Tugboat Museum Planned For Tulsa’s Port of Catoosa

Thursday, December 23rd 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Plans are in the works for a one of a kind museum at Tulsa's Port of Catoosa. An aging tugboat may have escaped the scrap yard and may be used as a classroom during the next century.

The tugboat "Charlie Border" has been pushing barges at the Port of Catoosa since 1971. But when its bottom was in need of a $100,000 overhaul it was time to scrap the “Charlie B”, until curator Allan Avery came up with a plan for a new museum. "It was the first thing I thought of,” said Port Museum curator Allan Avery. “I didn't want them to scrap the boat or to sell it off. “It's very historic in terms of the port."

The museum has applied to the Oklahoma Department of Transportation to help pay for the tugboat’s permanent display. The money would turn an engine room into a classroom for kids. The exterior would get a new paint job, and the Charlie B would finally come to rest just outside the port’s offices. "I'm not familiar with another towboat that is on display any where in the country. There is a display in the Smithsonian that has a wheelhouse you can walk into, but we'll have the entire boat," said the Port of Catoosa’s Dick Voth.

The “Charlie B” was at the port's dedication in 1971, and has been pushing cargo ever since. After 28 years of service, port officials say the old tug can still teach children lessons about commerce. “It can help answer children’s questions,” said Avery. "Where do these things come from? How does the steel get to the port? “How does the port ship grain out of Oklahoma? Does it all go on trucks or does it travel some other way?”

Voth says the port’s management thinks the project is important. “We see about 5000 school kids a year come through the port. This will give them a hands on, virtual experience of seeing a towboat. They will be able to get on the boat and actually feel the controls."

The “Charlie B” will work through most of next year before being retired. Its replacement is the newer “Colonel Babe Wilson”, a larger, more powerful tug. When it does come time for the “Charlie B” to tie up to the dock for the last time, nearly three decades of port history will come to a close. "This boat was here when President Nixon came and inaugurated the Arkansas River Navigational System,” recalled Voth. “The boat was also here when the Port of Catoosa was dedicated. So obviously, we are very sentimental about it."

The port expects to get funding approval by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation by next spring. The Tugboat Museum could be ready for students as early as next fall.