, Gloucester, MA

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September 21, 2013

Pier restores Railways to its roots

Ceremony caps 4-year pier project

The sun was slipping toward the west, and the harbor was moving toward the end of Friday’s work day as the dedication ceremony of the new Harry Cusick Wharf at the Gloucester Marine Railways on Rocky Neck was just getting started.

Only one problem: no Harry.

Viking Gustafson, the Railways general manager, knew there was a possibility the 86-year-old Cusick, no seeker of the limelight according to those who know him best, might not appear for the ceremony that honored him for a half-century’s work at America’s oldest operating boat yard.

“I thought he would show,” Gustafson said after the ceremony went on with about 50 in attendance, and Cusick was honored in absentia. “But I knew it would be reluctantly.”

The new pier, four years in the making, covers about 5,000 square feet with longleaf pine planks and returns the boatyard’s footprint to the same as roughly 150 years ago.

“It really is now what it was before,” Gustafson said.

The job was not an easy one, partly because of the slope of the land at the very end of Rocky Neck looking back toward downtown, and partly because segments of the original structure were pinned into the ledge beneath.

There was also the administrative challenge of obtaining the proper permitting — state, city and federal — and an endless highway of paper and regulation.

“If you’ve ever done any work on the waterfront you know what a challenge the permitting is,” she said.

Cusick’s absence couldn’t stop his colleagues and friends from trading stories of the man who became synonymous with the boatyard.

Gustafson called him “a mountain of a man on the railways,” and an iconic shepherd of countless boats on the yard’s cradles.

“He began working here around World War II and was some combination of crewmember, foreman and manager,” she said. “He always wore a yellow hard hat. So I have a yellow hard hat to give him . . . when I see him.”

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