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Brian Falke

USS ENGAGE by Brian Falke - Scale 1:96 - 1989 post modernization (first scratch build)

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Ok, where to start?  First my motivation and why such an obscure ship.  This was my first sea assignment right after commissioning from the Naval Academy.  I spent two combined years on ENGAGE and IMPERVIOUS.  The entire crew transferred from ENGAGE to IMPERVIOUS for Desert Storm.  Being the first (you never forget your first 😉 ), ENGAGE holds a special place in my heart.  It was a tough ship to be on, the crew truly lived up to the mantra "Wooden Ships, Iron Men".  The ships hull was leaky and oil soaked, so as the Damage Control Assistant, I constantly worried about flooding or fire - either one and the ship was going to go fast.  On IMPERVIOUS we actually conducted mine clearance operations in live minefields - very nerve wracking.  That is why I chose a MSO, and why I chose ENGAGE.  The attached photo of ENGAGE is from December 1991, right after her decommissioning.  As you can see the pilot house port holes and bridge windows are all boarded up and the anchor chain is rigged for tow.  She was to depart the next day for Philadelphia, PA.

 

Because this was such an obscure ship, there is not a lot of ship build information out there on MSOs.  Fortunately, in 2007 I was assigned to a command which had a lot, and I mean a lot of mine warfare historical documents.  One of those documents was the BUSHIPS Booklet of General Plans for MSO 441 (pictures attached).  This got me started.  The General Plans were great for profiles and deck layout, but one thing missing from the plans were the hull lines.  Searching through the internet, I was able to find a set of hull lines for a MSO, but they were not to scale.  After much manipulation and trial and error, I was finally able to get those plans to scale (or at least extremely close).  With a good starting point, I set out on my adventure.  It was January 2008.

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Hi Brian

Not long ago I did some research for a friend who was on an MSO in the Gulf War. They towed them over so they would not wear out the engines. In his case I was able to find the plans for the USS Agile MSO 421, that included hull lines and pretty much everything it would take to build one of the class. I was almost enticed to build my friend's ship but I already have way too many irons in the fire and unfinished. They are handsome little ships.

Your plans of course are much more detailed in regards to superstructure, interior, and deck detail and I would be surprised if you didn't have a lot of photos to go with it.

 

Looking forward to your work.

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With plans and material (decided on basswood), I next had to determine whether to build the hull from a solid piece or plank-on-frame.  As a youngster my whittling skills were poor to be kind, and I am sure they did not improve over the years.  I do have a background in construction, and the plank-on-frame seemed to suit me best.  The Booklet of General Plans is 1/8 = 1'0" scale (1:96) so I could compare the keel and frames directly to the drawings.  I used 1/8" bass wood for the keel and frames.  Here is how it turned out:

 

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In a couple of the views, you will notice a notch out section on the main deck forward of the fantail.  That space is for the magnetic cable reel.  My intention at the time was to leave the aft door to the mag cable reel open so that the reel could be seen.  This was how we steamed around and in port.  That door was always open.  My intention was to build the model as I remember the ship, its uniqueness.

 

The notch amidships is for the mast

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A great project!  In 1964 I was attending the University of  Michigan studying Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering and also pursuing a USNR commission with the university’s NROTC unit.  This program required one summer cruise, the 1st Class one.  I received orders to an old WWII submarine in the Western Pacific.

 

It  turned out that the submarine was going “somewhere that I wouldn’t want to go” according to the boat’s captain.  Wherever they were going involved scuba gear and rubber boats which were stacked on board.  After considerable shuffling around and two more flights I found myself aboard the Ocean Minesweeper USS Loyalty (MSO 457) deployed overseas to Sasebo, Japan.  It was my first experience aboard a US Navy warship.

 

The captain was a hard-boiled sort of guy who was determined that the two midshipmen on board would become qualified OOD’s before the end of the cruise. As soon as we got underway, I was assigned to the pelorus and range finder on the bridge and told to keep station on another ship in the diamond formation.  As the ship was fitted with controllable pitch propellers engine orders were given in feet of pitch (all ahead four feet). I was assigned to a regular watch section as JOOD and when we began a mine sweeping exercise with the Japanese Navy we stood four on, four off.  We eventually got to the point where I was to stand an OOD watch by myself.  Upon reporting to the bridge, the fog was so thick that I could’nt see beyond the jack staff but I was doing ok using RADAR.  About an hour into the watch a signal came through to change formation.  In my nervousness about this maneuver which I had little idea how to accomplish I garbled the Radio Transmission.  The captain came boiling out of his sea cabin behind the bridge, pissed off.  I was promptly relieved in disgrace.  

