This is a bit of a read, but it will answer the most common questions that I get about how I ended up in the business that I'm in and how I acquired the skills and knowledge to basically build a boat from parts. This is adapted from a bio/article that I wrote for our club newsletter.
A long, long time ago, a young teen boy in eastern Ohio with an avid interest in military history, was contemplating his grandfather's suggestion that a surplus army jeep might be a good fit for his first car. Something was mentioned about surplus sales at Fort Hayes in Columbus.
I was that Ohio teen, way back in the early 1970s, and can still vividly remember thinking "what a dumb idea that was".
As often happens, a seed is planted, gains nourishment from various sources, grows to it's full potential and is eventually harvested. In my case, that "dumb idea" was that seed.
Several months ago, the editor of our Military Vehicle Preservation Club http://ohiomotorpool.oldmv.com/ suggested that I compose a Featured Member article on myself. My personal reaction to the suggestion was that it should be added to the "One More Thing" list. You all know the list, One More Thing that I don't want to do! As this story would comprise an evolution of close to 40 years (because I'm an interesting guy), I really didn't know where to start on what would be a lengthy endeavor.
As I was sitting at the kitchen table yesterday, I noticed a Creative Writing paper on my daughter's pile of school stuff. It caught my attention (because there was nothing else handy to read. Admit it, you also read cereal boxes in order to stave off boredom).
Like that "dumb idea" seed, Ann's "write an article" seed just needed a little fertilizer. The Creative Writing paper's suggestion of the story's beginning of "A long, long time ago", combined with our recent relentless rains (which have delayed boating plans thus far), seemed to have fertilized and watered Ann's suggested seed.
My wife Donna and I are the owner/operators of Weebee Webbing (a name that Donna hates). That "dumb idea" of many years ago, was a driving force in deciding to pursue the military vehicle canvas business that we have been engaged in for over 20 years, http://odcloth.com.
As mentioned before, I had an avid interest in military history. I read every book and was a fan of any and all war movies and television shows while growing up. I was an easy mark, as my dad had similar interests. We never missed a new war movie at the local theater, never missed episodes of Combat, Rat Patrol, 12 O'Clock High, etcetera, and never missed the chance to go rummaging in the many surplus stores in Columbus, on our family's frequent weekend getaways to the Big City. Does anyone remember Fox and Wood Surplus on North High and the radio and electronics surplus place a few blocks north near 5th Ave? How about Topper Steel and Supply on South High when they had oodles of good surplus bits, or the Surplus Tent on Main St in Hebron Ohio? Ah the memories!
It was on one of these trips that I bought an NOS M38 jeep Side Curtain from Topper's. I don't know why; I didn't have a jeep, and still thought it was a dumb idea. Perhaps it was an impulsive purchase or a selection predicated on that , as yet uncultivated, inner OD demon. I had no forethought, nor did I fathom at the time, how large the obsession would become. One should be very careful when deciding to release the OD Genie from the hermetically sealed ammo can!
Being the Engineer for a local Heavy construction company, my dad had access to the "Rock and Dirt" yellow sheet periodical. I assume that it was from such a publication that he was made aware of DoD (Department of Defense) Surplus Sales. He thought we might "need" a jeep. I remembered hearing such a similar dumb idea before and didn't think much of it. Once the constant barrage of DoD Surplus Sales IFBs started coming in the mail, and not having any cereal boxes handy to read, I started to look forward to the mental devouring of Uncle Sam's yard sale fodder, brought to our kitchen table by the USPS. One day, my youngest sister came home from school and mentioned that one of her teachers acquired an army jeep from a guy in Columbiana Ohio. The teacher said his name was Phil Nelson. I ended up owning this jeep many years later.
Somewhere along the line the "dumb idea" seed germinated. At the time, I was working part time (after school and weekends) for a local company that built animations and contracted with shopping malls to do holiday displays. I used to take advantage of being a driver for this company, and made it a point on a Youngstown trip to stop and meet this Phil Nelson guy almost 4 decades ago.
