awful lot of progress has been made on the project since our last newsletter!
The last 4 or 5 weeks have been unbelievably busy. When we chose
the turnover date, a number of very important things HAD to happen very quickly
and they DID happen. I've never been prouder of our crew than I have
been since we announced the turnover date. George Benedetto and Dave
Sintes preplanned their "forklift ballet". George and I went to the
Orleans Levee Board to square away the loan of the two forklifts (all terrain
6,000 lb capacity each). Al Spellman, the Levee District warehouse
supervisor rolled out the red carpet for us! Al sent us to see Bill
Capace, who is the heavy equipment honcho and who also oversees the maintenance
of these two machines. Bill allowed George to practice and to get the "feel"
for the lift he would operate. George is really a very experienced forklift
operator (he learned in the U.S. Navy).
While George was busy, I walked over to the boat to check the paint job we
had put on the bottom the previous Saturday. The bottom planks and
their beautiful Harold Buchler Jr / Ron Maranto / Brad Booth 3M 5200 caulk
job had been sanded to a very nice finish in preparation for final painting.
But I found a nasty problem. Here WAS the plan:
1. Saturday 28 Nov - Final sanding paint prep bottom
planks, incl. scuffing planks.
one coat of THINNED Ameron bottom paint.
2. Wednesday 02 Dec - Scuff sand hull and apply second coat of paint.
3. Friday 04 Dec - Continue construction
of turnover "crate".
4. Saturday 05 Dec - Continue construction of turnover
5. Monday 07 Dec - Turn the boat over at 9:00 AM.
So much for plans...the bottom of the boat looked like someone had thrown
dirt and sand onto the previous Saturday's paint job! In Naval parlance,
the bottom looked like a non-skid deck. What had happened was the thinned
paint (which was very important to "lock" our paint to the wood) had RAISED
the heck out of the wood grain. This meant that we needed to do an
awful lot of sanding AND painting PRIOR to the next Saturday...or there would
be no roll over. It looked like and extra two days of work, and we
didn't have the time to spare.
So what do you do when you are in a jam like this???
Call...JIM WELLER, ROY REDDLER AND JERRY FORTIER!
I ran to Home Depot and picked up some electric sanders and Jim, Roy and
Jerry went to work. For your information, Jim is a WWII Army vet, Roy
is WWII USMC and Jerry is WWII USCG. What a group! These guys
volunteered at the last minute to sand every inch of our hull the next day
- back down to a nice finish. I asked them to concentrate only on sanding,
as I was trying to muster another work party to paint the next day. Jim
Weller showed up at my place after 5:00 PM on "sanding day" with a report
that he, Roy and Jerry had not only sanded the entire bottom, but they had
also PAINTED it! This was an incredible example of selflessness and
devotion to the task at hand. Jim, Roy and Jerry - you guys saved the
day. I'll put these guys up against a crew of 20 year olds anytime.
While all of the unplanned hull stuff was going on, Jerry Strahan was
coordinating filming with Louisiana Public Broadcast and Diana Baker (who
was in Hawaii). Bruce Harris, Ed Daroca and Al Haydel were making final
preparations on the rollover crate. The crew was tidying up the workshop,
and seeing to some last minute details on the interior of the boat. The
interior crew became known as the "trolls" as they would disappear for HOURS
at a time inside the boat...and never come out! If you looked hard,
all you could see was their FEET as the fit, drilled, bolted, screwed, painted,
removed, refit, cut etc. ALL of the interior work on this boat. Hats off
to Dr. Richard Warren, Capt. Don Summers, Brad Booth, Jim Weller, Mark Bradburn,
Dan Gay, Ron Maranto, Harold Buchler Jr. and Sr., the USCG Bowmans, Bill
Cassady, Spencer McIlvaine, John Montgomery, Fernand Voss, Roy Reddler, Jerry
Fortier and Joey Madere. Take a close look at the detail of the interior
of this boat and realize that all of that work was done UPSIDE DOWN so we
could stay ahead of our timeline. These people are unsung heroes of
this project, look them up and THANK THEM!
Well, when we closed the workshop on
05 December we were ready to roll it! The crew arrived at 0800 on 07
December and we made ready for the main event. The Levee Board had
even washed and waxed the forklifts for us! We had a safety meeting
and B.J. Roberts led the crew in a prayer. George and Dave lit off
the forklifts and away we went. They gently slid the forks under the
gunwales (sides for you Army guys...) and lifted. The crew pulled the
blocks out from under the hull and then stood away. George and Dave
lowered the boat to the ground. Then Dave began to lift the Port side
up up up. Joey Madere stood at the back of the boat on a ladder so
George and Dave could both see his hand instructions. Neither forklift
operator could see each other. They had to rely on Joey to coordinate
all movements. Graham Haddock, Bruce Harris, Ed Daroca, Al Haydel and
myself stared intently at a pine 2"x12" on
rollover crate that we wished were oak or steel. We underestimated
the load on that board and it looked like it would surely split and break.
The question was, what would happen when it broke? We stopped
the roll at a 45 degree angle and discussed the problem. It looked
like the board would break, but damage would be limited by the strength of
some reinforcing angles Ed Daroca had provided. Carry On!!! Over
the boat went and then CRACK!!! The board split like a rifle shot.