 

Looking back, it was remarkable opportunity.  The combination of the small ship and old salt captain gave me wonderful experience that I wouldn’t have received elsewhere.  

 

After I left her to return to school, Loyalty deployed to Vietnam for operation Market Time and made several deployments after that.  During one deployment she fired her 40mm “main armament” (later replaced by a 20mm) in anger destroying a gun emplacement.

 

Roger

 

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Yes Roger, remember standing many hours on the deck and the unique engine orders.  And trust me, you were not the only OOD that had difficulties on watch.  I was the MCM Evaluator when we lost the minehunting sonar in the middle of a live minefield during the Persian Gulf war.  These were difficult ships.

 

Thanks all for the notes and likes!

 

My next step was to install the exterior main and 01 level sub-decks.  Using the booklet plans I was able to directly trace out the decks, no adjustments for scale differences.  I used basswood as the decking.

 

In addition to the fantail deck, I installed the aft bulkheads and the exterior bulkheads for the mag-cable reel room.  Installing the mag-cable reel room bulkheads was a mistake.  If you recall in my previous post I intentionally left space in the framing for the mag cable reel.  Later on in the project I realize that with the bulkheads in place I would not be able to install the cable reel, it is bigger than the opening.  Live and learn....

 

 

 

 

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My next steps were to plank the main and 01 level weather decks.  After completing the weather decks, I then tackled the hull.  For all this I used 1/32 thick basswood where I cut the planks to 1/16 wide.  That made them, by scale, 6" wide which is a little wider than reality.  In reality, the decking is only about 2" wide with about a 1/4" space between them for oakum and rubber sealant.  The hull planks were about 6" in reality, so 1/16 wide was to scale.  Another lesson learned here.  These can be purchased, the planks.  Cutting from a 1/32 sheet of basswood did cause me difficulties later on.  The thickness (1/32) was not always consistent throughout the sheet.  Some planks were thicker, others thinner.  So, to over come this, once they were all installed, I spent numerous hours carefully sanding the hull and weather decks to smooth out the differences.  My intention at the time was to smooth the hull as much as possible then apply wood filler along the hull and then sand that down given me a nice clean, smooth hull.  As I looked at the hull with the planking I realized that is not how those ships were, they were not smooth hulled like a frigate, destroyer, or practically any other ship in the Navy fleet.  They were old, beaten and showed many scars from Junior Officers novice shiphandling skills (I put a few on ENGAGE myself).  I left the hull with the planks and a few imperfections.

At this juncture in the construction, I also installed the shafts, shaft struts, and thru-hull.  At the time (2008), I was not planning on a log, so I am using those pictures that I took at the time to document the process and progress.

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Continuing on, I wanted to get the portion of the fantail aft bulkheads and bulwark painted because once I put in the minesweep/towing winch and ladder from the main deck to the 01 level, there would be no way of getting in there.  After finishing up the aft bulkhead, complete with QAWTD for the port and starboard passageways, QAWTD to go down to the electrician's shop and shaft alley, I began constructing the minesweep/towing winch.  Other than what was on the ship drawings, a few pictures, and my memory, I did not have anything in detail to construct the winch.  As you can see in the picture below, it is quite a substantial piece of deck equipment and did close off my access to the aft bulkhead.  The aft ladder going from the fantail to the main deck was constructed and installed at this time too.  The minesweep/towing winch has 4 reels of wire - port & starboard minesweep wire, center depressor wire, and the towing wire.  In the picture, the green wheels were, at that time, made of wood.  They were eventually replace with a etched brass wheel purchased from Bluejacket Models (where I got most of the small parts from).  In addition to the winch and ladder, I also constructed and installed the port king-post and boom.

With those in place, I began on the superstructure.  From aft forward, the Magnetic Cable Reel room, the P&S A/C plants and uptake space, the Halon room, the the big portion includes on the 01 level radio central, admin and storage lockers, then forward is the Captain's cabin and passage ways.

