Interview with Ann Loeding

Restoration Coordinator and Port Captain

How did you get involved with the SS Columbia and what is your role in the Project?

Having been involved with several vessel restoration projects, I knew Richard and had spoken to him over the years about his progress with Columbia. Although I had never been aboard the boat, I had seen her tied up in Detroit when I was passing by while working on tugboats. After Richard passed away, the SSCP trustees sought me out to ask my advice as to how best to continue the work he started. I was just finishing up another project so I enthusiastically affirmed that we should keep working towards getting Columbia steaming.

What are the key factors you consider when restoring Columbia?

The first thing I looked for is whether she still has life in her – you look past the peeling paint and debris, and get a sense of the damage to the basic structure and machinery. Columbia was in very rough shape, but after a bit of poking around, I saw that her primary framing, steam engine and boilers are intact and repairable. And Columbia still has heart – she fairly skipped across Lake Erie during the trip to Buffalo! Now we are concentrating on balancing the need for historical accuracy and preservation of authentic materials with the need to accommodate modern passengers and integrate contemporary technologies. We need to be conscious of maintaining appropriate and consistent progress on the repairs, so our restoration plan is designed in a way that ensures we never start a phase of work that will compromise the boat if completion of that work is delayed. Another key strategy is to design the repair work in a manner that meets regulatory standards as a permanent repair, and we thus avoid duplicating effort and using twice the resources.

What work needs to happen to prep Columbia for her epic tow to Kingston?

The goal for the tow prep work is to keep out the water and strengthen the deckhouse so as to withstand stresses from offshore wave action. Over the past two years we accomplished extensive repairs on the hull, and it is now watertight. The current prep work involves repairs to the steel deck and house structures (queen posts, tie rods, guard brackets and towing bitts), protection of the machinery from salt water, and construction of temporary barriers to keep the below-decks watertight. We will also be designing, fabricating and installing fendering specifically for transit of the Seaway. We already have much of the safety gear (pumps, hoses, extinguishers, etc.) aboard from the prior tows (Detroit to Toledo, Toledo to Buffalo.)

What is the biggest challenge of the restoration?

Obviously, this is a big project and it is quite a challenge to keep the work organized and in sync with the restoration plan. But, the biggest challenge so far has been coming up with a way to assure people that the restoration is achievable – when you look around the boat as she is now, everywhere you see things that need repair and it can seem overwhelming. However, we are starting out with more than they did when she was built in 1902. We have knowledgeable engineers and shipwrights experienced with traditional boat building AND the benefit of improved materials and technologies!  It’s really just a matter of having a plan and advancing through the steps. We will most certainly have challenges as we get into the heart of the restoration – the boilers and machinery, the deckhouse rebuild and final fitting out, but if we stick to the plan (and have enough funding,) it can be done.

What is the best way for people to get involved with the restoration?

The best way to participate right now is by helping to fund the project – we must get Columbia to the Hudson River! Even small donations are valuable, both in the sense that many small amounts add up, and also that the project will need many friends in the coming years. Once the main restoration work begins, donors will be able to fund specific items – for example, stained-glass windows, newel posts, boiler fire tube, main engine cylinder cock, etc.. Additionally, once the boat is on the Hudson River, we will have training and work days aboard Columbia, and volunteers will be able to work alongside the engineers and shipwrights throughout the restoration. And I always welcome experienced mariners to share their knowledge with us.