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USS Cairo 1862 by MPB521 – Scale 1:48 - American Civil War Ironclad - First Scratch Build

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Hello Everyone,


Welcome to the beginning of my build log for my first scratch build model.  I recently completed work on the 1884 Packet Steamer Chaperon, which was my first attempt at a build log, and I enjoyed it so much that I wanted have another go at it. The comments and suggestions and overall conversation on the build was way more than I had expected. There are so many people out there with so many great ideas that helped along the way. Not to mention the knowledge I gained from the research.


For this build I will be taking on the City Class USS Cairo American Civil War Ironclad as she was shortly before her sinking in 1862. I have been in love with this particular ship since my first visit to Vicksburg NMP back in 1984. Something about the mystique of the recovery of a sunken ship and the history of those who lived aboard is just fascinating. And, since there are no large-scale wooden model kits out there for this particular ship, I figured this was the perfect opportunity to scratch build one.


My plan is to build this model in 1:48 scale using the Bob Hill plans, the USS Cairo HSR documentation from the Vicksburg NMP, and several other builds, especially the build log for the Civil War Ironclad USS ST. LOUIS by the Gateway Model Shipcrafter's Guild. This is an exceptional build and their extensive research has found many discrepancies with the USS Cairo HSR and I hope to “borrow” some of their research findings to accurately build my representation of the USS Cairo.


I won’t be building out a whole lot of interior details, with the exception of what can be see through the gun ports, skylights and deck vents. I will probably build out the tops of the boilers, flue, capstan, and possibly simulate the engines. I haven’t quite determined what material I will use for the iron plate cladding, but for the railroad irons on the forward and aft casements, I plan on using HO scale model railroad track to try and make it look as authentic as possible.



Without boring you with too much of a detailed history of this ship, here is a little background info on it:


 The USS Cairo, along with her six sister ships (Carondelet, Cincinnati, Louisville, Mound City, Pittsburg, and St. Louis) were commissioned by the U.S. Army (later transferred to the U.S. Navy), designed by Samuel M. Pook and built by James B. Eads at the Carondelet and Mound City Shipyards in 1861.


USS Cairo was 175’ in length with a 52’ 2” beam and drew only 6’ of water. Not very deep for a 512-ton heavily armored ship. Ironically, she was sunk by a Confederate “torpedo” on December 12, 1862 in the Yazoo river while on a mine clearing mission. The USS Cairo wreckage was located in 1956 and finally raised from the mud in 1964. She sat in neglect at the Ingalls Shipyard in Pascagoula, MS for several years, until 1977 where she was transported, restored and placed on permanent display at the Vicksburg National Military Park in Vicksburg, MS.


This will definitely be a learning experience for me, so if you would like to follow along, please pull up a chair and feel free to offer up any suggestions. I am always open to new ideas and constructive criticism. If you see something that I am doing wrong or see a better way to do something, by all means, please let me know. I welcome the input.


As she sits today (well, six years ago when I took this picture):




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Should be an interesting project!  For some reason, I just got “reinterested” in Civil War history, and have been rereading a number of my books in the subject.  While the Eastern Theatre gets much of the publicity, the Western Theatre and particularly the River Campaign were enormously Important.



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USS Cairo is a fascinating vessel and I'm thrilled to see a build log for her.  I visited the Vicksburg NMP for the first time about 20 years ago.  I've been back twice since and it's an amazing place.  Grant's Vicksburg Campaign was the most complex and successful of the war and the more one learns about it the more amazing it becomes.  Outside of professional military circles, I don't think it gets the attention it deserves.  Inside military circles, it does.  The U.S. Army used the campaign as a model of operational warfare until the first Gulf War when it was replaced in the field manuals with General Schwarzkopf's campaign in Iraq.


I'm really looking forward to your build!









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Welcome aboard everyone. What a great audience. Hopefully I all goes well with the build and I don't disappoint.


I am currently working on scaling the rest of the plans and printing them out. Hopefully I will have something picture worthy accomplished here shortly.



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Hello everyone,


…and so, it begins.


I am finally kicking things off on this build. First thing I did was scale up the Bob Hill plans to fit the 1:48 ratio and print them out. This put the overall length of the model at 43.75” with a beam of 13”. I managed to print out most of the plans to scale that I will be using. I wanted to take them to the local print shop and have them printed out, but unfortunately for me, the print shop wasn’t able to handle them on that large of a scale (drawbacks of living in a rural community). However, I did get them printed on my home printer. I think I came out cheaper, just a box of paper and a black ink cartridge. That, and a lot of tape to stick the pages together. Oh well, I now have scaled plans to work off of.


Here are the hull framing plans next to my Chaperon (same 1:48 scale) which is about 36” long.



