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USS Herbert J Thomas DD-833

USS Herbert J Thomas in Hong Kong Harbor circa July 1969. There's an aircraft carrier anchored behind us making the Thomas to appear to have 3 mast. The ship was built in 1945 in Bath, Maine. I served aboard from October 68 to October 70. The ship was decommissioned is December 1970 and placed in the inactive fleet reserve until 1974 when it was transferred to the Republic of China where is served another 25 years. In 1999 it was sunk as an artificial reef off the coast of Taiwan.

Having built a number of reefers for Ton Miller's layout in Portland, Oregon, I was invited to attend a VIP tour before he had his open house for the narrow gauge convention. Tom has an impressive collection of custom built model ships which planted the idea of making the destroyer I was on in the late 60's. The Thomas was a gearing class destroyer. There were  99 gearings built between 1944 and 1946. Most had minor upgrades, namely to the radar systems in the 1950's. In the 1960's 98 of the gearings went through a FRAM upgrade. FRAM meaning Fleet Rehabilitation and Modernization. There was a FRAM 1 and a FRAM 2 modification. The Thomas received the FRAM 1 starting in 1964 at Mare Island, California. The overhaul was completed in 1966. The FRAM upgrades were to remove the old WW II weapons and replace them with "modern" anti submarine warfare weapon systems and "state of the art" radar systems. The ships were striped down to the main decks and all superstructures rebuild. This time in aluminum to keep the weight down for all the new weapons.

The Thomas was selected to receive a one of a kind FRAM re-build. It  received what was called a STOPS system. STOPS stands for Shipboard Toxicology Operational Protective System. The hull was pressurized with revolving doors fore and aft and double hatch pressure doors along the port and starboard sides and no portholes at all. If you look at the picture, you can see glass bubbles on either side of the bridge. All other destroyers, gearing or another class, have open bridge wings for the lookouts. On the Thomas, the bridge was wider and closed for the pressure system. Hence the bubbles for the lookouts. The ship had several other changes made to the superstructure, mostly to accommodate the STOPS build out. You can Google the ship and read about it. You will see many sites that talk about Project Shad. Rather a sad story of what the government did to our young men while serving their country. I won't get into that here. I'll leave you to read about it and form your own opinions. I made contact with Carl Ellis who served aboard a couple years before I did. He was aboard when the ship was involved with Shad. A couple of his friends have died from complications of those events. Carl also built a model of the Thomas and the two of us have been "comparing" notes of our time in the navy.

So, enough of the boring stuff, lets get going..................

Quality model ships, like our quality model trains are expensive. I did a lot of searching and found an affordable kit manufacturer in AZ. The company is BAD Ship Models. They have kits of the Gearing Class Destroyers in WW II as built and post FRAM 1 modification. So in the spring of 2012, I purchased the FRAM kit and was on my way. When I received the kit, I found that many of the detail castings and other parts to be a bit rudimentary for my taste. Started searching the net and found a couple high end parts manufacturers. Namely John R Haynes, Tom's Model Works and Scale Shipyard. Every month I sent off an order to one of the manufactures buying replacement parts. I ended up having more dollars in parts than the original kit. Many of the parts I had to make as the Thomas was a one of the kind and no one was going to make parts that only one destroyer in the whole fleet had aboard it.

I started construction of the hull in November 2013. BAD models are a plank on frame type of construction. The kit came with a keel and 7 frames. Well, that wasn't enough frames for a guy that builds "rugged" 1:20 scale rolling stock. I added another 14 frames to the keel. To save room on the page, I am making the pictures a thumbnail that you can click to enlarge and then press your back button to return.

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I made a frame first. Then rubber banded the sub deck to it. The frames are glued to the sub deck after that and the balsa planks glued on. For whatever reason, I didn't take any pictures of that process. Trust me, it took quite a while to attached a couple hundred 1/8" by 3/8" balsa sticks. Once they were all on, I filled all the gaps with wood putty and sanded smooth. Then added 8 to 10 coats of fiberglass resin until I had a thickness of about 1/8". Then I painted the hull to specs. I added about 5 lbs of  #5 lead shot between the frames for ballast. It will never see the water but I didn't want it to be top heavy.

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Above are pictures of the propeller guards and the running gear. The running gear came with the kit but the prop guards that came with it were vacuum formed to be reinforced with wood dowel. Wasn't going to cut it with me.

When I get to pictures of the superstructure, there'll be guns, radar and other pieces that you'll think got magically built or they came pre-built. So, here are pieces I made or castings from John R Haynes that I super detailed.
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 These are the two 5" 38 cal gun mounts. The first is called mount 51. It has the radio antenna on it. The second is mount 52. Mt 51 is forward and 52 is aft.
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These are the Mark 32 Torpedo Tubes. Both are forward of the bridge and one deck up from Mt 51 5" gun

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Here are pictures of the flood lights and the aft funnel.

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There were 10 life rafts on board. 4 on the 02 level bridge wings and the 02 level above the ASROC magazine and DASH hanger. The baskets are .020" brass wire I made on a jig. The rafts are plastic castings from Scale Shipyard.

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This is the Mark 37 Fire Control Director. This is the radar director for the two 5" guns. It sits on top of the bridge / combat information center better known as CIC. The last picture is of my unit (right) and a Shapeways 3D unit (left). I only received the Shapeways unit after I had completed all other work.

