Training Never Stops on the SS John W Brown

Prior to becoming a historic ship in Baltimore, the Liberty ship JOHN W. BROWN was moored in New York and served the city’s Board of Education as a vocational high school.  Students came to the ship and learned the skills needed for a maritime career.  The ship filled that role for 35 years, from 1946 to 1982.  Now as an operating historic ship in Baltimore, JOHN W. BROWN continues to be an educational resource for a variety of local organizations.


Several different groups conduct training on the BROWN.  Local first responders (police, SWAT, EMTs, K-9 teams) train aboard the ship to gain experience working in a realistic shipboard environment which they may encounter in the Baltimore and Annapolis areas.  Local maritime schools, operated by two of the major maritime unions, bring students to the ship when the class room training can be enhanced by doing a portion of the course aboard an operational ship.  JOHN W. BROWN offers STEM internships to local high school students enrolled in that curriculum.  Those students get a close look at some of the science, technology, and engineering found in the engine room of an operating steam ship.  Classes from local schools, including the Naval Academy, tour the ship to learn about World War-II merchant marine operations and shipbuilding.


However, one of the most important training programs on the BROWN addresses the needs of our own volunteers.  The Liberty ship steam plant is an old design, no longer found operating elsewhere.  The only place to train our volunteers to operate the engineering plant is right here on the ship.  A formal training course was prepared and approved by the Coast Guard so that we can instruct volunteers to be JOHN W. BROWN firemen/watertenders.  These are the watchstanders that operate the ship’s boilers to produce the steam used by the main engine and the auxiliary machinery.


Three volunteers are presently taking the fireman/watertender course.  The course includes classroom training, demonstrations of practical knowledge of associated machinery and procedures, homework assignments, and a final exam.  Completion of the course, along with having the requisite amount of sea service, enables the volunteer to gain a Coast Guard endorsement in their merchant marine credential as fireman/watertender without having to take a Coast Guard examination.  The course was first approved by the Coast Guard in October 2012 and to date 10 volunteers have completed the course.


In addition to being an operational historic ship, JOHN W. BROWN continues her role as a training facility.  In this case, by training the firemen/watertenders who will operate the ship’s boilers in the future.


[FWT Course instructor: M. J. Schneider]

[Present students: Jay Jacobs, John Stratman, and Kris Lindberg]


Project Liberty Ship, Inc is a 501(c)3 non-profit, all volunteer organization engaged in the preservation and operation of the historic ship JOHN W. BROWN as a living memorial museum. Gifts to Project Liberty Ship are tax deductible.

Work Update

In mid-2016 Project Liberty Ship (PLS) was awarded a National Maritime Heritage grant by the US National Park Service.  The grant will pay 50% of the cost to preserve the superstructure of the SS John W. Brown.  It is a “matching grant” meaning that the grant pays half of the cost and PLS must cover the other half – either with cash on hand, funds raised in support of the project, and donations of labor and material from our suppliers.

The initial plans for the project were built around removal of corrosion (rust) on our 75-year-old steel ship and recoating the superstructure with modern marine paints.  We quickly realized that to do the job properly, we also had to make some welding repairs to several places on the ship.  Fortunately, the National Park Service quickly agreed that welding could be added to the corrosion removal and painting work.


Many welding repairs were made in late Spring of 2016 before the serious work of rust removal and painting started.  Some of those repairs were done by our own crew but many were done by a Baltimore welding contractor.  Rust removal and painting of the forward and aft sections of the ship were done last summer before all the welding repairs were completed – and we soon discovered that the high-pressure water blasting to remove paint also removed rust and in some areas, went through the heavily corroded steel.

  • We have now resumed welding repairs.  Our volunteers are once again doing many of the repairs but we are using outside contractors for some of the more extensive repairs – particularly those that require metal bending.  Some of the repairs that have been made include:

      A couple of areas where the main deck was holed through threatening the water tight integrity of the ship which could lead to issues with our Coast Guard certification.

·         Areas under the port and starboard hatches that lead to the #2 ‘tween decks.

·         Several of the rounded edges/fairleads on the bulwark stiffeners.

·         Replacement of ladder rungs and railings.

·         Repairs to boom crutches, ventilator edges, the bridge wings, some areas of the fish plates on the gun decks, etc.

