Tug gives some old hands a voyage into an earlier time STOKING UP SOME MEMORIES

May 16, 1992|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,Staff Writer

William Kluzewitz was throwing hawser lines around bollards on Baltimore wharves yesterday, just like he did back in the Roaring '20s, and it made him happy in a way little else ever has.

"This is my life," said Mr. Kluzewitz, 81, from the bow of the tug S.S. Baltimore as the vessel steamed from Key Highway to pick up a load of coal in Curtis Bay. "I worked as a deckhand for $2 a day and whatever you could find to eat. When I couldn't get on deck, I worked down below stoking the boilers. I quit the sea to get married, but I always loved this work."

A couple dozen men like Mr. Kluzewitz, volunteers who love old engines andthe waters that cut channels into Baltimore, work hard all year long to repair and restore the Baltimore. A few times a year the labor is rewarded when the 86-year-old tug, rescued from the bottom of the Sassafras River in 1981 to become the last steam-powered tug in operation on the East Coast, is taken out on the harbor that the Baltimore served for most of this century.

Yesterday was one of those days, a simple trip from the Baltimore's home berth at the Museum of Industry to Curtis Bay and back through a gray and rainy morning to pick up a few tons of coal for its boilers.

Down below, where 44-year-old Stephen Heaver Jr. tended engines that churned out 5 knots like a heartbeat, twin pistons rose and fell in syncopated rhythm as the Baltimore pushed out beyond the Broadway Recreation Pier, the foot of Clinton Street and out toward the Key Bridge.

"This is incredible, an experience for all of us," said Mr. Heaver, who said the engine sounds smoother every time the boat goes out, trips that allow the boat to run full speed so adjustments can be made to its bearings. "Any engine can sound good idling next to the dock."

In its day, the Baltimore worked as a city-owned ice-breaker, towed derricks and pile drivers, hauled barges and garbage scows, and took people on tours. It was sold at auction in 1963, found its way into the possession of Samuel du Pont, and served as an Eastern Shore pleasure boat on the Sassafras until it sank in the winter of 1979.

Mr. Heaver, a historian with a fascination for old machines, put the du Ponts in touch with the Museum of Industry and the salvage of the Baltimore began.

Mr. Kluzewitz, born and raised in Fells Point, got involved in 1986, theyear after the Baltimore's boilers were rekindled. He saw the boat tied up at the Inner Harbor one Sunday afternoon, taking on visitors and calling for volunteers.

"I said: 'Holy mokes! That's the dad-burn boat I worked on years ago.' "

At the wheel yesterday stood Captain Harold "Doc" Thompson, a harbor captain who retired from the old Curtis Bay Towing Co. in 1987.

"With a boat like this, you rely on dead-reckoning to pilot," said Captain Thompson as he maneuvered the tug alongside a CSX coal pier. "She's come in here very nicely."

Said 77-year-old Jerry Trowbridge, who trades time and labor on the project in exchange for berthing his ketch alongside the Baltimore on Key Highway: "I do this because I like working with ships, I don't care what kind of ships they are."

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