Thursday, October 20, 2011
Color me confused
As we began unscrewing and prying up the spongy old floors and poking around for other symptoms of dry rot, we broke out the trusty heat guns and started scraping back layers of paint. And in the myriad colors bursting out under the scrapers, we were actually able to find some interesting tidbits that might help us validate the little we know of her documented past.
The top layers of paint look like they were applied with a spatula - or some very lazy and pissed off cadets on extra duty. Thick layers of white and blue - remember this is the interior of the boat - came off easily to reveal several shades of orange and gray. These seem to have been applied with a bit more care. The orange was clearly international orange - standard color for the interior (and now exterior) of lifeboats. The gray ranged from haze gray to #20 standard deck (we have color chips to compare samples to) and sea blue (which looked gray until we heated and scraped it). Underneath everything - and we have long identified that the planking is original, save one odd replacement - when we scraped carefully down to the earliest paint we found - dun dun DUUUUUN - orange? Wait.
Lifeboats are mandated by law to be painted international orange on the portions that can be viewed from above (to help rescuers find them). But that color didn't come into use until the 1950s, soon after which it was standardized by the government. Nothing there seems to point back to 1904 - the date we've traced the boat to using its keel number. Experts confirmed that details about the interior and fittings are indicative of that period. So what's with the orange paint?
Back up the train. We scraped off international orange paint in some of the upper layers. It makes sense because the Maritime College used these boats for lifeboat training and basic rowing practice. That paint came off in sheets or flakes, and was easy to compare. The lowest level of paint was powdery and only lit up to bright orange after it was heated - before that it was a dull brown looking color. Assuming the boat did in fact date to 1904, what would Navy boats in 1904 been painted with?
I started digging through notes to find any indication that I've ever come across a record like that. I certainly don't remember any. I mean of all the things one might record, the color of paint first put on a boat isn't high up there. Excited but lost - I called our Historical Director, Vic Keranen, who told me right away.
"It's not orange, its red! Red lead!" he said, immediately. "I used to practically live in that stuff."
Of course. Red lead. Standard primer used by the Navy for decades before and after 1904. That explains quite a bit - the color, the powdery-ness, the possible date. I don't know why I get so excited over these things, but I find the 'treasure hunt' awesome - even when only a few other people on the planet care about what I uncover.
With the two floors out, the boat is very wobbly. In fact, we learned that contrary to most forms of construction, our floors and frames are NOT fastened to the keel or keelsen, but are clamped between them when assembled. Because of all this, we're only going to be removing two frames/floors/sisters at a time, replace them and refasten, before moving on. It will be a largely slow process, but it will give us time to attend to everything as we go. Once we emerge from re-framing in a couple of months, the boat will be structurally sound again and much easier to move.
This Saturday we'll be firing up the steamer and doing some sample bends with stock we planed for the purpose yesterday. In the interest of keeping the green stock as "fresh" as possible, we're waiting until the steamer is up to temperature to rip the frame stock out of it (cut it down to final dimensions). Then, we'll try our hand with some bending.
For now, I'm going back to look at more color chips. Sometimes its hard to think that I'm excited to get back to scraping old paint.