The project is now moving to restoration of the gun tubs.  This is very much a joint effort with our armed guard and deck department volunteers doing much of the prep work while the welding contractor does the heavy cutting, steel forming and replacement work with PLS volunteers following up with painting the new steel.  As of this writing (28 January, 2017) the deck of the five-inch gun turret aft, which is badly holed, is being restored and that includes repairs to the railings and fabricating a new gunner’s stand.


We hope to next address the flybridge gun tubs – the #4 tub on the port side forward is in bad shape and is contributing to water incursion into the area of the radio room below that area – and the two aft tubs on the flybridge level need attention.  That work is strained by a shortage of our matching funds – we have more than enough funds left in the grant but are a little short to pay our half of those expensive repairs.  That’s the bad news – the good news is that every dollar we raise for this effort buys two dollars of restoration work.

Those who have served on ships or volunteered on the Brown know that preservation is a never ending job – we could literally chip rust, weld holes and paint forever – and we will!  Let’s keep her sailing!



Project Liberty Ship, Inc is a 501(c)3 non-profit, all volunteer organization engaged in the preservation and operation of the historic ship JOHN W. BROWN as a living memorial museum. Gifts to Project Liberty Ship are tax deductible.

2016 Scenes on the SS JOHN W BROWN

The goal was to get this blog out last Wednesday, you know... before the end of 2016, but this volunteer just couldn't get her act together.  So for the first blog of the year, we'll do a recap of the previous crazy year.  

Like most years, January, February, and March are pretty 'bare' months but these pictures reflect the types of things that occur during the winter season- repairs of generators, refinishing doors, repairing painted-over whistles, and some welding and painting.   Also, there were training sessions and practicing 'abandon ship'.  In March the ship spent a few days on the west wall of the Inner Harbor and was open to the public.

Once things began to get warm, we had lots of groups use the ship for training, like the Navy reserves and the Baltimore City Police Department. There was also a big increase in work that needed to be done for the Norfolk trip.  This included inventory of the ship's store, and more cleaning and general work, like painting and securing things and storing other things in the lower holds. 

May found the BROWN heading south to go to Norfolk, Virginia.  We were there for a few days and had a living history on the Sunday that the ship was there. There were a few veterans that came to the ship with pictures of themselves in Merchant Marine uniforms from WWII or with their discharge papers.  There seemed to be more WWII veterans on this Norfolk cruise than on our regular cruises out of Baltimore, so it was a great time. 

Crazily enough, the summer was a bit mellow on the BROWN as well.  During this time the deck was painted through the grant that we received, and then a lot of major welding was done.  Here are some pictures to remind us all of the work that was done. 

September came before we felt we were ready.  After more than a year of work and planning, September came quick.  We left for New York on the evening of September 8th and returned back to Baltimore on the 20th.  This was an epic cruise for so many reasons-it was the return of the BROWN to NYC after many years, it was the venue for the alumni of the ship to meet and it was an amazing experience for the ship and crew to be out of the Chesapeake Bay. Here are some pictures of the NY experience. 

We're getting to the end of the year.   October was 'the cruise that wasnt', something we are going to avoid next year by not having a Hurricane, I mean October, cruise. The BROWN was also chartered by the Blue Angel FDoundation, to watch the Blue Angels show.  In November we had our holiday party for crew members.  For many years this was done in December like most holiday parties are, but everyone froze their extremities off, so it was changed years ago to October.   This year, due to having some members that can no longer do the climb, we decided to have our party off the ship.  It was held at the Baltimore City Fire Departments Union Hall, and we had a great turnout.  Finally, in November and December, a lot of work was done on the radio room, working to fix the system and make some modifications.   

As much as we feel that we had a great year,  there was sadness this year, because each year we lose crew members, as time waits for no man.  2016 was especially sad for crew members because this year we lost some members unexpectedly and quickly; people that were too young.  We are hopeful that we can avoid losing any more members in 2017. On the books for 2017, we have 2 living history cruises out of Baltimore and a visit to Fells Point, but plans are still being made at this time.  We would also like to wish our readers a Happy, healthy New Year as we thank you for your support of Project Liberty Ship and the SS JOHN W BROWN. 

Project Liberty Ship, Inc is a 501(c)3 non-profit, all volunteer organization engaged in the preservation and operation of the historic ship JOHN W. BROWN as a living memorial museum. Gifts to Project Liberty Ship are tax deductible.

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