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Boats have served an important role in the history of the Dryden area as tools for both industry and recreation. But like many tools, those that have endured beyond their ‘useful lifespan’ risk becoming an inoperable museum piece at best, or the cruel fate of enduring future generations as a rusting hulk or scrap metal.
The Dryden 4, a 1947 Russell Brothers tugboat, is one lucky vessel.
After decades of service to the Dryden Paper Company during the 1950s and ’60s, the Dryden 4 has been lucky enough to find a kindred spirit who has meticulously restored the tug to a pristine condition and extended its lifespan for generations to come.
Wyandotte, Michigan marina owner Nick Finazzo purchased the Dryden 4 from local resident Barry Shepherd and has spent the past seven years fussing over every last detail of restoring the craft to its former glory in the Detroit area suburb.
Before he ever had intentions of restoring the tug, Finazzo says the Dryden 4 had paid for itself within a year in its workhorse role at the marina.
Coming from a family of automobile restoration enthusiasts, Finazzo says the restoration project began when he set about replacing the tug’s 12 window frames. Unsatisfied with the efforts of a local metal shop, Finazzo says he learned to weld in order to produce exact replicas.
“I like looking at things as though they were untouched by history,” he said. “You know that some guy welded that, so I always try to preserve those details. It’s just a thing with me. Those windows are fanatically perfect. The guy who built the boat would not know that those frames had been replaced.”
On top of general repairs, Finazzo sandblasted nearly every surface of the tug inside and out and applied a new coat of epoxy paint, he made repairs to the decking and spent considerable time on the boat’s interior restoring, preserving the well-worn original surfaces.
“They used to wear spiked boots,” said Finazzo. “I left all the holes in the wood and I varnished it. It looks really cool, it’s got that worn look. It has its scars and you can see how hard it was used.”
[pullquote]I left all the holes in the wood and I varnished it. It looks really cool, it’s got that worn look. It has its scars and you can see how hard it was used[/pullquote]Finazzo and friends also removed the tug’s 2000 lbs winch gearbox, in order to re-machine a bearing. The boat still has most of its original features including the anchor and propeller cage.
One of the few deviations from historical accuracy was the replacement of the tug’s original 160 horsepower diesel motor with a new 250 hp motor – a move he says is common among other tug owners of the same vintage and effectively doubles the craft’s power.
“When I did some research on the Russell Brothers website, it looks like around 1975 everyone was replacing the engines with a 250 hp Cummins. Looks wise, it’s almost identical.”
In the spring, Finazzo will showcase the newly restored Dryden 4 at the Detroit Boat Show at Cobo Centre.
“It’s been seven years of work,” he said. “I can’t even remember half of the things I’ve done to that boat. It was all done very meticulously and it’s definitely a showpiece. It’ll make Dryden proud.”