I won my first jeep, an M38A1, on a DoD Sealed Bid sale out of Ft. Drum in Watertown NY. My dad and a friend, with a professionaly fabricated tow bar (that I still own), made the trip to NY to get the jeep. As our neighborhood had it's share of military veterans that took a keen interest in my new jeep, I was soon on my way towards an education unequaled in any school system's curriculum. Upon being told during an examination of my new jeep, by one such visitor, that there was a hole in the crankcase due to a thrown rod. I, being uneducated at the time, may have uttered "is that bad"?
In looking back, that "bad" had a profound effect on me during my formative years. I had the help of veterans that were mechanics, welders, electricians, doctors, tankers and more. All took an interest in the jeep, and after we procured a tired old engine from a local used equipment dealer, all were helpful in their guidance and encouragement. They lent me the right books to read in order to understand the mechanics of rebuilding the various components and often suggested tasks that I should accomplish before their visit on the following day, at which time I would be given the next leg of the journey of rebuilding the jeep. If I needed a special tool, one of them had it ready to lend. My dad, and a friend that was in the auto parts business, were keeping constant vigil on the progress as well as being active in the rebuild.
As time went on, mechanical, welding and electrical skills, learned under the watchful eyes of my mentors, led me to becoming a succesful animation builder/designer/fabricator at my place of employment. Skills learned and honed here, including fiberglass lay up and composite construction, helped to further my ambitions in constantly improving my restoration skills. Statements like "it doesn't cost much more to do it right" and "do it right the first time" were hammered into me during these years.
It wasn't long before I had my second jeep, an M38. I also met a local guy that had purchased an M151 from Phil Nelson. I soon was his mechanic. Somewhere along the line, I started bidding on surplus clothing and field gear and became a fixture at weekend flea markets selling out of the trunk of my car. Look at me, a high school kid with a jeep and money to boot!
During college, I worked for a local construction company as my schedule permitted. In addition to mundane tasks like running the fuel truck to the local jobs, and the backbreaking task like large tire repair, I also assisted the welder and mechanic when needed. I already knew a lot, but was ready to learn more. Here I gained knowledge of diesel engines, hydraulics and many welder's tricks of the trade. Being in management positions with this company after college, breakdowns or other mechanical issues were never daunting, and were usually repaired without relying on a mechanic. As I spent several years on different projects away from home, I somehow always found a jeep to restore in order to keep occupied after work. Every new project resulted in a different jeep; Richmond Indiana - M38 and CJ2A, Milford Ohio-M151A1, Fairmont WV-M422 and matching Prototype Trailer.
And then there were the boats...................
Somewhere along the line, I got interested in boats. A good friend in high school had a boat that we derived much enjoyment from (and hangovers). Before long, I was taking the lead on the restoration of a 25' Chris Craft that my dad bought (remember all of those skills that I acquired). This was followed by a 32' Richardson Cruiser (named Danielle). Somewhere in this time Apocalypse Now was a must see movie for me. I was able to overlook the obvious anti war message portrayed, as to me, it was only about the boat! The PBR, another seed planted. "Never get off the boat"!
Life was happening. Marriage, mortgage, car payments, job; you get the picture. A 43' Richardson Cruiser to restore after my dad purchased it and had it hauled from the Boston area to Fairmont WV, where we were working. I guess he got the idea from me, as I was restoring jeeps on our remote job locations, he figured we needed a boat to work on and I apparently needed to keep developing my skills. In retrospect, I think he did a favor to all that worked on the boat. He made it a point to hire friends that my brother and I grew up with. He was able to provide good paying jobs to several of our contemporaries, and made sure that we didn't fall into the construction worker trap of hitting the local bar at 3:30 every day, after work. We had a large boat to restore, dammit! The bartenders will have to wait. One of the most memorable river trips for all involved was cruising the Danielle II from the Tygart River in Fairmont, up the Monongehela River to Pittsburgh, then down the Ohio to our dockage in Toronto, Ohio. Although I was reminded recently that I spent a lot of that trip hanging into the engine compartment making adjustments, the PBR seed was being fertilized.
