Setting Priorities Aboard USS Kidd or
The Confessions of a Marginal Operator
Timothy C. Rizzuto
Ship's Superintendent, U.S S Kidd (DD 661)
A couple months ago, marine surveyor Joe Lombardi and I were discussing the old days m New York Harbor, and Staten Island in particular. Joe made the comment that most of the big established maritime businesses along the Arthur Kill and Kill Van Kull had pulled out long ago, and their places had been taken by, to quote Joe, "Marginal Operators."
Now I had never heard the term "marginal operator" used before, but instinctively made a joke that an historic naval ship would fit right in with them.
Somehow, I identified with the phrase, feeling this term described me, my ship, and my career. I began to reflect on what the phrase marginal operator meant, and defined it to myself as being in a business where expenses are so high compared to the potential income that there is never enough money to do everything that properly needs to be done. In other words, we survive bv cutting corners. deferring maintenance and not doing things that would normally be attended to in a properly funded environment. We never have the luxury of basing our budgets on the expenditures that we need to make. Instead, we always start with an income projection that is always much less than we need, and then try to figure how to keep the doors open on that limited amount of money.
I thus stand before you in shame, knowing you are all wiser than we, and that your institutions would never have taken on the burden of preserving an historic vessel without first making sure that you had sufficient funding to make sure your vessel will be properly maintained for future generations, and that none of you would allow yourselves to fail into the trap we on the Kidd have fallen, and wear the disgraceful label "marginal operator."
However, if there is one benefit that comes from being a marginal operator, it is that it makes one very resourceful.
Over the years, the restoration and exhibition of ex-USS Kidd (DD-661) has somehow achieved a high enough standard of preservation that others in the historic naval ship business have come to regard us as the standard that they wish to emulate. As her curator and ship's superintendent, I am uncertain how that reputation was achieved, as from where I stand, there seems to be more that doesn't get done than that which does. The topic I will address is the path we took to achieve this reputation, how we set our priorities, the compromises we had to make to get there, and a look into the future.
Running an historic ship requires the combined views of a marine surveyor with the attendant shipyard skills, a scholarly museum curator with a careful approach to conservation, and the promoter's attitude of running a successful theme park, fearful in the knowledge that if the public isn't satisfied, there is no one else to pay the bills. Trained professionals from each of these fields--the marine surveyor, the museum curator, and the promoter--bring conflicting views to historic ship preservation. Yet each also brings an element essential to the success of any memorial, and disregarding any one of the three will probably result in ultimate failure.
We begin with the ship. Here, two of the greatest enemies are time and lack of resources. Few ships in this business are able to generate a high enough level of revenue that they can afford to hire a large enough maintenance staff and afford the dry-docking charges required to truly maintain their ships in a stabilized condition. For most of us, time is the most critical variable. Our ships continue to deteriorate faster than we can maintain them. The question becomes where do we focus our restoration and preservation effort most effectively to satisfy our needs: the needs of our marine surveyor who worries about the safety and structural integrity of the ship, the curator who worries about conserving and documenting in original fabric, and the promoter who just wants a clean, exciting exhibit that will enable the paying customers to go home satisfied.
For Kidd, the answer has been to satisfy the promoter first, followed by the marine surveyor, leaving the poor curator to grab what's left.
We recognize that we exist as an entity only so long as people are willing to buy tickets. The major decisions that have affected the Kidd have always been mostly economic. The decision to bring her to Baton Rouge came about when the head of the Convention and Visitor's Bureau suggested to Congressman Henson Moore that a museum ship would help stimulate downtown economic development. The unique cradle that enables the ship to dry-dock herself was not the brainchild of a naval architect determined to ensure the long-term hull preservation of the ship. It was a newspaper cartoonist's idea to get around the prohibitive cost of building a 300-foot pier out into deep water. The goal of restoring the ship to her VJ Day 1945 configuration was a result of the fact that, structurally, she had been altered little since August of 1945. Had she received a tripod mast, or the 3-inch gun modification, costs would have been prohibitive. It would have been really nice historically to convert her back to her 1944 ten torpedo tube, five twin 40 mm gun rig, but again, that was cost prohibitive. Economics dictated that we settle for her VJ Day 1945 rig.
