TOLEDO — Ralph Criteser donated his trusty tugboat to the Port of Toledo when he closed down his moorage on the Yaquina River in early 2019.
The Rex was the last vessel launched from the moorage Criteser began building with his father in 1947, located about two-and-a-half miles downriver from the Toledo shipyard. He designed and built the 3/16-inch steel craft about 50 years ago for his growing docks, and the versatile vessel served as tug and dredger as he built up to harbor as many as 75 boats at one time. As Criteser became a fixture in the fishing community, so did his battleship gray tug.
At his docks, boathouse and workshop, the World War II veteran of the U.S. Navy helped successive generations of local fishermen get their professional sea legs. Dozens gathered to see the Rex off and honor Criteser upon his retirement during the February 2019 launch party, and several recounted how the tugboat operator and master marine craftsman had impacted their lives.
“In the early years, Ralph not only took care of us but took care of our boats. Our boats were like his family,” one fisherman said. “A lot of us came here with not a lot of money and not a lot of experience in boat work, and Ralph really kind of took us under his wing and made sure we sailed out of here safely, and he really was responsible for any success that any of us might have had in the fishing industry.” His words were met with applause and shouts of “hear, hear” from the crowd.
Another man said Criteser had hauled boats for him for 30 years. “I would just like to say that you were a tremendous asset to the community,” he said. “The idea that you could haul a boat and do paint, zincs, a little bit of welding and put the boat in the water and drive away for a quarter of what it costs you to do it down the street made a lot of difference for a lot of people. We’re all very much in debt for what you’ve done for us.”
After a round of stories from Criteser and those whose lives he touched, the Rex was launched down the moorage slipway with a splash, its 6-71 Detroit diesel engine was fired up one last time, and it was assisted upriver to the shipyard and hauled out for refurbishment. Port workers replaced bad steel, replaced the engine with a newer 6-71 from a scrapped vessel, sandblasted the boat inside and out, and restored the paint job and lettering as close to the original as possible.
On Jan. 22, in one of his last acts before retiring as the Port of Toledo’s general manager, Bud Shoemake emceed another launch party with the 93-year-old Criteser in attendance.
“We’re gathered around today to launch the Rex, which Ralph built over 50 years ago,” Shoemake said. “Ralph, as you know, has been a real savior for commercial fisherman through the years.” Shoemake noted another attendee’s observation — “This boat’s probably moved more mud than the Dredge Yaquina.”
Criteser designed the 32-foot vessel for peak maneuverability with a 36-inch propeller wheel and 40-inch draw. An added perk — its powerful engine is impressively quiet, thanks to a distinctive muffler custom-built by Criteser. “You can run it wide open, and the neighbors won’t even hear you,” Criteser said.
He watched as the Rex was gently lowered into the water by the shipyard’s hoist, cranked up without a catch, and sailed into service for the Port of Toledo. The port will use it to move boats up and down the river and to clear log jams and floating debris.