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This is a T-Mark 6 Fanfare device. It was used as a noise maker that was towed behind the ship if a noise seeking torpedo was fired at the ship. The trailing devices had noise generators inside that would, hopefully, draw away a noise seeking fish. Most of that type of torpedo was discontinued by our enemies after WW II. Every non US or UK sub we encountered was Soviet and pretty sure carried active sonar searching torpedo's. Glad we never had to test this thing!!

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I couldn't use any of the superstructure material as the kit is based on the USS Joseph P Kennedy DD-850. Also a gearing but very different from the HJT (Herbert J Thomas). I use 1/8 poplar plywood for all bulkheads and skinned it with .010" styrene. Squadron Green puttied the joints, sanded and painted. The stanchions are 1/16" brass rod with etched brass stanchions solder to them. The little eyes will support the three stanchion cables of the main deck.

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More main deck structure. The bridge is starting to come together as is the rear structure. The orange colored castings came with the kit. Some will get used, some not.

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Forward funnel and ASROC launcher. ASROC stands for Anti Submarine Rocket. We could fire a MK 44 torpedo or a nuclear depth charge out a couple miles. Remember the saying, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades? We added horseshoes, hand grenades and nuclear depth charges. Also added is the bridge roof with bubbles.

Bow detail. Most of this detail is from John R Haynes. Some of the bulkhead detail I made.

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Forward view. Torpedo deck view. The plumbing under the bridge is the forward re-fueling stations. One on each side under the bridge. This was so we could take on fuel from either side of the ship while underway. More times than not, we took on fuel from the port side. Probably just the luck of the draw as we were fitted for both sides.

Also pictures of the bridge roof and the start of the main mast.
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More pictures of the mast and SPS 10 radar (upper antenna) and SPS 29 radar (lower antenna).

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This is the rear mast or ECM mast. ECM standing for Electronic Counter Measures. I was a sonar technician, not a radio tech so I'm not 100% sure what all the various antenna's were for. I know some of the UHF antenna's were for the IFF or Identification, Friend or Foe. This antenna was 100% scratch built. I sure know why I went to 1:20 scale trains. This is 1:96 scale or smaller than HO scale.


After I built the aft mast, I decided to go back to the bow and start the final work completing the model from the bow to the stern. I used etched brass stantions from John R Haynes. The stanchions are available in 1, 2 or 3 rail. 3 rail was used on all the main deck. I used .025" wire for the top rail and .020" wire for the second and third (bottom) rails. Once placed a micro touch of solder held all in place. Then they got painted. White on the top rail and gray on the stanchions, second and third rails.


Finished look of the bow

At this point I made contact with the Shapeways designer that made the MK 32 torpedo tubes. I asked him if he could design more items for my model which he readily agreed to do. Mark lives in the UK and severed in the Royal Navy so hardware on the two navy's vary quite a bit. First up I used his refueling funnels on the torpedo deck verses mine. I also had him make up the DASH helicopters, The ASROC launcher, loader and shipping containers. Fire nozzles and boatswains highline chair. Binoculars and loudspeakers.


Above is the finished bridge top. The finished CIC roof with the 3D printed MK 37 fire control direct and binoculars. The signal lights and some other parts are white metal John R Haynes parts. The rest are scratch built. The last 3 are of the ASROC deck. The ASROC launcher is the brown resin casting. This was the one supplied with the BAD kit. Not a terrific casting. I did replace it with a Scale Shipyard casting and then again with a 3D Shapeways unit. The forward and aft funnels are sat in place as is the ASROC control booth.


Here is the ASROC loading crane with ASROC torpedo and the Scale Shipyard ASROC launcher. During loading operations, I was the crane operator. In the first picture, the white casting is the crane's rail locker to keep it out of the weather as many of the moving parts were not painted and would would rust or corrode with salt spray hitting it.


First picture is of the new Shapeways 3D ASROC launcher and loading crane with missile. Second is the ASROC magazine. Third is of the top of the ASROC magazine and DASH hanger, forward side. Last is the Shapeways boatswain chair atop the DASH hanger.


I made the life nets on the helo deck so they could be up or down. Second picture is with the nets down followed by nets up. Beings the hull was sealed and under +1 to +2 atmospheric pressures, extra power to run the air conditioning and purification equipment was needed. All other Gearing class destroyers used only a large diesel engine for the electrical generation. On the Thomas, we had a gas turbine turning our generators. Think of it as a jet engine as it's fuel was avgas or aviation gas. The last two pictures show the intake and exhaust stack for the gas turbine.


First up is the final finish of the stern, the life boat / motor whaleboat, the starboard boom and the Shapeways 3D DASH helicopter assembled and painted. The only shots not pictured so far is the bulkhead detail along the main deck. That deck consist of the two wells, one on the port and one starboard, both just aft of the torpedo deck. Then the long port main deck leading back to the stern and the starboard deck again leading from ASROC deck to the stern.


First is the starboard well, then the port well. Next two are the port side to stern and last, starboard side to stern.

Click the Finished button at the top of the page for just a series of pictures of the finished model. This was a one year project. Lots of research and pouring over old photo's and cruise books to do the model right.

On to the next project!!!