Economic compromise will always be a factor in the historic ship business, and a major factor in setting priorities.
When Kidd arrived in Baton Rouge in May of 1982. the promoters gave thought as to how to exhibit the ship in a way that would make her unique and distinctive from the other forty-odd historic naval ships displayed around the country. The unique docking system where the underwaterbody was visible for six months of the year was a start. The decision to follow a faithful 1945 restoration was an important addition. A third less obvious factor was our philosophy about interpretation and display. Our immediate competition were the two giants to the east and west of us--the battleships Alabama and Texas. We knew we could never compete with them for size, firepower, and sheer awe. One of our most telling comments when the ship was first towed upriver was the observer who remarked. "How come our battleship isn't as big as Alabama's battleship?" Right then, we knew we needed a fresh approach.
The approach was to focus on detail and authenticity. To detail the exhibit to the point where the visitor thought they had stepped through a time portal into 1945. We made housekeeping and painting a high priority, and left artifacts such as helmets and coffee pots around for visitors to touch and feel.
We have tried to restore the Kidd for the intelligent visitor, keeping interpretation to a minimum, and have treated the ship as an artifact. We have not cluttered the ship with a lot of signage or electronic interpretative systems. We have left her as she was, with extensive use of Navy signage and stenciling to identify equipment. Our goal for the visitor is not to give them a thorough understanding of the technical aspects of operating a destroyer but, rather, to give them the feeling of what it was truly like to live on one.
We let the Kidd speak for herself. There are no graphics to describe the living conditions when 300 sailors are packed into living spaces with one-sixth the space per man they would have had in a penitentiary ashore. Aboard the Kidd visitors are routed through the six berthing spaces rigged with the 300 bunks, with vent fans blowing ineffectively in the 100-degree-plus heat of the Louisiana summer. Visitors are allowed to figure out for themselves what it was like with a full crew aboard. They can view the wardroom mess the table set with silver and china, and then two decks down, sit on the cushionless mess benches and pick up the metal trays the crew used. No graphic can convey the feelings with which the visitor goes away. Thus, detailed spaces such as the wardroom, galley, CIC, and sickbay, which are set up with all the gear that the ship would have had in service, play an important role in this interpretation.
There is minimal signage. About twenty-five 8x10 placards are displayed in the compartment check-off frames around the ship. However, we count more heavily on our brochure and our staff to interpret the ship. School groups are always led by a tour guide. Visitors are greeted at the quarterdeck by a ticket taker who stands ready to answer questions, and maintenance personnel are told that care of the visitor is a priority.
Does this approach work? We are convinced that it does. After viewing all of the guns, torpedoes, electronics, and machinery packed in the Kidd"s hull, the most common comment our visitors have is simply, "How did those men live like that?" When we hear this, we know we are succeeding, and the promoter is satisfied. He has a clean, uniquely detailed product he can promote that people will say good things about and bring in enough money to pay the immediate bills.
Meanwhile, the maintenance superintendent frets because while the directors have chosen to market a clean, magnificently restored ship, nobody seems to worry about the bilges rusting out. He and the promoter have many common goals. The ship is clean, to be sure, and well painted. On Kidd the decision was originally made to sandblast the hull and superstructure, and paint with $45.00 a gallon Carboline epoxy, giving the ship a like-new appearance. Now, the topsides are repainted every two years with cheaper and easier-to-use silicon alkyd. The light coat of haze gray that is sprayed on topside every two years, has prevented the thick paint build-up that accompanies the repainting of most other ships. However, there is more ship inside than out. and the ten to fourteen year interior repainting cycle seems just too long to really keep her interior looking fresh. It would be nice to have a compartment cleaner who can get into the fifty -odd display compartments on a regular rotating basis to do detailed clearing, but this never seems to happen. Finally, there is the inner skin of the hull. What is happening in all of those tanks and voids that one does not have the manpower to open and inspect? The ship's superintendent can see the engineering space and shaft alley bilges, and doesn't like what is happening, but he knows he can't pull his painter off the public areas to start working on the inner shell plating. It is an area that must be addressed, but by whom and from where will the money come? And that's not to mention the hazardous material situation that would have to be dealt with. Well, nobody else seems much concerned about it, so he may as well let it go for the next watch.
