By: Beverly McClain
This story is a salute to the many people who helped to make this dream a reality. I wrote it to remind people how important it is to dream and to believe in their dreams. It is never too late to get started. This has been a people powered project. All are passionate people who care about preserving the world around us or doing something positive that will make a difference now and in the future.
My husband Wayne and I developed this site hoping it would be a growing Internet guide to river history and in particular the historical building of sternwheelers. We have connected with thousands of people over the last four years. Now Jennie Wade, the boat, is on a new journey. She is equiped as a river history media center. To learn more about the center or to join in the newly organized "Friends of Jennie Wade" click here and read about the plans for the Ohio River Valley's newest educational feature.
Jennie's Story Begins
In 1969, an amusement park in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania hired a company in Ohio to build a replica of an early paddle boat. The boat was to be a ride in a theme amusement park, a trip back in time, back to the day of the sternwheeler . A company in Salem, Ohio built the hull and the superstructure was completed and designed by the amusement park contractors. They christened the boat, Jennie Wade, named for the only female civilian killed during the battle of Gettysburg.
The Jennie Wade , as she looked in 1970 as an amusement ride.
Over the course of the boat's operation, a dramatic flaw in her original design became apparent. One of the Captains remembered an incident when all of the passengers dashed to the port side to see a deer that bolted from cover on the shore. The Captain said the shift in weight caused the boat to nearly roll. Her hull proved to be too narrow to support her towering superstructure.
The boat needed some changes. Two twenty-four inch wide pontoons were added to the hull for stability. With the addition to the hull she would carry 150 passengers plus crew and only drafted 7 inches. The ride became one of the highlights of the park.
For eight years, the park operated but it never saw the success that was anticipated. Soon, the park closed for good. The rides were dismantled and buildings converted into apartments. The Jennie Wade, hauled out of the lake, soon began to rust away, weathering under the pines and left to the elements. What nature wouldn't destroy, some local vandals did.
For more than ten years she sat. Trees and vines grew up through the structure. To most who viewed her, she was ready for scrapping. This is where my part of her story begins.
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania Jennie Wade as she looked in 1991
The Discovery, September, 1991
Kay McClain was a resident of the apartments that stood on the site of the former amusement park. While walking through the woods outside her apartment, she happened upon the rusted hulk of the Jennie Wade. She immediately thought of her brother Wayne.
Wayne McClain. a Pennsylvania auctioneer, had always dreamed of building or owning a riverboat. His home was filled with books, paintings and replicas of sternwheelers. Over the years, he had collected antiques from the steamboat era. His passion for boats was well known by family and friends. Kay remembered that once he had even attempted to build a wooden hull but never had the time or resources to finish it.
Kay knew her brother's talent went far beyond his auctioning. Known for his ability to restore things, Wayne saved things that others were ready to discard, why not the boat? She called her brother that afternoon.
No one dreamt what that one phone call made that September day would bring. Wayne decided to travel to Gettysburg to see this boat described by his sister. It peaked his interest but he had no real thought of buying it. He was however curious to see the picture so vividly painted by his sister. When he stood in front of the rusted hulk he knew something had to be done. What future was in store for this piece of history. He returned home with no set plans but moved none the less by what he had seen.
If the next few months had turned out differently, no one would be writing this story. My name was Beverly Greaves. My two children were grown, one off to the Air Force, the other in college. I was a Human Resource director for a major chain. My job had become my life but my whole life was about to make a major change. Wayne's life was changing too. These ingredients and how all of this came together can best be described as fate. A mutual friend introduced us. We had both just lost long-time companions to cancer. I guess our friend thought it was something we had in common because we were as different as night and day otherwise. I remember the day we met. We talked about cancer, living dying and everything else that had changed our lives over the last few years. Somehow though we moved passed all of that and the conversation moved to riverboats. You see, I was a transplanted "city girl" and Cincinnati, Ohio was my hometown. The conversation somehow led to the Delta Queen. My family's connection with people involved with these boats fascinated him. He told me about the boat his sister had found and asked if I would like to go and see it. I agreed.
We planned the trip for November and over the next few weeks we talked about the possibilities that buying such a boat might mean. Kay, in the meantime, did some detective work and set up a meeting with Dick Michael, the man responsible for the boat. If he agreed to sell and the price was right, Wayne decided to buy the boat.
