Navy sub vets share a model experience
Published online on Monday, Nov. 09, 2009
By Paula Lloyd / The Fresno Bee
Three local Navy veterans who crafted a 16-foot scale model of the USS Seawolf said the work was tougher than spending months submerged in a real submarine.
They didn't have many model-building skills -- or even know one another -- when they began, but that soon changed.
"The best thing about shipbuilding was getting to know the other guys and the camaraderie," said Jim Van Vranken, 69, of Chowchilla, who served on Navy submarines from 1958 to 1966.
Van Vranken, Glenn Boothe, 71, of Clovis and Ted Dick, 79, of Fowler are members of United States Submarine Veterans, but they hadn't met until they volunteered to refurbish the plywood-and-fiberglass model of the Seawolf, America's second nuclear submarine.
The model, painted black and mounted on a bright blue trailer, will be on display during the Veterans Day parade Wednesday in downtown Fresno.
"We wanted something to give more attention that we'd served on submarines," said Dick, who served in the Navy from 1947 to 1968. After Veterans Day, the model will be available to show at schools and veterans' events.
"It was a lot of hard work," Van Vranken said.
But the men didn't start from scratch.
The model originally was built by other Navy veterans in Texas about 15 years ago, the men said, but was in bad shape from being stored outside for several years. Someone moved it to Temecula, where the local veterans' group found it. It was hauled to the Valley where volunteers took measurements and tore it apart.
A local boat builder coached the volunteers on how to build the model and do the fiberglass work.
"We had none of the skills. We learned as we went," said Boothe, who served in the Navy from 1955 to 1966.
Said Van Vranken, "When I made a mistake, they fixed it and let me come back."
To achieve the submarine's cigar-shaped design, they used rings cut from plywood. They covered the rings with inch-wide strips of thinner, flexible plywood to get a round shape.
The whole thing was covered with fiberglass. Rudders and other exterior features were made from wood and metal.
Building the model brought back memories. "It's like you're 19 all over again," Van Vranken said.