Veteran: WWII tugboat could be brought to Lake Beresford

DELAND, Fla. (AP) — Several area Veterans Day events were canceled Friday because of Tropical Storm Nicole, but veterans and their history were not forgotten at the DeLand Memorial Museum.

In the museum, Dan Friend, president of the DeLand Historic Trust, said he’s still on track for the next big step in his decade-long quest to return one of the World War II tugboats to the community where it was built.

On Nov. 25, he and other volunteers are planning to pilot the ST-479 Tiger from its current docking in Green Cove Springs, south on the St. Johns River to Palatka, then Georgetown, to finally on Nov. 29 cross Lake George to anchor near Astor.

He’s hoping the St. Johns, in major flood stage, will be navigable within two weeks, but said a higher river is “a blessing,” because the Tiger’s massive size and weight, 150 tons, is not something that’s normally spotted on the river.

Friend is a retired DeLand High School teacher whose background as an Army news reporter honed his curiosity. One day he was poking around an antique shop on Indiana Avenue and became fascinated by a plaque taken from one of the tugboats assembled at Lake Beresford in DeLand in 1943.

“It changed my life completely,” he said.

Friend wondered: “Where did it go?”

Once he started researching the boat and others like it, Friend discovered several websites that provided histories of many of the boats, some of which ended up in Scandinavia.

He also learned more about the tugboats’ construction. A boat builder in Jacksonville making the tugs had already tapped the labor force there, but there was available hands in DeLand.

B.D. Olson took a job with the American Machinery Corp. in DeLand, and set up the boat-building business on the shore of Lake Beresford. The boats were partially built in Volusia County, then towed up the St. Johns to Jacksonville, where the engines were installed and they were put into service.

Eight decades later, a few of the tugboats remain. Friend found the ST-479 in Sweden and began his quest to get it brought back to the United States, then to Reynolds Park, the industrial waterfront in Green Cove Springs, where he was able to secure a donated docking space.

He and other volunteers have been traveling north, a 90-minute drive one way, to rebuild the Tiger’s power system and make other improvements. They’ve gone there for 43 days. It’s ready, but Tropical Storm Ian delayed his plans to bring it to DeLand by way of Palatka and Georgetown.

Friend’s background in communications led to a career in broadcasting and TV production. So he’s been filming parts of the tugboat’s journey.

“At some point, there will be a documentary,” he said.