Finally, there is the curator, viewing the ship like a large archaeological site. The curator's mission is to bring order to chaos. Every detail is significant and should be studied before being disturbed. Every artifact should be inventoried, cataloged, and cared for in a climate controlled environment. Every effort should be made to preserve the original fabric of the primary,' artifact: the ship. All repairs should be carefully researched, thought out, and documented as they are done.
What kind of museum is this where the primary artifact is displayed in the destructive natural elements? How is a large artifact best displayed and preserved? Surely the public will have a better sense of a ship is she is displayed in her natural environment, at pierside than in an artificial climate controlled building. But to leave the ship in the elements is to accept the fact that shipyard repairs will be required as she deteriorates, and original fabric will have to be replaced. Not very palatable for conservators discussing care of a primary artifact.
And what of the smaller artifacts displayed within the ship? The interior of a World War II ship is not very conductive to climate control, so any artifacts displayed will be subject to deterioration. What are your alternatives? Modify the primary artifact for climate control to protect the smaller artifacts? Or strip the ship of her small artifacts and protect them in a climate controlled stowage ashore?
And what of accountability? A warship received by a donation is chock full of what the Navy terms Title B (accountable) and Title C (expendable) equipment. I dare say, no one has a complete inventory of what they had to start. And then additional material begins to pour in as old sailors donate their seabags and the crew cannibalizes other ships for equipment. How does a curator keep track of it all? Perhaps in a new organization a registrar has a more important role than a curator.
On board Kidd a route has been taken, right or wrong, to develop a sense of priorities, yet keep the workload manageable. The collection has been divided up into two groups, accountable artifacts and non-inventoried ship's equipage. We account for all artifacts received from individual donors or the Naval Historical Center. However, funding has yet to be found to put this inventory on computer.
Ship's equipage consists of equipment salvaged from other ships through NAVSEA"s cannibalization program, DRMO, or individual donations where the donor feels the donation is disposable. This is the material that is placed throughout the ship on public display and in non-climate controlled spaces for the public to touch and feel and steal, the latter thankfully happens very rarely.
The original decision was not to air condition the Kidd because of our desire not to modify the primary artifact. As received from the Navy, the ship had three package air conditioners installed during the 1960's. In 1986, to support our expanding and very profitable overnight camping program, the decision was made to activate two of the three units and purchase a third for our largest berthing space. As time went on and the program grew, another unit was installed in compartment C-204L, another large berthing space. Again, profit and economics ruled over preservation and authenticity.
Our most sensitive documents are stored in an air conditioned 40 mm magazine on the 0 1 level midships. This gives us a good onboard archival stowage space and office for curatorial functions.
One of our most often praised exhibits is a real curator's worst nightmare. Over the years, we have received hundreds of personal artifacts from sailors who served on Kidd and her sisters. The material piled up in the storeroom, because there was no place to display it in the museum building. As the World War II generation grew older, we felt we owed it to them to get their material out on display while they were still around to appreciate it. We took an unrestored berthing compartment aboard the ship, restored it, and hung the bunks, triced up, so the character of the space was not changed. We removed the aluminum locker tops from the sixty bunk lockers and stowed them below. We then had safety glass locker tops fabricated and installed an incandescent light fixture in each locker, in effect creating sixty 2' x 2' x 1' display cases. Therein we placed historical placards from each Fletcher class destroyer and displayed the artifacts from that ship inside, putting three ships per locker. The exhibit has received an excellent response, and it links all Fletcher sailors to the Kidd, which is an important fundraising tool.
