andmark riverboat has deep Mon Valley roots
RICES LANDING, Pa. (AP) — Rices Landing native Walter Maund Jr.’s love of working on the river began when he was a teenager and took a job as a deckhand on a historic steamer named the W.P. Snyder Jr.
Maund was taken ashore in a skiff in 1947 after working long hours on the Snyder, which went on to become a national landmark and celebrated its 100th anniversary last year at a museum in Ohio.
“It was very important,” said retired California University of Pennsylvania history professor John Folmar, discussing the Snyder, the only surviving intact steamship of its kind in the United States.
The Snyder was among many steam-powered towboats that once navigated Pittsburgh’s three rivers during the coal and steel heyday.
“They were rugged,” Folmar said.
Many of them were constructed in Mon Valley boat-making towns and would become obsolete about 1900 when steam engines were replaced by those powered with diesel fuel.
This boat went by several names after it was constructed in 1918 before being named in September 1945 after the president of Crucible Steel Co.
Crucible Steel used the boat to push coal from a company mine in Greene County to its steel mill in Midland, Beaver County, said Terry Necciai, an architect and historian in Monongahela.
The Snyder pushed coal barges farther from a company mine to steel mill than any of its competition, Necciai said, a one-way distance of about 90 miles by land.
It was retired Sept. 23, 1953, in Crucible before being donated two years later to the Ohio River Museum in Marietta, where it is permanently docked for tours along the Muskingum River.
“The last crew of the W.P. Snyder lived in the Monongahela area,” Necciai said.
He said two members of the crew, Thomas McFarland and Regis Gamble, were interviewed by him aboard the museum ship for a documentary, “Voices of the River.”
The men discussed how the Snyder would be driven backward to use its paddlewheel to break up ice on the rivers.
“They took the risk of breaking the paddlewheel,” Necciai said.
They also talked about living on the boat for long stretches in jobs that took them away from their families, he said.
“It was a very interesting job,” he said.
The work also was a great adventure for Maund.
In an oral history Maund wrote, he discussed a daring mission in 1972 that involved stabilizing a loaded and sunken chlorine barge in the Louisville and Portland Canal in Kentucky aboard the M.V. Chartiers while wearing a gas mask.
“They said the reason they sent the Chartiers was that they wanted Pittsburgh District pilots who were experienced working around dams in high water,” Maund wrote.
He tried twice to leave the river but was drawn back both times before he retired in 1983 and moved from Washington to Arizona.
He wrote that in 1963 he took a job on land at Locks and Dam No. 4 in Charleroi to be able to be home with his wife and two daughters.
“I wanted to jump on every boat that went through the lock,” he said.
“Once you’ve piloted a towboat, every other job seems tame and unimportant,” he wrote.
Information from: Observer-Reporter, http://www.observer-reporter.com