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Luke Curtis letter describing the MARAD trip for the Working Waterfront Museum

On February 28- March 1, I visited the Suisun Bay MARAD facility ( Vallejo ,CA) to inspect and review potential artifacts from the USS Wabash (AOG4), a 2762 ton gasoline tanker built in 1942 at the Todd Seatac  Shipyard in Tacoma. The Wabash is the last surviving vessel of this type built at Tacoma. She was launched in October, 1942 and served the balance of WW11 in the Pacific. Following the war, the Wabash served the occupation fleet, was reinstated for active duty for the Korean War, and was finally inactivated in September 1957.
She has been under MARAD control at Suisun Bay since then, regrettably without any maintenance expect to maintain watertight integrity.
Attending with me on this visit were: 
  • Chuck Fowler, Former Executive Director, Working Waterfront Maritime Museum, Olympia WA
  • Dan Withers, President, Combatant Craft of America (CCoA), Port Ludlow WA
    There were a surprising number of artifacts in varying condition which I believe would be of interest to the WWMM in terms of celebrating our military ship building heritage in Tacoma.
    Chuck has summarized these in a memo which I have copied below:

    List of Artifacts


    Aboard the

    Gasoline Tanker U.S.S. Wabash (AOG-4)

    Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet/ U.S. Maritime Administration 

    March 1, 2005 

    for possible removal for future exhibit use at the 

    Working Waterfront Maritime Museum


    1. Anchor – 500 pound, located on both bow and stern
    2. Speaker Amplifier Unit – located in officer’s stateroom
    3. GE Wall Fan – officer’s stateroom
    4. Table, Desk, Chair – officer’s stateroom
    5. Brass Portlight – officer’s stateroom, about 24 inches diameter, with moveable glass window and screw down locking dogs (several others available from other cabins)
    6. Rudder Repeater/ Gyro – foredeck area 
    7. RF Loop Antenna – 5 feet tall, on bridge deck 
    8. Station Bill – in wood frame on wall, passage way to bridge
    9. Placards/ Notices – eg. “Use of gun and rocket apparatus” and “Use of lights”
    10. General Alarum Bell – port side of wheelhouse
    11. Captains Stateroom Voice Tube – in wheelhouse
    12. Plotting Table – in wheelhouse
    13. Abandon Ship Drill Instructions (1957) – in wheelhouse
    14. Port/ Starboard Shaft Tachometer Gauges – in or near wheelhouse
    15. Signaling Searchlights (2) – aft equipment room locker
    16. Work Flood Lights (4) – aft equipment room locker
    17. Engine Room Thermometer – in engine control room
    18. Engine Room Brass Handle Controls (2) – hanging from ceiling, in engine room, also in wheelhouse
    19. Steam Water Gauges (4) – brass, on single panel
    20. Radio Room Items – RBO Receiver, GE Fans, LM-1 Oscillator, McKay Radio – Receiver/ Transmitter, Receiver-mid height under portlight
    21. Atomic Attack Instructions/ Notice – in frame, engine room
    In addition, we have a complete digital photo record of these artifacts as well as pictures of the Wabash in general and the Suisun Bay fleet.
    Time is of the essence if we want to capture these artifacts.
    Earl Johnson, the Fleet Operations Mgr at Suisun Bay has told us the Wabash is likely to be scrapped later this year. Once the contract is let to scrap her, then nothing may be removed.
    Our window to remove the artifacts is most likely within the next 60-90 days. [now 30days]
    There is one other factor that we must consider when thinking of removing the artifacts: a significant environmental safety concern.
    The ship as been sealed but over the years has been the home to numerous birds which have left their calling cards- in some areas 6-8 inches deep.
    There is a strong odor throughout the ship which will require any workers who are in these enclosed spaces to wear respirators. I would recommend ankle high boots as well as full coverall type suits and study gloves.
    Any activity working in the bridge and aft house areas will raise dust from the droppings as well as possibly asbestos dust from the old insulation. There are warning signs throughout the vessel.
    By the first of May, the lower Delta area gets much warmer and working inside these closed conditions will be close to unbearable so time is of the essence just from the well being factor of the volunteers who complete this project.
    Next steps:
    1. We need to decide if this is even a project we want to pursue at this time, recognizing this is likely our last chance to capture artifacts from this unique vessel.
    2. We should review the list quickly plus photos with Chris E and decide what we want. Dan Withers may have some interest in some items as well for his 83527 project so a co-op effort is possible.
    3. Chuck will communicate with the proper MARAD sources  to indicate what we want to take off. They will then give us a time frame to get the artifacts off the boat. There is a possibility of short term storage at MARAD before we transport them up here.
    In any event, all artifacts will have to be thoroughly cleaned right after removal.
    4. I would estimate it would take 2-3 volunteers max 2 days to unbolt and remove the artifacts from the ship.
    The anchor is the heaviest piece at about 500 lb and MARAD can get that off the ship on to a lighter with a crane. The rest should be ok to handle with 2-3 people although getting some items out of the steerage room aft of the engine room will not be easy.
    If we remove any of the portlights, we will need to ensure watertight integrity- however, many portlights are missing already w/o that!
    I would not recommend we consider any furniture items since the bird crap has likely gotten well into the wood and it will be very difficult to restore.
    5. It would seem that the best way to execute this project would be to drive down with a trailer or small truck capable of hauling 2000 lbs. Chuck has talked to Todd and they seem interested in helping restore the artifacts but this requires further conversation.
    My recommendation is that Tom schedule a meeting with Chris ( I know she is busy right now but we can do this in an hour); Chuck should be available for that meeting as well, and we can review the list and photos and formulate a project plan on this.
    I'll be back Thursday and any time after that will work for me.