TWP UNI. − Billy Wagner recalled the mishap with panic in his voice.
A crane was carrying a 12,000 tonne steel boat to its backyard when the machine’s hydraulic system failed. For an hour, the ship rested precariously on the roof of his home’s garage before a second crane removed it.
Fearing the worst, Wagner was relieved when the roof did not give way and the operators got the crane back up and running. But that ended up being just one more story to be told later about his unique outdoor home improvement project on Harmont Avenue NE along Central-Allied Lake.
The centerpiece is an unfinished 37-foot vessel that a former Stark County man intended to use in retirement on the waters off Nova Scotia. The boat has been refitted and transformed into a pirate ship converted into a lakeside deck with lounge furniture.
However, this is only one facet of the project. Others include a Tiki hut resting on the deck of the ship; an elaborate waterfall adorned with large stones; a large section of artificial turf once used on a football pitch; a pedestrian bridge to take people over a koi pond; and a hearth with a stone beacon as a chimney.
The boat has a faux wood painted exterior. A pirate flag and a large American flag flew at a half-mast reception in remembrance of 9/11.
Some friends and family members love the ambitious DIY style project. Others think it’s a bit overkill. The total price is around $107,000, Wagner said.
Planning began about four years ago. The construction took a myriad of hours over more than four months.
“Serenity and serendipity are probably two adjectives to describe it,” Wagner said of the project. “I love to entertain, and my friends and family will enjoy it as well as I do.”
The first phase was completed in time for a pirate-themed party last weekend. The second phase will see the interior of the lower level of the steel-ribbed ship renovated into a bar with rustic furniture and nautical decor.
At the unveiling, the ship was christened; the event doubled as Wagner’s birthday party.
Tiki hut, waterfalls, bridges, lighthouse
On a recent weekday afternoon, Wagner stood in an activity center in his backyard. Contractors moved a wheelbarrow, hauled stone slabs, shoveled dirt and worked on the roof of the Tiki hut.
Wagner also helped, joining other men in hauling and bracing a 500-pound steel grating in place for the bridge spanning the pond at the bottom of the waterfalls.
Moments later, as he sat atop an embankment, the 45-year-old physiotherapist assistant and estate agent was all smiles as he caught his breath.
Welders, labourers, painters and heavy equipment operators were hired for the project. However, Wagner did the design and engineering work himself, while frequently assisting with manual labor. Before the exterior work, he spent about 12 years renovating his house.
When asked if it was all worth it, Wagner cracked a smile: “There’s going to be a ton of laughter and love on this ship. And it’s going to make a ton of people happy, and that is what I like to see.”
The project began when Wagner discovered the hull at Buckeye Salvage in Canton. Most of the parts for the backyard renovations were also found there. A deck and railing for the boat, as well as a frame for the cabin, were the remains of a demolished hotel in the Belden Village shopping district. YouTube videos helped guide the project.
“That’s what I love about it,” he said of the project. “Everything is reused. I love recycling and reusing stuff, so it turned out really well.”
The story of a boat that never existed
Wagner learned the fascinating story of the ship that never was.
John Laughlin, 79, who had acquired the custom-built vessel from her original builder and owner, gave her the background. Laughlin also knows the owner of Buckeye Salvage and once operated a business next door.
The late William Tschantz built the boat decades ago, Laughlin said. Weather resistant steel was used for the frame and body of a vessel designed in the style of a Roberts Offshore boat.
Tschantz was the former owner and operator of Harrison Handling and Quadracast.
“It’s beyond Lake Erie,” Laughlin said of the ship. “It’s for ice water, because you can make them out of wood, you can make them out of plastic, or you can make them out of steel, and it was dimpled inside.”
“Around 1970, when it was built, it took $30,000 in labor, steel, and welding rod to put this thing together,” Laughlin said. “You can imagine what that (would cost) today. The hull is as far as (Tschantz) has gone.”
The ship’s design and floor plans were extensive, Canton’s Laughlin noted.
“There was going to be a diesel engine,” he said. “You could stand on it below deck. It was a big boat, 12 feet wide.”
Laughlin said he originally planned to sell the forgotten ship.
“It would have cost $100,000 to complete,” he said. “I tried to sell it to a few guys, but their wives wouldn’t let them buy it.”
Another plan was to turn the boat into scrap. But Laughlin just couldn’t do it.
“There was so much work that went into it,” he said of the original owner. “I didn’t want anything to happen to him. He put a lot of love into it.”
Eventually, however, Laughlin said goodbye to the hull of a ship when he sold his business site to Buckeye Salvage.
“He came with the property,” he said.
A forgotten ship gets a second life
Today, the boat is enjoying a second life thanks to Wagner. A plaque, honoring Tschantz, is planned for the ship.
“It’s happy and sad,” Laughlin said. “At least it was going to live on; it wasn’t going to scrap, but at least it would be of some use, and I said to (Wagner) ‘Good luck.'”
Wagner said the ship now has a permanent home.
Pieces of steel were driven into the ground to anchor the boat on a slope along the water. Concrete was poured for reinforcement.
“So it’s not going anywhere,” Wagner said, smiling again. “I will never sell. This is my property for life.”
Contact Ed at 330-580-8315 and [email protected]
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