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For decades the ship horn mounted on the smokestack of the S.S. Willis B. Boyer was blown as a salute of respect on the Great Lakes.
Now the horn is blasted at the Huntington Center in a tribute to goals scored by the Toledo Walleye.
The refurbished horn, which is about four feet long and weighs approximately 300 pounds, had not been heard in more than 30 years.
Paul LaMarre, the executive director of the S.S. Willis B. Boyer museum ship, said the freighter's horn could be heard “as far as sound would travel.”
“It could be heard literally for miles,” LaMarre said. “When it was blown aboard the ship it was blown in recognition of respect and tradition.”
LaMarre said the horn's sound was a salute to other vessels and would be used to greet crowds of waving spectators along the shoreline.
“It's an honor for us to be able to have it sound in front of Toledo hockey fans as a salute to the team,” he said. “It is the climax of a lot of hard work and accomplishment. Scoring a goal is a pinnacle moment for a team. We wanted to show that enthusiasm.”
LaMarre worked on the project for three months with Mike Ramirez, who is the video and television productions manager for the Walleye.
The horn was tested last Saturday in the Walleye's win over Cincinnati. Ramirez said the loudness of the horn can be adjusted. He said the organization wants to gauge fan reaction after its initial volume level was set at the game on Saturday.
“Right now it's well below a safe level. It's pretty effective the way it is now,” Ramirez said. “We could go louder but I just don't know that it is necessary. You have to think about the kids.”
The horn was painted gold and is mounted on the ceiling of the Huntington Center.
When the Boyer was launched in 1911, it was the largest bulk freighter of its time. Originally the horn was blown by steam. Now it's powered by air. LaMarre said it takes 140 pounds per square inch (psi) to blow it. The Walleye installed a large air compressor and storage tank that allows the horn to be blown at high pressure.
LaMarre said the Huntington Center is one of only two arenas in the country that has such a horn.
“The other is at Lake Superior State University,” he said. “The sound resonates from within you. It's also a tribute to our rich maritime heritage in the region.”
A long rope located in the arena's technical center is pulled to blow the horn.
“It's a signature sound,” LaMarre said.
Toledo Walleye coach Nick Vitucci said he was caught off guard with the initial testing of the horn.
“They blasted it a few times [Saturday] morning and it shook my office,” Vitucci said. “It's awesome that we have a great piece of history from the city right here in our arena. It's a neat addition.”
Vitucci said the horn is at the right level of volume.
“You don't want it to be so loud that it will scare little kids,” Vitucci said. “There are some arenas where you kind of hope your team doesn't score because you don't want to hear it. That's not what you want. We have a big building and it's up high so it's not blaring at people.”
LaMarre said the Boyer had two horns in her smokestack. It was a communication device and it sounded as a fog signal.
LaMarre coordinated the refurbishing.
“The horn had not been operated in 30 years,” LaMarre said. “Now through the efforts of the boilermakers at the Toledo Ship Yard, guidance from the American Steamship Association and the Toledo Port Authority, we have this.”
The 617-foot-long Boyer has been converted into a museum. It has been moored at International Park in the Maumee River since 1980. The ship will be celebrating its 100-year anniversary this summer.
“It will be restored to its original fleet colors and rechristened on July 1st,” LaMarre said.
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