Part of Dubuque's history returns for major repairs - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Part of Dubuque's history returns for major repairs

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DUBUQUE (KWWL) -

The Julia Belle Swain has now come full circle.

It was the last ship built by the Dubuque Boat and Boiler Works nearly 45 years ago. More recently, it's served the La Crosse area.

But time was not fair to the Julia Belle Swain, and she's been laid up since 2008.

But a group of investors has given her new life. They purchased the boat, and sent her back to her birthplace for some major repairs.

"So we put new boilers in, put new generators in, and lots of major hull repairs," said Dan Arnold, construction general manager on the project. "The old hull was in pretty rough shape." 

Much of the focus while in Dubuque has been on the hull. The boat was in dry dock for most of the winter, allowing staff to work on that hull.

They recently put her back in the water.

"It's been a bit of a challenge to get her in good shape," Arnold said. "She's floating nicely now."

Eric Dykman, captain of the Julia Belle Swain, says this is just one of five true steam-powered ships left on the Mississippi.

He says that, plus the boat's history in Dubuque, makes this project meaningful.

"It's a special thing," Dykman said. "It's almost a perfect bookend for the boat to be created here across the harbor, then come back here and go through one of the phases of this restoration process."

Arnold agrees.

"It's definitely a special project, and it's nice to see a vessel like this be restored," he said. "There are only a few vessels like it on the water."

Arnold says they have about a month left of work to do in Dubuque, including sandblasting and painting.

When the boat is sent back to La Crosse, they'll restore the cabins, bars, dining areas and pilot room.

And now that the boat is a non-profit, Dykman says they'll be giving plenty of educational cruises.

They hope to have it ready to launch by next spring.

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