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Building the Classic Warships
1/350th Scale

USS Salem
John R. Sheridan

I live near the USS Salem (CA-139) ship museum, one of the finest on the US East Coast. The Salem is currently berthed in Quincy, Massachusetts at the former Fore River Shipyard, less than 1000 feet from where she was built. I do volunteer work onboard the Salem, mainly in the museum’s model shop repairing and maintaining ship model exhibits.

I had long desired a kit of either the USS Salem or her sister ships, USS Des Moines (CA-134) and USS Newport News (CA-148). Through the efforts of John Frohock, model curator of the USS Salem, and Steve Wiper of Classic Warships, my wish for a USS Salem model has become granted.

The Model
The USS Salem came packaged in the usual long cardboard container with the major pieces packed in bubble wrap. The smaller resin pieces and the metal parts were each packaged in a cardboard boxes placed at the ends of the shipping box. The 2 photo-etched frets were individually wrapped and backed with cardboard to prevent bending. The decals were placed in the same package as the photo-etched parts. A comprehensive instruction book and large foldout scale drawing of the USS Salem were also included. The kit can be built to represent any of the three Des Moines Class Heavy Cruisers up until 1959. (Editor's Note: The Warship "In-the-box" review of the Classic Warships USS Salem includes photos of all parts, etched brass and instructions.)

I started by sanding off the overpour from all resin parts. This task did not take long because there was only a small amount of resin needing removal and no flash on any of the parts. The upper and lower hull sections contained the largest amount of overpour and took the longest to cleanup and align. I used a long flat board covered with 2 different grades of sandpaper to sand the hull sections. I start with a 100-grit paper. This rapidly removes the bulk of the resin overpour. When I sand down to that point where the upper and lower hulls will meet, I flip the board over and use the 150-grit side to complete sanding. Be advised: while sanding, constantly check the fit to insure that you do not remove too much resin from the upper and lower hull sections.

I then drilled holes for the mounting screws. Steve Wiper at Classic Warships recommends using 3 evenly spaced screws to secure the model to a wooden display deck. Using 3 screws (rather than 2) will prevent future hull hogging (i.e. sagging midship). I then used the nut & bolt securing method described in the kit’s instructions.

The next major task is to mate the upper and lower hulls. I use a two-part epoxy. This gives me time to adjust fit and make corrections prior to the glue's setting. Before mating the hull halves, I spread a thin coat of filler (Mr. Microtools is my favorite) around the inside edges of the hull. When the hull halves are pressed together, the epoxy bonds them, and the filler fills the gap between the two pieces. The filler will tend to squish out the sides somewhat and I spread this excess across any remaining seam. I then use a few clamps and rubber bands to secure the hull, setting the entire assembly aside to set for a few days.

In the meantime I turned my attention to those sub-assemblies that could be constructed without being affixed to the hull. I painted and assembled the bridge parts salem_model4.jpg (41700 bytes)according to instructions; however I did not glue the finished assembly to the hull. Instead I first added all of the details to the bridge. Doing this prior to mating the bridge to the hull (and not having to manhandle the entire model) made the detailing process much easier.

Having completed the sub-assemblies, it was now time to finish the hull. I started by sanding the seam between the upper and lower hull halves. I sanded the entire seam as smooth as possible, added filler where needed, sanded again, added filler, sanded etc, etc.. The mating seam finally blended into hull and formed an invisible joint between the hull sections. The Salem was was now ready painting and detailing.

I start with the black boot topping because it’s the easiest portion of the ship to mask after the paint has been applied. I sprayed the boot topping, upper masts, and top of the smokestack Testors Model Master Black. I then masked the boot topping to a scale 48" and then applied Testors Model Master Dark Ghost Gray to the hull and all of the photo-etch and sub-assemblies requiring this color. Next I added the struts, props, rudder, and prop shafts to the lower hull; and then sprayed the entire lower hull half with Scalecoat Oxide Red. Once dry, I secured the hull to the wooden display deck. I masked the display deck with tape in order to protect the wood from accidental paint or ACC cement spillage.

salem_model8.jpg (63579 bytes)All horizontal surfaces (except the teak deck) were painted Testors Model Master Gunship Gray. This includes all gun roofs (both 5" and 8" guns) and the fore & aft metal decks on the hull and superstructure. Painting the Teak deck required special attention in order to produce a realistic wood-like surface. I started by painting the teak sections Floquil Mud. I then streaked the deck using Floquil Teak and Walnut Stains. This brought out the weathered wood decking "look" that I sought. When the deck paint dried completely, I touched-up the painted areas and proceeded to final assembly.

Final Assembly
I now added all of the smaller details such as boats, ladders, cranes, and superstructure railings to the completed hull. It is very important to add these details and superstructure before affixing major parts (such as the bridge sub-assembly or the guns) to the hull. This avoids the problem of these major sub-assemblies interfering with the addition of the smaller and more delicate details. I worked from the inside of the superstructure out to the edge of the hull, adding the delicate details as I went. The final parts to be affixed were the masts and the deck edge railings. After all of the detail and sub-assemblies were added I touched-up any areas needing it and sprayed the hull clear gloss to facilitate decal application.

Decals and Rigging
I used the 96" numbers for the forward hull and the 48" numbers on the aft hull. A couple of "E"s were applied to various gun turrets and the name SALEM applied to the stern. Two U.S. 48 star flags finished-off the decal application. After the decals set and dried, the entire model was sprayed clear flat in order to give the paint job a more realistic appearance.

It was now time for rigging. I used Dai-Riki .006mm clear fishing line in order to run the various guy wires between the masts and the superstructures. I ran the line, tied it off with a knot, and then used ACC cement to make sure the knot stayed secured. After all of the wires were added they were painted Dark Ghost Gray to match the rest of the ship.

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The Finished Model
The USS Salem took me about 50 hours from start to finish. Classic Warships did an excellent job in rendering a very accurate model of this attractive U.S. Navy warship. I highly recommend that you use the detailed line drawing included with the kit to aid in its construction. And of course one of the best references is USS Salem on display at Quincy, MA. She looks basically the same as she did in 1959. Those of you not within driving distance of the actual ship can avail yourself of the USS Salem website at and the Warship USS Salem photo tour. The information and photos on these sites should answer just about any of your detailing questions. 

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