USS Wickes (1919)

Completed in July 2011.
Primarily plastic.
1/350th scale.

So I found myself in the model aisle at Hobby Lobby the other day, seriously considering purchasing a plastic model kit of a ship for 50 bucks. And then it hit me that I've fallen very far away from my original intent of "prison art". From the beginning I wanted to try and produce models and dioramas out of the cheapest possible materials, usually stuff found in the trash at work or laying around my apartment. This is the very definition of prison art, making do with what you have. I sorta forgot that my last couple of dioramas, and ended up spending close to a hundred dollars in the last month buying the fanciest paints and materials that I could find. That's something I have to quit doing, both because I'm broke and because that's not prison art.

So, I put down that plastic model kit and walked out of the store (well, I did buy a soda and some candy...). At work the next day I found an old damaged numbered flip sign made of thin, flexible plastic (free!). I've used these before on various projects, most notably the Gilyak and Maria Teresa builds, and it is easy to bend and cut.

So, what can I build with these old signs? How about an American WWI-vintage destroyer? Specifically, how about the USS Wickes, nameship of a class of WWI destroyers? The Wickes had a long career stretching into the 1940s, but I'm going to model her as she was in mid 1919, after being in service for about a year. Here is the Wickes...

What scale to make her in? That depends on the size of my plastic sheet. I've learned from experience that the best look is obtained by having a single-piece unbroken hull side, as trying to glue or tape side pieces together is a pain and it never looks right. Better to have the joints on the ends. So with the size of the signs I can make 12 inch long solid pieces, which when divided with spooky math with the 314 foot long Wickes, makes it around 1/350th scale, which is a pretty common modeling scale, coincidentally.

Plans are fairly easy to find online, as are photographs and drawings. Her class had over a hundred ships and many served into the late 1940s, so ample resource information is available. The difficulty will be in trying to make it look right in such a small scale.

First the hull. Since this is a waterline model, I need a hull-shaped solid box, essentially. Used my standard rib support design inside with formed chunks of clay for the extreme ends. The Wickes's hull sides are fairly plain, just 23 portholes per side and stern propeller guards. The rubbing strake is just below the waterline and there are strangely no anchor hawser pipes on the bow, so not too much trouble. Cut strips of plastic with portholes punched out with a hole puncher. Glued everything together and taped it up tight to let it all dry firmly overnight. The inward-sloping stern needs work, but I'll worry about that later. More gaps along the edges than I'd like, so I ran a single strand of 24 gauge brass wire along the edge as a coaming and it looks pretty good now. Tried some wire ringoles for the portholes, but they looked terrible so I sanded them off. Also tried a base coat of gray paint, but ended up sanding most of that off when ditching the ringoles. I need to find some cheap enamel paints, but no hurry on that. And that's why I decided to make the rest of the ship out of paper, it's so much easier to paint and glue and I have lots of paper laying around. Here are some in-progress pictures...

So lets get started on the deck. I'm going to start with the large structures and then do the details later. There's a bridge, a central engine house, and a large afterdeck house. All three were made with paper over little formed blocks of clay, with details added with more paper and assorted sticks and bits. Railings were cut from a piece of cross-stitch grid I bought years ago. Doors are cut out paper. Ladders are made with smaller grid, they need some work still.

This type of destroyer was known as a "four stacker" for obvious reasons. The stacks were made from rolled up paper. Details were added with string and paper. The two masts are copper wire of various thicknesses, glued together badly because I can't afford any soldering gear. The searchlight platform is plastic grid and paper. I'll add rigging later. The Wickes's deck is cluttered with assorted items and I tried to fit in as many as I could. Made the torpedo tubes out of toothpicks. Made the compass stand and after searchlight platform out of folded grid and thin paper. The boat davits are copper wire. The ventilators are paper tubes and the vent banks are grid over wood chips. The depth charge racks are also grid over wood. The guns are bits of wire and clay, and they don't look very good at all. I was going for the look of guns covered in tarps while in port, but it just came out looking like blobs. Should have spent more time on the guns, rushed them.

Once I temporarily rubber cemented it to a box for easier handling, I started painting. I want to have a well-worn ship, one that has just returned to port from sea. I started with a base coat of light gray and then washed in various darker shades. Walking decks are a medium gray and the funnel interiors are flat black. I then tried to mimic rust stains with washes and dry brushes, streaking the hull sides the best I could. In the end, the ship looks pretty rough, as intended, at the tail end of a long deployment cycle in Northern European waters at the end of WWI. Warships of the WWI to WWII era were all so boring to paint, just various shades of gray. Blah.

Ok, my plan here is to make this a small diorama, showing the ship dockside in Norfolk. To the stern I want a sliver of the quayside seawall with some stuff on there, depending on room. In the water to either side of the ship, I want a couple of dockyard lighters and small boats tied up alongside. I swung the port cranes out on purpose, to show supplies and such being loaded. The two smaller vessels, a lighter and one of the destroyer's long boats, I made from clay and paper. The largest, a water carrier, is also clay but with a lot more detail than the others. They were painted assorted browns and grays with a lesser degree of weathering and rust than the Wickes.

My diorama base is a piece of scrap wood I found at work the other day (free!). When the Wickes is centered there's just an inch or so on the "stern" edge for the quay. It will be more of a seawall than anything. Made it out of a cut up cardboard box (free!) covered in paper (free!) with some shaved toothpicks (free!) for effect. I then painted the whole thing to what I imagine a US port in 1919 would look like, a dirty oil-stained coffee brown. Built up water sides of diorama base some thin disposable wood paint stirring sticks from the Wal-Mart hardware department (free!). Painted the bottom several shades of dark murky blue. I then layered on the acrylic caulk and smoothed it down. As it was drying I placed all the elements, cussing myself that I didn't account for the overspill as I pushed the elements down into the caulk (I often work faster than I should). Note to readers, do not put your drying caulk in the hot sun, it expands, pushing out on your thin wooden edges and causing you to cuss like a drunken sailor when you have to fix everything...

The last steps are the details and final painting ticks. Rigged the ship as best I could with black sewing thread, also rigged the water carrier alongside. Added anchor chains from the bow into the water from an old jewelry chain. Added a wire rope from the small open boat to the dock. Added to the dock some spools and crates from clay and a wheeled wagon from clay and wire, really just to fill in the dead space. Was going to add some 1/350th scale people, but they'd be 4mm tall and I couldn't figure a cheap way to make them.

And with that, she's done. As was my intent, I used only recycled materials and stuff I already had around the apartment, so I spent absolutely nothing on this project (yah baby!). Total build time was four days (yah baby!).

Here are the final pictures of the USS Wickes...

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