Archivist’s Attic – The Wonder Arches

Curveballs – The Wonder Arches

Sometimes instructions are just a suggestion, in the case of the Seabees often time’s items will be designed or manufactured with ideal conditions in mind. That’s great, as long as the items are always being produced in the same way. Life loves to throw us curveballs and in the case of the Seabees, curveballs are a way of life.

The Wonder Arches were originally designed for use as unground passage ways and storage areas in Antarctica. They worked so well that the Seabees decided to bring them over with them to Vietnam where they came into widespread use as aircraft shelters. Although the structures themselves are standardized, the locations are not, creating curveballs of problems. It became evident that the manufacturer’s instructions were only guidelines and the trial-and-error method to devise a workable construction procedure for a specific job site and climate conditions were necessary. Some of the more interesting methods used involved changing the directions for the lift, ladders and pins!

Lift – Less is More

The manufacturer suggested that three two-foot arches be assembled on the ground and lifted into place by a crane. However it was found by the Seabees that fabrication of two-arch assemblies was more advantageous sense the panels can be handled by two men with relative ease for ground assembly of the second arch to the first.

Not only is manual manipulation quicker and easier, but the ground fabrication of the second arch to the first arch is much easier that the fabricating the third arch to the second arch. This is due to the weight of the third arch on the first and second arches causing them to bend somewhat, making the hole alignment much more difficult. Even more important is the fact that the two-arch assembly, when being erected, is little more flexible than the three arch assembly thus facilitating erection and preliminary bolt-up

Seabees with NMCB-121 pour concrete to form a protective cover for a Wonder Arch aircraft shelter for Marine Aircraft Group 16, located in Military Region I, Republic of Vietnam.

Seabees with NMCB-121 pour concrete to form a protective cover for a Wonder Arch aircraft shelter for Marine Aircraft Group 16, located in Military Region I, Republic of Vietnam.

Ladders – Don’t Swing on the Ropes

In order to get up to the arches to finish bolting them together rope ladders were provided by the manufacturer and were intended to be used by the man on top of the erected arch, working with another man inside the arch on a scaffold. However, the curveball though was the climate and heavy rain which led to rapid deterioration of the rope ladders and prompted a search for more effective methods. Several types of ladders and scaffolding were tried, but finally a system using a block and tackle with a boatswain’s chair proved to be the most successful.

By fairly simple maneuvering the crewmen were able to reach four or five sections before having to move the suspension system, thus saving considerable time and resources.

A 3-rib section of a steel "Wonder Arch" aircraft shelter is being lifter into position on a parking apron at the DaNang Air Base. Seabees are from NMCB-3.

A 3-rib section of a steel “Wonder Arch” aircraft shelter is being lifter into position on a parking apron at the DaNang Air Base. Seabees are from NMCB-3.

Pins – Make it Yourself

After the arches are up and there is a system in place to work from all that’s left to do is put the pins in place to hold the whole thing together! The manufactures packaged the steel panels in a way to prevent damage. The curveball was by the time the panels got to the Seabees a majority of the panels were bent and deformed. The pre-drilled holes in the panels and arches seldom lined up without liberal use of drift pins, supplied by the manufacturer to force them into alignment. The stresses placed upon the pins in this manner caused them to bend and crack prematurely.

To combat this problem the Seabees themselves, manufactured replacement pins out of stainless steel, which proved to be more durable. Saving the structures and enabling the arches to finally be bolted together.

The Seabee’s ultimately found that by using the manufactures instruction manual primarily as a guide, they could take those curveballs that were pitched to them, put a little elbow grease into them, change the direction and hit them out of the ballpark.

Now that’s using Seabee ingenuity to hit a home run!

150225-N-JU810-001Meet the Archivist: Ingi House
Ingi House is originally from Kansas where she got her B.A. in history from K.U. and M.L.S. from E.S.U. After working for the Dole Institute of Politics she moved to the East Coast.  In D.C. she worked at the National Archives and Records Admiration and then at the Defense Acquisition University where she became a Certified Archivist. Her continued enjoyment of military history lead her to switching coasts and coming to work for the Seabee Museum where she is collection manager for the archives and records manager liaison.

Archivist’s Attic – Processing Archives

What a mess, you say to yourself, as you sit around scattered boxes of papers. How am I ever going to find anything in here!?! If you’re lucky, or unlucky as some archivist will tell you, you only have to ask yourself that question a few times in your life. But if you work in a library, archive or museum you might be asking that question to yourself multiple times a day.

Here at the Seabee Museum we get donations and collections every day that need to be assessed, arranged, described and preserved so that we can provide useful information to the visitors and researchers that visit every day.

Processing is the key that unlocks the hidden stories in and among the boxes and folders full of paper. Every collection that comes in to the Seabee Museum has to be processed before it can be put on display or used by researchers and the staff. But how does processing work?

Assessing

The collection first needs to be looked at, this is called assessing. This the time that the collection is looked at to see what exactly it is made up of. Typical questions archivists ask during the phase are what is the importance of the collection? Who or what is the collection about? Are there any significant issues such as major papers or items that make up the base of the collection? Basically the archivist gets to root around, get dirty and get nosey with the collection. After all, if you don’t know what is in a collection how are you going to tell other people what’s in it?

