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Toledo museum to add tugboat to its floating exhibit

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A tugboat more than a century old soon will join the Col. James M. Schoonmaker freighter as a display vessel at the National Museum of the Great Lakes.

The tug Ohio, built in 1903 as a fireboat for the city of Milwaukee and converted to a tug half a century later, has been donated by the Great Lakes Towing Company for display, officials at the East Toledo museum are to announce Friday.

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Great Lakes Towing is donating the tugboat Ohio to the National Museum of the Great Lakes.

National Museum of the Great Lakes Enlarge

The tug, 106 feet long and 26 feet wide, “will fill a void in the museum’s exhibition program that currently does not adequately explore the importance of tugboats on the Great Lakes,” the museum’s announcement reads in part.

“When we opened the museum, we did not have a feature artifact that could tell the tugboat story. Now we do,” said Christopher Gillcrist, the museum’s executive director.

Larger than the harbor tugs Toledoans might see guiding freighters up and down the Maumee River, the vessel was a “Lake Class” tug assigned to long hauls across the Great Lakes, along with occasional ice-breaking, wrecking, or salvage duties.

The Ohio is believed to have traveled more miles for Great Lakes Towing than any other tug in company history, according to the museum.

Paul LaMarre III, who represented the museum in securing the tug from Great Lakes Towing, said the tugboat company approached the museum about a donation after determining the Ohio could not economically be brought in compliance with stricter inspection procedures recently adopted by the Coast Guard because of its age.

“After finally reaching the end of her useful commercial life, we are delighted that the famous tug Ohio has found a new home at the museum. ... The tug is rich in history with a wonderful story to tell,” the museum’s announcement quoted Joseph Starck, Jr., Great Lakes Towing’s president, as saying.

Mr. LaMarre said the tug is currently at the George Gradel Co. shipyard in Toledo, where it will receive hull repairs and restoration this fall followed by sandblasting and a fresh coat of paint before being moved to the museum’s wharf.

“We will moor it in front of the Schoonmaker, as if she [the tug] is beginning a tow,” Mr. Gillcrist said.

A public opening is planned next spring, following interior restoration over the winter by volunteers, the museum director said. The tug may be opened to museum members and guests before then as part of efforts to raise $30,000 toward its restoration expenses, he said.

Mr. LaMarre, now the Port of Monroe’s director, a decade ago shepherded the preservation of what was then the Willis B. Boyer museum ship after the city of Toledo declared it could no longer afford the vessel’s upkeep.

It was cosmetically restored and rechristened to its original name, the Schoonmaker, in 2011 and towed the following year — by Great Lakes Towing tugs on donated time — to the wharf next to what was to become the Great Lakes museum, a Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority-owned building initially built to be a ferry terminal.

The Ohio’s restoration will allow museum visitors “to experience the tugboat environment ... and what life is like aboard a tugboat,” Mr. LaMarre said.

It will keep its engine but will not be operational, he and Mr. Gillcrist said.

Tugs “have aesthetically pleasing lines and a romantic appeal that many other vessels don’t often have,” Mr. LaMarre said.

“The Ohio is not our largest artifact, but tugboats have always had a special place in people’s hearts, and we are proud to bring this icon to Toledo,” Mr. Gillcrist said.

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

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