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Historical Society donates fishing tug to Knife River

Crews with the Knife River Marina and Ostman Trucking move the Crusader II from its former site on the shore of Agate Bay in Two Harbors Wednesday. (Samantha Erkkila /

Samantha Erkkila

Forum News Service

KNIFE RIVER, Minn. — A historical landmark paying homage to the North Shore’s once-thriving commercial fishing industry began its journey Wednesday back to where it was built in 1939.

After sitting on the shore of Agate Bay in Two Harbors for 26 years, the fishing tug Crusader II was lifted off its supports, placed on a trailer and hauled off to Knife River in the hopes of restoring it to its former glory.

“We are basically giving the Crusader back to the community of Knife River as a Christmas present more or less,” Mel Sando, director of the Lake County Historical Society, said as he watched a crew from Knife River Marina secure the boat to the trailer.

Used primarily for catching herring in Lake Superior, the Crusader II was built in Larsmont by Reuben and Helmer Hill and was christened in Knife River by Crown Prince Olav of Norway during his visit to the North Shore, according to the Historical Society.

In the past few years, the society has had difficulty securing grant money for the maintenance and restoration of the 36-foot vessel mostly because it doesn’t own the property near the lighthouse where the boat has sat since 1990.

“A group from Knife River approached the Historical Society and asked if they could have the boat back,” Sando said. “We recognize that they are in a much better position to provide good stewardship for the boat.”

That group is a subcommittee of six people, mostly boat builders, who were granted possession of the boat through a resolution by the Knife River Recreation Council to restore and maintain it “under good intent.”

“We adopted it in a sense,” said Paul von Goertz, a grant writer and member of the subcommittee.

The group plans to restore the boat with the idea that it could be placed back in the water.

“Which means to do a complete rebuild,” said Larry Ronning, a boat builder from Knife River. “I’m not sure it’s ever going to go back in the water, but it would have the potential to go back into the water.”

For now it’s going to sit in the yard at the Knife River Marina with 70-80 other boats stored there for the winter.

“Then we will move it to where they plan to restore it and then eventually its permanent location,” said Dave Stebe, Knife River Marina manager. “It will be a two step process.”

The group said they are looking at a few potential homes for the Crusader II once its restoration is complete, but nothing has been finalized.

“It’s going to be neat,” said Randy Ellestad of Knife River. “It’s going to be a little centerpiece for Knife River, and it’s going back to where it belongs.”