Barge finds temporary home

Posted: Wednesday, July 28, 2010

FAIRBANKS - Plenty of boats are launched from the Chena Pump wayside, but Wade Gurtler's ride has attracted more attention than most.

John Wagner / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
John Wagner / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

A hulking 120-by-38-foot barge, emblazoned with the faded words "ALASKAN Don Wright for Governor," tends to do that.

Gurtler said he bought the barge a few months ago, and it has found a temporary home at the Tanana River boat launch since he moved it from a spot on the Chena River two weeks ago.

Since then, a steady stream of visitors from old deckhands to an uninvited group of partying teenagers has come to check it out, Gurtler said.

"Everybody wants to come down and look at it," he said.

He docked it at the wayside while doing some repairs and preparing a permanent site on a friend's private lot a short distance upstream. "I figure this is public parking," he said. Gurtler planned to chug upriver Tuesday morning.

The barge was docked in the Chena River for decades and was best known as a floating campaign headquarters for Wright during his run for governor in 1986. Wright, who has frequently pursued office as a Republican or Alaskan Independence Party candidate, obtained the barge to travel the Yukon River stumping for votes.

But its history goes back further than that to its service as a Yukon River barge. Gurtler said his parents met aboard the vessel in 1960, when his father was a crane operator and his mother was a cook.

Still, Gurtler said, the purchase was more about the thrill of owning a barge than nostalgia. He said his 11-year-old son Blayz is his "co-pilot" and Bronc, 8, has enjoyed the experience.

"I've got it and I'm really loving it," he said. "It's just fun."

Gurtler said he needs to work out some details about the barge's future, but thinks it could become a mobile hunting camp.

Gurtler is the owner of Two Rivers Lumber, a business that builds log homes and sells house logs. He said he also owns the Tanana Queen, a large pontoon boat he hopes to turn into a river tour vessel.

He acknowledges the project is risky and said with a chuckle that it's one of many ventures he's involved with that could make him go broke.

"Projects I shouldn't get involved in, I'm known for doing," he said.

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