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Guest column: Edna G tugboat needs a lifesaver

The tugboat Edna G is well over a century old and still afloat, so why the worry over taking her out of the water?

The water is a terrible place to keep a boat. Mother Nature starts sinking it as soon as it is launched. The more subtle attack is by corrosion of the steel hull, slowly dissolving the metal by electrolytic and microbial/vegetative action. The defense is paint and hull electrodes, which will corrode to save the steel. Paint deteriorates and the electrodes get consumed. Some of Edna's electrodes were also painted over, during some dry-dock time in her past.

The biologic action essentially drills tiny holes through the hull, given enough time. To some extent, the biologic nodular deposits slow down this activity, but the icing along the hull produces a scrubbing action during the winter and spring, clearing the way for additional destruction.

While divers were able to fasten new electrodes to the hull, painting would require towing to a dry-dock, and then another tow back home. Towing presents a good chance of sinking during the tow, and dry-docking is very expensive.

A riveted hull sometimes loses or breaks a rivet or part of a rivet. This happened a few short years ago, sitting quietly next to the dock. A diver had to apply an underwater epoxy patch to stop the leakage.

Aside from the riveting, the hull is made of a century-old recipe of hot-rolled, open-hearth steel, subject to wear hardening or metal fatigue from a century of pounding and flexing. Fatigue failure will give no cue, no clue — until a crack opens up, and then it will be too late. Each extra day afloat is now a gift, and the pounding continues. There is not enough space in this commentary to relate all the work that must be done.

The "G" is more than just part of our city logo and a pretty neat old steam boat. She is part of our city's history, Minnesota's history and America's history. She was federalized for World War I, and sailed to the East Coast to help the shipping work in getting troop ships and supply ships into and out of ports on the eastern seaboard, helping fight and win the Great War.

In the building of America during peacetime, every pound of iron ore bound for eastern smelters traveled by water and those ships and barges could not come and go through our port without the aid of Edna G. If a vessel were in trouble on the lake, Edna G was often sent to help or rescue the boat. More than one drowned sailor was retrieved by our tug.

Her monitor (water cannon) was put to effective use in fighting fires on the ore docks or buildings close to shore. She pumped water to ore boats that needed it for steaming up, and she provided steam to the docks for thawing frozen ore topside.

Edna sorely needs friends to help preserve and maintain her. Spread the word and share this story everywhere. The most effective effort is to form a nonprofit group, perhaps called "Friends of Edna G." This group could provide volunteers for tours, for painting, for woodwork, for historic research, for grant writing and for countless other valuable services I can't even imagine — now.

I am not the one to organize such a group; I can't even organize my sock drawer. Edna's Friends do not have to be from Two Harbors or even Minnesota. They just have to be willing. I am certainly willing to start this by collecting names via my email:

Formerly from Minneapolis, Thomas Koehler became a permanent resident of Two Harbors after accidentally getting my first job there in 1972 following his discharge from the U.S. Navy submarine service. He has been an active member of the tug commission for several years.