Jennie's Journey Begins, Winter 1991-1992
Wayne McClain surveys the project. November, 1991
The deal was struck. The Jennie Wade was sold for $5,000. Wayne planned to work on the boat between auctions, I could only help on the weekend and in the evenings. At that time, neither one of us had any idea what the next 9 years would bring. We would not just learn about working with steel, welding, torching, grinding, sanding and painting, we would learn a lot about each other. We planned to get Coast Guard approval and laugh now at how naïve that thought really was. One thing was sure, along this journey we would meet many people who would help with this project. Each of us would have one thing in common, a need to believe in dreams and a desire to see dreams come true.
We had three months to move the boat from the site. It seemed easy enough. We investigated the options. A wide-load permit was quite expensive and most of the routes were impassable due to construction projects. The other option was to move the boat in pieces. As time ticked by, we had to make a decision. We decided on the latter. We hired Wayne's brother Matt to do the hauling. We dismantled the boat in place and planned to recondition the boat and reconstruct it at a new site. But this would pose another problem. Where do you reassemble a 54 foot sternwheeler without drawing too much attention?
Wayne thought of his old friend , Steve Gay. He owned an airport. He restored antique aircraft and would have some idea of what a project like this would entail. Wayne asked Steve and he agreed to allow the parts to be moved to a field next to the airport. Soon friends and family began to help with the big job of dismantling and moving the boat. The project of moving the boat proved to be much more than expected. Piles of rusted metal began to form. Wayne took steps to see that we saved all the original decoration. After three separate trips, the once proud vessel was in pieces in it's new home.
The Pieces of a Puzzle We Called Jennie 1992 - 1993
Spring flew by with little or no work done on the project. We needed time to regroup and refinance. Finally, in the heat of the summer (when else?) we began to reassemble the hull. Welding the boat back together was going to prove to be no easy fete.
The hull of the Jennie Wade after the move from Gettysburg.
Our first major purchase had to be a welder. A 1930 Waco welder entered the picture through a friend, Dolf Barlow. Dolf was a WWII Navy ship welder and he highly recommended Old Green ( as we called the Waco). Dolf was right, she started first time that day and ran faithfully through til the project's completion.
Now, with our own welder, the hull was back together by summer's end. That was only the first part of the process. Next, we would need to flip the hull over so we could begin the tedious job of re-plating it. The hull was strengthened with a second plate of new steel.. This would make the boat suited to the river.
A local contractor assist with the turning of the hull.
A local contractor helped to turn the hull over. We would then add the new plate. Although we now owned a welder and Wayne was learning fast, we still felt if we ever really sought Coast Guard certification, we needed a certified welder. We thought that finding one that was familiar with ship building standards would be impossible but one day in the paper there was this miracle ad.
Welder for hire an "ex-Navy ship fitter",call….
We called immediately.
Jack Brabant showed up at the scene and now he admits, he was definitely skeptical. Looking at the rusted hulk and pieces strewn about, he wondered what we were really all about. Then we told him the story, showed some photos and relayed our dream. His interest was piqued enough to give it a try.
In all kinds of weather he welds.
Jack and Wayne worked all winter long through all kinds of weather. Jack began to teach Wayne how to weld. Wayne admits he knew nothing of working with steel when he started this project. He does now! Jack said he was a great student. Wayne could not say enough in praise of his teacher. Together, by the end of that winter, they had the hull completed..
That winter we sent out our first Jennie Wade Christmas cards. Wayne drew the design and I wrote the message. The project was now beginning to take on a meaning far more than the restoration. I began to compile a photo journal and diary. I realized that each day was part of the sternwheeler, Jennie Wade's story and that I was recording her life's history.
We waited for the winter weather to break and for spring to set in. While waiting we certainly had plenty to do. The original paddle wheel was completely rebuilt. New metal was welded in place and new one inch thick paddles were cut. Many of the decorative pieces we saved were in need of attention and so we passed the winter days working on the little things that might have been left until the end. Wayne kept busy but it was obvious that he was ready to get back to the boat.
