Houston Alumni Tour Battleship Texas

Group Photo: (left to right): Peter Bryn '06, Adam Van Doren '08, Joel Sodowsky '96, Valerie Smyser (Joel’s friend), Beth Ferguson '05, Luke Anderson, Masumi Koster (Tom’s wife), Tom Koster '67, Bob Conachey '80, Shirley Conachey.

On Saturday afternoon, March 19th, seven Webb Alumni and four of their guests attended a tour of the Battleship Texas, BB 35, built in 1912 by Newport News Shipyard.  It was converted in the mid 1920s from coal-fired to oil-fired, and further converted in the 1940s for service in WW II.  The tour was suggested by Tom Gillette ’52, who is a volunteer docent for the ship.  

Since the ship was decommissioned in 1948, it has been berthed at the San Jacinto Battle Ground State Park, alongside the Houston Ship Channel, under the care of Texas Parks and Wildlife.  Five times a year the Park — with the assistance of volunteer docents like Tom Gillette — conducts special hard hat tours of areas not normally accessible to the general public.  One of the two engine rooms, with its 14,000 hp triple expansion reciprocating propulsion engine which had formally been open to the public, has been closed for the past two years for maintenance, but Tom Gillette arranged for a special tour of this area for the Webb group in advance of its re-opening.

Other areas of the ship visited included the inside of its No. One 14 inch gun turret, the bridge, damage control center, one main switch gear and generator area, main gun battery fire control center, main radio, one of the three boiler rooms, a powder/projectile magazine, turret loading area, and aft steering (see areas highlighted on the ship profile). 

Three generations of naval architecture/marine engineering could be seen in some of these areas: the 1910 as-built hull and propulsion equipment; the mid ‘20s conversion from coal to oil-fired boilers, and the 1940s conversion for WW II.

All of the docents were enthusiastic and well-grounded in technical knowledge, and they gave excellent presentations which were clear and interesting even to the non-naval architects in the group. The pace of the tour did not give much time for socializing, but we will try to remedy that in future events. 

The tour resulted in a $600 contribution to the ship maintenance fund, well appreciated by the docents in these hard economic times.  An ambitious but necessary plan to build a graving dock so the 100-year-old hull can be spared further corrosion has been proposed, but with all the talk of budget cuts it is likely that will be postponed.