The National Achievement Award is the highest honor presented by the National Rivers Hall of Fame to those people who are making significant contributions to America’s waterways. The National Rivers Hall of Fame with members in 36 states is the only national museum telling the stories of the people of America’s rivers.
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Honored in 1990
Robert L. Gray of Ashland, Kentucky, worked with Ashland Petroleum Company and was involved in the introduction of radar to the inland waterways in 1946 and 1947.
As a student in Mechanical Engineering at Speed Scientific School at the University of Louisville in the 1930s, he knew that diesel engines were the coming thing. But the only way to gain diesel engine experience was to work on the river. So he began to work on the boats and at the boatyard at Jeffboat between his classes. When he graduated in 1941, he joined Ashland, beginning his full time career on the river.During WW II, radar was developed for use on the open seas, but it was classified and could not be used by commercial vessels. Following the war, radar became available for commercial use. Bob Gray joined an Ashland development team that worked with the Sperry Company. Their motto was “Let’s give radar a try!” They installed it on the MV Jim Martin and the MV Tri-State, to work out the bugs. It was a success. Soon RCA, Raytheon and other companies followed suit, and the era of radar on the inland waters was born.Bob Gray continued his career at Ashland and was involved with the company’s tremendous growth during the mid-20th century as their refinery outgrew the local supply of crude oil. He and his colleagues at Ashland teamed with the shipyards to develop the integrated tow.
The “jumbo” tank barge of 195 ft. by 35 ft. became the industry standard, and he saw their fleet, “the poor man’s pipeline,” expand many times over. Soon Ashland had the largest tank barge feet in the country.