High School Houseboat Rebuild

Published in the November 2017 Issue October 2018 Feature Dan Armitage

The houseboat was heap and Andy Heth knew it. He also saw potential in the neglected 35-foot Crest that had sat in its slip at Ohio’s Pleasant Hill Lake for a decade.

Heth, looking for a houseboat project, and had let the owner know he was interested if the boat ever came up for sale. When health issues prompted the family, who lived in Heth’s neighborhood, to give it up, he made good on his offer and purchased the craft.

Meanwhile, the local high school’s carpentry teacher, Andy Wigton, is always looking for projects to challenge his students at Madison Comprehensive High School in nearby Mansfield. A boater himself, he floated the idea past Heth of allowing his students to tackle the rehab job as a school project.

Heth jumped at the chance, and offered to cover the materials and deliver the boat to the high school in time for fall classes, and hopefully help with the process.

“There’s always a copy of your Houseboat Magazine floating around the dock,” said Heth when I caught up with the retired firefighter by phone late last winter. “And I always enjoy the articles about people fixing up older houseboats.”

When he learned that the fellow who handles marketing for the marina had a contact at Houseboat – yours truly – he was pleased that Marty Larsen had gotten in touch to ask if I’d be interested in sharing word of the worthy project with readers.

“Heck yes!” I said, assuming that Editor Brady Kay would give the okay to the idea.

The rest is history.

“One of the best things I’ve ever done,” Heth said once the project was complete. “I went to vocational school myself and appreciate everything I learned there. This experience brought it all back.”

Heth was at the school helping with the rebuild when not off getting supplies or surplus parts he scavenged locally and in Indiana, where the Crest was built back in 1975. Getting to know the students, he said, was a highlight.

“It was a challenge,” said Carpentry Instructor Andy Wigton, who agreed to take on the project after getting permission from the comprehensive school, which offers college prep and career tech courses under the same roof.

“But that’s what we want to offer students,” added the instructor, a boater himself albeit not one familiar with houseboats.

His Commercial Carpentry classes for juniors and senior are electives that may only be taken by students who carry a good GPA in their core classes. Wigton’s classes average 10 to 18 students from a student body of about 1,000, he said, adding that “it’s mostly guys but we typically have two to three girls in each class.”

The usual projects include designing and constructing small modular buildings and field trips to construction sites to learn framing, roofing and siding skills. The modulars are sold with the profits going into the school’s account for purchasing tools and materials.

“You can’t learn what we do from a book,” Wigton said. “When we came up with the houseboat project, I figured it’s like building a shed, offering all the basics of building a house, but on pontoons, and was perfect for my class.”

The Crest was “pretty rough” according to Wigton. “It was in bad shape, starting to dry rot around the walls and the decking needed to come out; the cabinets were shot, so it was ready to be gutted.”

Pleasant Hill Marina donated use of a trailer, and the boat was towed the 20 miles “taking the long way to avoid the hills” to the high school. There it was parked, gutted from the pontoons up and, thanks to 16x22 foot doors, rolled into the shop for the winter.

“We had it from November through April,” said Wigton. “Some 40 students had a part in its rehab,” which he explained included welding parts and brackets, straightening stringers, wiring and adding LED lighting, building walls, running the plumbing and adding two feet to the interior living space and two feet to its length.

“There was quite a buzz among the students that something out of the box was taking place in the carpentry classes,” said Wigton. “The project recruited kids that normally wouldn’t be interested in taking carpentry into the program, and no doubt developed an interest in boating among all the students who participated.” In addition to the Carpentry Level 1 and 2 classes, students enrolled in machining, electronics and welding classes received hands-on experience helping rebuild the boat, according to Wigton.

The challenge throughout, he said, having never worked with a boat, was achieving the right balance of weight versus structural issues.

“I could make it strong as a tank but once we launched it, it would be sitting on the bottom of the lake, so we had to weigh that out, we had to factor weight transfer, balance it,” he explained. “We were nervous that it would look like it was on three wheels once we launched it.”

It didn’t.

Heth figures he put $30k into materials for the boat’s rehab, which includes the 25hp Yamaha Four Stroke outboard he hung on the transom, and he couldn’t be happier.

“Like I said: It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.”

For at least 40 reasons.

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