Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

February 22, 2010

Repair of historical towboat’s hull begins

For a related story and slide show see the link at right

By KENNETH HART — The Independent

SOUTH POINT --A series of mechanical clanking noises echoed down the shoreline of the Ohio River.

Shortly thereafter, the great vessel began to rise slowly, almost imperceptibly.

A few minutes later, the bottom of its massive 152-foot hull was suspended several feet about the surface of the water.

At that point, Fred Smith, one of those watching as the W.P. Snyder Jr. was placed in dry dock, breathed a sigh of relief.

“There’s no way she can sink now,” he said.

Smith is an architect with the Ohio Historical Society, which owns the Snyder and which commissioned McGinnis Inc. of South Point to refurbish the vessel’s steel hull.

The Snyder —the lone survivor among the steam-powered paddlewheel towboats that once moved coal, iron ore and other materials up and down the Ohio River — was towed from the city of Marietta, where it anchors a complex of museums and historical displays, to the McGinnis boatyards in November. The vessel was dry-docked on Monday to begin the repair process.

The first step, according to McGinnis Superintendent Dwain Harper, will be abating the lead paint that was used to finish the hull to ensure that it’s safe for workers to cut on.

“After that, we should be ready to lay the torches to her,” he said.

McGinnis workers will remove the steel plates that form the hull’s outer skin, inspect and repair the framework underneath and apply new hull plates, Harper said.

According to Smith, workers will actually have to remove two sets of plates. In 1969 — 24 years after the Snyder was taken out of service — a series of quarter-inch metal plates were overlaid onto the original hull surface to keep the vessel buoyant, he said.

However, what happened was that condensation formed between the two layers, which caused even more problems, Smith said.

The historical society, which owns the Snyder, had her placed in dry dock in Point Pleasant, W.Va., in 2004, for an inspection of the hull, which revealed “extensive pitting and active leaks,” Smith said.

Repairing the hull of the Snyder is part of a $1.3 million overhaul. Funding for the project is coming from several sources, Smith said, including a $350,000 grant from National Parks Service.

Harper said the men who will be working on the Snyder are well aware that she is no ordinary vessel, but a proud and irreplaceable piece of river history.

One of the major goals of the project, he said, will be to preserve the boat’s framework in as close to original condition as possible. That’s somewhat complicated by the fact that the frame members are riveted, rather than welded in place, because welding was not a process that was all that widely used when the Snyder was built in 1918.

The plan is to have the Snyder back in Marietta by early June, Harper said.

Smith said the mechanicals of the Snyder are in “pristine” condition, essentially he same as they were when the craft was retired. Refiring the vessel would take very little effort, he said. However, there are currently no plans to do, mainly because the historical society doesn’t want to risk damaging the boat.

But, once the hull repair is complete, Smith said the group will feel comfortable towing the vessel to various places along the river for exhibits.

KENNETH HART can be reached at khart@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2654.