Original decorations for the boat are carefully restored,
Finally, the weather broke and Wayne began sandblasting the hull. We were almost ready to paint it. I had decided to visit my family in Cincinnati for Easter and of course, Wayne planned to check out some of the marinas in the area. We had heard about Tucker's Marine Repair and heard of their boat the Columbia, a sternwheeler that we had seen last time we were in the city.
The owners of the Columbia, Gordon and Marilyn Tucker were great contacts. They were more than just helpful, they listened to our story about the boat, Jennie Wade and gave us the encouragement we needed. They let us wander around the marina, asking questions and soaking up ideas. We left there with a great idea for a trailer design, information about different types of undercoating for the hull and a renewed sense of purpose to complete the project.
Gordon and Marilyn shared their story of building their paddlewheel boat and they shared stories of others who dreamed the dream. This was the first time we learned about the American Sternwheeler Association. An organizations whose main purpose was to preserve the history of the American Waterways. Many ASA members had also restored sternwheelers or paddle boats. Wayne and I will never forget the kindness they showed to two strangers from Pennsylvania
When we returned from Cincinnati, we found ourselves renewed and enthusiastic. First, we painted the hull. Next we completed our shopping list and started looking for the pieces needed for the new trailer design. We purchased the I -beams from one friend. We bought the axles and all the wheels from another. After learning about the story, they both cut us great deals and became part of her history. We really needed to watch our budget and so to save money we decided to improvised on the trailer and used part of the original Jennie Wade structure for support beams on the trailer. In a few short weeks we had all the ingredients necessary for the trailer, we were ready to get started.
We began the job of taking the concept of the boat trailer design and actually making it. We had all the parts we needed, the mental picture and now we added a new friend to the project, Walter Campbell, another Navy veteran and an "idea man". NOTE: Walter Campbell passed away on November 25, 2003. Please click on his name for our tribute to him and his unending work on this restoration project. In no time at all, Wally and Wayne start to put the pieces of the puzzle together. Soon the trailer was completed. Now, with this trailer for the hull of the Jennie Wade, we could begin to work on her superstructure. All we needed was another crane!
As fate would have it, the new Wal Mart construction site would bring in a crane that same week. As usual, I asked the contractor if he would mind lifting our boat hull onto its new trailer. Although he wasn't quite sure of what I asked, he somehow agreed with the price to be determined later. I made sure he was aware that we didn't have a lot of money. Next day, he and the rest of his crew showed up with the crane. About three hours later and with a few extra adjustments on the lift process, the job was completed. They had had no idea of what I was asking, now they did and guess what, once again, Jennie found some friends. They looked at the photo album I had compiled, wished us luck and told us we owed them a ride on the boat.
The Wal Mart crane made lifting the hull onto the new trailer look easy!
Jack Brabant and Wally Campbell pitched in as the walls go up!
The superstructure went up in stages, walls, second deck ( another crane job) the stairs, the pilot house, the windows and finally the stacks. Each and every piece had been sanded down to bare metal and each piece had a brand new coat of X-O-Rust. She looked awesome. So much had happened over the last few years.. It was Christmas Eve of 1993 that Wayne and I raised the stacks. We were both very different then. Our friendship had changed to love and our business venture and lives had grown into a permanent partnership. We married that December of 1993. It seemed almost impossible for us to have come that far, but we had. Now what?
Jennie Wade, the Superstar
It was truly amazing that all of this construction had taken place right under everyone's nose and yet few knew about her story. She had her faithful followers, the 50 plus men and women of the region who helped with her reconstruction but no one really knew she was there.
One day the local TV's "eye in the sky" flew over. There she was, out in the middle of the corn field. They wanted to do a story. Did we have a story for them. WYOU and Valerie Amsterdam did a television short on the boat and our plans for the future. What plans? We already knew what fate the Coast Guard sealed for her. They did not see her ferrying passengers. We did just about everything wrong (according to them).
Next, the local newspaper, the Scranton Times did a full page feature. Once again she became famous. In the January 1995 issue of the Sternwheeler, the ASA published my diary of Jennie's journey. The story of Wayne's Field of Dreams took shape but it was not complete. We planned on launching her that summer. We worked on finding a launch site and we began to look at our own life's journey. Jennie Wade had totally engulfed the last five years of our lives. Now things were different. Changes were in the works, big changes and Jennie's journey would come to a cross road.
