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The Putzfrau cleaned up the Cuyahoga.

Frank Samsel outfitted the 56-foot fish tug – whose name means “cleaning lady” in German – in the 1970s with a vacuum, a crane and a winch. His company, Samsel Supply Co., was hired by industries along the river.

The river was an open sewer, where sewage mixed with butcher waste and chemicals leaked from factories.

In a 16-hour day, the Putzfrau could pick up 100 cubic yards of debris and 15,000 gallons of oil.

Now, two decades after the boat was drydocked, Cuyahoga River advocates hope to raise $50,000 to restore the Putzfrau.

“If we restored it to its full capacity, it would be a nice functioning museum, an opportunity to tell the history of the river,” said Drew Ferguson of Phastar, an education and safety services nonprofit that plans to take on the project.

Cuyahoga River advocates want to create a Putzfrau curriculum for students, to learn about the river and its environmental comeback.

“We want to highlight it, make it a centerpiece,” said Peter Bode of West Creek Conservation.

That includes the Putzfrau leading a parade of boats as part of the Cuyahoga50 celebration June 22, the 50th anniversary of the 1969 river fire.

Frank Samsel, 89, of Avon is serving as the final torchbearer in the Xtinguish Torch Fest, representing the individual efforts that launched regional environmental activism.

Here’s Samsel’s take on the Putzfrau’s work on the dirty river. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

How did you come up with the idea?

When the new Clean Water law came out in 1972, we were on the river regularly because we served commercial marine trade. We made all our deliveries by launch.

Nobody knew anything about cleaning up spills. But it looked like the attempts were made by people who didn’t know the surroundings. We thought we could do at least that good or better.

I designed the boat. We had a systems patent on it, a combination of boat and truck. We had about a 2,000-gallon capacity of liquid up front. Then we made other containers to suit the job we needed.

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