The crowd didn't know about that board, and I'm sure many thought the
boat was damaged. Lots of sad faces. But we continued until the
boat stood upright on its Starboard side, and word spread quickly that all
Graham commented that next time we do this we'll get it right. Yeah....
Well, the plan was to slide the boat back to its
place on the floor and then complete the roll. No dice!!! I wanted
to get the hull right side up ASAP. We already split one board. Time
to put it down. So, we mustered a crew to clear out the rest of the
workshop and this was quickly done. Dave put his forks up high on the
Port side and gently pushed the boat over to George, who was now in the
spotlight. At first it was like a couple of outfielders after a pop
fly yelling "Who's got it?" but then it was apparent that George had the
load. He carefully lowered his forks and backed the forklift as we
all smiled. The operation was complete. We were successful.
The boat was OK. The crew immediately began disassembly of the
upper portion of the crate. The lower portion is now serving as a temporary
cradle for the boat.
Leary and Mike Dunn of Leary Engineering are moving forward with the final
cradle design. Graham has consulted with them, and Mike has become
a regular visitor on Saturdays. Jack and Mike are going to do a heck of a
job for us. You all know how long I've been worrying over this cradle.
We will probably have our plans by February. Then, I'll pay a
visit to the Houseys over at Orleans Materials and Equipment (get ready John!).
Gordon Grant called to tell me he was ready to begin drafting "paperwork"
for the boat. To remind you, the boat will be owned by the UNO Foundation,
and it will have a Board of Trustees which will see to its long term maintenance
and display at the National D-Day Museum. All of this of course after our
christening and commissioning by the USCG! Karen Reisch and LT Glynn
Smith, USCG are still busily working on christening planning. Glynn
and I will begin paying visits to ALL of the local Flag Officers to ask for
their support and brief them on our progress. I have always stressed
this project is owned by all of us...Think about it, Higgins Boats were CIVILIAN
built, NAVY / COAST GUARD run and they carried ARMY and MARINES to the beaches!
Back to Gordon Grant...Gordon also indicated
I may hear from a New Orleans insurance brokerage firm who may be able to
help us with our insurance needs. Stay tuned! Liz Williams from
the UNO Foundation and I will meet with Gordon just after the first of the
year to hammer out the details.
Earl Fredricks has been VERY busy again this month. Earl has continued
to coordinate fabrication issues with Sheriff Lee's MANUFAB, Lowery Brothers
(lifting slings), OTECH (bow ramp repair) and Hobson Galvanizing. Earl
picked up a LOAD of beautifully fabricated parts from MANUFAB yesterday.
Thank you very much Sheriff Lee and Walter at MANUFAB! Not only
has this company produced authentic parts for our boat from plans, they handled
it QUICKLY. Walter also took care of having our parts galvanized. Thanks
My Dad picked up the machine gun rings from Hobson Galvanizing. They
are originals and they look good! Dave Sintes used his super saw to
step-cut the edges of two sheets of special 10' marine plywood for us. The
crew has this wood glued up and faired now and we will fabricate our bulkheads
Fredricks and Graham Haddock went to OTECH to inspect the completed bow ramp
repair. PERFECT! OTECH did a great job for us. Thank you
VERY MUCH Jorge and Esteban Fernandez!. The ramp is primed and ready
for final finishing prior to installation. Dr. Warren has volunteered
to oversee this process. The ramp has a few pits to deal with, and
it isn't perfect. This ramp IS from an original Higgins boat and it
most certainly saw wartime service. We like having a real McCoy on
the bow of this boat.
Sheriff Foti and company hauled the bow ramp from OTECH to the work shop
for us. Chief Hall and Joe Spellman are the Sheriff's right hand men
who help us more than you know. Thank you Sheriff Foti!
The Orleans Levee Board has loaned us a 4,000-Lb capacity "A" frame for the
installation of our engine. In fact, they refurbished the frame for
us! Sheriff Foti had given us some heavy duty 360-degree urethane casters,
and they have found a home on the "A" frame. Bruce and the gang are
almost done with installation of the engine foundations. Joey and Jimmy
Dubuisson are ready to put the engine in as soon as possible. Ed Daroca
and Al Haydel have been busy fitting up our bulkheads, and Jim Weller and
Dan Gay were busily painting the after engine compartment bulkhead as we
secured for the day on 26 December.
Joey Madere and George Benedetto are in the midst of installing the four
MANUFAB produced external chine plates. These plates are plate steel
"doublers" which reinforce the two internal steel lifting frames. The
chine plates are thru-hull bolted with galvanized carriage bolts, and yes
we punched square holes to accommodate the bolts! The plates are bedded
to the hull with DONOVANS MARINE provided boat life caulk. Thanks again
CORRECTION: In the November newsletter I reported that Gayle
Jones had known Mr. Lovitt since she was a little girl. NOT SO!
Gayle and Mr. Lovitt have only come to know each other in the last
few years, meeting because of their common love of horses. Sorry about
the mistake, I want to keep history straight!
Many thanks to James Woodward and the Roy Reddler family for making the
photograph included in your newsletter a reality. Thank you both very