However, in the Louisiana winter, when the warm moist gulf air meets the steel deck chilled by that water from up North, you can imagine the condensation. The artifacts are regularly cleaned and checked, but it is far from an ideal environment, another compromise. One would suppose we could climate control the space, but then economics would probably dictate that it might be more valuable for overnight campers than display of artifacts.
For the director trying to manage a historic naval ship, the allocation of resources will always be difficult. Taking care of what is visible to the public must always be his top priority because without sufficient cash flow, all other points are mute. However, he should always be planning for long-term hull preservation, the answer for which appears to be seeking funding from political sources. And he must never forget that his ship is a historic artifact, and that he has a responsibility to historic preservation that requires thoughtfulness and care.
If he has different people promoting, maintaining, and conserving his ship, the director will no doubt spend a great deal of time moderating their conflicting goals. If one individual has responsibility for two or more of these areas, the conflict is reduced to an internal battle of conscience. But in looking to some of the best examples of historic preservation, it is evident that within our world of limited funding, it is possible to work a path that successfully meets everyone 5 needs.
This is a business where emotion, patriotism, and a love of our old ships overrides cold financial logic. For me, Campbell McMurray's opening talk at the Boston conference two years ago was a real eye opener. He raised the question of what will marginal operators do as our bottoms rot out, our vessels require major overhauls, and massive amounts of cash to do the work. Where will the money come from? To try to end on a positive note, I will give you my thoughts on this.
Each year, the Kidd raises approximately $40,000 from annual membership donations. Most of our members are aging destroyer veterans, nationwide, with a relatively small percentage coming from the local area.
Now we at the Kidd are attempting to create an endowment program in which we set the lofty goal of raising one million dollars to support future hull preservation. Our aim was to target foundations and corporations. In the first year, our dedicated volunteer endowment committee contacted over thirty charitable foundations in Louisiana. Their response was zero. In the meantime, the loyal old sailors have donated $37,000 to the program. This is not the group we wanted, but it remains our only real base of private support.
In a meeting with the former head of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, a man who has been picking corporate pockets for over 25 years, we asked him about our failure to raise corporate support for long-term hull preservation. His response was that corporations want high visibility for their donations. If Kidd was taking water, and the media was covering it, we would be much more likely to find a corporate "savior." But to anticipate a problem that will not occur for 10 or 20 years and want funds for a task as unglamorous as preserving tanks, bilges, and voids, nobody is interested. We have enough trouble getting our own directors excited about making such expenditures. The mentality usually is "my watch will be over by the time this gets to be a problem."
Each year the city of Baton Rouge gives Kidd her only governmental support in the form of a $126,000 operating subsidy. Our director, Maury Drummond, understands the importance of making friends with politicians and got the grant increased from the initial $25,000, based on the economic benefit the Kidd has brought to Baton Rouge, primarily in the form of naval reunion groups benefitting the hotels, restaurants, shops, and the eight percent sales tax.
It appears to me that the question of providing the funding necessary for the long-term survival of the Historic Fleet be answered on a ship by ship basis at the local governmental, city, county, and state levels. When the time comes to find the money for hull preservation, our local governments will probably be the key in making the decision on whether we survive or not. It will be based on the perceived public support for the vessel and its economic benefit to the community. Any effort to bring in federal money will need support from your local politicians.
The size of your community will play a factor. Baton Rouge, at over 400,000, is small enough that the Kidd s a significant attraction, but large enough to be able to subsidize us. We would never be able to claim the same kind of economic impact in New York, Houston, or Miami.
Thus, for the marginal operator, each ship's future survival depends upon building a loyal base at home now. Set as a priority making your ship a part of the community by involvement in community activities such as festivals, blood drives, reenactments, and special events, Make sure your newsletter is circulated to local politicians and business leaders to make them aware that your ship is an important economic asset to the community.
Work now to develop these ties, and one day you may be able to rise above the label "marginal operator."