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Posted 5/16/2017

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By Ken Williams, USACE Memphis District, Public Affairs Specialist


MEMPHIS, Tenn., May 16, 2017 - If you’ve ever researched your family’s history, you know that each uncovered fact enriches your family story. This is exactly what Mary Juliette Tiedgen and her daughter Karen Tiedgen experienced when, in 1996, they discovered their surprising family connection to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Memphis District.

While doing genealogical research on the Rouse family, Karen Tiedgen discovered that the District’s Dry Dock Rouse is named after her great-grandfather, Capt. James Washington (J.W.) Rouse. Mary Tiedgen, 88, and her daughter visited the Memphis District’s Ensley Engineer Yard (EEY) on April 4 to see the Rouse. They traveled 750 miles from Norfolk, Neb., for the visit.

This was Karen Tiedgen’s second visit. She first visited the Dry Dock only months after her discovery in 1996. This second visit was at the request of her mother who listed the Rouse as one of the top things she wished to see.

EEY Plant Section chief, Andrea Williams, hosted the visit and guided the two on a tour of the Rouse and EEY. The Tiedgens shared information, newspaper clippings, and pictures of Capt. Rouse with Williams.

Capt. Rouse, who died in 1931 at the age of 78, was “a familiar figure on the Mississippi River during the years 1895 to 1926,” according to an article clipping provided by the Tiedgens. Another article clipping says Capt. Rouse “served on a government dredge boat at Memphis for more than 30 years.” The clipping also states that Rouse “was in the government service for 57 years.”

The 800-ton Dry Dock Rouse is a narrow structure (60 ft. wide and 160 ft. long) that is flooded in a controlled manner to allow vessels to float into it. The vessel’s ballast tanks are then drained, allowing it to come to rest on the dry dock for hull maintenance and repair. The Rouse has the capability to raise a vessel up to 400 tons in weight.

The Rouse was built in 1933 by the Marietta Manufacturing Company of Point Pleasant, W. Va., for $36,610. Marietta built many ships and other structures for the Army and Navy during World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam War. The company closed its doors in 1984.

After mother and daughter returned home to Norfolk, Neb., I contacted and asked Karen Tiedgen about their visit to see the Rouse.

“Mary got goose bumps and she is very honored that it is there,” said Tiedgen. “It was a great feeling for us to be able to walk around and touch this dock. Even though it was built after James' death, it was a great feeling that we walked on some of the same areas that he walked and worked on for 31 years.”

When I asked Karen Tiedgen how they felt when she discovered the Rouse was named in honor of their relative, she said they were thrilled.

“We had a newspaper clipping titled ‘Engineers to build floating dry dock.’ This of course sparked my curiosity and I wanted to find out more,” said Tiedgen. “I must have Googled it and found out that it is located at Ensley Engineer Yard. This was February 1996. I believe later that year I visited Ensley Engineer Yard.”

Commenting on their overall visit, Tiedgen said Andrea Williams gave them a tour of the Motor Vessel Mississippi and they got to see maintenance work being done on the Dredge Hurley.

“Everyone was very friendly,” said Tiedgen. “We got to visit with some of the men and got to see them working on different jobs. Some of the equipment is huge and I'm sure many of the jobs can be dangerous and safety is a top priority.”

When I started on this article, I asked Andrea Williams for some additional information on the Rouse and she made a very interesting discovery.

In 2008, the Rouse sank and was almost lost.

On Sunday morning, July 20, a security guard noticed that one end of the Rouse’s deck was sinking and alerted District employees. Crew arrived to find the west wall completely submerged. Initially, the crew raised the sinking end, but the dock sank again. The sinking was caused by two leaking valves that allowed water to enter the dock.

In October 2008, the Memphis District partnered with the Nashville District’s Dive Team in an effort to recover the Rouse. The dive team made repairs with the help of EEY technicians who fabricated special parts needed to raise the Rouse.

Eighty-four years and still floating strong. With the distinction of being the only one of the District’s three dry docks named in honor of a person, the Rouse continues serving and honoring the life, work, and reputation of Capt. James Washington (J.W.) Rouse.

Karen Tiedgen’s genealogical discovery enriched her family’s story and added a very interesting chapter to the Memphis District’s history.