Group, residents work to save battleship
As pumps furiously work 24 hours a day to continuously push the encroaching water of the Houston Ship Channel out of the dreadnought ship’s hull, The Battleship Texas Foundation, along with other organizations and local residents, work to raise awareness for the ship’s condition in an effort to keep her from sinking where she’s docked or needing to be hauled out to salvage.
This was the purpose of the Come and Save It campaign, a multi-city event that asks Texans to not only sign a petition which will be sent to their local lawmakers as well as Gov. Gregg Abbott and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, but invites them out to local breweries to play games, enjoy a drink and raise the money needed to put the Battleship Texas, the world’s only remaining World War I-era dreadnaught ship, in permanent dry berth.
On July 21, Houstonians showed up to the local event at Karbach Brewing Co. and the Battleship Texas Foundation was able to garner 1,200 petition signatures and raised more than $9,000 for the cause, said Kirsten Hinds, spokesperson for the event. There will be other events in Austin, Dallas and San Antonio as the summer progresses. The day was also recognized by the state as Battleship Texas Day.
For Tony Gregory, chairman of the Battleship Texas Foundation board of trustees, helping to raise awareness isn’t only about fighting to keep a piece of Texas history alive - it’s also part of a family legacy.
“My grandfather, Lloyd Gregory, Sr. helped bring the ship to Texas in 1948 and he served on the Battleship Texas commission as the chairman for about 25 years,” said Gregory.
His grandfather was instrumental in starting programs that would instill a sense of history in area-youth by putting together campaigns that targeted school kids by getting them interested, not only in the ship’s legacy, but in fundraising for the Texas.
“Later, my mother, Carlene Gregory, go involved,” he said. “She served on the commission for about 20 years and was an influential fundraiser as well.”
It was his mother who would later involve Gregory in the Foundation, which would spark a years-long commitment to save the ship which Gregory is still seeing through.
“She would go to these meetings for years, and for years she asked me to get involved and I always told her no - I had kids of my own and my own business and didn’t think I could make the time for it. But she had been diagnosed with an illness and one day she called me and said, ‘I can’t make it to the foundation meeting. Will you take me?’ So with some perseverance and a little bit of mother’s guilt I said ok. Then she did it to me a second time, and by then I was more interested and started thinking that it might be a good thing to get involved.”
By 2005, Gregory was on the board.
“Four or five years later,” he said, “I was the chairman.”
Petitions, donations, raising awareness - all of these things are incredibly important to the mission being fought to save the Texas, Gregory said.
“There’s an inherent challenge for a private foundation working with the state to try and preserve a piece of history like this,” he said. “That’s what interested me. We need to make sure that the Battleship’s interests are well represented - not only in the public’s mind but also with the state legislature.”
“Every once in a while, there will be a story about how the ship is listing or is taking on water,” said Stephanie Croatt, assistant superintendent with the Battleship Texas in a previous interview with the Chronicle. “Then people won’t hear anything else about it and they’ll assume the problem is fixed. The problem is not fixed. It will never be fixed in the ship’s current condition.”
The condition Croatt refers to deals with major weaknesses in the ship’s hull - holes and cracks where the steel has eroded away - that require pumps to run 24 hours a day just to keep up with the amount of water the ship is taking on.
“We pump about 300,000 gallons of water a day out of the Battleship Texas,” said Bruce Bramlett, executive director of the Battleship Texas Foundation. “There are places on the ship where the hull is so thin you can poke your finger through it. So we’re constantly pumping water out and patching holes and the water is constantly seeping back in.”
But Bramlett said that time is running out.
“This ship was commissioned one year after the Titanic,” Bramlett explained. “It’s historic - a living museum - and in order to save it, we can’t keep patching it.
“It needs to be dry berthed.”
Dry berthing the ship, an estimated $40 million project, isn’t necessarily an easy task. It must be repaired so that the hull is structurally sound enough to be moved. Then a system must be built around the hull so that water can be pumped out or let in as it’s deemed necessary. Being able to control the water in contact with the ship is vital to its longevity, Bramlett said.
Right now, raising awareness and money can be accomplished by visiting the website www.comeandsaveit.com. Here, people can sign a petition that will be sent to their local and state representatives requesting state funding assistance. Donations can also be made by visiting the Come and Save It site or the Battleship Texas Foundations site at www.battleshiptexas.org.
“It’s motivating for me to try and help save it,” said Gregory. “It’s motivation to say, ‘My grandfather helped get it here, and now it’s our job to do right by it.’ We to do it or we’re going to lose her, and losing that kind of legacy would be such a great loss.”