Rollin’ on the river: motor home retrieved after 7 months

Published 12:01 am Thursday, August 9, 2012

ROD GUAJARDO / THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Employees of Jason’s Body Shop and Curtis Wrecker Service work to get the remnants of a 38-foot Rexhall motor home, which has been in the Mississippi River for seven months, off a Vidalia Dock and Storage barge. The motor home rolled into the river in January outside Under-the-Hill Saloon.

NATCHEZ — It took two wrecker companies, two certified divers and six hours, but the motor home that’s called the Mississippi River its home for nearly seven months was retrieved Wednesday.

Jason’s Body Shop was contracted by the insurance company of James Gilmore, the owner of the 38-foot Rexhall motor home that went for a swim in January, to retrieve the vehicle.

Gilmore told the Natchez Police Department in January that he had the vehicle parked at Under-the-Hill Saloon when he stepped out of the vehicle to close a door and the motorhome started to roll. He tried to jump back into the vehicle to stop it, but it was moving too quickly and he had to jump away, the NPD police report said.

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The police officer who responded to the scene in January spotted the motor home floating down the river, but lost sight of the vehicle once it passed the Mississippi River bridge.

As the river levels began dropping in July, the top of the motor home became visible.

The $250,000 motor home apparently traveled slightly south of the bridge and was spotted just below the Briars.

Jason Hennington of Jason’s Body Shop said Gilmore’s insurance company, who claimed the vehicle was a liability if it were to float away once river levels increase, contacted him about removing the vehicle from the river.

When the motor home initially rolled into the river, U.S. Coast Guard officials said the vehicle didn’t present any navigational or environmental hazards.

ROD GUAJARDO / THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Employees attempt to pull the motor home from the river just below the Briars. The motor home collapsed as the crew finally pulled it from the river.

After some initial planning, Hennington said he realized the job needed some extra machinery and manpower, so he contracted Curtis Wrecker Service, Two J Ranch and Vidalia Dock and Storage to help.

Since the motor home was almost completely submerged in the river, Hennington also had to contract two certified scuba divers from Alexandria to dive into the river and locate secure positions to pull the vehicle out of the river.

With all the necessary equipment and employees on board the Vidalia Dock and Storage towboat, the mismatched crew pulled up to the motor home at 2 p.m. Wednesday and dove right into the job.

With water, silt and other river remnants holding the motor home down, the crew found that a simple hook and pull wasn’t in store.

“We kept having to pick it up and put it down to find the best spot to hook up to,” Hennington said. “There were some complications, but we got it out.”

But even with the most secured hook location acquired, the toll the river had taken on the motor home became obvious as two cranes pulled from each end of the motor home to get it up and out of the river.

“Whenever we finally picked it up, the whole thing collapsed,” Hennington said. “It had been in the river so long, all that stuff just ate away at it.”

After four hours of precise maneuvering from the crane and towboat pilots, the dismantled motor home arrived back at Vidalia Dock and Storage ready to be loaded onto a flatbed trailer and hauled away to Jason’s Body Shop.

Even with all the complications and hours of labor, Hennington said it was an interesting experience and one he won’t soon forget.

“For this community, this is a pretty big deal,” Hennington said. “I’ll remember how hot it was.”