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Moving to the 02 Level installed the (fwd to aft) pilot house, bridge wings, CIC and stack deck.  It was at this point that I realized the most important tool in my kit is my vision.  I did not realize until I took the pictures and looked at them that there was a huge gap on the port side above the porthole.  My near vision, before I started this project, was perfect.  This is about a year into the project now, and it was evident I needed a pair of readers. 🤓  To correct this, instead of removing pilot house and bridge wings, I filled in the gap with wood filler and sanded down smooth.  In future photos, this will be evident.

 

Looking through the website, I have come across a number of ways to create the waterline.  My technique was similar to most of them.  I took a toothpick and taped it to a block of wood at the level the top of the boot-topping.  I would dip the tip of the toothpick in black paint and, with the ship securely in the cradle, gently tapped the ships hull putting a small dot to mark the top of the boot-topping.  I did this all along the hull spaced about 1/8" between the dots.  I did the same technique for the lower part of the boot-topping.  After the dots dried, using painters tape, I taped along the top and bottom and painted the boot-topping on.  Having been on a number of Navy ships, you can tell who ran a good Deck Division by looking at the boot-topping at the bow.  If the Port and Starboard sides met up perfectly at the bow, it was a good division.  Of course, mine came out perfect!

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My next steps were to start on the detail for the pilot house and bridge wings.  This consisted of the encapsulated lifeboats and holders, the port & starboard pelarus, running lights on the bridge wings.  Inside the pilot house I painted the interior bulkheads the pastel green (this was the color so those sea sick green faces would blend in).  I contemplated adding the helm and lee helm consoles in the pilot house but ultimately decided that the only way some one would see them would be through the small port holes with the use of a flashlight and would only be able to see the back of them.  Wasn't worth the effort.  All the detail pieces were made by hand.  Later on in the building process I do replace the port & starboard pelarus with manufactured ones.

 

After I installed those, and viewed the bow on picture, I decided that what was there was not up to the quality I desired. So, I removed part of the bridge wing and 02 deck to effect some repairs and adjustments.  You can tell the difference from the two bow on pictures below.

 

 

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From the picture above, you can see the bridge and the Captain's At-Sea cabin on the 03 Level.  When these ships (102 of them) were built, the bridge was open, exposed to the elements.  There was the ability for the ship's company to erect a tarpaulin overhead, but no windshields.  In the 70's, during the modernization, a more permanent cover was built.  The overhead was still a tarpaulin, and that was for a very good reason.  If the ship were to hit a mine, those in the bridge would be force through the tarpaulin instead of being smashed into a solid overhead.  Because of the ability to look  through the bridge windows, I decided to install the binnacle, centerline pelarus , Captain's chair, voice tube, and the SPA-25 repeater before putting in the windows and overhead.  With the exception of communications equipment below the forward bulkhead, there wasn't anything else on the bridge.  Very primitive compared to what is on today's naval ships.

 

The below image is from the National Archives.  It is a picture of a ROK minesweeper being blown up by a magnetic mine during clearance operations in Wonsan Harbor in 1950.  That is why the overhead on the minesweeper is a tarpaulin and not solid wood overhead.

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At this point, I had not discovered any company that manufactured the small pieces and parts - like life rings, firehoses, fire plugs, ladders etc.  All the small items (ladders, big eyes, signal/search lights, life rafts, dan bouys (orange things on the smoke stack), ammo boxes -  all these were made by hand.  And took a lot of time and patience to construct each one.  Eventually, I did discover BlueJacket Ship Crafters and Model Expo for a few of these detail parts.P1000696.thumb.JPG.9f4beeb1cc521ebf5e2f7b723bd9f404.JPG

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It was about this point in the model that I decided that what is going to set my model apart from those that I have seen online is the details.  What I had seen online lacked the detail or was not completely accurate.  Additionally, I only saw the pre-modernization MSO models - the ones with the 40mm on the focsle, with the 26' MWB, and significant superstructure missing.  And, I feel that as an observer and admirer of ship models (when at the Naval Academy, I would spend hours just looking at the ship models in the museum and around the yard), the detail is what grabs the observers attention.  I have a tendency of placing myself on the model, walking the decks, etc.  However, I do have the tendency to strive for perfection.  As someone once said "Perfection is the enemy of excellence."  I am challenged at times to step back and say, that is excellent.  I tend to tweak somethings until my tweaking ruins it and have to start over.

