made his dream a reality. His simple writing style and the power of the story itself will propel readers to find out what happens next. Here’s an excerpt, from the beginning of Chapter Five: From Boatloads to Barge Loads, pp. 87-89:


That winter, Rodney and I took a month off and drove out to Oregon with Heidi. She had been back on Christmas break from school and we left right after Christmas Day. That wasn’t my favorite trip. We crossed the Rocky Mountains and high plains with no heat in the truck. I got sick and lay down wrapped in five sleeping bags while Rodney drove 32 hours straight through to Eugene—he drank 3o cups of coffee to stay awake. While we were there, we visited Tony and Rachael. I also was able to do a lot of snowboarding.

In January, midway through my trip, I had to fly back for Bald Eagle Days and ended up staying in the Quad Cities an extra week because of a lot of Living Lands & Waters business. That was always my first priority.

I flew to Oregon to finish my vacation and then returned with Rodney in late January. We started right away to get ready for the upcoming sea­son. Rodney repaired the engines, trailers, and equipment while I spent most of my time on the phone trying to raise money for our cleanup season. I knew that barges were going to improve our efficiency and the project’s impact on the public, so I needed a visual prop to show sponsors my concept. My dad made a line drawing of a barge loaded with barrels, tires, and garbage bags. He showed a skid-steer on the deck and drew a banner printed with the name of the project and company sponsors—a version of “your logo here.”

When I visited sponsors, I told them I planned to go back to the Mississippi River to do community cleanups. To buildup momentum, we would return to all the river towns with the barge and use its accumula­tion of garbage as a focus. The banner would tell people who we were and what we were doing. It also would show who our sponsors were. People were always asking if the government paid for the project, and they were usually surprised to learn that our funding came from private sponsors.

My efforts took a big step forward by some timely questioning. Every day on the Mississippi River behind my parents’ house I had seen a towboat from Moline Consumers Company (now Riverstone) pushing sand barges. They went upstream empty in the morning and came back full in the after­noon. I called Bob Emler, a manager, and explained the cleanup project to him. I asked if they had any barges that we could use or have. He said it was an amazing coincidence that I had called because the owner had just decided to retire four barges and scrap them out. Emler called the owner about my request and was told to pick the best barge and give it to the project.

I was really excited by this unexpected boon, but when I drove down to look at the barge, I realized I didn’t have a place to park it. I was hop­ing that he really hadn’t given it to me but was just letting me use it. No, they informed me, it was all mine. That led me to scrambling to find a winter home for it. My first thought was to park it in front of my parents’ house and tie it to their dock. But that didn’t work out so well. In the end, Iworked with Blackhawk Fleet to move the barge and park it near Buffalo, Iowa, until the cleanup season started.

I was so happy to get the sand barge and to have leases on two Corps barges that I never considered the need for a boat to tow the barges. That was simply poor planning.

I started calling around to see how realistic it would be to get rides from fleeting services. All along a navigable river there are designated places where barges are tied to the shore as if in a parking lot—these are called fleets. Small towboats then move the barges short distances to terminals, dry docks, or wharfs—and this is called a fleeting service. Unfortunately, there weren’t that many services on the river and none in a lot of the places we would be cleaning.

Rodney reminded me about an army surplus boat we had seen the year before at Harborside Marina when we were working on The Miracle. The marina had used it for pushing docks around and was refurbishing it for sale—redoing the bottom of the hull and overhauling the engines. The boat was built in the i960s with a riveted aluminum hull and was ~ feet long and 7 feet wide. Two 90-horsepower Detroit diesel engines powered the boat with through-the-hull twin propellers, and it was steered with two huge semicircular rudders. It was a Vietnam War—era vessel origi­nally designed for building bridges. We needed a boat capable of pushing barges, and this tough army veteran with faded camouflage-green paint looked like it could do the job.

I called Ron at Harborside Marina to check into buying this army sur­plus boat, and asked him if he thought it could push a line of barges that was 360 feet long, 30 feet wide, and loaded with garbage. I said we’d be working on the Mississippi River. There was a pause while he consulted with his mechanics, and I could hear laughter in the background. When Ron got back on the phone he said, “Yeah, well, it’ll push you downstream pretty good, but I don’t know about upstream.”

“Perfect!” I said. “We’ll take it!”

We called this vessel the “Nam boat” or Nammy. It came with a special­ized steel cradle to hold it but didn’t have a trailer. A crane at Harborside Marina placed the boat in its cradle on my dad’s flatbed trailer. We had determined that the cradle needed to be installed backwards on the trailer to keep the weight balanced over the trailer’s wheels. We also learned that the trailer had to be completely submerged to launch or load the boat. For that reason, the boat’s bow stuck out the back of the trailer. It looked weird, but it worked.


Many organizations spend a lot of time talking about mission, and about passion in achieving that mission. Reading From the Bottom Up will excite readers with the clarity of what it means and what it takes to make a difference.


Steve Hopkins, August 25, 2007



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The recommendation rating for this book appeared

 in the September 2007 issue of Executive Times


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