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Historic PT boat visits Cathlamet

Photo by Bill Wagner

Jacob Johnstun, 12, of Rainier checks out the Browning twin 50-caliber machine guns mounted on PT 658 during a tour of the restored World War II PT boat at Elochoman Slough Marina in Cathlamet. Free tours of the boat continue today during The Wooden Boat Festival.

CATHLAMET — A piece of history — a World War II patrol torpedo boat — drew people from all over the Northwest to Cathlamet's Bald Eagle Festival and Wooden Boat Show this weekend.

"My dad is a World War II buff. I grew up watching old World War II movies with the PT boats," Portland resident Nathan Frye said. "I didn't know there were any more of these left, I guess this is the last one that works in the world."

More than 40 people lined the dock before the free tours began Saturday, eager to see PT 658, the only fully restored and operational PT boat left in the world.

PT 658 was built in March 1945. It was going to be shipped to Russia, but because the war ended the sale of the boat did not go through, said Harry Wiedmaier, president of Save the PT Boat Inc. and retired U.S. Naval Reserve captain.

During the war, the wooden boats were equipped with machine guns, torpedoes, rockets, hand grenades and smoke generators — among other weapons. A crew of 10 sailors and two officers operated the boats. Each of the torpedoes on board contained 600 pounds of TNT, said Navy veteran Dick Lowe, a member of the restoration crew.

When in good condition, the boats could travel up to 40 knots, or 45 miles per hour.

Once the war ended, most of the PT boats were burned. About six boats still exist, but most of them are only restored on the outside, said Ken Nissen, Navy veteran and restoration crew member.

The 78-foot-long PT boat is owned by the U.S. Navy Historical Center and is on permanent loan to Save the PT Boat Inc. Members of the nonprofit organization are responsible for the restoration of the boat and for bringing it to Cathlamet.

The crew of 24 — 12 of whom are World War II PT boat veterans — has spent nearly 13 years working on the boat. More than 10,000 hours and $180,000 have gone into the effort, Nissen said.

Money for the project has been donated from citizens and corporations, Nissen said.

Veterans were on board to tell stories about the boats during World War II. The PT restoration crew members want to make sure that people don't forget about the involvement of the boats during the war, Nissen said.

"It was nice to see a piece of history and talk to the men who were actually on the boats," Cathlamet resident Marsha Lafarge said.

History lessons about the boat and World War II drew in people of all ages.

"It was incredible to see (the boat) — to get on it and touch things was really cool," said 10-year-old Lexie Price from Baker City, Ore. "I wanna tell my friends all about it."

The PT boat's three V-12 engines are operational, but were not used to bring the boat to town. The PT 658 would need 800 gallons of gasoline each way to make the trip from Portland to Cathlamet. To avoid the high costs of the fuel, a tugboat was used to bring the boat to the marina Friday afternoon.

"The engines aren't that dependable either; 60 miles is a little far," Nissen said.

The journey to Cathlamet was the longest trip the PT boat has taken since it was restored, Wiedmaier said.

"(The boat) was fascinating," Cathlamet resident Chris Peterson said. "It's a wonderful piece of history and a wonderful restoration effort."

Today is the last day to see the boat in Cathlamet. Tours are from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Today:

10 a.m.: Cathlamet Wooden Boat Show registration, food vendors, U.S. Coast Guard rescue demonstration, kids wooden boat building, model boat regatta.

1-6 p.m.: Antique sawmill demonstration at the Wahkiakum Museum.

1:50 p.m.: Blindfolded dinghy races, swap meet, street vendors.

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