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Restored PT 658 headed to LO

World War II craft will be on display in Lake Oswego as part of the Collector Car & Classic Boat Show


SUBMITTED PHOTO - PT 658 is the only World War II patrol torpedo boat in the world operating under the power of its original Packard V-12 engines.Passion, dedication, perseverance and a bit of nostalgia for their time spent serving on PT boats inspired a group of U.S. Navy veterans to pursue what must have seemed like an impossible dream in the 1990s: restore a partially sunken, dilapidated mess into the only World War II patrol torpedo boat in the world operating under the power of its original engines.

“I wanted to hear the sound of those Packard engines turn over ... one more time,” says Frank Lesage, one of only three surviving members of the original group that worked to restore PT 658.

Lesage will be aboard the craft on Saturday, Aug. 27, when she motors up the Willamette River to Foothills Park for the Oswego Heritage Council’s Collector Car & Classic Boat Show. More than 5,000 enthusaists are expected to attend the show, which is free and open to the public.

A PT boat was a torpedo-armed, fast-attack craft used by the U.S. Navy in World War II. It was small, quick, inexpensive to build and valued for its speed and maneuverability.PHOTO COURTESY OF SAVE THE PT BOAT INC. - World War II veterans who helped restore PT 658 included (standing from left) Dick Lowe, Jim Brunette, Frank Lesage, Don Brandt, Russ Hamachek, Bob Hostetter,  Ken Nissen and John Akin. Kneeling (from left): Bud Case, Beaty Lay and Rolf Bruckner.

Built in 1945 at Higgins Industries Boatworks in New Orleans, PT 658 was originally slated to be part of Squadron 45, but was never commissioned. Instead, it was destined for Russia. But when the war ended, the shipment was halted and PT 658 was assigned to the Bureau of Aeronautics as

a “remote control target” at

the Naval Air Warfare Cen-

ter at Point Mugu, Calif. She

was reclassified again as “floating equipment” on Dec 3,

1948.

Ten years later, on June 30, 1958, PT 658 was sold off as war surplus to Orlando Brown of Oakland, Calif. Brown originally intended to convert her to a private pleasure craft, but when those plans fell through, he decided to sell the boat.

Because of the craft’s condition, Brown was unable to get his $20,000 asking price. So he decided to donate the boat. He put the word out to PT veterans, and a group in Portland said ‘yes,’ despite the fact that the boat — essentially a rotted-out, decayed hull containing three corroded, rusted engines — was almost completely submerged when the vets rescued it from California waters and moved it to Portland in 1993.

PHOTO COURTESY OF SAVE THE PT BOAT INC. - PT 658 was a dilapidated mess when a group of Oregon veterans rescued her and began their restoration project. Over a period of about 18 months, members of Save the PT Boat Inc. made 12 trips to Oakland to get the boat ready for transport to Portland. In the documentary “Devil Boat: Saga of PT 658,” Jim Brunette recalled once staying in a hotel nearby for about four days, getting up at 4 a.m. and working until late into the afternoon before heading back to the hotel.

“We’d pull out the Jack Daniels and sit around until it was time to go to dinner,” Brunette told filmmakers. “About midnight, we’d hit the sack.” He also remembered PT 658 being lifted out of the muck by “some guy who just happened to be driving by in a tanker.”

Both Ken Nissen and Don Brandt worked to restore the boat’s three original Packard V-12 engines. “The engines were souped up with a supercharger from 1,250 horsepower to almost 1,800 horsepower,” Nissen said in the documentary, which is now available on DVD. “They were so loud you couldn’t hear yourself think. We needed ear muffs, but they didn’t know about ear muffs then. Of course, we wouldn’t have had the brains to use them even if we had ‘em.”

According to Rolf Bruckner, many people from different trades volunteered to help with the restoration once the word got out, and Bob Hostetter said the group included an impressive number of ex-PT boat crew members.

“They all loved the PT boat,” Hostetter told researchers for the DVD. “The sound, the speed, the action, the small crew of only 14 — two officers and 12 enlisted men.”

Actually, not all of the vets had fond memories.

“When I was on them, I hated them,” Al McCready told The Seattle Times in 1994. “Thought I was going to get killed. But in retrospect, when we were doing 40 knots on a calm sea and throwing a rooster tail, that was something to see.”

In the end, it was the challenge that really drove the

vets.

“Rebuilding the PT boat was the most satisfying job I’ve had since WWII,” Bruckner said. “Never tell an ex-PT boater it can’t be done!”

The restored PT 658 took her maiden voyage in 2004. Today, the craft — which was named in 2002 to the National Historic Register by the National Park Service — resides at Vigor Shipyards in Portland and is available for viewing by appointment on Mondays and Thursdays. (For details, go to savetheptboatinc.com.) She can be seen cruising on the Willamette River during the summer with passengers on deck; during Rose Festival’s Fleet Week, she escorts ships to Portland’s sea wall.

And soon, PT 658 will be docked at Foothills Park for tours as part of the Oswego Heritage Council’s 17th-annual Collector Car & Classic Boat Show. She’s expected to motor into the park’s marina around 10 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 27, and remain there through the weekend.

“From Our Vault” is written by Nancy Dunis for the Oswego Heritage Council, using materials she’s found in the council’s archives; look for it on the third Thursday of every month. Have something you’d like to add to the vault? Leave a message for Dunis at 503-635-6373 or email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..