The barge-turned-gift-shop next to the Tanana Chief Sternwheeler didn’t exactly sink. When the Chena River was low, it became frozen to the river bed. When breakup came, and the water rose, the Chena River swallowed it.
“This was a unique year, and the water just came over everything,” said Craig Ketzler, president of Greatland River Tours. “It melted fast.”
A recovery effort is in progress, but the Tanana Chief is expected to be closed to river tours for a second summer. Last summer, they were closed due to Covid-19.
Ketzler arrived from California, where he was working, on Sunday to oversee the barge recovery. He had been kept informed of the situation by Roger Burggraf, his stepfather and business partner.
The barge was leaning and Ketzler said his immediate concern was that it would flip over and damage the Tanana Chief Sternwheeler, which has plied the Chena River offering dinner tours for about 20 years.
“I had nightmares,” Ketzler said.
On Thursday, day three of the recovery effort, the Tanana Chief was docked at a safe distance and Ketzler had four loaders, an excavator, a bulldozer, a dump truck and a work crew of eight on the scene along the Chena River.
Workers expect to get the barge floating — a hole was plugged and a pump procured — in the next few days.
This has happened before but not this bad, according to members of the Ketzler and Burggraf families, who own Greatland River Tours.
Passengers on the Tanana Chief pass through the barge, which has a gift shop and restroom, to board the sternwheeler. About three-quarters of the first floor of the barge had been submerged, and T-shirts, furs, art and other items were soaked.
The Tanana Chief Sternwheeler will be out of commission for this summer as the barge is restored, according to Ketzler. Owners of the company are planning to offer tours next year.
Ketzler is grateful to Precision Crane Inc. and Universal Welding for assisting with the recovery, he said.
Contact staff writer Amanda Bohman at 459-7545. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMborough.