Dick Brastin’s Model

On February 25, 1999, Brastin donned his old sailor’s cap and posed; for a picture beside his 6 foot, 2 inch recreation, which from even a distance cannot be mistaken for a mere balsa wood kit.

“I can’t believe it’s done,” said Brastin, who still can’t keep his fingers from fiddling with the miniature destroyer, adjusting gun positions and depth charges demonstrating how a canvas cover was set over an open hatch to protect it from sea spray.

The detail is startling. Fire hoses lie coiled on the deck life rafts complete with tiny oars hang alongside side rails. The anchor works, hatches open and close and, thanks to the motor from an old electric clock, the radar dish atop the mast makes a slow sweep across an imaginary sea.

One reason the project took so long Brastin said, is that he was never satisfied with the model’s realism “I kept finding different things to add, like firehoses or ladders. I must’ve drilled a million holes.” More than once, he said, he dismantled entire sections and started over again.

The USS Brownson model Brastin created is based on photographs and sketches he made while aboard ship. He still has the drawings, seven yellowed pages torn from a ruled notebook that, when laid end to end, depict the destroyer. Brastin eventually ordered blueprints from the U.S. Navy though, to ensure his model was built to scale.

The model’s hull is fashioned from 2-inch thick wood planks. Most deck fixtures, from hatches and mast to the bridge, were created with plywood. Tiny wires, most no thicker than a strand of hair, represent siderails. Tight mesh or gauze netting was used to reconstruct life rafts and the large radar dish at the top of the mast.

Almost everything on the model functions. The anchor drops from a jewelry chain. Guns retract against tiny springs built into their housing. Hatches lift to reveal the boatswain’s locker in the bow and in the stern, and a portion of the deck lifts up over miniature replicas of the very bunks in which Brastin and some 300 other sailors slept.

In one bunk, Brastin placed the handmade, hand painted figure of a man sleeping. A few rows over, another seaman sits on the edge of a bottom bunk, writing on a tablet no larger than a pea. That Brastin said, represents him: A friend took a photograph of him sitting in that very position.

The seamen were handmade, using slivers of wood and painted with the slimmest of brushes and a boatload of patience. A few figures are seated behind guns, or standing on deck.

Brastin is at a loss as to why he bothered with so many details. ‘When I was a kid, I used to build models” he said, though he added that before the Brownson he had never built one from scratch.

The rest of the Brownson model may function just fine but the tiny torpedoes are which nixes one idea for Brastin’s next project … “My nephew thinks I should build a model of a submarine to attack.

Article contributed by Larry Gordon

Dick Brastin passed away in October of 2005. At the present time, we do not know what the family intends to do with the model.

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