 

Pressing forward, I now shifted to finishing up the bridge.  I needed to put the windshield and frame for the overhead tarpaulin.  Using 1/16 stock, I cut the windshield with a slight outward angle.  Fortunately there are no wipers on these.  They were just framed plexiglass that on clear days we would raise them inward and allow the sea to blow in as we cruised at flank speed (13 knots).  Below is the completed frame for the windshield and overhead tarpaulin.P1000699.thumb.JPG.5458f132d0f978368a2cda8e070d8e80.JPG

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Keeping with authenticity of the ship, I sought to use cloth as the overhead on the bridge.  I tried a number of methods and material.  I just could not get the proper consistency and texture.  So, I settled wood.  I cut each section to fit from beam to beam, then filled in and sanded along the seams to give it the look of cloth being supported by a beam.

With the bridge and pilothouse area completed for the most part, I moved onto the deck gear.  Starting with the anchor windlass and AN/SQQ-14 Variable Depth Minehunting Sonar Winch on the focsle.  It was also about this time that I discovered BlueJacket's website and Expo Model and ordered the life rings, fire hoses in their camelback racks, and brass portholes for the pilot house and captain's cabin.  Unfortunately, I could not locate an anchor windlass for a MSO nor a sonar winch, so I set out to make them myself.  For the anchor windlass I did have the ship's drawings to use, but for the sonar winch, since it was a mod in the 70's and the drawings are from original construction, I had nothing but my memory and pictures.  Also in the picture below, are the port & starboard anchors - which again had to be constructed by hand and the mooring line reels.  The mine hunting sonar winch is just forward of the forward bulkhead.

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Hey Brian, boy am I glad I found this build! I usually spend all my time over on the kit page.

You are doing a heck of a job. This really brings back a lot of memories for me - I served on ADROIT (MSO-509) up in Little Creek 88-90. Most fun I ever had. If you have time you might spend it googling around on MSO crew reunion websites, they can have a lot of good, close-up onboard photos that can help with detailing. NAVSOURCE.ORG and the Naval History and Heritage Command website both have a ton of photos with the NHHC site more likely to have onboard shots.

Keep up the good work.

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Hi Tim, great to see another MSO sailor on here!  Yes, I was on ENGAGE (MSO-433) out of Mayport from 8/89 - 3/91 (3/91-9/91 on IMPERVIOUS in the Gulf).  I too spent some quality time up there in Little Creek (11/90-01/91) going through REFTRA.  Was not fun at all.  I was the DCA and Engineering was a disaster.  We actually had to pause training for a month in order to get the strut bearings replaced.  Some how the starboard shaft became misaligned and wore out the bearings unevenly causing excessive vibrations in the engines.  All I can remember is the cold nights and the fight with the XO on my way back from one of the bars right outside the gate (but, that is another story for another time).  I am actually finished with the model, just have to mount it.  I took pictures from the 102 MSOs website, there are a lot there.   But, for the most part, it is coming from memory.  Thanks and glad you are following along.

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This point the hull and superstructure were complete.  Next to dive into the deck details.  On the 01 Level I used stanchions from BlueJacket. On the 02, 03, and 04 Levels I constructed the stanchions and rails - I could not find anything online that would suffice.  MSO's were an odd bunch of ships.  Nothing from a normal ship of the line would fit to scale; meaning deck railings from a 1:96 destroyer would be too tall for a MSO and look out of place.  On the 01 Level I used black thin wire as the lifelines.  Again, being unique, the life lines on MSO's were made of carbon fiber instead of stainless steel.  Using carbon fiber as their lifelines significantly reduced the magnetic signature for the ship.  At this juncture, I am focused on the details with the exception of the fantail.  I elected to do the fantail last as that will be the most complex given the amount of equipment back there.

 

It is also at this time that I took about a year off from the project.  We moved from Texas to Japan. I secured the model in a 3/4" plywood box where it survived the trip from Texas to Japan and then to San Diego when I was able to remove it and continue working on the model.  Not a bit of damage from the two overseas moves.

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At this point, my pictures jump way ahead in the build. For the most part, everything forward of the aft bulkhead leading to the fantail is complete - just some very detail items to install remain.  I shifted my focus to the fantail where on MSO's is the business end.  All the sweep gear is back there.  The mine sweeping towing winch was built and installed early on in the build as well as the kingpost on the port side.  From his point, I build the power crane on the starboard side with the 7 meter RHIB rigged and ready to be deployed over the side.  The two noise makers (Mk 6B and Mk 4V).  The 4V is the roundish, stubby one on the port side, and the 6B is the boxy one on the starboard side underneath the 7 meter RHIB.  When deployed, these would mimic the noise of ships machinery (6B) or ships screws (4V).  The float rigged to the port kingpost is used as the float for those noise makers.  Only one is deployed at a time and it depends on the mine threat.

