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USS Des Moines CA 134 by Don – scale 1/8” = 1’ (1:96)

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The USS Des Moines class heavy cruiser was the largest heavy cruiser ever built.  It is similar to the Baltimore class except bigger and only 1 stack.  The main difference is the Des Moines class has automatic 8” guns using an encased powder.  These guns did not use bagged powder that was normally used in guns this large.  The guns were capable of about 12 rounds per minute per barrel compared to the Baltimore class at about 6 rounds per minute. 

I am building this model for my dad which served on this ship from 1958-59 and has always wanted a model.  I am finally getting enough time to give it a good go so hopefully it will all work out.   The model is large about 88 inches (around 7.5 feet).  Even at that size the scale is relatively small compared to the scale we traditionally build wooden ships.  The reason I choose this scale is because I just hate working in a smaller scale than this.  So he had a choice this big or no model at all.  


The first thing in starting the model was get some plans, most came from the Floating Dry Dock some time ago, scan them and inserted into CAD.  It took a while to get them all sized and aligned properly.  After doing that I found many errors in some of the drawings that took some time to get corrected. 


I then worked on getting the false keel and bulkheads printed out and cut up.  The bulkheads that I had reliable information on and was fairly certain were correct; this was not a large enough number to make a sturdy hull.  I then had to work backwards after that to get the shape of the remaining bulkheads.  I did this by drawing in two bulkheads in between the ones I was certain of.  I did all the drawings in CAD; this was a trial and error type of process that took some time.  I then print them out, made a foam board template, temporary gluing them in place and started fairing them out.  After I got some faired out I then used them as a pattern and cut out the bulkheads in plywood and glued in place.  I started at the stern and worked my way up to the bow.  I used ¼” Baltic birch plywood for both the keel and bulkheads.  This was a fairly lengthy process but I am real happy with the results so far.


I am presently working on the planking which is going along at a steady pace, just a lot of it.  The planks are fastened to the bulkheads with glue and pin nails using an air nailer.  It works great for this as it will all be filled and covered with a polyester resin.  I am using 1/16” wood for the planking, mostly basswood but some beech was used also.  I had some leftover beech so I used what I could on this then switched to basswood which I have a lot of.  It does not matter what wood is used it will all get covered and painted.  I am hoping to finish the planking sometime after the first of the year.




Basic starting point




Template process



working my way forward with making new bulkheads



Bulkheads and reinforcing the keel complete, just for size comparison the Arm Virginia Sloop sitting on top




Planking to this point






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I am from the great state of Iowa and lived in Des Moines.  So I will be looking in every now and then.  And hopefully learn something at the same time.  Good luck.  Who is going to be your go to for the hardware or are you going to make it yourself?

David B

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I'd like to follow along too, Don. Good luck. :)

Edited by Canute


Started: MS Bounty Longboat,

On Hold:  Heinkel USS Choctaw paper

Down the road: Shipyard HMC Alert 1/96 paper, Mamoli Constitution Cross, MS USN Picket Boat #1

Scratchbuild: Echo Cross Section


Member Nautical Research Guild

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Wow a seven and a half foot model! Looks like you made a table just to hold it.  Nice start.



Every build is a learning experience.


Current build:  SS_ Mariefred


Completed builds:  US Coast Guard Pequot   Friendship-sloop,  Schooner Lettie-G.-Howard,   Spray,   Grand-Banks-dory

                                                a gaff rigged yawl,  HOGA (YT-146),  Int'l Dragon Class II,   Two Edwardian Launches 


In the Gallery:   Catboat,   International-Dragon-Class,   Spray

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very interesting Project Don,


nice start also, that relatively low working bench is good for sitting at, whilst working..., will be looking in as you go...




Current builds

Steamship Ergenstrasse


"Mississippi Lady"  sternwheel steamer 1:30 kit build fun boat as Xmas present

"Zeesboot"  heritage wooden fishing small craft around 1870, POB  clinker scratch build scale 1:24

Pilot Schooner # 5 ELBE

Chebec "Eagle of Algier" 1753--scale 1:48-POB-(scratchbuild) 

"SS Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse" four stacker passenger liner of 1897, 1:144 (scratchbuild)
"HMS Pegasus" , 16 gun sloop, Swan-Class 1776-1777 scale 1:64 from Amati plan  (scratch build)Pilot schooner #5 Elbe

"Pamir" 4-mast barque, P-liner, 1:96  (scratchbuild)

"Gorch Fock 2" German Navy cadet training 3-mast barque, 1:95 (scratchbuild) 

"Heinrich Kayser" heritage Merchant Steamship, 1:96 (scratchbuild) 

"Bohuslän" , heritage ,live Swedish museum passenger steamer (Billings kit), 1:50 

"Lorbas", river tug, steam driven for RC, fictive design (scratchbuild), scale appr. 1:32

under restoration / restoration finished 

"Hjejlen" steam paddlewheeler, 1861, Billings Boats rare old kit, scale 1:50

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In spite of her not being a Baltimore Class, I will be keeping close tabs on your build; the effort to get to where you are indicates she will be a heck of a model. From looking at the photos of the ship that you posted and what you said about the similarities, it looks like her hull is close enough to a Baltimore Class that your hull templates and plans, with little change, could be used for a Baltimore Class model. Not planning on building a model of the Baltimore Class in spite of riding the Helena CA 75, from 60-63 as a 3” and 8” Gunners Mate. Looking Good :dancetl6:


Edited by shiloh
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Thanks all for the likes


Hopefully by starting this log it will keep me on track and moving along. This one project I want to keep moving and not drag on any longer than necessary. One my dad isn't getting any younger and two I want to get this beast out of my shop. I don't mind working on larger models but this one at times is a bit much. As I get the hull more complete I will be able to work on smaller sections at a time. This will help by having less moving around just to get one row of planks from the bow to the stern.


Once I get it flipped over and start working on the superstructure there will be more to show not just the boring planking and sanding and more sanding.



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Most if not all of the hardware and fittings will be scratch built, a few exceptions my be some photo etched stuff from The Floating Drydock. The problem with this particular ship is that there was only three in the class; the Des Moines, Salem, and the Newport News. The Des Moines and the Salem were use as flagships for the Sixth Fleet and the Newport News was used as a flagship for the Second Fleet.  The Newport News heavily modified and served into the Vietnam War, the Des Moines and the Salem were decommissioned around 1960 or so. It is much easier to find good plans and information on the Baltimore class as there were many ships built in that class and many had lengthy service.

Luckily though the USS Salem CA 139 is a museum ship in Boston. There are many photos os her on the net which is a great help, I am not sure I could build a decent replica without those photos. When my dad was in the Med he said for a short peroid of time both the Salem and Des Moines were there together and was on both ship. He said they were almost identical except for a few compartments so I am confident that using those photos for reference will get me close enough.


Edited by Don
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Yes with a little tweaking of the drawings I could probably come up with a Baltimore class hull.  The Baltimore’s were only about 40 feet shorter and 6 foot narrower than the Des Moines class.  The hull shape though is almost identical.  If you sat the 2 different model hulls next to one another about the only difference would be the length. 


Bob and Nils


Yes that is a custom built table just for this model.  The risers under the hull are milled for certain spots along the sheer line and screwed to the deck.  Then I screwed the risers to the table which resulted in the keel being parallel to the table.  I did all this so I could use the table as a reference when marking out for the bilges, armor plates, shafts etc.


Nils - Sitting is more of a necessity after I busted up my ankle a while back.  I can’t stand for a long period of time before it hurts to a point were walking from one room to the next is difficult.



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