Man this thing is going to be a big build. I am now beginning to wonder what I was thinking going with this scale. Eh, why not, it’ll all be worth it in the end.



As stated earlier, I am not going to bother with too many details on the interior of hull and hold of this model, since it is going to be a static display and fully enclosed. For the hull construction I am using the plank on bulkhead design, single planked in basswood. I used ¼” plywood for the bulkheads, cut to shape on my table saw. I notched each one out in three places for the three false keels to interlock with. These bulkheads were spaced about 1.75” apart, or approximately every fifth frame outlined on the plans. Right now, all are the same width, but I will cut them down to follow the taper of the bow and stern, but it was easier to cut them all the same size at first to get all the notches lined up.



Of the 22 bulkheads, 14 are the same width. I cut down the three stern and five bow bulkheads to follow the contour and taper of the hull.




Here are all of the bulkheads and false keels dry fit. I will go ahead and leave the bulkheads that extend across the paddle-wheel area between the aft pontoons until the hull planking is done. This way I won’t have to worry about keeping the aft end in line and even. Once the hull planking is on it should hold everything in place and I’ll remove the center of the bulkheads and install the cross-braces.



Everything seems to be pretty straight. Doesn’t look like I have any warping to contend with on the false keels. There are a few bulkheads that will need some adjusting, but all in all things look good so far.





So this is where I am at for now. I did place my order for the basswood planking and hopefully it should be here within the next few days. Right now, I am going to work on squaring up the bulkheads to the false keels and get them glued into place, then set the stringers to hold everything in line.


Oh, one last thing. As I do on all my builds, my signature. For no other reason other than I did it on my first build so I keep on doing it.



Thank you for looking.


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23 hours ago, leclaire said:

Brian, a good start. If your craftsmanship on this project is anyway near as good as your Chaperon, it will turn out great.



Thank you Bob for the kind comments. 


I am always up up for a good challenge, this build looks to be like it’s going to be just that. I think it’ll be fun though. 





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Hello again everyone,


I managed to make a little progress over the week, but not a whole lot. My main hold up was waiting on my hull planking and other wood products to arrive. Fortunately, they arrived just before I sat down to type this up, so I am good to go.


So here is what I was able to get done since last time.


All bulkheads were squared up and glued in place.



Then I cut out the pieces that will form the back side of the center hull, just in front of the paddle wheel. Not sure of what you would call this section, but it is where the rear pontoons begin. These will provide a mounting brace for the planking that curves up from the bottom of the hull.





Planking this rounded section of the hull. I had to give each of these planks a slight taper on the insides so they would fit together nice and snug. 



All the planks in place. I see now that I may need to up my magnification on my glasses. Some of my nail holes aren't all in line with each other. Thankfully this will be on the bottom and not seen. 



Next I printed out the Hurricane Deck plans and pinned them in place to use as a guide to help true up all of the bulkheads and to make sure they are all the correct width.





From here I will get the bulkheads sized to the template and start putting in my filler blocks and shaping the hull. Things should move along a little better now that I have some material to work with.


That's all for now. Thank you all for looking and for all the likes.


- Brian

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  • 2 weeks later...

Hello Everyone,


It's been a little hectic over here since my last update. With the warm weather we had several of our goats give birth within a few days of each other, so time has been split between nursing kids and my build.


I did manage to make some progress on my Cairo though (along with a lot of sawdust) and her hull is finally starting to take shape.



I cut out the filler blocks for the bow and stern sections and got them all temp installed into place.



I then used my template to mark the hull outlines on top and bottom.



This is where a lot of sawdust was generated. The filler blocks were cut down and glued into place. Then they were shaped to the contour of the hull with the sander.





Next, I installed the center keel and stempost.





Next, I started planking the hull bottom on both sides of the center keel between the port and starboard keels.



I finished up with the center planking and then installed the port and starboard keels. I also installed the display mount blocks. Since this is a rather wide ship, I decided to go with four mount points to give it a better stance for stability. Not to mention that with all of this wood, this is going to be a fairly heavy model and I definitely don't want to risk any damage to it by scrimping on the display.



Once I had started the center keel hull planking, I noticed that the port and starboard false keels had developed a slight curve to them beginning just past the end of the center keel. Rather than just trust the CA to hold everything in place, I decided to drill and install trenails along the false keel to add extra support. I also temp installed a piece of 1/8" plywood between the keels to keep them straight until the bottom hull planking was done. Just to be sure that everything stays straight.





From here I will work on planking the rest of the hull bottom. As you can see from the above picture I have some of it in place on the starboard side. This week I will try to finish up on it and get it all sanded flush with the edge of the hull sides, then hopefully start planking the hull sides.


