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Decommissioned barge returns for warm welcome in floating parade

Arrived in town by truck

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

DEDEMSVAART / HASSELT, the Netherlands – Hauling freight is something the Dutch transportation industry does well, whether on land, by inland water barge or in the sky. To move a bulkey, heavy 22 metre long freight barge by truck is not an every day job for even a Dutch transportation firm. Although a costly job, the unusual arrival of Dedemsvaart’s turfschip at Hasselt’s wharf Admiraal generated plenty of publicity for the upcoming sail event Hassailt, and was also a boost for historical society Avereest, the ship’s owner.

The turfship, which is not outfitted with a motor, serves as a very unique ‘anchor’ piece of the Dedemsvaart’s museum complex De Kalkoven. The ship, the turf shed, the kalkovens and the main building have all been restored to reflect the times when each played a key part in the thriving local economy. The now ‘retired’ objects will continue to work hard to keep people connected to their roots.

The plan to enter the turfship in the Hassailt presented obstacles since a significant stretch of the Dedemsvaart (the town and the canal share the name) has been filled in and has been replaced by a regional highway. De turfschip which in 1999 arrived by truck could only participate in the historic boating event – 180 ships, barges and vessels of all types participated – if it was lifted out of the water and taken by road to Hasselt, once a Hanseatic inland shipping hub and since 1811 the watergate route to Dedemsvaart.

Aside from a few minor obstacles (it barely passed underneath one of the viaducts along the route), the turfship made it back and forth to Hasselt where pushed by a tug, it proudly headed the floating parade through Hasselt’s canal. Skipper Gerrit Klein who in 1935 was born on a similar barge his parents worked and lived on, steered the vessel during the four day event.

The turfship came through WWII relatively intact, unlike thousands of other such freight barges who often were requisitioned by the German occupation command for one thing or another, or were pressed into involuntary hauling. Such slow-moving barges were sitting ducks for attacks by Allied fighter planes, which sought to cripple the German supply lines. Numerous barges were damaged beyond repair and when WWII ended, many unemployed bargemen immigrated to such countries as Canada and the USA.