MUSKEGON, MICH. - Muskegon native Robert Bowyer left the military in 2005, but the military never left him, and now he's working diligently on bringing a rare piece of Vietnam War history back to life in his hometown.
His passion for those who served in the Vietnam War led him to purchasing a PBR (Patrol Boat River) that he's been spending the better part of the last year working on restoring.
Once it's completely refurbished and operational, Bowyer's PBR will be one of only 33 in existence in the United States and one of only four that takes to the open water.
"I want people to experience history," said Bowyer. "People need to ride on this boat; hear it; smell it; feel it, not just see a static display sitting by a dock."
On July 7, 2016, Bowyer traveled to Chicago and got an authentic PBR boat and brought it back to Muskegon. It's been parked inside the Mart Dock in downtown Muskegon for the past 12 months.
Bowyer knew it would be a daunting task to refurbish this artifact, but that didn't stop him from taking on the project with unwavering determination.
"It was in rough shape when we got it a year ago," said Bowyer. "I will admit that the project has been more than I anticipated."
Operation Black Sheep is the name of the non-profit organization that Bowyer created soon after he brought the PBR to Muskegon. His initial plan was to have the relic restored and ready for on-water tours by May of 2017.
But that deadline came and went, while the boat remained on a trailer inside a building at the Mart Dock.
"My crew and I have spent several hours each week working on the boat," said Bowyer. "We spend most of the time fabricating the parts we need because we can't afford to purchase the real ones.
"Once we build the parts, we come down to the boat and try to install them and make sure they fit and are functional."
The boat's engines needed some major work done, and Bower was able to get a local company to agree to help, but they never came through, and that's a major reason why the progress of the restoration project slowed.
"The company came and picked up the engines last July, soon after I got the boat here," added Bowyer. "I had people willing to offer their help to install the engines last December, but when I called the company, I found out that they hadn't done anything with them.
"I had to threaten the company to get the engines back in my possession."
There's only so many parts Bowyer and his crew can recreate. He says they've reached a point in the project where the majority of the remaining parts need to be purchased.
"My crew and I come down here to work on this boat every Friday," added Bowyer. "Often times, they also give up their weekends to help.
"If it wasn't for all the people and companies that have helped us every month, the boat wouldn't look as great as it does today."
Running electrical wiring through the boat is next on Bowyer's to-do list, as well as continuing to work on the engines.
"We have to buy everything now if we're going to finish," said Bowyer. "We need more financial support to keep the project moving toward finishing."
If you have any interest in volunteering your time on the PBR boat restoration project, you can contact Robert Bowyer via email at email@example.com.
A GoFundMe page also has been set up for those wanting to make a financial donation to the restoration efforts.
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