W.P. Snyder floating toward 100th birthday

Photo by Michael Kelly The coal and steam powered W.P. Snyder has been docked as a historical exhibit on the Muskingum River behind the Ohio River Museum since 1955. The 175-foot vessel, used to move coal barges on the Monongahela River in service to the steel industry was launched in Pittsburgh a century ago this year, and the museum will hold events to mark the centennial Sept. 15.

MARIETTA — It’s been 100 years since the steam-powered towboat now called the W.P. Snyder first entered river service for the steel industry. The Ohio River Museum, home to the 175-foot steel-hulled boat since it was retired in 1955, plans to mark the occasion with a full day of events on Sept. 15.

The boat is being spruced up for the anniversary, and on Thursday morning a crew was renovating the crew cabins upstairs and giving the boiler room some new paint.

The Snyder was built in Pittsburgh, a state-of-the-art towboat in 1918 launched on the Monongahela River to move coal for the booming steel industry. Tour guide Andy Henderson said the Snyder originally burned wood to power its steam boiler and later switched to coal.

In 1955, he said, it was retired from service, having been made obsolete by oil burning towboats and new rules to protect rivers.

“It was pretty much regulated out of work,” Henderson said, explaining that while towboats burned wood, dumping ashes in the river was fairly innocuous but when they changed to coal, the ashes included chemicals toxic to aquatic life. Authorities outlawed dumping of coal ash in the water, which effectively made the coal-powered towboats inoperable.

Photo by Michael Kelly Ohio River Museum tour guide Andy Henderson points to diagrams of the W.P. Snyder he uses to illustrate some of the facts behind the historic coal and steam-powered towboat. The 100th anniversary of the launching of the W.P. Snyder will be celebrated the weekend of Sept. 15.

The owners, Crucible Steel in Pittsburgh, approved a request from Marietta and transferred ownership of the vessel to the historical society in Marietta. It made its last voyage in 1955.

In the center of the main deck, wide openings on both sides lead into the boiler room, which on Thursday showed areas of newly applied gray paint. Moving forward and up a set of stairs brings a visitor to the hurricane deck and a hallway with crew quarters on either side. Going toward the bow and up another stairway is the pilot house, a spacious bright enclosure with a panoramic view of the river and the boat.

Henderson said the Snyder includes dual steering, both with a massive wooden wheel and a set of “sticks” that are operated like tillers – either of the mechanisms move the three-rudder steering system. The control panel includes a speaking tube to communicate with the boiler room, but most often command, such as speeding up and slowing, were communicated through the use of bells, he said.

Bill Reynolds, historian and exhibit specialist at Campus Martius Museum, said plans for enhancing the Snyder as a historical feature include adding some period detail.

“Furnishing of the rooms, adding dinnerware and canned goods, putting clothing in the closets, beds that are made,” he said. “We want to make it look like it’s September 1955 and the crew just stepped off and never came back.”

Along with improvements, Reynolds said, there is ongoing maintenance.

“Basically, it’s a boat and you’re never going to be done,” he said.

Having the Snyder in Marietta as a national historic landmark is an asset for the city and, for that matter, the country, he said.

“It’s critically important, and it wouldn’t be here if not for the work of the Sons and Daughters of the Pioneer Rivermen,” he said.

In the 1950s the group had the foresight to realize that an era was on the verge of vanishing and made the arrangements to secure the Snyder from Crucible Steel Co. when the company was preparing to scrap it, which had been the fate of its sister ship, the W.H. Colvin. The Snyder is the only remaining vessel of its kind.

“There are sternwheel boats that have ties to the early history of the river, but nothing like this, nothing even close,” Reynolds said.

The celebration takes place Sept. 15, starting with Brunch with Mark Twain, a two-hour morning cruise on the Valley Gem sternwheel boat, a formal re-christening ceremony marking the centenary at 11:15 a.m., ringing the bells and blowing the ship’s whistle at noon, Echoes in Time, a presentation and question-and-answer session by Ohio History Connection at 1:15 p.m., and a presentation by Barb and Bea Ritts starting at 2 p.m.

All the events take place in and around the Ohio River Museum at 601 Front St. For information, call 740-373-3750.

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Events for the W.P. Snyder 100th Birthday Celebration, Sept. 15

* 9 to 11 a.m.: Brunch with Mark Twain on the Valley Gem sternwheeler, breakfast buffet cruise in support of Friends of the Museum, cost is $30, reservations required, 601 Front St.

* 11:15 a.m.: Formal ceremony with speakers on board W.P. Snyder, 601 Front St.

* 11:45 a.m.: Re-christening with Barb and Bea Ritts, Ohio History Connection.

* Noon: Re-christening concludes with boat whistle blowing and bells ringing.

* 1:15 p.m.: Echoes in Time performance, Building 2.

* 2 p.m.: Barb and Bea Ritts, presentation and storytelling in Building 2.

* For information: 740-373-3750

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