A 19th-century side-wheeler slowly comes back to life in the hands of a Maryland family.
Two years ago, the 1889 side-wheeler Lang Syne was in a bad way. Tied to a post on the Susquehanna River near Perryville, Md., she was unrecognizable. Her twin side-wheels had been cut off with a blow torch. Her engine room contained nothing but random steam engine and diesel parts. The old girl was just plain gutted. Enter the Lehrer family of Essex, Md.
“When we got the boat, she had no paddles on her. She had no paddle boxes [the fender-like wheel covers]. The old guy who owned the boat at the time was just gonna cut her all up with his torch,” says Mike Lehrer. Along with his brother Mickey and father Joseph, Lehrer is bringing the 70-foot steamer back to life.
The Lang Syne is now docked at Essex Yacht Harbor on the Back River outside of Baltimore, and the Lehrers (who have renovated more than a dozen other old boats) are determined to get the steel-hulled antique back in cruising trim. The boat, which the Lehrers believe was built in Louisiana (“We haven’t done a lot of history on her yet,” says Mike. “It’s hard to do when you’re just trying to get her running.”), was powered by steam. But Joseph - a marine engineer - chose to go with twin gas-powered, 100-hp, 6-cylinder, flat-head Gray Marines, each one responsible for turning its own 12-foot side-wheel.
Joseph says the entire boat should be Coast Guard certified and operating as an excursion vessel by spring 2001. But before that happens, he must get the engines, gears and sidewheels working in sync, among other things. “The rpms were too high on the side-wheels. I had to put a big set of reduction gears in it,” he says.
According to Mike, Lang Syne will be the only vintage sidewheeler operating on the Bay - and the first one to do so in many years. “Have you seen pictures of the old boats like the Emma Giles?” he asks. “That’s exactly what this one will be like.”