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.