It's been a far cry from action-packed.

But a small group of us couldn't keep our eyes off the removal over the past several days of the former Rhythm City Casino barge from the Davenport riverfront.

A couple of folks actually started to applaud when the first catwalk finally was hoisted off the seawall Thursday. Two dozen people watched from LeClaire Park as the crane operator lifted the walking bridge from its long-held perch and set it gently upon the barge that will take it to Keokuk.

The second catwalk — the one in the center of the casino that was used for boarding — was an even bigger trick.

"The first one took time to get off the wall, because it was rusty and had a lot of paint," said Jared Gevock, a member of the crew from Dubuque-based Newt Marine Services, which is here to fetch the casino/barge. "The second one (used mostly for boarding) had even more reinforcements that had to be dealt with."

Gevock said he'd hoped to have the barge wrested from its mooring in Davenport and headed downstream by 2 p.m. Friday. But he knew after pulling the second catwalk that the goal was too ambitious.

Those of us who watched the work could appreciate what went into it. At times, though, I had to look away.

The first catwalk, the one downstream, was uncooperative. Just as black smoke began to billow from the crane, signaling it was using its muscle, someone would shout to stop. It was hung up again, and crewmen had to climb back onto the wall with a cutting torch.

The crew placed straps under both ends of the catwalk to create a cradle that could then be lifted onto the Newt barge. But the straps had to be in just the right position, which meant somebody from the crew had to jump onto their little jon boat and drive it between the crane barge and the seawall. Then, from under the catwalk, the boat operator had to try to steady the boat against the current while messing with the cradle straps overhead.

And the guy on the crane is one skilled operator. In addition to the exceedingly narrow space in which to work, there were obstacles galore. But he picked up those catwalks and delivered them so precisely to the barge, it was like watching someone drop a dime from a rooftop and make it land on another dime.

Just before the second catwalk was lifted, I asked Gevock about the wind, which was strong enough to have blown my notebook off the hood of my car.

"It's not too windy for him," he said of the crane master. "He knows what he's doing."

From Wednesday to Friday, the crowd on the riverfront was routinely the same. George and Henry Kramer, the guys who took down the porte cochere, were finishing up their demo gig, but they also kept a close eye on the Newt crew's work. Bill Ashton, engineer and longtime Riverfront (formerly Levee) Improvement Commissioner, made frequent stops.

A nice man named Paul watched from his car and so did the three couples I enjoyed chatting with through their windows.

These public projects frequently get attention, of course. I remember the people who watched the former Dock restaurant come down, and there was a handful of spectators around during the recent demo of the Twin Bridges Motor Inn. But this was different. This wasn't about tearing something down; it's about saving something.

It's no secret that I have been eager to see the casino go; no love lost there. I thought it was ugly, and it hogged the (arguably) best river views in town. But it wasn't ready for the scrapyard. A lot of time and money and engineering went into the creation of that floating casino and restaurant, and it should continue to serve quite capably at its next port-of-call.

The crowd at the riverfront was nothing like the ones that greeted the arrival of the floating casinos on the first day of April 1991. Our Bill Wundram described the scene as similar to that of Times Square on New Year's Eve. It may or may not be fitting that it was, in fact, April Fool's Day.

Contact Barb Ickes at 563-383-2316 or bickes@qctimes.com.

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