Battleship Alabama, and More

We actually passed the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park on our way to last night’s overnight stop, but it was well worth backtracking seven miles to take a look. Back when I was in Cub Scouts, we spent an overnight on the USS Massachusetts. I remember doing it but don’t have a lot of clear memories from that long ago. I also hadn’t developed the love of history that I have now. So it was well worth taking a look at another battleship.

That’s not all the park had, though. You drive right past a B-52 on the way to the parking lot. It’s no Pima Air and Space Museum, but there are plenty of land, air, and sea military vehicles to check out. I was particularly impressed to see this display of a P-51 Mustang of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African American fighter pilots. Racism was alive and well during World War II, but these pilots proved themselves to be among the best in the air. White bomber pilots would eventually become happy to see their distinctive red-tailed P-51s escorting them, knowing they were in good hands. Seeing a display like this in the south makes it even better.

The USS Drum submarine was also on display. I’ve visited the USS Albacore in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, but that was a research submarine. The Drum saw plenty of action in World War II.

You enter in the front and pop out in the back, so you get to walk through pretty much the whole submarine. Officer and crew quarters (even the captain’s) and all of the control rooms are open to viewing. They don’t hide anything — you get to see it all, and get a great idea of what it was like to live and serve aboard a submarine. I am seriously not cut out for this life. It’s too small, too cramped, and I’m not flexible enough to do it. I now have even more respect for those who do.

I posted a whole bunch of pictures of the inside on Instagram, so I won’t put them all here. But I’ll share a few to make a point.

Space is at an absolute premium on a submarine. Every inch of space is used, often for multiple purposes. For instance, there are bunks in the aft torpedo room. Can you imagine sharing your sleeping space with torpedoes? Aside from the weaponry, though, it’s kind of like living in a van. You use every bit of the small space you have, often for multiple purposes.

Similarly, I took even more pictures of the USS Alabama and threw them all up on Instagram. I started out on deck, and climbed up several levels to check out the various guns and such. I even made it all the way to the bridge, and the battle bridge, a well-armored area just behind the main bridge that can run the entire ship. I’m beginning to see where they got a lot of the ideas for the design of the Starship Enterprise.

This is not a view of my van that I get every day. It’s very small, just to the port… er, left side of the ship. I’ll bet mounting one of these guns on my roof would make Boston drivers think twice about cutting me off in traffic.

I contorted myself inside one of these many “small” cannons all over the deck. It was much easier 40 years ago when I was much smaller and more flexible.

There’s lots to see up top, but even more to check out down below. Different colored arrows take you on self-guided tours to see the entire ship, front to back. It’s a lot to take in, way too much to remember for a few hours on board. I don’t blame myself so much for not remembering as much from my USS Massachusetts visit. Though one thing these battleships have in common is they still have scout groups spend overnight stays on them. I saw quite a few scouts checking everything out at the same time I was. Let’s be honest, I was pretty much just a big kid checking everything out myself.

One part I appreciated was the engine room. Somehow they captured the look of a rather dirty place without it actually being dirty. It looked like you could take down the signs and fire the engines up right away. I’m sure you can’t, but it looks perfect.

Here’s something I know I didn’t get to see on the USS Massachusetts. On the right are the 16-inch shells that the big guns fired. I’ve read many places that they weigh about as much as a Volkswagen. On the left is an area where they’ve cut away a bit of the super thick armor plating and exposed the bottom of the enormous turret for all to see how it was able to work and swivel. All of this is much bigger than it looks in these pictures, which is amazing considering that while a battleship has a lot more space than a submarine, it’s still pretty cramps in many places.

Birgit watched the cats while Tom and I nerded out on this stuff all morning. We didn’t hit the road until about 1:00 PM or so.

Jenn has been telling me for months that I needed to check out a Buc-ee’s. They had the cheapest gas around, so we stopped for that. Traffic was worse than I’ve ever seen at any gas station ever. But we parked so I could pop inside and look around. This is no ordinary gas station convenience store. It’s an experience. In addition to all the convenience store items, there is a wide variety of food available, and a gift shop bigger than the one at the USS Alabama park. It was also extremely crowded, so I didn’t stick around very long. We fought our way back to the road, got separated, but with the help of my Boston driving skills I managed to eventually escape, regroup, and continue on.

We crossed the border into Florida. It felt a little weird to be back in my previous “home” state. I use quotes because although it was my legal residence I never actually lived here. It also felt good to finish crossing every southern state. That part of the Big Loop is now complete.

Our goal was Panama City. Ironically, this is where Amy was going before her plans changed and she diverted north. It was less than 200 miles from the USS Alabama, but it took over four hours to get here. Some parts of the drive along the coast were quite pleasant. Others were full of traffic, which slowed us down. It didn’t help that being right on the eastern edge of the Central Time Zone, the sun went down at about 5:30 pm, making it feel more like 9:00 pm. This will change tomorrow as we cross into Eastern time.

The last 15 or so miles was a bit stressful for me as my engine suddenly started misfiring. A quick check with my FIXD scanner (I still own it even though I don’t work for them anymore) told me that cylinder three was misfiring. I got to our overnight stop, and am hoping the van was just hot and tired from a long drive. The most likely issue, I think, is old spark plugs. I’ve put nearly 30,000 miles on them since I bought the van, and who knows how old they were then. With any luck, it’ll run fine tomorrow, and I can replace them when I get to my aunt and uncle’s place. Lister can move into the house, which means I can take off the doghouse to access the back of the engine without worrying about him getting in there or escaping. I really don’t want to have to fight him on that while attempting a parking lot repair if I don’t have to. I’ll also have a new battery for the motorcycle by then, so I can buzz around on that and take my time to fix the van properly instead of bodging a parking lot repair.

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