Saturday, July 27, 2013

WW II Shipbuilders Put Out Ships In A Week, Why Nine Months Plus For Tustumena Repairs?

The Department of Transportation put out a press release with the following headline:
Tustumena Return to Service Delayed Indefinitely,
Schedule to be Reconfigured to Meet Community Needs
The Tustumena has been in repair since November 2012.  We're four months shy of a year now.  

All this brought to mind our visit to the Rosie The Riveter National Park in Richmond, California earlier this year.  It's a Historical Park in honor of the World War II ship builders  who put together whole ships in a week or less sometimes!
From a long essay at a National Park Service site on WWII ship building practices, we learn: 
"During World War I, steel shipbuilding followed tradition, calling for riveted hulls with each vessel custom built on site, a labor intensive, relatively slow process. In 1917, for example, a typical steel vessel took 12 to 14 months from keel-laying to delivery. At the peak of production in World War II, the work could be accomplished in four to six days." (emphasis added)
 From another Park Service page: 
The Liberty Ship Robert E. Perry was assembled in less than five days as a part of a special competition among shipyards; but by 1944 it was only taking the astonishingly brief time of a little over two weeks to assemble a Liberty ship by standard methods. Henry Kaiser and his workers applied mass assembly line techniques to building the ships. This production line technique, bringing pre-made parts together, moving them into place with huge cranes and having them welded together by "Rosies" (actually "Wendy the Welders" here in the shipyards), allowed unskilled laborers to do repetitive jobs requiring relatively little training to accomplish. This not only increased the speed of construction, but also the size of the mobilization effort, and in doing so, opened up jobs to women and minorities.

I understand that regulations for the ships and for the workers were a lot less stringent in those days, but if they could build a whole ship in five days, they ought to be able to repair one in less than a year.  

Is it because this administration is lax in oversight of its contractors?  Is Seward Ship’s Drydock just not competent for a job like this?  Or that ferry service is a low priority?  Or perhaps maintenance was delayed so long that there were lots of unexpected problems as the Fairbanks News Miner reported earlier this year:
"The 50-year-old ship went in for maintenance in November, and it turned out to be in worse shape than thought. It will now be in the shipyard until June, the Kodiak Daily Mirror reported. "

I'm sure there are other possibilities and probably more than just one applies.

I'm using the WW II shipbuilding times just to give this situation some perspective.  If the right people really cared, this could have been done a long time ago.  Meanwhile the people out on the Aleutian Chain are still waiting for their ferry service. 


  1. <>

    Hi, Steve,

    Assuming you already know the above is a little hyperbolic, and that we both understand that I have no need to apologize for the DOT or Seward Ship, let me help with this conundrum:

    First, there were about 90,000 people working at the Richmond Yard, roughly 30 times the entire population of Seward. --and another 20,000 across the bay at Marinship.

    The Liberty Ships were built to last only briefly, sacrificing quality to quantity wherever possible. When the war ended, nearly all went directly to wet storage or the breaker's yard. As far as I know there are only two museum pieces left of the thousands built which are sustained at enormous expense by charities and operated once a year or so. It would be unthinkable that one of them would be in regular daily service after 50 years, as is the "Trusty Tusty."

    The ships were built in modular sections, which made it possible to have huge workforces working simultaneously and _assembled_ in a couple of weeks, not the same as _constructed_. The modules were welded rather than riveted, which was another revolutionary expedient which lead to a number of catastrophic structural failures; it is not for nothing that these vessels were called "Kaiser Coffins."

    There is another excellent museum associated with the Corps of Engineers' Bay Model in Sausalito where they built the much superior Victory Ships and T-2 tankers, which did last long enough to see some postwar service.

    BTW, you are still welcome to visit us anytime you are "outside'.

    Bill Butler
    Ashland, Oregon

  2. Hey Bill, good to hear from you. I'm not expecting them to repair the ferry in five days, but I think it's good to remember what can be done if people really want it to happen.

    Would love to drop by Ashland, but for the time being our away time is going to be spent with my mom and kids.


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