Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

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November 29, 2009

Hull of history

W.P. Snyder Jr. in local dock for $1.5 million hull replacement

SOUTH POINT — Resting dockside like an aging thoroughbred in her stall, the W.P. Snyder Jr. draws admiring stares that overlook the chipped and peeling paint on her superstructure and the grime accumulated from nearly a century on the river.

The proud relic of river history is bookended at the McGinnis Inc. boatyard by two modern towboats, McGinnis’s own City of South Point at the paddlewheel end and Marathon Petroleum’s massive Robinson near the bow.



Bits of flotsam lap in the water as a visitor steps over the side onto the scuffed red deck, worn with the footsteps of generations of crewmen and half a century of tourists.

Through a doorway are the boilers that heated the steam that drove the giant pistons that pushed the pitman arm that turned the big red paddlewheel. Out the other side, up a flight of steps, through another door and up still more steps is the pilothouse, a windowed sanctuary where Mark Twain’s legendary Horace Bixby would feel at home.

The varnished wheel is 11 feet in diameter from spoke tip to spoke tip. The pilot handling it might have enjoyed the conversation of a colleague or two sitting on the padded bench at the rear of the pilothouse.

Built in 1918, the W.P. Snyder Jr. is a historic gem that crystallizes a romantic era of America’s marine past. The people of Marietta, Ohio, where the boat has been moored for more than 50 years, know that. Since 1955, the Snyder has been the centerpiece of a complex of museums and historical displays in Ohio’s oldest city.

Before that, she had a long career pushing barges of coal, iron ore and steel products on the Ohio river and its tributaries.

Steamboats, like the steam locomotives that once ruled America’s railroads, were supplanted by diesel craft and by 1954, the Snyder was laid up. The Crucible Steel Co., owner of the boat, donated it to the society in 1955.

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