After seven years of living out of a suitcase, I had to make a change. Donna and I began selling surplus and militaria at gun shows throughout the eastern US. It was during this time that I became more involved in procuring surplus thru sealed bids and local sales and made an acquaintence with a surplus dealer from Flint MI. It was not unusual to find us both at a local sale in North Carolina at Fort Bragg, and then at a gun show in Alabama or Georgia.
I made several pilgramages during this time to inspect gutted and stripped PBR hulls that the Navy was disposing of at DRMO (Defense Reutilization and Marketing Office) Kessler AFB in Biloxi MS. The seed was being watered, although the logistics of moving a large boat, that distance, were beyond what I was willing to bear.
My friend from Flint made me aware of a large surplus dealer in Detroit that was being liquidated and got me in on the deal. As the local Michigan surplus guys wanted to keep this a well kept secret, he took the risk of annoying some of them, and met me during a Detroit gun show, and drove me over to the warehouse. We had to execute this clandestine meeting much like a group of high school kids sneaking a smoke in the alcoves of the school auditorium. If it was known what he was doing, the locals would have felt betrayed by one of their own.
Earlier, he had noticed what looked to him like jeep door frames and other vehicular canvas items. As none of the Michigan dealers were into vehicles, he knew that all of this would end up at a landfill eventually. On this clandestine trip, I met the guy that was in charge of liquidating the multi story warehouse. The operation was massive, comprised of 3 floors of an industrial warehouse that was a city block square. I did manage to get a large amount of NOS M151 jeep Doors and frames, but was more taken by the endless quantities of webbing, buckles, tips and other related hardware. It quickly occured to me, that I was looking at all of the stuff needed to make the various straps that were always missing and impossible to find for our beloved jeeps.
It was during this period that I met Jim Gilmore at a Detroit gun show. Many years ago, Jim had long blonde hair, in a pony tail, down to his upper thighs. From the back side, I thought I was looking at an extremely good looking blonde chick with great hair. When blondi turned around, I was aghast...it was Jim......the horror, the horror. Jim introduced me to the MVCC (Military Vehicle Collector's Club), the predecessor of the current MVPA http://mvpa.org, and encouraged me to join.
As I was a surplus guy, dealing in, and turning over large quantities of goods (we would routinely buy ammo boxes in lots of 10,000 several times per year), with no long term plans, I thought that an MVCC Convention might be a good place to dispose of and market some of this Detroit warehouse stuff. I made plans to attend the convention in Galveston in 1987. We had been manufacturing Carbine slings for wholesale to the gun show dealers from hardware and webbing acquired in the Detroit liquidation. We had also recently bid on and been awarded the lease thru the Army Corps of Engineers for the operation of the Rayland Marina on the Ohio River in the Pike Island pool. As we were manufacturing canvas related goods and now in the marina business, it seemed like a logical idea to make an offer on the equipment in the defunct Steubenville Tarp building. As it turns out, we had to buy the real estate in order to get the equipment, but now we had another opportunity awaiting development. I decided to drag a sewing machine along to Galveston. As I had the raw materials, I was able to assemble straps on site to customer's specs. I was soon gathering pattern info for many of the common vehicular straps, and soon realized that there might be a future in the MV field. Early on, as part of my agreement with the Michigan liquidator, I was selling quantities of hardware to the established MV canvas producers. I was deeply involved in combing thru the warehouse, and had made a deal where I was purchasing goods on a price per pound basis, and was receiving a sales commission based on what I sold to other customers through my contacts in the surplus and MV fields. I often took my commissions in trade. It turns out that I was an asset to the liquidator. As he looked at the bottom dollar of scrap value, I was able to look at and market the goods based on their real value.
