October 2, 2023

PLAIN TWP. − Billy Wagner recalled the mishap with panic in his voice.
A crane was moving a 12,000-ton steel boat to his backyard when the machine’s hydraulics failed. For an hour, the vessel precariously rested on the garage roof at his home before a second crane removed it.
Fearing the worst, Wagner was relieved when the roof didn’t cave and operators got the crane working again. But it ended up being just one more story to tell later about his unique outdoor home improvement project on Harmont Avenue NE along Central-Allied Lake.
The centerpiece is a 37-foot unfinished ship that a late Stark County man had intended to use in retirement on the waters off Nova Scotia. The boat has been repurposed and refashioned into a pirate ship turned lakefront deck with lounge furniture.
However, that’s merely one facet of the project. Others include a Tiki hut resting atop the ship’s deck; an elaborate waterfalls adorned with large stones; a large section of artificial turf once used on a football field; a walking bridge for taking people over a koi pond; and a fire pit with a stone lighthouse as a chimney.
The boat has painted faux wood-plank exterior. A pirate flag and large American flag flew at half-staff rece in remembrance of 9/11.
Some friends and family love the ambitious do-it-yourself style project. Other folks think it’s a bit over the top. The total price tag is roughly $107,000, Wagner said.
Planning started around four years ago. Construction has taken myriad hours over the course of more than four months.
“Serenity and serendipity are probably two adjectives to describe it,” Wagner said of the project. “I love entertaining, and my friends and family are going to enjoy it as well as I am.”
Phase one was finished in time for a pirate-themed party last weekend. Phase two will be renovating the lower-level interior of the steel-ribbed ship into a bar with rustic furniture and nautical decor.
At the unveiling, the ship was christened; the event doubled as Wagner’s birthday party.
On a recent weekday afternoon, Wagner stood in a hub of activity in his backyard. Contractors moved a wheelbarrow, carried stone slabs, shoveled dirt and worked on the Tiki hut roof.
Wagner also helped out, joining with other men to carry and muscle a 500-pound steel grate into place for the bridge spanning the pond at the bottom of the waterfalls.
Moments later, while sitting at the top of an embankment, the 45-year-old assistant physical therapist and Realtor was all smiles as he caught his breath.
Welders, laborers, painters and heavy equipment operators were hired for the project. However, Wagner did the design and engineering work himself, as well as frequently helping with manual labor. Prior to the outdoor work, he spent about 12 years renovating his house.
Asked if it’s all been worth it, Wagner flashed a grin: “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’s what I love to see.”
The project started when Wagner found out about the hull at Buckeye Salvage in Canton. Most of the pieces for the backyard renovations also were found there. A bridge and railing for the boat, along with a frame for the hut, were remnants of a demolished hotel in the Belden Village shopping area. YouTube videos helped guide the project.
“That’s what I love about it,” he said of the project. “Everything is repurposed. I love to recycle and repurpose stuff, so it turned out really well.”
Wagner learned about the intriguing history of the boat that never was.
John Laughlin, 79, who had acquired the custom-fabricated ship from its original builder and owner, filled him in on the background. Laughlin also knows the owner of Buckeye Salvage, and once operated a business next to it.
The late William Tschantz had constructed the boat decades ago, Laughlin said. Heavy-duty weathering 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. “That’s for icy 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 honeycombed inside.”
“Around 1970, when it was built, it was $30,000 in labor, steel and welding rod to put that thing together,” Laughlin said. “You can imagine what that would (cost) today. The hull is as far as (Tschantz) got.”
Design and floor plans for the ship were extensive, noted Laughlin of Canton.
“It was going to have a diesel motor in it,” he said. “You could stand up on it below deck. That was a big boat − 12 feet across.”
Laughlin said he initially had planned on selling the forgotten ship.
“It would have been $100,000 to finish it,” he said. “I tried selling it to a couple guys, but their wives wouldn’t let them buy it.”
Another plan was to turn the boat to scrap. But Laughlin just couldn’t do it.
“There was so much work that was put into it,” he said of the original owner. “I didn’t want anything to happen to it. He put a lot of love into it.”
Eventually, however, Laughlin bid farewell to the shell of a ship when he sold his business site to Buckeye Salvage.
“It came with the property,” he said.
Now the boat is getting a second life through 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 the scrapyard, but at least it would be used for something, and I told (Wagner), ‘Good luck.'”
Wagner said the ship now has a permanent home.
Steel pieces were driven into the ground to anchor the boat on a slope along the water. Concrete was poured for reinforcement.
“So this isn’t going anywhere,” Wagner said, smiling again. “I’m never selling. This is my property for life.”
Reach Ed at 330-580-8315 and ebalint@gannett.com
On Twitter @ebalintREP


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