When Charles L. Strait began working as a deckhand for White River Fleeting in 1976, he had a vision. As he worked his way up from deckhand to pilot, he studied the ins and outs of the river industry. After climbing up the ranks to pilot with White River, he then headed down river to New Orleans where he was named Port Captain in 1984. All the while, Charles was developing a complete understanding of the river industry and what it takes to be both efficient and successful in the industry from top to bottom.
So naturally, after several years as Port Captain, Charles set out to start his own company out of his kitchen in Ash Flat, Arkansas. He purchased a 3000 horsepower twin screw boat and named it after his father: the M/V Mr. Lewis. From here, Western Rivers Boat Management was born. In 2007, after several successful years in Arkansas, he then decided to move the company to Paducah, KY, where the river industry was booming. Today, Western Rivers currently operates 34 vessels and is now the largest independently owned tow company in the United States.
Shortly after the move, Charles expanded by adding the First Marine repair facility. First Marine includes an electrical shop, a machine shop, a fabrication shop, and several other services and repairs in ample dry-docking space for quick vessel service. He followed that by establishing the Western Rivers Diesel Division, which handles engine installation, rebuilding and repair. He later added the SMS Machine & Fabrication shop to cater to land-based heavy equipment manufacturers.
Western Rivers is a family business. It is currently run by Charles and Janice Strait, and four of Charles’ children: Jason Strait, Cliff Strait, Chuck Strait, and Natalie Jackson are all involved in the management of the company. As a matter of fact, nearly half of the main office staff are members of the Strait family. But it is not just the Strait family that makes up Western Rivers Boat Management.
Overall, there over 300 people employed at Western Rivers at the First Marine facility, the Western Rivers Diesel Division and the SMS Machine & Fabrication shop. This group of men and women has helped establish the excellent reputation Western Rivers has built in the river industry for the quality and comfort of their vessel rehabilitations and the quality of their onsite machining, fabrication, and welding services.