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Published: Thursday, 3/24/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

Boyer preservation to turn back clock to Schoonmaker

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

An artist's rendering shows the S.S. Willis B. Boyer after its upgrading is completed decked out in a green and orange paint scheme, trimmed in white, and sporting the Schoonmaker name. An artist's rendering shows the S.S. Willis B. Boyer after its upgrading is completed decked out in a green and orange paint scheme, trimmed in white, and sporting the Schoonmaker name.
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The preserved Great Lakes freighter S.S. Willis B. Boyer soon will be no more -- but not because of scrapping, as was once threatened.

Early next month, P&W Painting of Toledo will begin sandblasting and repainting the vessel and, in so doing, rename it the Col. James M. Schoonmaker, the name it bore at its launch in 1911, said Paul LaMarre III, the museum ship's executive director.

The repainting project, which will rely heavily on donated equipment and materials and on a $100,000 cash donation from James M. Schoonmaker II, its past and future namesake's grandson, is scheduled for completion in time for a rechristening ceremony July 1 -- a century after its launch -- and kick off a weekend of celebratory events, Mr. LaMarre said.

Already under way, the ship's director said, is an asbestos-removal project that will reopen to the public large portions of the Boyer that have been off-limits for years.

Both projects are being done at the ship's Maumee River berth alongside International Park, rather than downriver at the Toledo Shipyard as previously planned.

Mr. LaMarre said that will save the time and expense of tows to and from the shipyard. Instead, the only move planned will occur next year, when the Schoonmaker is to shift to a berth at the Toledo Maritime Center, where the Great Lakes Historical Society plans to establish a National Great Lakes Maritime Museum.

The Boyer/Schoonmaker will be painted only from the waterline up, and containment measures similar to those used for painting bridges will be employed to keep paint, sandblasting grit, and other foreign matter out of the river, he said.

"It's more realistic to conduct the work where she currently sits," Mr. LaMarre said, adding that the International Park location also will mean that "Toledo citizens, and others who are interested, will be able to see the transformation firsthand, in front of the city skyline."

Surveys show the freighter's hull, built with steel an inch thick, still has at least three-quarters of that thickness on average, he said, so maintenance below the water line is not needed.

Mr. Schoonmaker, a retired businessman from Naples, Fla., said Wednesday he had long hoped the Boyer might someday be renamed after his grandfather, a Union colonel in the Civil War who was later heavily involved in mining, banking, and railroads in western Pennsylvania.

In 2007, he read in an English magazine that Toledo's museum ship might be scrapped, only to read in a following issue that it had been saved and a restoration plan was under development.

"I was delighted to make a contribution, if they would agree to rename" the ship, he said. "I wanted to honor my grandfather in some way, and this would be a good way to remember his name."

Mr. Schoonmaker visited Toledo and toured the ship for the first time three years ago and will return for the rechristening. He and his wife, Treecie, are scheduled to smash a bottle of champagne across the freighter's bow at the precise time that Mr. Schoonmaker's mother did so in 1911.

Also on the guest list are William P. Snyder III, the grandson of William P. Snyder, president a century ago of the Shenango Furnace Co., for which the vessel was built, and Willis B. Boyer II, the son of the Republic Steel executive for whom the freighter was later renamed. Mr. LaMarre said appropriate recognition of the Boyer name will be maintained on board after the rechristening.

Mr. Schoonmaker's donation will be just part of extensive charitable support for the repainting project. PPG Coatings, Inc., will provide custom-mixed dark green and orange to match the Shenango Furnace Co. colors at cost and provide other paint -- including primer gray, white, black, and deck red -- worth about $80,000 for free, Mr. LaMarre said. Harsco Corporation, will provide 130 tons of its top-of-the-line Black Beauty sandblasting grit, worth $58,000, to the project.

Warner Petroleum will provide diesel fuel for the vacuum truck that will suck airborne paint, dust, and grit from the work area, while the George Gradel Co. and Seaway Scaffolding will provide free use of barges and equipment needed for the project, Mr. LaMarre said.

Those businesses' support is "proof that people appreciate this type of history," he said.

Overall, about $500,000 is being spent on the restoration. The asbestos removal, accounting for about $200,000, is covered by a federal stimulus grant.

With a length of 617 feet and weight of 8,603 tons, the Schoonmaker was the largest bulk freighter in the world at the time. It also featured innovations in safety, navigation, and construction techniques, and set a new luxury standard for its crews' accommodations, Mr. LaMarre said.

"It's one of the most significant vessels in the [maritime] industry's history," he said.

The scrapping threat arose because the city of Toledo, which bought the freighter from Cleveland-Cliffs in 1986 after six years of lay-up, decided in 2007 it could no longer afford even basic upkeep and would lay off Mr. LaMarre, then a city employee as caretaker, that summer.

But the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority stepped in, hiring Mr. LaMarre at an increased salary to give him time to reconstitute a nonprofit museum organization and raise money. Last year, the agency also struck the deal with the Great Lakes Historical Society to develop its national museum at the Maritime Center, built by the port authority as a ferry terminal but so far used minimally for that purpose. Moving the Boyer/Schoonmaker to an adjoining berth is part of the museum plan.

The rechristening will be followed, Mr. LaMarre said, by a Friday night dinner at the Toledo Club and live boxing matches Saturday evening in a temporary ring to be set up on the Schoonmaker's deck. The latter will commemorate the 92nd anniversary two days later of the 1919 heavyweight championship fight in Toledo's Bay View Park between Jess Willard and Jack Dempsey.

The Schoonmaker, which will be closed to the public through June for the restoration work, will reopen for tours, and the weekend's events will close Sunday evening with the Independence Day fireworks over the Maumee River.

"This is shaping up to be what really could be one of the more historic maritime events in Toledo's history," Mr. LaMarre said.

The Blade is a title sponsor of the weekend celebration.

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.



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