BREMERTON, Wash. — Retired aircraft carrier Ranger became a parts ship this week for naval museum vessels.
Members of the Historic Naval Ships Association removed items to improve their ships during a weeklong open house. They had to bring their own tools and labor and couldn't descent below the second deck where confidential information remains.
The events occur annually at the Navy's inactive ship maintenance facilities at Bremerton, Pearl Harbor and Philadelphia. However, the Ranger came off the donation hold list less than two years ago, had never been stripped and was in pristine condition.
Forty-three people signed up, representing such floating museums as aircraft carriers Hornet (Alameda, California) and Midway (San Diego), battleships Alabama (Mobile, Alabama), Missouri (Pearl Harbor, Hawaii) and Iowa (Los Angeles), minesweeper Lucid (Stockton, California) and destroyer Turner Joy from around the corner.
Needs varied. The huge Midway sent a 10-person crew and leased a tractor-trailer to haul its loot. The smaller Lucid had been completely stripped, itself, and needed everything. A three-person Turner Joy team primarily sought Plexiglas to protect knobs and dials while keeping them visible to visitors. They didn't expect to take more than a pickup load home.
During the 23 years the Turner Joy has been moored off the Bremerton Boardwalk, volunteers have opened 90 percent of the destroyer to the public. They want to keep going.
"Our goal is to get as much Plexiglas as we can so people can go in a room instead of just standing at the door," said curator John Gertzen, who was joined by executive director Steve Boerner and John Adams. "It can protect equipment so people can look at it but not play with it."
The trio also grabbed emergency battle lanterns and operating room lights.
"There isn't any replacement for a lot of stuff we're getting off her," Gertzen said. "Nuts and bolts you can go to the hardware store and buy."
Workers groaned and sweated getting the items from the high-up ship to the pier. The Navy can't chip in for a crane and the foundations can't afford one, so lowering was performed by several men at opposite ends of a large rope and pulleys.
Volunteers began reconstructing the Lucid from scratch three years ago. They estimate the job will take a couple of more years and $1.5 million before it's ready for the public. And that includes getting Ranger relics for free.
"This stuff is not available anywhere else," said Dave Rajkovick, the group's president. "Even if you have the money, you can't buy it because it's not available."
The renovation is about one-fourth completed, including the sick bay and chiefs' quarters. The galley and mess deck are a work in progress, said board member Don Reinhart. The eight-person team was filling two trucks with trailers with a radar, antenna, electrical gear, toilet lockers, light fixtures and switch boxes. The minesweeper bears no resemblance to the Ranger, but emerged during the 1950s era.
Adams, of the Turner Joy group, also is among those trying to save the Ranger from the scrap heap. He was appalled that the carrier was allowed to be "ransacked."
"There are two types of things going on. Stuff like this, that's irreplaceable," he said, pointing at part of a combat information center console. "And stuff like that (vices, mailboxes) that are all common material."
Historic artifacts such as quarterdeck bells, plaques, flags, port visit gifts and photos were removed and cataloged by the Naval History and Heritage Command when the ship was decommissioned in 1993, said spokesman Paul Taylor. The ship Ranger was held for donation from March 2004 to September 2012, when it was redesignated for dismantling. An effort was made to buy a site for it on the Columbia River, but it failed.
A group continues to try to save the Vietnam-era ship, including a petition drive on Change.org that has 2,329 supporters and getting it named to national and state historic registers. The Navy has steadfastly said it's too late, however. The ship will be dismantled like its berth mate Constellation, which began being towed last week to Texas. Also in Bremerton designated for dismantling is the Independence. The Navy is holding the Kitty Hawk in reserve.