 

Moving aft, right by the ships edge, all the way aft, are the port and starboard kites and depressors.  These are basically about a 4' x 4' boxed vanes that when rigged with the sweep wire, depress the wire to depth and pull the wire outward to port and starboard.  The depth of the sweep wire, when deployed is about 50' and width is roughly 150'.  To get that width, about 1500' of wire needs to be trailed behind the ship.  Just inboard of the kites/depressors are the two floats that mark the end of the sweep wire and keep the kite and sweep wire from sinking to the bottom. The port and starboard cranes rigged to the floats are there to deploy the kites/depressors and floats.  It is a very dangerous evolution deploying this stuff with up to three wires trailing behind the ship basically increasing the size of the ship to an aircraft carrier.

 

All the equipment back on the fantail were made from stock pieces of basswood - dowels and sheets of wood for the most part.  I did use blocks from BlueJacket on the end of the port and starboard cranes and for the king post and power crane.

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An RIB?  Things change.  During my 1964 summer tour on Loyalty she was still equipped with a trusty 26ft motor whaleboat, probably the plastic, non magnetic variety.  My best memories were being in the motor whaleboat,  probably because I was out from under the captain’s thumb.  I spent one day aboard a Japanese minesweeper. At the end of the day, the Japanese squadron commander sent Loyalty a signal “send your boat to pick up your officer.”  I felt like a big shot!

 

While sweeping (practice) mines we went back and forth like mowing a lawn.  Since there were four vessels in the squadron ships would be moving in opposite directions in adjacent lanes.  It was essential for the OOD and in my case the JOOD to understand the actual width of the sweep gear as it was possible to hook the gear of the ship coming in the opposite direction.  On one occasion, the captain came boiling out of his sea cabin behind the bridge concerned that we going to do just that!

 

Brian, a nice “first scratch build” of an interesting subject.

 

Roger

 

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Roger, thanks for the story.  It brought back memories of when I was OOD off the coast of Charleston, SC doing MCM Qualifications prior to deploying for Operation Desert Storm.  We had a Double "O" sweep out and lost the starboard sweep.  The kite snagged on the bottom and the wire parted setting the float and kit adrift.  About 6 months later, they were recovered off the coast of Ireland.  Was not a good day to say the least.

 

It was about this point in the build I started to fret over a couple of detail items.  The mast, four HF whip antennas, and the four egg beaters.  My concern with the mast is that I could not find a decent picture which showed the detail I desired.  As for the whip antennas, I tried to sand down a dowel to the right size, but each time when I would get the dowel to a thin piece it would break.  And lastly, the egg beaters (receiver antennas for fleet broadcast).  I never attempted to build one but I did have a number of ideas swimming around my head.  So, I put these off until I finished the fantail.  In other words, buying time to crack those nuts.

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LOL!!  I should have included those in my descriptions.  The Otters were tough to make.  It took months to get it right with all the angles and then to replicate the process three more times so all four were exact copies of each other.  The Pigs were just dowels sanded down, but the fins/guides did take some time to make and glue together - but not nearly as difficult as the Otters.

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At this point, all fantail equipment was completed and in place.  To complete the fantail I still needed to install the taffrail.  I could not find stanchions that would work without some modification.  I used the same stanchions I used on the focsle, just cut them off right at the second rail and filed flat for the rail to rest on.  Though not 100% accurate, it did come close enough.  Now that the fantail was completed, and for the most part, the entire ship's hull and deck equipment, I shifted my efforts to the mast.  This I felt was going to be a challenge because I did not have clear pictures of where mast lights, antennas and sensor's were located on the mast.

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Yes, that is correct.  Being on the East Coast, it is a little difficult for me to get to the restoration project.  However, I am following along through their Facebook page.  The team is doing a fantastic job with the restoration.   The ENGAGE was build in Stockton - think it is one of 3 Stockton built MSO's.  In total, there were 102 laid down.  The final MSO was stopped after the keel was laid down.  After a few years of enjoying the model, my intention is to donate the model to the USS LUCID Museum.

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