Anyone who builds a model, even from a kit, has to have an affinity for precision, and it doesn’t hurt to have an appreciation for history. And patience.
Dr. Ron Kennedy has all of that. The proof is in his workshop.
There, a nearly 10-foot-long model of the USS Louisiana nears completion. Since he started working on it about 30 years ago, “nears” is a flexible term, but having recently retired from dentistry, Kennedy insists that it will be finished this year.
This is no kit model. Kennedy has made every single part himself, including intricate items like the small guns and ship’s wheel. He has done it despite starting without the drawings necessary to know what he was doing was correct and to scale. He has sought copies of original drawings from the National Archives and the Washington Navy Yard, a process not unlike one of Kennedy’s former duties — pulling teeth.
“Some of the drawings, I was told they don’t exist. Well, I know that they exist,” he said. “I’ve got to find somebody who’s willing to go back there and find them. It took me years before I could find somebody who would go back there and find some of these drawings that I knew were in there.”
Kennedy also has collected pictures of the old warship, and the glass negatives from which they were printed allows them to be blown up quite large without losing much detail. That has allowed him to fill in some of the gaps from being unable to find certain drawings.
The USS Louisiana — one of several naval vessels to have that name at different times — was a Connecticut class battleship launched in 1904. Its most notable moment in history was when President Theodore Roosevelt boarded it in 1906, marking the first time a sitting American president left the country. Kennedy has researched websites about Roosevelt to get his reaction.
“You can get his letters to his kids that he wrote … and he writes saying this is the greatest ship ever,” Kennedy said. “It was the best battleship we had at the time. It had just been put in the water. It was the first in its class to be put in the water. … He wrote to his kids how each gun had a different name ... and they would have contests against each other to see who was the most accurate.”
Accuracy is big in Kennedy’s workshop. One reason the project has taken so long is that he quits working on the ship when he can’t find reliable information.
The model is 1⁄48th the size of the original, and dental drills are among the equipment he employs to make things just right.
He started by using white oak to make the keel and framing, then formed the hull out of brass plates. The only other wood on the model is decking (1⁄16th inch square strips — and the ship’s boats.
To keep from being overwhelmed by how much needed to be done, Kennedy made each step a project of its own.
“So, I would take the deck guns. Each one of those, it would take me months to build,” he said. “The ship’s boats — the lifeboats, whaleboats and cutters — each one takes me a good while to build them, because I’m building them as accurately as I can. The 3-inch deck guns, I fought and fought and fought to get drawings of them. I’ve had tons of pictures, and I could scale the drawings myself from them, but unless you have a starting point and know exactly how long something is, you don’t really know how to scale it. I finally got drawings of them, and I was able to complete them.”
The USS Louisiana was sold for scrap in 1923, but the figurehead that adorned the bow is displayed at Baton Rouge’s City Park near the intersection of Magnolia Drive and Park Boulevard.
When he finishes the model, Kennedy plans to donate it to a museum.
“I enjoy doing this,” he said. “It’s a lot easier to work on this than to work on patients, and I do the same thing. I just take my time.”