Jennie Wade as she looked in 1995.
Jennie Wade Waits, Waits for her Dreamers
Five years pass by. When I submitted that first article to the A.S.A Sternwheeler publication, I realize I wrote it with an almost blind faith. This work of love, we called the Jennie Wade, we envisioned would be completed and launched that summer of 1995. That was not to be!
Who would have known back then that everything, even the Jennie Wade, would take a back seat to what fate would deal us. As I am sure we all know, none of us have real control over our lives. The "present" is just that, a "gift". Sometimes the things that we have planned must take a back seat to the things dealt us in life. That is what happened to Wayne and me.
We had begun working on all the details to launch the Jennie Wade into the Susquehanna River that summer of 1995. I had retired from my full time executive job and we devoted all our time and energy to the completion of the boat. But my mother, who lived in Ohio, became ill a few years earlier and my focus began to change. Both Wayne and I had seen the changes an illness in a family can create. We decided that now was the time to make a move back to my home state. As it turned out, that move was to change the final chapters of the story of the Jennie Wade.
For us, right then, down-sizing became our priority. Our properties went up for sale and the Jennie Wade project halted. We did however, decided to continue the work on the launch site. We began the grueling Pennsylvania permit process for the launch area. Somehow, it seemed that every corner we turned had another roadblock. Who knew that putting a boat into the water was going to be almost as difficult as building the boat itself.
For those of you not familiar with this process, here is a brief description of the ordeal. First, we documented that the launch site was not a historic Indian archaeological site and that no extinct owl was nesting in the area. This is not as easy as it may appear. Photos, drawings, signed affidavits and your first born child (only kidding on the first born part) were submitted in triplicate. Then, in a few months, after checking that all the "i"s were dotted and "t"s were crossed, the great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania approved our launch permit. Within a week, once we obtained the permits, the launch site was readied and thanks to the expert work of the excavator, Watson Everetts, the job was completed in just one week.NOTE: Watson past away on February 8, 2004. Click his name for our tribute to him and the big part he had in the Jennie Wade.
Now, although the launch area was ready, we were not and the Jennie Wade sat in the field waiting for her big debut.
A Change in Plans
After a visit to Ohio in the Spring of 1995, we finalized our decision to make the move to Ohio with the purchased of a property in Ripley, along the Ohio River. As I remember telling Wayne, "all this home needed was a little TLC. It's just our kind of project". Actually, if you want to know the truth, the 1830's frame structure was nearly condemned. It needed a lot more that TLC it needed complete reconstruction. (Sound familiar).
To complicate matters, our home in Pennsylvania sold in a few months and BEFORE the house in Ohio was ready to become a home. The Jennie Wade continued to take a back seat to the need to get a roof over our head. Our lives were totally changed and so our dreams, and especially the Jennie Wade, took a back seat to survival.
I went back to college at age 50 and renewed my teaching credentials, Wayne opened Eagle Creek Antiques and obtain an Ohio auctioneer's license. Writing the next chapter of the Jennie Wade had to wait. Her owners, Wayne and I were rewriting our entire lives.
Jennie Wade ON HOLD! - 1995- 1998 (She Waits and She Waits)
The Jennie Wade, and its story was on hold but by now, it was still quite famous.. One day, a gentleman from the New York area flew over the boat, found out who owned her, looked us up and asked to buy her. He had plans to run it as an excursion boat in an area not requiring Coast Guard regulations. It was all set. The deal was written and then as fate would have it, he had a serious heart attack and this put an end to that deal real fast.
We never advertised the boat for sale but soon another man showed interest and another and another. Everyone always wanted to buy the boat. Once even a group of people from the city of Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania wanted to buy it but obviously none of these was to be. The boat appeared to have it sites set on staying where it was reborn, in Wyoming County. We never felt any pressure to move the boat or get it out of anyone's way. Thanks to generosity of Steve Gay, the owner of the airport field where the Jennie Wade was refurbished and stored, there was never an urgency to sell it. We were very grateful for that.
As the years passed, time began to take its toll on her. Her paint was weathering and she looked abandoned. We knew something had to be done. She need to have a new beleiver, she needed to continue in a forward direction.
Another Dreamer? 1998
Wayne and his brother Ed McClain discuss the progress on the boat.
