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Lightship Huron’s Twin GM Diesels To Roar Again

Volunteers Rebuild Engines

Huron Lightship, Port Huron MI - Creative Commons photo by cwbash on Flickr

Volunteers with the Port Huron (Michigan) Museum this week have finished putting on the last tweaks to the engine that ran the 97 foot lightship’s electricity, according to a story in the Port Huron Times Herald. Next, the twin GM diesels that provided the boat’s propulsion are in their plans to rebuild to a running state. But the lightship isn’t going anywhere…it’s been landlocked for more than thirty years at Pine Grove Park. So why rebuild the engines to a running state? Easy, according to volunteer Chris Tabor. “(It’s important) just to have a display, even though we can’t make it go anywhere,” he said in the story. “It’s so much more if it’s a working museum.”

The lightship still has the original foghorn and most of the lights that guided the freighters as she sat on duty on Corsica Shoals. The foghorn would blast every thirty seconds when fog hid the shoals. Now, the foghorn only blasts on special occasions, and a service horn greets freighters gliding past on Lake Huron.

Companies Donate Parts ; Volunteers Donate Time

The lightship’s engines were damaged by snow and rain that leaked into the engines’ exhaust pipes while it sat waiting to be transferred to the city of Port Huron. But fortunately, only half the cylinders of the propulsion engines will need replacement. And upon hearing of the restoration efforts, many local companies donated parts to the cause, costing the museum nothing but the free labor provided by volunteers. These engines powered every part of the lightship, from the electricity to the foghorn. Volunteers now run the repaired engines every thirty days to keep them in good working order.

The Thrum of the Diesels

There is nothing like the sound and the feel of powerful diesels under you, and the museum director recognizes this. What might appeal to one person viewing the lightship holds no interest whatsoever for the next, even in same members of the family. As a docent at a lighthouse, with kids especially, they’d be bored out of their minds until I would start talking about how the first lights on shore were built by pirates to lure ships in, or tell tales of haunted lighthouses. Then they’d listen.

The same applies here. In the story, the museum’s curator of collections, Suzette Bromley, said changing the ship’s engines to a working display allows it to appeal to a variety of audiences.

“One format (of displays) doesn’t fit everybody, so this is a way to appeal to the different types of learning abilities people have,” she said. “If you can touch something, it leaves an impression. If you smell something, it makes an impression. The more senses you can engage the more likely you are to leave an impression.”

Listen to the Throb of the Engines

The Port Huron Times Herald has posted an interview with volunteer Chris Tabor (in mp3 format) on why they’re rebuilding the engines, then starts one up. Click here to listen. It’s worth it.

Photo Credit (Creative Commons license) to Charles W. Bash on Flickr.

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