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Case Study: Riverboat Discovery

June 30, 2014


You can find our tin tiles literally in any corner of the globe from the mom and pop shop down the block to a cruise ship in Alaska. Certainly one of our more interesting clients, the Riverboat Discovery has a unique tale from it’s humble beginnings to a booming tourist attraction. Not only a good story, but an interesting application, tin is used for both aesthetics and to lighten the weight of the boat per government regulations.

Voted the best boat tour in all of North America, The Riverboat Discovery began in Fairbanks in 1950. Hosting thousands of visitors each year, the company started with a small 25 person vessel and has since expanded to a fleet of three sternwheelers, the largest being the Discovery III, licensed to hold up to 900 passengers. A five-generation family business, the Binkley’s have been involved in the steam boating tradition in Alaska for over 100 years.

Their goal is to make the guests feel like they are a part of the family for the four hours they spend together. They teach them the history of Alaska natives and introduce them to modern day pioneers that make their home in Fairbanks today. They strive to make everyone feel comfortable, safe and relaxed for the duration of their journey and the aesthetics of the ship are a key component of that.

Family Tradition
The original owners, Jim and Mary, worked as riverboat captains, hauling freight and passengers down the rivers of Alaska in the 1940s. His father came to Alaska from Indiana during the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898 to make a living building boats and transporting miners in search of buried treasure. In the late 1940s, air freight began replacing riverboat freight, which made finding work as a boat captain challenging. In 1950, they crossed paths with an entrepreneur who was bringing tourists up to Alaska from the lower 48 states. He needed something for them to do in Fairbanks, and a business was born. Today, three brothers, the grandsons of Jim and Mary Binkley, run the tours, but the whole family is still actively involved in its operations.

Was the ship a new purchase or a revamp?
We built the Discovery III in 1987 near Seattle, WA and transported it to Fairbanks, AK the same year. We decided after the 2004 season that we would like to replace the original ceiling tiles. The Dining Hall was a new construction project that we started in the fall of 2010 and opened in the spring of 2011.

Which locations on the boat have tin ceilings?
All of the Discovery III is outfitted with tin tiles in a white finish. The dining hall ceiling has Pattern #23 unfinished panels trimmed with C2 molding.

Why did you choose tin for such a unique application?
First, it was an improvement in the overall aesthetic of the boat. A sternwheeler riverboat automatically invokes a feeling of the past. These were such a part of American history that we want people to go back in time when they walk into our building or onto our vessel. When I walk into a room with a tin ceiling, it reminds me of the days of my grandfather and great-grandfather.

Tin fit perfectly with the look and feel of the dining hall. We serve a high volume of guests a hearty, family style meal that would have been offered to miners working in gold camps back in the 1920s. Every detail in the construction and finish of the building had to fit with that theme. The classic look of the raw tin was the only choice for such a project.

Second, tin ceiling tiles are much lighter than the original fiberglass. The weight and balance of a Coast Guard approved vessel is extremely important, and reducing the weight of the boat allowed us to make upgrades in seating that previously wouldn’t have been signed off on.

Did you consider any other materials?
Tin was always our first choice.

How did you find out about the American Tin Ceiling Company?
My brother Ryan was in charge of the Discovery III back in 2004. He found American Tin through a simple Internet research. When I started the dining hall project in 2010, I was already familiar with your company and reached out to them for help selecting the right product.

Which installation type did you purchase? Was it as easy as they explained?
We use drop-in tiles at both locations. They’re very easy to install, the only hard part is getting them to lay flat. We accomplished this by using metal clips (American Tin Ceilings provides them free of charge with drop-in orders).

Are you happy with the purchase/would you use it again?
Yes, very happy with the finished product. It was truly a pleasure working with the team at American Tin.

What has the feedback been like?
The feedback has been great, especially when our guests walk into the dining hall. It is such a grand space and the ceiling completely sets it off, our customers comment on it all the time.

Any future projects in the works for tin?
Nothing in the immediate future, but we hope to expand the dining hall sometime within the next five years.

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