As fate would have it, Wayne's brother, Ed McClain, who had helped work on the original refurbishing of the boat and his friends Holly and Rick Stark wrote a proposal for the town of Tunkhannock. Their dream was to turn the boat into a floating restaurant right on the Susquehanna River near the new River Park. Over the next few years, Ed found that once again permits and approvals were a constant stumbling block. The original plan to have the boat by the River Park was altered. The people of this area had a hard time imagining a boat this big functioning in their river. Ed chose another site and that was approved by another permit departments. Ed had signed an agreement with us to lease the boat for two years. Time was running out. Ed knew that to keep up the momentum he had to launch the boat and show the town that she would work in this river.
Things were bustling at the boat again. Ed gave her a new paint job and a new look. New faces like the Dombroski's helped to make the difficult job of moving a 12 ton boat look easy. Old friends from years back also returned. Back on board with the project were friends who helped out in the early days, like Elmer Rowe, Barb and Steve Gay,our electrician and "idea man" Wally Campbell, Jack Brabant, Grady (Muleskinner) Everetts, brother's John and Matt McClain and many of the next generation of McClains helped pitch in to help get her ready to go. The Jennie Wade was scheduled for launch on the 17th of June. It was Ed's hope that the restaurant should be operational by end of the June, 2000. This was not to be. The June rains did not cooperate.
The town of Tunkhannock also halted all possibilities for the Jennie Wade riverboat/ barge to park on their side of the river. To quote the Council, they couldn't approve the boat/restaurant operating in a flood plain. (I ask, when was the last time anyone heard of a boat being situated anywhere but a flood plain.) Anyway, another site for the restaurant, Jennie Wade, was proposed along the Susquehanna River just off Route 29 in Eatonville, Pennsylvania, one mile from the original site planned in Tunkhannock. With her fresh coat of paint and a complete renovation, she does what she does best, attracted a crowd. A Civil War theme was planned and of course, the story of the dream would be passed on or so we thought!
Jennie's real DEBUT, The Launch
So on July 1, 2000 at 12:30 p.m., the Jennie Wade Riverboat was launched in less than 2 feet of water on the peaceful Susquehanna River. Her faithful fans, the local newspaper, the local TV stations and of course, both Wayne and I, her owners were there by her side. Everyone walked the 1/4 mile track to the river, over the freshly plowed corn field between the rows of knee high corn.
The river was low that day, almost two feet lower than it was the week before but the launch ramp was just right, finally. During the previous weeks, the continuos rains had made the launch impossible but finally the ground dried out and the moving date was here.
We were all there early and the nerves were evident on everyone but Wayne. He was ready. To quote Wayne for the TV camera, "She is finally where she belongs, in the water. She really didn't deserve to spend the last five years in that cornfield."NOTE: All photographs of the launch day were taken by our dear friend Walter Campbell who passed away on November 25,2003.
When someone said," how did you stick with it so long, wasn't it hard?" " Sure it was hard," he said, "If it wasn't hard everyone would be doing it." The final question, "Was it worth it?" "Sure it was!" and I, the writer of this story can vouche for that. It was probably one of the most rewarding things I have ever done in my whole life. As we pulled away, Wayne said," time to get going on boat number two." (It was our last year's Holiday Greeting.) Oh, no, I thought, here we go again.
The Jennie Wade, as she sats quietly along the shore of the Susquehanna River.
Pictured, the site of Jennie when she was docked after her July, 2000 launch. The boat was situated in a beautiful park-like setting. It complimented the already serene Susquehanna River valley and brought more new visitors to the river's edge. No one had ever seen a boat project of this magnitude in this region of the Susquehanna River since the early 1880. What happened over the next few months was a nightmare and as Ed discovered, "The best made plans of mice and men....."
What about her original dreamers, Wayne and me? As far as the "love story" that the Jennie Wade restoration project began over sixteen years ago, well, our dreams continue in a new project...here in Ohio read on..........
Is it the End of Our Story,
The Beginning of another ……?.I wrote the line above over three years ago and found it wasn't meant to be the end of her story. I believed her story was destined to go on much longer and that proved to be true.
1830's Home of the Captain
STORY OF THE CAPTAIN
(Site updated on July 5, 2008)