Until the next update, thank you all for looking and for all of the likes.


- Brian


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17 hours ago, Cathead said:

Four mounting points make a lot of sense, I did the same thing with Arabia. These flat, wide bottoms are perfect for that and I feel a lot better with the foursquare support. Treenailing in the false keels is a good touch, too.

Four points definitely makes sense. This will be the first time I’ve done it this way. My KotM and Chaperon are two pointed but they sit flat on their hulls and the anchor points just hold it in place. For this one I want it to sit above the base to give a better view of the unique hull design. 


16 hours ago, KeithAug said:

Fascinating subject for a model - looking forward to the next instalment.

Thank you Keith. I feel these types of ships have somewhat been forgotten in the model building world and hopefully building her will spark an interest in them. 



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This is an unusual boat Brian. Very beamy and little draught as you mentioned but also very little overall height and those slopping sides would guide waves over the ship. Was it intended for open water or just for coastal/river cruising?

You are doing a good job and indeed, this is a big boy!

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30 minutes ago, vaddoc said:

This is an unusual boat Brian. Very beamy and little draught as you mentioned but also very little overall height and those slopping sides would guide waves over the ship. Was it intended for open water or just for coastal/river cruising?

You are doing a good job and indeed, this is a big boy!



She is indeed big and unusual. Her the characteristics and her history are what draw me to build her. That, and the fact that there aren't many American Civil War Iron Clad builds out there.


These boats were pretty much built for patrolling inland rivers and bombardment of forts. They weren't designed for open water. The waves of the sea would probably swamp them in a second, given the fact that their decks were just inches above the waterline. 


The sloped sides were set up to deflect enemy fire from cannon and bullets. This is one of the reasons their opponents changed tactics against them and started lobbing cannon balls at them since the sides were the only parts that were armored. They would attack from the top and the cannon balls would penetrated the more vulnerable decks. This particular ship was actually sank by torpedo, or in modern terminology, a mine that was triggered remotely which penetrated her unarmored hull and caused her to sink in 12 minutes. Fortunately, all of the crew made it out alive.



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14 hours ago, mbp521 said:

Thank you Keith. I feel these types of ships have somewhat been forgotten in the model building world and hopefully building her will spark an interest in them. 



I think you're right about about the rare build log on these.  I think I've seen maybe 4-5 over the years.  Seems two are for museums.  One was completed and there's another one going on that hasn't had much posting of late.  

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Hello again everyone,


Time again for another update.


So things were moving along pretty smoothly. I finished planking the Starboard side of the hull bottom.



And then completed the planking of the port side bottom.



Once this was completed the ends of the planks were trimmed and sanded smooth to blend with the filler blocks.




It is at this point where I ran into my first real snag. It was while I was sanding the aft filler blocks and hull planks when I noticed that the contour of the hull didn't seem right. According to the hull plans, the flattest part of the hull bottom should follow the red line (as drawn on the plans), and this is how I built it. In looking at this view the flat bottom of the hull would stop about a half inch shorter than the bulwarks at the top of the deck. This would create a slightly curved stern-post at the back end of the false keel.




However, if you look at the elevation plans the hull side planking runs straight up and down at the stern-post and rudder. 



This is also visible on the actual ship.



So I determined that the hull bottom should curve more like the green line drawn on the plans, creating a more 90 degree angle on the false keel and stern-post.



I'm not sure if I am just misreading the plans, or if there is truly an error on them. This is my first scratch build, so I could have just totally misinterpreted the plans, but following the red line all the way around seems to line up perfectly with the hull bottom with the exception of the aft end.


So, in order to make it look right, I'm thinking I will need to extend the hull bottom out to the green line and add some more filler to get the proper contour of the hull. Please feel free to chime in if I am way off base.


...anyway, time to make some more sawdust.


Thank you for looking.


- Brian


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2 hours ago, vaddoc said:

If it wasn't for the rudders, I d say that the stern is only vertical at the midline, and gets a gradually steeper slope as it extends sideways. Maybe I am completely wrong though, difficult to orient on the photo of the plans



Those are my intentions to try and get the compound curve right.


The radius of the curve is tight going from a vertical 90° angle to an angle of about 43° angle in a short distance. I have a plan that just may work to get it corrected. I will move the hull planks to the same line as the upper deck planks (the green line on my previous post), change the angle of the last two bulkheads to compensate for the lengthened hull planks and fill the void with body filler. If I can get a nice smooth edge with a putty knife, running it along the top edge of the filler blocks and the edge of the extended hull bottom planks, the body filler should form the correct angle transitions from the stern-post to the hull sides.


This is the plan, anyway. We'll see how it works out. I'll be sure to post pictures of my progress.


- Brian

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