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New Museum Ship Rides Waves of History, Generosity

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

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Raising a child just takes a village. Renovating the world’s largest bulk freighter for a new 100-year life takes battalions of painters, materials and equipment suppliers, sheet-metal workers and others generous with their time and materials.

Happily, the Col. James M. Schoonmaker has hundreds of friends—from PPG to Harsco to retired painters—who have chipped in some $750,000 in time and materials to give the century-old Great Lakes vessel a new life as a museum at Toledo’s International Park, where she loaded her first cargo in 1911.

Honoring a Heritage

At 11:30 a.m. July 1—100 years to the minute after his mother swung a bottle of cold champagne against the warm steel vessel—James M. Schoonmaker II will rechristen the record-setting “Queen of the Lakes” named for his grandfather.

The event will usher in the ship’s new life as a museum and herald the return of its original name. Since 1969, the Schoonmaker has been known as the Willis B. Boyer, in honor of a one-time owner.


Images: Col. James M. Schoonmaker /
Willis B. Boyer Museum Ship

The ship’s exterior has been repainted from the waterline up in the original fleet colors.  

For Schoonmaker executive director Paul LaMarre II, 30, the date will mark a milestone in a journey that began five and a half years ago, when the former Navy officer took some friends to visit the Boyer and found it closed and destined for the scrapyard.

An old timer at the site urged LaMarre away. “He said, ‘You don’t want to get into this. You don’t want any part of this,’” he recalled.

‘Like Going to Church’

LaMarre didn’t listen. This was, after all, a guy who grew up in a home with a model of the Schoonmaker and its original 1911 plaque on the fireplace mantel. His father is renowned Great Lakes ship artist Paul LaMarre Jr. Great Lakes shipping infuses his DNA.

“When I was a kid,” the son recalled, “my dad would take me to visit the freighters and say it was like going to church, to pay your respects to Great Lakes shipping. Every vacation, while others went to Florida, we’d go to a different Great Lakes freighter.”

LaMarre II immediately embraced the new mission and ran with it, with a zeal that drew in donor after donor for the project.

His first benefactor: Schoonmaker II, who donated $100,000 to the effort.

Donors Answer the Call

From there, LaMarre gained commitments from all over:

  • PPG Protective & Marine Coatings donated a large portion of the coatings to be used and gave many materials at cost, to recoat the ship in its original fleet colors.
  • Harsco Minerals donated 130 tons of Black Beauty blast media for the prep.
  • P&W Painting Contractors, the region’s largest industrial painting contractor, “is essentially doing everything related to the project for the cost of labor,” LaMarre said.
  • The IUPAT painters’ Local 7 “has offered any labor that we can possibly need, pulling painters from all over Ohio, even some in retirement, to assist,” he said.
  • Sheetworkers Local 33 did all steel fabrication repair for free, using materials donated by local steel suppliers that work with the union’s apprenticeship program.
  • Seaway Scaffold & Equipment Co., of Toledo, supplied and erected all staging and access equipment.
  • The Geo. Gradel Company, a prominent, century-old marine construction and dredging contractor, donated containment booms, man lifts, barges to stage scaffolding, and tug boats for transportation.
  • Warner Petroleum, the largest fueling company for Great Lake freighters, donated all fuel to power the project’s equipment.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency awarded the project a $200,000 grant to remediate asbestos.

‘Something to See’

Renovation of the freighter has been a challenge on every front. The work began April 4, with a self-imposed deadline of June 1 to allow a month of wiggle room before christening. The area then was hit with rain on 44 out of the next 55 days, wiping out the wiggle room and then some. (A few tasks will have to be completed after christening.)

The project included blasting and painting the ship’s entire exterior, from the waterline up. The ship was abrasive-blasted to bare metal, taking off at least a dozen layers of paint that had accumulated over 100 years.

More than a dozen layers of paint, dating back 100 years, were removed before repainting.

“They [painters] said this hull was in better shape than any vessel they’d ever done,” said LaMarre. “There was very little pitting.”

Painting crews then applied two coats of PPG primer (both Amercoat 370 and Amercoat 240 are being used) and one topcoat of PPG's PSX 700.

Stripping the paint to bare metal brought outstanding definition of the ship’s features, LaMarre said. “The way the rivets stand out and gleam in the sun … it’s really something to see.”

The weekend-long christening ceremonies will include attendance by the grandsons of the ship’s builder and namesake, fireworks and more.

The Schoonmaker will be the only Great Lakes freighter to be on the National Register of Historic Places at a national level of significance.

“This is the single largest restoration effort of a single vessel in Great Lakes history,” said LaMarre. “It’s amazing how a piece of history like this has the ability to bring people together.”


Tagged categories: Abrasive blasting; Harsco Minerals; Marine Coatings; Scaffolding

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (6/9/2011, 9:26 AM)

I wonder if they saved any samples of the multilayer paint "system" which had accumulated over the years - it would be interesting to determine what paints were used over time on this ship. Above the waterline, we would certainly expect plenty of lead in the paint. While asbestos remediation is mentioned, nothing is said about lead or other heavy metals.

Comment from tim hady, (6/9/2011, 9:03 PM)

It would have been interesting to be involved in this project. Also interesting to know the type paint used, and how well it held up. How does it compare to expected longevity of present materials.

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