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“Billy Marks” Sets Sail

DANVILLE — Next weekend Danville celebrates its Iron Heritage Festival, and on Friday a replica of a certain kind of riverboat that was used to dredge coal used in iron ore production, was christened and launched in the river.

The Billy Marks Coal Digger was christened and ready to set sail in the Susquehanna River.

The boat is a replica of a coal digger, which dredged coal from the river from the 1800’s to the 1950’s. Van Wagner wanted to reconstruct one for next weekend’s Iron Heritage Festival in Danville.

“I’ve been dreaming of doing something like this for a long time. Local people have asked me when i was going to build a coal digger, because know of these, they remember them,” said Wagner.

Wagner said the boat took about a month and a half to build. Around 30 volunteers worked on it in Northumberland County.

“Most of the weeks we would work 2-3 days a week, several hours at a time,” said Brad Becker, a volunteer.

The boat was named after Billy Marks, a toddler who drowned in the Susquehanna River in 1955. Billy’s brother was there to watch the boat sail for the first time.

“I couldn’t believe first of all that van thought of him because he is a different generation. The fact that he remembered the story of my brother’s drowning was very impactful for my family,” said Vic Marks.

More than a dozen people watched as the Billy Marks Coal Digger sailed away.

You can see this boat in action next Thursday morning at the Danville Riverside Bridge. Wagner said the plan is to have the boat in Danville just in time for the Iron Heritage Festival.

“We’ll be doing a program on coal diggers Saturday of the Iron Heritage Festival at 11 a.m., and the river’s quite shallow so it’s going to be a challenge,” said Wagner.

As Van Wagner said, the water level is low in the Susquehanna River, so next Thursday’s three mile trip to Danville may depend on water conditions.


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