Cart full of incoming collections

Arranging

After the archivist has determined what the collection is about then need to start putting it together in an order that makes sense, this is called arranging. Once an archivist knows what they are dealing with they need to make sure that the puzzle pieces of the collection matchup. For example, if the collection is made up of orders from the same location with varying time frames, then organizing the collection by date would give a better description of the location over time. That way if a researcher is looking for what happened in a location at a specific time they can easily pinpoint what they need. Basically the archivist is looking for the most logical way that the collection makes sense so that other people can find information. After all, there is no use in arranging a collection by the color of the paper, if the color doesn’t have any significance and it’s all white and blue.

Special collection library

Describing

Once the archivist has determined how the collection will be arranged then they need to actually put down in writing what the collection is about so that others can find the information, this is called describing. After an archivist has arranged a collection then they need to figure out a way to convey that information to others. The most effective way of doing this is to create a ‘finding aid’. A finding aid is simply a written description of the collection using arrangement. By using what the collection is arranged by an archivist will go through the collection and write a small descriptive sentence on what each piece is about. Most archives, including the Seabee Museum, describe collections on a folder level, this means that the finding aid will include folder titles such as, Monthly Reports or Training Manuals. There are usually several things within a folder but not everything is described that is in the folder. It’s a bit like Christmas then when you do open a folder and can see everything in it!

Preserving

After all the assessing and describing is done what work is left for the archivist to do?!? Well finding aids and photographs are wonderful but it doesn’t do anyone any good if all that information is lost in a few months or years. Once the archivist has made the collection easy to find they need to make sure the collection is going to be around for generations to come. Making sure items will last for years is called preserving and there are many ways an archivist does this. For example at the Seabee Museum we put our documents in archival safe folders, boxes and specially designed plastic sleeves called Mylar. We also make sure that the storage area that holds all the collections are kept at the correct temperature and humidity. In addition we take preventive measures such as digitizing as many of the collections as we can so that the documents are not handled as much, preventing destruction.

Cart of property cards waiting to be processed.

150225-N-JU810-001Meet the Archivist: Ingi House
Ingi House is originally from Kansas where she got her B.A. in history from K.U. and M.L.S. from E.S.U. After working for the Dole Institute of Politics she moved to the East Coast.  In D.C. she worked at the National Archives and Records Admiration and then at the Defense Acquisition University where she became a Certified Archivist. Her continued enjoyment of military history lead her to switching coasts and coming to work for the Seabee Museum where she is collection manager for the archives and records manager liaison

Curator’s Corner- Treasures from the Seabee Art Collection

Yugoslavian art reliefs of man and woman

Yugoslavian art reliefs of man and woman in traditional clothing donated to the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum

The U.S. Navy Seabee Museum is proud to collect and exhibit treasures from around the world that Seabees have accumulated during their time in service. Many of these objects are souvenirs or gifts handcrafted by locals all around the world, some extremely unique.

Two of these artifacts in the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum collection come with the story of the Seabees working abroad with the U.S. Department of State. The Seabees from the Naval Support Unit provide support to the Department of State security program on a continuing basis.

Seabees perform construction, renovation, maintenance, and repair work in the secure spaces at U.S. embassies around the world. Most of these tours of duty are 3-4 year assignments.

In the late 1960’s Senior Chief Builder (BUCS) Theodore R. Roff, Jr. was a Seabee assigned to work with the State Department in the city of Belgrade, Serbia, formally part of the Yugoslavia. During his time in Belgrade he purchased two magnificently handcrafted copper reliefs, malleable metal shaped by hammering from the reverse side to create a raised design. These reliefs are solid copper and were crafted by an art teacher who taught at a local school in Belgrade. The artist’s name has been long since forgotten by its original owner.

These copper reliefs portray a man and a woman, both in traditional dress of Yugoslavia. It was not uncommon to see rural women in traditional working clothing all the way up to the end of the first President of Yugoslavia, Josip Tito, term in office in 1980. Today, these traditional clothes are mostly worn by elders in rural areas, on national holidays, and as part of celebrations, tourist attractions, and displayed in museums.

The woman in the relief is depicted collecting grapes. This may speak to Yugoslavia’s rich history of viticulture and production of wine, dating back to before Ancient Roman times. The former country of Yugoslavia was among the top wine producing countries before it was dissolved into 6 countries in the early 1990’s.

The man is shown playing a traditional Serbian flute known as a frula. The frula is a small wooden flute with six holes and was played by shepherds while tending their flocks. It was also used for leisure times, traditional, or to accompany the kolo (circle dance).

Seabees don’t only bring home unique collectibles from their time abroad; they bring home stories of different cultures and traditions to be shared.

Visit the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum to see the many other pieces of art and gifts Seabees have donated.

Robyn King, curator

Robyn King, curator

Meet the Curator: Robyn King earned her Bachelors in History and Anthropology from the State University of New York at Oneonta. She has experience working at State Museums, Historic Sites, the National Parks Service, and most recently the Navy. She’s an expert in collection management, and has worked closely with both natural and cultural collections. Robyn loves all museums and sharing her love of history. When’s she not working, she’s volunteering her time with the National Peace Corps Association, as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from West Africa.