As liquidators often work, the so called cream was skimmed off the top, and the entire deal was sold to another liquidator. I made contact with the new liquidator, and was soon working the same deal as before. As it turns out, the upper floor of the Detroit warehouse wasn't cleared out on a timely basis. The building management people re-assumed control of the goods, and the assets that had been moved, were sold once again to a liquidator in Canton Ohio. After introducing myself, I was again working the same deal. during this time, as I was selling to the other MV canvas providers, I was reluctant to go into the MV canvas business beyond the straps that we were doing. Rifle slings, the marina and surplus were keeping us plenty busy.
I had also become very active in the MV Clubs and was attending many shows. As I was acquiring plenty of raw materials, I was constantly asked to make various reproduction canvas items. The liquidator was looking for me to put a deal together for a well established MV canvas producer to purchase all of the vintage vehicular related hardware that I had identified. Samples were sent, phone calls were made, goods were inspected, all seemed to be in place for a final disposition of this stuff, but the purchase was never made. I began to re-evaluate my reluctance towards entering the reproduction MV canvas field and began to readily accept NOS and used surplus MV canvas for patterns. As the word of our quality crafstmanship spread, we began to shift out of the gun show circuit and surplus buying travels and concentrate an producing quality MV canvas reproductions and being able to devote time to restoring military jeeps, our true passion.
I received word that a new liquidator was found to clear out the remaining Detroit surplus. I was soon on my way to Detroit again, working under the same arrangements as before. Somewhere along the line, as we were stockpiling all of the webbing goods, an African American friend of ours, coined the name Weebee Webbing. At the time, it was popular to refer to Toys R Us as WeeBee Toys and S**t. His play on words, WeeBee Webbing and s**t, was responsible for a name, that started as joke, that Donna hates, which we are stuck with to this day.
In 1990, after being contacted by the County Engineer in order to gauge my interest in the position of General Superintendent, I decided, that the time was right to settle down and would accept the position if offered. I was able to continue to develop MV patterns, and continue in sales to the MV collectors while devoting myself to the county position. Things went along remarkably well for several years. I was able to build the business and restructure the county work force into a first class construction operation. As my time became more taxed, we made the difficult decision of committing to the purchase of an $80,000 Digitized Cutter. This agonizing decision entailed an auction of all of my jeeps and parts along with a multitude of related military goods. We needed the space for the new cutter, and the infusion of cash sure didn't hurt. It was soon after the purchase and training on the new equipment, that sales had grown to the point that I needed to devote my full energy to our growing business and in the summer of 1998, I left the County position.
It wasn't long until I had the bug for a jeep, and soon purchased a 1955 M170 Front Line Ambulance jeep from a fellow club member near Chicago. It was this jeep that took 1st in Class and Best of Show at the 2000 MVPA Convention and was inducted into the MVPA Hall of Fame in 2010. This M170 is now at the AMEDD Museum at Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio Texas http://odcloth.com/1955m170.html My next project was to build an M151A2, using an NOS body and all NOS parts and components. This was to fulfill another dumb idea that I had in high school. I somehow thought it would be incredibly cool to cross the US in an army jeep. I was poor and dumb in high school; I was able to afford the trip when I did it, but am not sure if I was any smarter for acting on it. This trip would not only test the vehicle, it would test my skills at handling any mechanical issues along the way. In the Spring of 2005, I set off alone for the Tower Park meet in Lodi, California with my newly built MUTT. There are still several people that think I trailered it to within an hour of the meet and drove it the final 45 miles. My aching back will testify to the truth about the remarkable round trip! This MUTT is now owned by Barney Goodwin. http://odcloth.com/mymutt/1979am151a2.html
The PBR dream never died. After having been supressed for many years, it was re-awakened in the winter of 2006. After suffering and surviving a horse kick to the face in November of 2005, and having 11 days in ICU to contemplate life, I realized what many do in similar situations, although life can be rewarding and trying at the same time, it can be gone in an instant. I was made aware of a PBR on ebay (thanks Jeff!). The starting bid struck me as too high due to the work remaining to be done to get her operational. I was sent the auction link , and didn't seriously consider it. Then I got the PBR bug - big time. The infection was set in. It seems that the ebay auction was additional fertilizer for the PBR seed. I soon owned hull number 7329 which I purchased from Mark Sonday in Kenosha WI (Kenosha Military Museum). I designed and had a trailer built, secured the wide load permits and dragged her home. She was just a bare hull. No engines, no jet pumps, no drivelines, no electrical systems, no cooling systems; just a derelict hull that I was certain that I inspected during one of my trips to DRMO KeeslerAFB many years ago.
