ST. MARYS, Ga. — Visitors to the St. Marys Submarine Museum have long been able to raise and lower a submarine periscope and zoom in on a panoramic view of a saltwater marsh and the St. Marys River. Soon, they will be able to imagine they are at the control panel of a vintage submarine, as well.
Sailors from nearby Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay are renovating control panels from the submarine USS James K. Polk. When the work is complete, visitors will be able to sit at the controls of the Benjamin Franklin-class ballistic missile submarine launched in 1965.
The boat was converted to an attack submarine in 1994 and patrolled the oceans until it was decommissioned in 1999.
Museum director Keith Post says the ship's control station and ballast control stations were donated to the museum, along with artifacts such as a piece of sonar equipment, a torpedo tube door and interior watertight hatch.
The equipment was collecting dust at the back of the building out of public view when the first phase of the project began last fall, Post said.
So far, members of different commands on base volunteered a week of service in shifts to build a new wall and platform to make an area in the back of the museum appear as close as it would on the actual submarine. They also assisted in renovating the gift shop area of the museum.
"This demonstrates the great partnership between the base and our museum," Post said.
Navy Chief Uriah Bishop, one of the volunteers, said the project is the sailors' way of providing community service and is also a team building exercise. "I use it as training time," he said.
Thursday, the volunteers spent the afternoon sanding the metal frames on a bank of control panels from the submarine. The next step is a coat of paint and reinstalling gauges and wiring them so visitors can push different buttons on the panels and see the controls come to life.
Bishop said some gauges will have to be blacked out because they are still considered to be classified equipment. He and the other sailors said it was fun to work on electronic equipment from an earlier era.
"It brings back nostalgia," Bishop said. "It gives you respect for who went out to sea on these boats."
Bishop said it will likely take several months before the display is complete and ready for public use.
"I can see my son excited to check it out," he said. "I think this will be one of the most popular features in the museum."
There are plenty of other artifacts to see at the museum, including items from different eras and from foreign submarines. The museum also has a library that includes many World War II reports that were classified at the time.