Despite obstacles, Orland man finds ‘therapeutic’ drive to restore historic 14-foot brass model Navy cruiser
TRENTON, Maine — It may not be a billion-dollar project for a full-fledged warship, but for one Navy veteran from Orland, a four-year project at a local metal fabrication shop has been no less important.
Bart Hutchins, who served on the USS Albany from 1968 to 1970, has spearheaded the restoration of a 14-foot-long brass model of a CG class cruiser at Metal Magic on Route 3. After being painstakingly restored over the past four years, the small vessel is being shipped out Friday to be displayed at the Albany Heritage Area Visitors’ Center in Albany, N.Y., the namesake city for the CG class vessel on which Hutchins served.
But it is more than just a model. Built in the 1950s, it was used by the Navy as a test platform for radio communications, according to Hutchins. It has small antennae on it that were used to determine whether the model’s superstructure, built to resemble that of a full-sized CG class cruiser, would interfere with the signals. Even though the model is only 14 feet long (compared with 673 feet for the original USS Albany), the signals were affected by the model’s surface and shape in the same way as they were on the full-sized ships.
“By moving each of the antennas on the model a quarter of an inch, that’s the equivalent of moving them a foot on the vessel,” Hutchins said. “There were signals bounced from a test facility to and from these antennas to achieve the highest efficiency possible.”
Hutchins said only three CG class cruisers were built. Besides the USS Albany, he said, they included the USS Chicago and USS Columbus. The Albany outlasted the other two before being decommissioned in 1980.
Hutchins said the model was no longer in use by the Navy, but the service still had it in outdoor storage in San Diego. Hutchins, a past president of the USS Albany Association, learned of the model from an email from another Navy veteran and then contacted the Navy to see if he could restore it. After some discussion with Navy officials, they agreed to give it on loan to Hutchins for restoration and display.
Hutchins said there is only one other similar Navy model on display that he is aware of. A model that served as a test platform for the USS Saint Paul is on display on the battleship USS Massachusetts in Fall River, Mass., he said.
The wooden skeleton of the CG model restored in Trenton was in decent shape, according to Hutchins, but the brass had to be cleaned, some pieces and screws replaced, and other parts that were missing researched and rebuilt. Ed Libitzki, who owns and operates Metal Magic, has donated a lot of time and materials in restoring the model, but Hutchins, an electrician by trade, also got recruited to lend a hand. Hutchins fabricated some pieces himself, consulting with other Albany veterans on what the ship’s radar arrays and other components looked like.
He estimated that about $25,000 worth of time and materials has been spent on the restoration work.
“There’s been a lot of hard work on both sides,” Hutchins said. “Without Ed and his crew, it couldn’t possibly look like this. We are both very pleased with the results.”
The project had delays, however. Libitzki was sidelined for a time by a relative’s car accident, and Hutchins had both personal health issues and his daughter’s cancer to contend with. His daughter passed away last fall, but since then he has plunged back into the project.
“It’s been very therapeutic,” Hutchins said. “To see the results, I know my daughter would be thrilled.”
Hutchins said that he helped found the USS Albany Association in 1990 and, in 2010, he was given a meritorious life membership to the veterans’ group.
“Quite honestly, I didn’t feel worthy at the time,” Hutchins said of the honor, adding that he feels more worthy now. “I’m very proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish on this model. It’s a part of our history. It a shame to see [the models] go by the wayside.”