Acquiring the original Jacuzzi jet pumps was beyond my finances, but I had an alternative plan in mind. Back in the early 1990s, I was able to get a close look at the newly fielded Army Bridge Erection Boat that was displayed during Armed Forces Day at Aberdeen Proving Grounds. The East Coast MV Rally used to be held in conjunction with the AFD events on post. The NCOIC was gracious enough to allow Jeff Hain-Matson and me to explore the intimate areas of the British built boat. The inline 6 cylinder marinized Ford Sabre diesels with their gleaming chromed valve covers were spectacular. The British Dowty Jet Pumps were more macho looking than the PBR's original Jacuzzi Pumps, but didn't appear to have have a much different mounting footprint. These observations may have added nutrients to the PBR seed, but it was well before germination. Just more random observations added to the suppressed dumb idea file kept in my head.
Now that I owned a hull, I thought I should explore the Dowty pumps as an option. My search of current GL (Government Liquidation) Auctions showed one pump up for bid at Camp Lejeune, one of my old surplus buying destinations. For a mere $551 plus fees, I won the $15,000 jet pump and was able to pick it up on my way home from the Gulf Coast MV meet in Mobile AL. Upon comparing it to the mounting area in the hull, it looked like an easy retrofit, but I only had the pump, I still needed the steering nozzle (the business end of the assembly). I needed not one, but a pair of pump assemblies.
As luck would have it, my current issue of Boats and Harbors, published by the same folks responsible for Rock and Dirt (see any pattern here?), carried a display ad for UltraDynamics in Columbus Ohio. After some internet research, I concluded that Dowty, the British Aerospace and Aircraft component company responsible for the development of the jet pumps, had created a US based marine division in order to service and support the various military assets utilizing their marine water jets. A phone call to Jim at UltraDynamics http://ultradynamics.com verified my research, and it was suggested that I should bring my pump out for an assessment and an explanation of what parts were needed to complete the assembly. I discovered that this nearly new pump was surplussed due to being froze up. After 2 hours of whittling, I was able to remove all remnants of the 1' Nylon rope that had wrapped and melted itself to the pump shaft in such a way that the pump appeared to be hopelessly locked up. After inspection, the tech at UltraDynamics pronounced it fit to be run as it was, and was amazed that it was disposed of for such an easy fix. He invited me into the workshop area to educate me on steering nozzles. As he had one in the build stand for final adjustments, he would be able to show me the complete assembly. Upon seeing this marvel of British design and over engineering, I immediately saw dollar signs and had thoughts of this is going to be as expensive as Jacuzzi parts.
I was told that a new steering nozzle is a $13,000 assembly (gasp), and that they had a customer looking for 2 of them. They were able to gather the parts from new stock and surplus sources and were completing the order when the customer backed out. I was still harboring thoughts of "I can't afford this" while Jim was scanning his computer. After some calculations, he announced "Dave, you need these. We aren't really in the business of stocking used parts and these need to go. We want you to have them because you'll never get your boat done without them". As I'm still waiting for sticker shock, Jim mentions "We'd love to play with your boat when it's finished, we have $800 invested in parts in each one of these units, they can be yours for that amount". The folks at UltraDynamics have been quite generous in making this boat a reality and I can't sing their praises enough.
