The USS Boston looks seaworthy, and in remarkably good condition for a U.S. Navy vessel that saw duty in World War II and the Vietnam war.
Her running lights shine bravely, and her horns and the public address announcements from the captain are loud and clear.
It is as if she had been scuttled and sunk, and later brought back to the surface, miraculously clean and bright, but—shrunken to one-sixty-fourth of her original size!
That is how realistic Gerald E. Kirk’s model of the U.S.S. Boston is. He served on her long ago. He knows she was decommissioned and cut into scrap metal. But he has made an astonishingly detailed working model of the craft, keeping her memory vividly alive. It was on display at the 35th annual Allegheny Mountain Engine and Implement Association Saturday.
This model is not kit-built—far from it. Kirk started the project in 1971, at the State University of New York (SUNY) Alfred College in Wellsville, N.Y., by making the drawings from the ship’s blueprints and schematics, at a scale of 3/64=one foot. The following summer he built the model for the fiberglass hull.
Bit by bit, superstructure level by level, Kirk continued to build the Boston, wiring it, supplying battery power, operating it, until August 1988. At that point the batteries died. It had been a work in progress, but now it needed a complete rebuild.
The USS Boston was mothballed again, and hung from the Kirks’ basement ceiling.
Then in May of 1993 Kirk moved her to the garage and commenced the rebuild. The hull was stripped, and the paint was removed from nearly all of the superstructure. The rebuild took over 11 years.
Mrs. Kirk, Esther, found a source for figurines to crew the ship, and there are 200 “working” on the Boston. A heavy cruiser is not a cruise ship—far from it. On the real Boston there were well over a thousand.
The model is 10 feet, six inches long, with a 13-inch beam. she weighs 170 pounds. Kirk built her in “layers” so superstructure sections can be lifted off to reveal equipment and activities at several interior levels. The sectional design also helps him and Esther move the model to exhibition sites.
The hull is hand-laid fiberglass, and the superstructure is styrene plastic. The forward mass is brass, the mainmast wood and brass.
For the main deck, bass wood was glued piece by piece to the wood underlayment. The fantail of stern deck is aluminum, and ordinarily is stored in the hull.
Six ship’s boats can be seen hanging along the hull, but they are not meant to be used as lifeboats. They have basswood hulls and mahogany “upper parts.” it took about 10 months to build those.
On the starboard side is the captain’s gig, with its curtained windows. The officers’ motorboat is on the portside, along with two other officers’ boats and two utility boats the crew call liberty boats. Their cradles are brass.
There are two whaleboats used for rescue in man-overboard situations and for ferrying personnel to and from shore or other ships. Their cradles are aluminum and brass.
The largest gun turrets rotate and the gun barrels elevate. The smaller gun mounts do not rotate. The missile launchers do not rotate now, but are scheduled for a rebuild. There are four radar antennas, and they also rotate.
When we see smoke issue from the stack, that does not indicate an electrical meltdown such as fried some of the intricate circuitry years back. Fortunately the smoke effect can be simulated, as it is for model trains.
Kirk has included authentic lighting arrays: navigation, deck, mast, underway and replenishment. The red ones would be used in a war zone only, Kirk explains.
He describes the activities of the crew figurines we see. From starboard we can see some in life jackets ready for rescue missions, Some are “at morning” (0800 hours) in port quarters. Some are cleaning the deck. Some are carrying supplies received by helicopter or operating conveyors.
On the starboard side crew are carrying five-inch shells to the appropriate gun mounts to be stored in the magazines. A refueling detail mans the lines into position, where they could receive oil from a tanker 110 feet away.
Above the bridge is the lookout station, always manned when at sea regardless of weather. On the main deck “side boys” prepare to receive a distinguished visitor. Alongside Turret Two is a chair with a passenger. He will be highlined over to the refueling tanker as the two ships move steadily, in parallel, at 12 knots. Twin details on the two vessels pull the chair across. Kirk’s description fairly gives his audience a twinge of seasickness.
The power source under the hull us a 12-volt garden tractor battery. It powers the working parts and lights all day, when the Boston is on display. When the Boston is in the water the propellers and rudder, added to other items, exhaust the batteries in about two hours.
Oh yes, the USS Boston is seaworthy, in a lake or pond. The radio has separate battery packs. It controls 23 functions. The two propeller speed controls, for portside and starboard, can be operated independently.
Kirks take the Boston to about 12 shows a year and to some additional outings in the water. Its next show will be at the Canandaigua, N.Y. Steam Pageant August 7-8.
The enormity of this project is all the more mind-boggling when he notes that there has been no use of computers from start to finish. In fact, he did not have a drafting table or genuine drafting tools when he began, let alone CAD (computer assisted drafting/design). Certainly there has been no 3D printing.
Even now, there is no URL, no website, no email address. On his card there is a mention of the U.S.S. Boston Reunion Association, of which the couple are members.
An enthusiastic participant in the demanding hobby, Esther modestly says she has built a lobster boat model, but from a kit.
The actual USS Boston was a 13,600 ton Baltimore class heavy cruiser built in 1943, redesignated in 1952 as a CAG-1, a cruiser armored Guided missile carrier. She was fitter with twin launchers for Terrier anti-aircraft guided missiles, and associated radars and electronics.
As a CAG-1 the ship saw service in the Western Atlantic, Caribbean, Mediterranean, North Atlantic in NATO exercises, and off the east coast, often as a flagship. Boston transited the Panama Canal and served in the Pacific with the Seventh Fleet, usually stationed off Vietnam. Thereafter she was reclassified from guided-missile heavy cruiser to heavy cruiser, and reverted to hull number CA-69. She still had Terrier missiles, but those were becoming obsolete.
Decommissioned in 1970, she was sold for scrap that year. But her memory lives on, and, thanks to Gerald Kirk, she still sails proudly, in miniature.