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story.lead_photo.caption The Hoga, a World War II tugboat at the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum in North Little Rock, shown here in a Nov. 2, 2015 file photo, has been cleared for visitors to go below decks just in time for the museum’s observance of Pearl Harbor Day. The tug survived the Dec. 7, 1941, attack by the Japanese and became part of the museum in 2015. - Photo by Staton Breidenthal

After three years of the historic Hoga tugboat being virtually off limits to public tours at the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum, more of the boat will be readied in time for a Pearl Harbor Day observance Friday.

The Hoga, a National Historic Landmark after surviving the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, has cleared long-awaited inspections by the Environmental Protection Agency, city officials said last week.

With that go-ahead, below deck will be opened to the general public for the first time. Visitors have been limited previously to the boat's topside.

"People will be able to go in it and see kind of what it's going to look like," said Greg Zonner, executive director of North Little Rock's maritime museum, east of the Main Street Bridge on the Arkansas River. "All of the hazardous material has been removed. Now it's time to do all the restoration work."

The museum will be host to a ceremony at 1 p.m. Friday at the River House, at South Olive Street and the Arkansas River Trail east of the museum, to honor Harold Mainer, a Pearl Harbor survivor now of Fort Smith. Mainer served on the USS Helena at Pearl Harbor. He also served on the USS Munsee, which, along with the museum's Razorback submarine, was present for the official Japanese surrender at Tokyo Bay, on Sept. 2, 1945.

Tours of the Hoga are scheduled to begin about 1:30 p.m., when the ceremony is to end, and continue until 4:30.

Last week, Zonner had scheduled about two dozen submarine veterans -- part of the Razorback submarine base organization -- to work over the weekend to paint the tug in preparation for Friday's Pearl Harbor observance, he said.

"She's rough, but she'll look pretty," Zonner said. "She won't be restored, but we will have a clean coat of paint on her."

The Hoga's historic value was recognized for National Historic Landmark status for its crew's fighting fires on the battleship Arizona and rescuing many survivors in the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor attack.

The Hoga joined the North Little Rock museum in November 2015. North Little Rock gained ownership of the tug from the Navy in 2005, but wasn't able to relocate it from off the California coast until 10 years later. The city beat out four groups, including one in Hawaii, for the opportunity to preserve and display the Hoga.

Hopes were at the beginning of 2017 and again this year that the federal inspections would be completed in time for the spring seasons so the Hoga's below-deck sections could be opened for public tours. The crew's mess and sleeping quarters, officers staterooms, the engine room and the pilothouse have been off limits until gaining the necessary clearance. The EPA's analysis was required before restoration work inside the tug could occur.

The evaluation was to list any asbestos, lead paint or other materials now labeled as a health hazard that remained on the boat. Much of those materials had likely already been removed while the Hoga served as a fire boat in Oakland, Calif., Zonner has said.

"My goal is to have it able to be seen by Dec. 7," North Little Rock Parks Director Terry Hartwick said. The Parks Department took over management of the maritime museum in 2017. "We're excited about it. People now can at least come on board."

Zonner said all "the official paperwork" has been turned in and museum staff was "basically told you're good to go" on Nov. 26. That didn't leave much time to work inside the tug to be ready for Friday's Pearl Harbor observance. The engine room and the crew's quarters will still be closed for now.

"We haven't been able to work inside," Zonner said. "We won't have time to do anything to them."

The North Little Rock City Council approved waiving bids in October last year to purchase a replacement air conditioner for the Hoga, paid fully by grant money the museum had acquired. Because of the delays in getting EPA clearance for any restoration work, the air conditioner is at a warehouse, still awaiting installation, Zonner said.

Another piece of work required, Zonner said, is to replace the electrical wiring on board. However, the type of cable used for World War II vessels is no longer available, so the museum will have to place a nylon cover over the new wiring to provide a similar appearance, Zonner said. Otherwise, the Hoga could risk its National Historic Landmark designation, he said.

"This is going to be a fun project," he said of the wiring replacement. "What the Navy used to use, you can't get anymore."

Metro on 12/03/2018

Print Headline: Pearl Harbor tugboat in North Little Rock to offer 1st public tours

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