An ebay auction for the New Orleans Levee Commission, one year after hurricane Katrina, yielded ownership of a severly damaged hull that was previously a static display at the former Naval Reserve Station. From this, I was able to acquire the much needed gun mount ring for the forward gunner's position and several other parts. I donated the remains to a New Orleans based veterans group that was interested in building a static display. I further agreed that when my boat was finished, they could have all of my duplicate parts. I never realized how hot and humid New Orleans is in August! Two friends drove down with me and three friends and fellow MV club members from Alabama met us in New Orleans to assist. I'm always humbled by the way that fellow MV restorers are always willing to get involved.
A successfull search by Jeff yielded two more pumps from a surplus dealer in Missouri. A pair of low hour Sabre engines were acquired from the West Coast, an NOS, unissued replacement hull was found in Puyallup WA during an unrelated trip in 2007. It was a thing of beauty, purchased by the Navy to rehull PBR 6927 at Mare Island. She had perfect lines, a straight aluminum gunwale, no fiberglass to repair, I had to own it. It was only in Washington. How far is that from Ohio? I have a trailer; what's the big deal about the location?. Plans were made, permits were acquired and she followed me home a couple of months later. Not long after making the deal, Dave Uhrig http://armyjeeps.net was able to sell Hull 7329 to a museum in Texas. I'd estimated that I saved a couple of years hard labor for the extra expense of the new hull. I was able to outfit the Texas hull with the best of the salvaged parts and give all of my unneeded duplicates to the New Orlean's veterans group to complete their static display at the Kenner LA Naval Park. My new hull included all the goodies. PBR life was looking good. My friend Dennis Ambruso in Bridgeport CT, who owns PBR 721 http://pbr721.com , invited me out for an "Inspirational Cruise" on Long Island Sound. More fertilizer, the exact elixir that I needed.
Using my CADD skills along with a set of Dowty blueprints provided by UltraDynamics, I designed aluminum adapters to transition the Jacuzzi mounts in the new hull to fit the Dowty pumps. I was able to use my digitized cutter to plot trial templates and make adjustments as needed. A friend, and fellow MV collector in New Hampshire was able to CNC mill the adapters based on my CADD design. The seed was growing! It was coming together.
Friends and fellow club members Tom Price and Kenny Adams gave me a challenge at the 2009 MVPA Evansville Convention. LST 325 http://lstmemorial.org would be sailing up the Ohio River to Pittsburgh one year later. As LSTs were used in Viet Nam as floating Riverine bases and berthing ships, it would be an unforgivable act if my boat wasn't able to meet the LST on her way North. Challenge accepted. Jeff was on board (no pun intended), as he was at Evansville with me when we became aware of the LST's Cruise to Pittsburgh. Ron Fitzpatrick http://g503.com and Mike Seymour , both from Oregon, also expressed a desire to be a part of this operation a year down the road. If you've never built or restored a boat, it's difficult to grasp the enormity of the challenge presented. Pumps needed installed after much trial and error in designing the adapters, engine beds need built and installed, driveshafts need designed and built, steering controls, throttle controls, transmission controls, electrical, navigation, fiberglass decks and hatches need built, and on and on. This was truly a test of all of my life long acquired skills. If it was easy, there would be a lot of restored PBRs in the water. As it stands, mine is one of two. Dennis owns the other one. All the while, I had no idea if the cooling system I designed or my adapter mounted pumps would work correctly. We hadn't even fired the engines, but were accepting, that based on their low hours, they would run.
Jeff planned several multi day work trips (he hails from York PA). We looked to be on track. We finally ran the engines for the first time on June 24th. Everything went into motion like it should. There were still questions about the jet pumps drawing enough water and if the cooling system routing was correct. Jeff was off to the UK in early August; I was on my own. I conscripted my oldest daughter, Emily when I needed help. She deserves sainthood for her efforts. I'm tough to take when I'm under pressure. It looked like I might make it. Ron and Mike made plans to fly out for the LST/PBR meeting. Time was short, although the boat was put in the water on August 26th, there was still much work to be done. They bought airline tickets, now they were depending on me; nothing like a little more pressure! If I had failed up to this point, I would only disappoint myself, but now that they had purchased tickets, I would be failing them as well. Failure was no longer an option.
