Newsletter Masthead - 34KB

[November 1998]


[January 1999]

An 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.                                                      Apply one coat of THINNED Ameron bottom paint.

2. Wednesday 02 Dec  - Scuff sand hull and apply second coat of paint.  Painting done.

3. Friday 04 Dec          - Continue construction of turnover "crate".

4. Saturday 05 Dec      - Continue construction of turnover "crate".

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???


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 Saturday 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 the 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 was OK!

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 original 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.

Jack 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 that 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 again MANUFAB!

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 from it.

Earl 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 DONOVANS!

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 much!

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