The LST left Evansville and was heading up the Ohio, we were still working on finishing the boat. Ron and Mike arrived. I had been doing 16 hour days for 3 weeks trying to wrap it up. They told me the Cavalry was coming. The Cavalry arrived, with sustained jet lag. I was frazzled, I was irritable, I was an ungracious host. I lost 40 pounds; how long could I sustain this pace? I was promised help; the Cavalry was tired. We had a boat to finish,dammit! My priorities were on USCG Water Craft requirements and the couple of items that stand out on the PBR like the Radome and the Nancy Light/Navigation Light Mast. The West Coast Crew had their own ideas; they thought we needed dummy display guns built. I had also promised that I would get an M170 canvas top to the LST before she arrived in Pittsburgh for a dedication ceremony, so in the midst of all this, I honored that commitment and made and delivered the top to the LST while she was in Wheeling. Perceptions of this commitment ranged from unnecessary to a friggin sightseeing vacation trip in the midst of the final chaos. Did I mention that nerves were frazzled all around. Jeff arrived, we split into teams as I accepted the fact that the West Coasties were going to build dummy guns. Jeff and I worked at the marina in the hot sun in humid Ohio on a brownwater creek. We were sustained by lukewarm Gatorade and Payday Bars. The gun crew worked in my air conditioned shop. They made liesurely trips to town for lunch. Animosities flared. We were vocal, we were mean, we were ogres towards one another, but we were dedicated.
The LST left Wheeling with her bow pointing our way. Tom Price was in contact with us throughout the day. I asked him to give me location updates as the LST made upriver progress. Knowing locations and river miles in the Pike Island pool and travel speed for the LST, I had a good handle on our time frame. I knew that when they reached the New Cumberland Locks, we were out of time.
When the phone call came from Tom that they were approaching the locks, we looked like the fools on a reality show. Welders down, torches off, tools away, load the truck, we have to get to the boat, NOW!
We were mounting guns as the LST was locking thru. It would be dark before we got back to my mooring on Yellow Creek. The Navigation lights had not been wired. As I piloted the boat downstream towards the Ohio River, Ron, Mike and Jeff were stretching extension cords from the battery to the Navigation lights. It wasn't fancy, nor Coast Guard approved, but we were legal and well lit, and a lot less tense.
As we entered the Ohio I headed south and opened her up, 450 HP of screaming diesels with an impressive rooster tail chasing us downriver to the long anticipated and hard fought for meeting. As the Grey Lady entered the New Cumberland pool, we were there to greet her. Such a meeting has likely not taken place since the Viet Nam war when the tired PBR crews were just as relieved to meet up with their Grey Ladies in the mouths of the muddy rivers of Viet Nam.
We had planned to head upriver to Pittsburgh on the following day, but had to execute some pump seal repairs. As the day wore on, the prospect of a several hour river trip in an untested boat ending at our destination after dark, was deemed to be not one of our better ideas.
We took advantage of the extra time and completed several more tasks. We needed to unwind, our nerves needed a rest. We needed to remember that we were all friends brought together by this OD obsession. The words were never exchanged, but I think we all felt the same. We met the challenge, we argued like spouses in a marriage gone bad, we were the dysfunctional family on the Jerry Springer Show, we were the crazy uncle's side of the family at that akward Thanksgiving dinner, but, beyond all that, we were victorious in our endeavor. Our friendships, temporarily bruised, survived. For this, I am forever grateful. Thanks guys.
After spending 4 days in Pittsburgh with the LST, and meeting several Viet Nam Riverine veterans who expressed their gratitude in our efforts, I began looking forward to next year on the Illinois River with the LST.
In looking back at how I got here, I can't help but remember all of those who's guidance pushed me on my way. I've known and met many humble veterans in my life, and although life had different plans for me, I feel that I owe them a debt of gratitude for their sacrifice and service.
When asked why I chose to restore the M170 or the PBR, the only response I can muster is, "I did it for you, bud. Sorry I wasn't there to help".
Additional links to the PBR: