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Tom Flanary

Tom Flanary

Tom Flanary is a Director on the Board of Directors, and maintains the website for GCRM. He has been involved in GCRM as a volunteer since 2011, and has been a director since 2012. If you have comments, concerns, or questions, please contact him directly at

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"Jim Crow" Combination Baggage/Coach #259

Built in 1913 for the Seaboard Airline Railway (SAL), this type of car was often referred to as a "combine." This car was operated over the entire Seaboard system. Numbered the "259," it was routinely found in service during 1956 and 1957, between Tampa and Venice, Florida, providing connecting service to the SAL New York-Tampa / St. Petersburg streamliner, "The Silver Star." In 1959, the 259 was retired from service and donated to the Gold Coast Railroad Museum and has now been restored after being damaged by Hurricane Andrew.

This car is unique in that it is one of the few remaining examples of a "Jim Crow" car. In the segregated South, the SAL was mandated by law to provide "separate but equal" facilities. The coach section of the car is divided into two, identical sections; one for white patrons and one for blacks. A small, "flip-over" sign, mounted on either side of the bulkhead separating the two sections, reads "WHITE" and "COLORED." In the convoluted thinking of the times, this sign made the accommodations of the car suitable for white passengers. Few realized that at the end of a run, the car was not turned around; only the signs were flipped over. The seats that were "good enough for blacks" now became perfectly acceptable for whites.

The baggage compartment is located at one end of the car with a sliding door on each side. Typically, the car's location in a consist was to the rear of the locomotive/tender or rearward of the last baggage car, as there was no provision for passengers to walk through the baggage area of the car. The baggage area is relatively small, as it was generally used only for the baggage of the "Colored passengers" or for the few items moved between stations on lightly traveled routes.

The term "Jim Crow" comes from a series of laws that enforced racial segregation in the Southern U.S. between the end of the Reconstruction Period (1877) and the beginning of a strong civil rights movement (approximately 1950.) "Jim Crow" was the name of a minstrel routine (actually "Jump Jim Crow") performed by its author, Thomas Dartmouth ("Daddy") Rice, as well as many imitators, beginning about 1828. The term "Jim Crow" came to be a derogatory epithet for Negroes and a proper noun designating their segregated life.

By the end of the 1870's, Southern state legislatures passed laws requiring the segregation of whites from "persons of color" in public transportation facilities as well as almost all other types of public accommodations. In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court declared segregation in public schools unconstitutional and in later decisions, ruled similarly on other types of "Jim Crow" legislation.


Type: Combine (Combination) Baggage/Coach.
Built: 1913.
Status: Open, On display.
Acquisition Date: Donated by SAL In 1959.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012 17:20

Passenger Cars

Passenger Cars and Cars Used in Passenger Service

The Gold Coast Railroad Museum has a wide variety of passenger cars on display, and in operation, from a variety of manufacturers, and eras.

Some items have links to new pages with further details and/or images about the items. This list is not all inclusive and is presented as a sample of what you will see visiting the Museum.

Conventional - Non Streamlined

Southern Railway (SR) Passenger Baggage-Express Car #359
Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad (C&O) Passenger Baggage Car
Seaboard Air Line Railroad (SAL) Passenger Combination Baggage-Coach #259
Florida East Coast Railway (FEC) Passenger Coach #136
Florida East Coast Railway (FEC) Maintenance of Way Car Renumbered as #1996
U.S. Army Hospital Car #89436
Presidential Pullman Passenger Car "Ferdinand Magellan" U.S. Car #1
Port Huron and Detroit Business Car "Castleblayney"
Metro North, Long Island Passenger - High Volume Commuter Car

Streamlined - Stainless Steel

Western Pacific "California Zephyr" Vista-Dome Car "Silver Crescent"
Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad (CB&Q) Sleeping Car "Silver Vale"
Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad (CB&Q) Slumbercoach "Silver Slumber"
Seaboard Air Line Coach/Tavern Car #6300
Southern Pacific Railroad (SP) Sleeping Car
Seaboard Air Line Railroad (SAL) Dining Car
Florida East Coast Railway (FEC) Coach "Belle Glade"
Atlantic Coast Line Railroad (ACL) Observation Bar Lounge #254
Western Pacific "California Zephyr" Baggage Car "Silver Stag"
Ex-Seaboard Air Line (SAL) Sleeper-Lounge Car "Silver Palm"

Tuesday, 12 June 2012 17:18

Atlantic Coast Line No. 1804

EMD GP-7 - Atlantic Coast Line No. 1804

acl1804clThe Electro Motive Division GP-7 ACL #1804 currently serves as the workhorse of the Museum. This locomotive is operational and is regularly used to position Museum rail
equipment and can often be seen giving Cab Rides on the property on weekends.

This Diesel-Electric locomotive was produced for the U.S. Army Transportation Corps, and then served on the Alaska Railroad as #1834 for most of its working life, later renumbered to #1804. After working in Alaska for many years, it was sold to the Santa Clarita Railway where it was used in the filming of Under Siege 2: Dark Territory with Steven Segal as the lead locomotive on the train around which the film was centered.

The locomotive was built by the Electro Motive Division of General Motors, used in both freight and passenger service, and has been painted in the colors of the former Atlantic Coast Line.







Status: On Display, Restored, Operational.

Acquisition Date: December 2002.

Built: 1951.

Length: 56 feet.

Horsepower: 1600.

Engine: One (1) V-16 cylinder two-stroke diesel, 16 feet long, 7 feet tall, 6 feet wide, weighing 26,000 pounds.

RPM Range: 150 to 820.

Cubic Inch Displacement: 9,072 (567 c.i. per cylinder).

Weight: 245,000 pounds.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012 17:16

NASA No. 1

ALCO S-2 - NASA No. 1

This locomotive was built by the American Locomotive Company (ALCO) in 1941. It was originally built for the Department of Defense and was the first locomotive placed in service by the National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA) at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. It was used to move spacecraft components and chemical fuels on the Space Center property.

This locomotive is operational and is occassionally used to position Museum rail equipment and can sometimes be seen giving Cab Rides on the property on weekends. The locomotive sustained damage to its windows during Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Volunteers are currently working to restore the cab interior woodwork.


Status: On Display, Unrestored, Operational.

Built: 1941.

Horsepower: 1000.

Engine: One (1) 6 cylinder four-stroke diesel.

Weight: 230,000 pounds

Tuesday, 12 June 2012 17:15

Crown Locomotive 24" gauge 4-4-0 #3

East Swamp & Gatorville, Steam "Link Train" 4-4-0 No. 3

Crown Locomotive 24" Gauge

The East Swamp & Gatorville (ES&G) two-foot steam train consists of a Crown locomotive and tender (currently operated on compressed air), two open passenger cars, an enclosed Parlor Car, and a "caboose" housing the air compressor which powers the train.

This train is known as the "Link Train," named after its donor, Edwin Link, who also contributed a large model of Stevenson's Rocket. Mr. Link is best known for inventing the Link Trainer, an on-the-ground flight simulator used in World War II to train military and civilian pilots. Link Trainers were also used at War Bond Drives. (One was used at a Flagler Street rally.) Steam trains were one of Edwin Link's favorite hobbies. He built a track on the grounds of his Harbor Branch Research Facility, in Ft. Pierce, Florida for this two-foot-gauge train. After Mr. Link died, his foundation donated the Link Train and part of the present track to the Museum.

The Link Train educational rides to our visitors on Saturdays and Sundays as well as during weekday school-group visits with advance notice.

Status: Operational.

Gauge: 24 inches.

Photo of Link Trainer (Not on Site)

Tuesday, 12 June 2012 17:14

Florida East Coast No. 153

ALCO 4-6-2 - Florida East Coast No. 153

Engine Number 153 was built in May, 1922, by the American Locomotive Company, Schenectady, New York. It is a Pacific type, passenger engine with a 4-6-2, standard gauge, wheel arrangement. Four pilot truck wheels, six drivers, and two trailing truck wheels. It was in service on the Florida East Coast Railway from 1922 until 1938. It pulled President Coolidge's train to Miami in 1928. The 153 was frequently used on the run between Miami and Key West, Florida, before the 1935 hurricane swept this portion of the railroad out to sea. It was one of the last engines to reach Miami before the hurricane ripped out the bridges behind her.

In 1938, the number 153 was sold to the United States Sugar Corporation of Clewiston, Florida, where is was used in industrial switcher service during the sugar harvesting season. In February, 1957, the engine was donated to the University of Miami. Dr. Jay F. W. Pearson, president of the university accepted it in a ceremony out on the main runway of the old Naval Air Station, Richmond, which at that time, was the University of Miami South Campus. The newly formed "Miami Railroad Historical Society," which would later become the Gold Coast Railroad Museum, was given the 153 around the end of 1959. It operated every Sunday in Miami from March, 1957, until November, 1966, when the railroad was forced to move to Fort Lauderdale.

In 1966, the 153 received a $10,000.00 major overhaul. The boiler was re-tubed, cleaned and inspected. New superheater units were installed. The injectors were overhauled, staybolt caps were removed and specially designed "Gold Coast" staybolt sleeves were machined, a new "dry-pipe" and new firebrick lining were installed. The 153 got its original passenger type pilot back as well as new running boards and a new headlight bracket. When all work was completed, the engine was inspected and subsequently certified by the Interstate Commerce Commission.

The Number 153 was credited with pulling the "rescue train" out of Marathon in the Florida Keys, after the 1935. As a result, it received a designation as a National Historic Site in the 1980's.

Due to the never ending fight against time and deterioration as well as damage from hurricane ANDREW in 1992, the 153 is currently out of service, but received a cosmetic overhaul during the period of 2000 until early 2002.

Locomotive Technical Specifications

Built: 1922, American Locomotive Company, Schenectady, New York.Working Steam Pressure: 180 PSI (1,241,056 N/m2).
Steam Test Pressure: 214 PSI (1,475,478 N/m2).
Hydrostatic Test Pressure: 240 PSI (1,654,742 N/m2).
Cylinder bore: 22" (559 mm)
Cylinder stroke: 26" (660 mm).
Piston valves, diameter: 11" (279 mm).
Engine wheelbase: 32' - 7" (10.1 m).
Top speed (approximately) 80 mph (128 kph).
Overall length, engine and tender: 74' - 0.875" (23.47 m).
Height (top of stack): 14' - 3.625" (4.29 m).
Width (at cab): 10' -1" (3.06 m).
Cab size: 121" wide (3.05 m) x 90" long (2.3 m).
Firebox: 71.5" (1.83 m) - 56.5" (1.5 m).
Boiler diameter at front course: 61" (1.52 m).
Number of tubes, 2" (50.8 mm): 146.
Number of flues, 5.375" (136,525 mm) Diameter: 21.
Driving Wheels: 68" (1,713 m) Diameter.
Pilot Truck Wheels 33" (0,84 m) Diameter.
Trailing Truck Wheels 42" (1,07 m) Diameter.
Total weight, engine and tender in working order: 371,500 lbs (168,863 kg).
Weight on driving wheels: 129,000 lbs (58,636 kg).
Weight on pilot truck: 37,000 lbs (16,818 kg).
Weight on trailing truck: 37,500 lbs (17,046 kg).
Tractive effort: 28,500 lbs (12,955 kg).
Factor of adhesion 4.45
Tank capacity, oil: 3,500 US Gals (13,248 l).
Tank capacity, water 7,338 US Gals (24,790 l).
Two injectors: Nathan Simplex Type "R".
Valve gear: Walschearts.
Power reverse gear: ALCO.
Oil burner: Steam atomizing, FEC design.Lubricator: Nathan "Bullseye" 5 feeds.

Click on the following link to order books about the history of the Florida East Coast Railway and locomotive 153's rescue effort after the 1935 Florida Keys hurricane:

Order The Railroad That Died at Sea: The Florida East Coast's Key West Extension Today!

A portion of the sale price every book purchased from AMAZON.COM through this link is donated to the Gold Coast Railroad Museum.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012 17:13

Locomotive Listing



The Gold Coast Railroad Museum has several steam and diesel locomotives on display, and in operation. There are currently no operating steam locomotives, except for a 2-foot Crown locomotive operated on compressed air. Of our diesels, six are operational, of which three are currently active.

Some items have links to new pages with further details and/or images about the items. This list is not all inclusive and is presented as a sample of what you will see visiting the Museum.

Steam Locomotives

Not Operational

Not Operational

Not Operational

Operational, Active


Diesel-electric Locomotives

Operational, Inactive, Under Repair

Operational, Active

Operational, Active

Not Operational, Inactive, Under Repair

Operational, Active

Not Operational, Inactive

Not Operational

Tuesday, 12 June 2012 17:12

Richmond Video

This Man's Navy



The above footage,which is representative of the mission of NAS Richmond during the 1940's, is courtesy of the 1945 MGM movie "This Man's Navy".

Before NAS Richmond and at the beginning of World War II, German U-boats roamed freely off the coast of Florida playing havoc in the busy shipping lanes off Miami and in the Florida Straights between Key West and Cuba.

Old Timers tell of watching helplessly from Miami Beach as tankers burned in the distance ... an all too common scene during the early years of WW II.

The Hangars at NAS Richmond housed the blimps that patrolled the sea lanes off Miami and the Gulf of Mexico looking for Nazi submarines.

By 1943, NAS Richmond and other anti-submarine warfare expert facilities had put a stop to this carnage.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012 17:01

Blimp & Sub Battle

The Battle Between the Blimp and the Sub

by YNC Anthony Attwood


No study of naval warfare or aerial combat can be complete without looking at the night fight that occurred off the coast of Islamorada in the Florida keys on 18 July, 1943; the battle between the blimp and the sub.

Nazi U-boats prowled U. S. shores and the "slot" of the Florida Straits was a favorite hunting ground and transit channel for them. Navy blimp squadron ZP-21 out of NAS Richmond, Florida, patrolled the straits to stop them. The silvery, nonrigid airships, graceful but enormous, were used for spotting and reporting surface ships and aircraft. The "K" ships were armed with four depth bombs and a .50-caliber machine gun mounted in the nose of the blimp car... not that these were expected to see much action. Blimp patrols were usually long, tedious and uneventful, until the night of 18 July, 1943, when the German submarine U-134 slipped into the straits.

At dusk on the mainland, the flight briefing concluded for the two blimps scheduled to patrol that night, during which two "friendlies", a tanker and a freighter, would pass through the straits in convoy. K-74 and sister blimp, K-32, would screen the slot. The destroyer Dahlgren out of Key West was on station in the straits. The two blimp crews readied for takeoff. K-74's crew consisted of Lieutenant Nelson Grills, pilot; Chief Aviation Pilot Jandrowitz, copilot; Ensign Damley Eversley, navigator; AMM2c Isadore Stessel and AMM3c Schmidt, mechanics/bombardiers; ARM3c Eckert, rigger/gunner; ARM3c Robert Bourne, radioman; ARM3cs Giddings and Rice, assistant radio operators; and SN Kowalski, assistant rigger.


The K-ships taxied and soared above the base. K-32 turned south by southwest to fly over Key West and sweep northward up the straits. Lt. Grills and his crew in K-74 headed straight over the Atlantic, then turned south and into the annals of Naval Aviation history!

Night fell and the U-134 rose from beneath the sea. It was a quiet evening. The sea was mild and the winds light. The sub's crew threw open the hatches to vent carbon dioxide and take in fresh air, then clambered topside. The long hours passed while 500 feet above, K-74 was approaching on an overhead course.

About 23:30, a bright spot appeared on the blimp's radar. The possible contact was encrypted and transmitted back to base. In the cramped gondola, the 10 Navy men took stock of their weapons and the impending situation. The blimp headed toward the radar contact.


K-74 sailed out of a cloud bank and found the U-boat cruising below. The blimp circled as her skipper weighed the realities: the sub was on a course heading right for the two merchant ships which were sailing down the straits, 30 minutes behind K-74. The merchant ships were at risk and K-74 had the element of surprise in her favor. Grills transmitted his intention to attack. At 23:50, K-74 dropped to 250 feet and began her bombing run.

As the distance closed, the watchstanders aboard the U-boat sighted the blimp. The Nazis opened fire with 20mm machine guns located aft of the conning tower. AOM3c Eckert returned fire from the car's nose mounted machine gun. Then, theGerman 88mm deck gun commenced firing.

U. S. Navy tracers ricocheted down the length of the sub's deck, while enemy fire thumped into the airship bag. A round punctured the shield beside Eckert's gun. He slapped another belt in and continued firing prolonged bursts.

When the airship passed over the U-boat, antiaircraft fire hit the K-74's engines. The starboard engine burst into flames. As AMM3c Schmidt turned to extinguish the fire, ARM3c Bourne dashed off the squadron's mayday signal: "Urgent, Fired On." The airship was now directly over the sub. AMM2c Stessel pulled the bomb releases, but the bombs did not leave the rack.

With enemy fire punishing her undefended stern, K-74 limped out of range. Schmidt had extinguished the fire, but both engines were damaged. The airship was losing altitude. The crew dumped gas and jettisoned the tanks. No help. K-74 slowly descended. At 23:55, the tail of the airship touched the water and began to settle. The battle had lasted five minutes. It's harrowing aftermath began.


Wearing their "Mae West" inflatable vests, the crew entered the water through the doors and windows of the flooding blimp car. The life raft, tossed out without a tether line, immediately deployed and drifted away with the Gulf Stream. They were on their own.

Grills swan back around the sinking car to make sure all crewmen had escaped. In so doing, he separated from the others and the same strong current carried him away. When he got his bearings, the blimp was nowhere in sight. Instead, a dark shape was bearing down on him at flank speed. It was one of the merchant ships coming down the slot, oblivious to the battle that had occurred. Grills recalled, "It was coming right at me and I was frantic to get out of the way, shouting and waving my hands. I saw the watch on the fantail, smoking a cigarette." The ship passed in the night, leaving Grills alone in the water.

The rest of the K-74's crew stayed together beside the settling blimp bag. They held on to each other in two bobbing masses adrift at sea.

Through the long night they did not know if the Nazi sub would return to capture them as prisoners or finish them off. They had no idea how much damage Eckert's marksmanship had done. Nor did "Sparks" Bourne realize his Mayday transmission was picked up by K-32's ARM2c Turek, who realized it must be K-74 in trouble and relayed the message to NAS Richmond.

At first light, a Grumman J4F Widgeon amphibian from ZP-21, took off to begin the search. At 07:49, the aircraft was over the scene. The sea was getting rougher, while nine men splashed and waved. The aircraft saw them and dipped its wings, but it was too choppy to land. The aircraft flew off to find the Dahlgren and lead her to the scene. Rescue was on the way.


Stessel had become separated from the rest when the men had let go of each other to wave. The others saw the shark fin break the surface and head straight for him. There was no time to warn Stessel before the shark attacked. The sailor went under. Momentarily, he reappeared, bathed in crimson. The water frothed as he went under a last time, spreading a red cloud on the surface. The rest of the crew positioned themselves, back to back, and drew their knives.

At 08:15 on 19 July, K-74 finally sank; the only airship lost to enemy action in World War II.

From under the sea came somber volleys fired in requiem for Petty Officer Stessel. K-74's armed depth bombs detonated, exploding in a mournful salute, as if, paying homage to this Navy hero lost in battle.

Dahlgren soon arrived and the Jacob's ladder was thrown over the side for the survivors. Small arms fire kept back the circling sharks while the crew of K-74 climbed to safety. A launch of bluejackets, with a Thompson submachine gun in the bow, searched in vain for any sign of Stessel.

Meanwhile, the K-74 pilot continued to drift miles away. Grills struck out towards the Florida keys on the horizon. It was late in the day and the aviator was severely sunburned and nearing exhaustion when K-32 passed over. Keen-eyed AMM3c Max May, saw the struggling swimmer, and the K-32 dropped flares. Grills had swum six miles before he was sighted, picked up by a launch from a local rescue unit and transported to Dahlgren. He had been in the water for 19 hours.

After the war, German Submarine Command records revealed U-134 reported downing a U. S. Navy airship. The sub cited sustaining battle damage to her No. 5, main ballast tank and No. 4 diving tank. After surviving two more attacks, U-134 was ordered to return to base in France for repairs. Enroute in August, her luck ran out when two Royal Air Force bombers intercepted her in the Bay of Biscay and sent her to the bottom. A blimp for a sub: the wages of war.


If the airship had not joined the battle, the U-boat would have come upon the tanker and the freighter before Dahlgren or shore based aircraft could have intervened. Because of the blimp crew's actions, the merchant ships got through.

Grills and Bourne were awarded the Purple Heart. After their release from active duty, radiomen Bourne and Turek received Letters of Commendation from the Secretary of the Navy for their quick actions as did AMM3c May his sharp lookout. Twenty years after the event, Grills was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Chief Attwood is Youth Programs Coordinator at Navy Recruiting District, Miami, Florida.

This story was originally published in the March-April, 1997 edition of Naval Aviation News

19 July, 1997 - 54 years after the loss of AMM2c Isadore Stessel, as a result of enemy fire, 12 family members, former crewmembers, and invited guests of the Friends of NAS Richmond, returned to the Gulf Stream to commemorate his death. Aboard a 41 foot, U.S. Coast Guard, patrol boat, the somber party left the dock at Coast Guard Base, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, at 09:00, Saturday, 19 July, 1997. They proceeded several miles offshore for Divine Services at Sea, En Momento Mori. On station by 09:30, YNC Anthony Attwood brought the group to order, and the Chaplaincy pennent for the Jewish faith, was hoisted on the after flag staff. Chief Attwood then reiterated the conditions of Seaman Stessel's death. Mr. Robert H. Bourne, former ARM3c, radioman aboard the K-74 read a verse of the Navy Hymn followed by a verse each by Peter Simpson and Francis Brophy LT James McGibbon then read the committal service. A ceremonial wreath of red, white and blue carnations, was put over the side by Mr. Nelson G. Grills, former Lieutenant and pilot of K-74, and Mr. Saul Stessel, cousin of Isadore Stessel. Accompanied by Chief Attwood on guitar, all aboard sang three verses of the Battle Hymn of the Republic. The service was concluded by Chief Attwood, and the boat returned to Fort Lauderdale. In attendance were Nelson G. Grills and his wife Reva M. Grills, Robert H. Bourne and his wife, Earline Bourne, Leonard Simpson, Sally Simpson, and Peter Simpson, Saul Stessel, Timothy Brophy, Susie Brophy, Francis Brophy, Francis E. Brophy, LT James McGibbon, YNC Anthony Attwood, and CAPT Charles M. LaBow.

For more information about the German U-boats in World War II, FOLLOW THIS LINK.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012 17:00

NAS Richmond

Naval Air Station, Richmond

Home of the 25 ships of ZP-21
(Patrol, Airship Squadron 21 and Airship Wing 2)


This page is maintained by volunteers and "Friends of Naval Air Station - Richmond"


World's Largest Blimp Base

Aircrews handling the L.T.A. crafts near Hangar #2In 1942, as World War II heated up and the United States became move involved, the U.S. government ordered a massive buildup in military facilities.

One of these facilities was Naval Air Station, Richmond. Commissioned September 15, 1942 the Navy started construction of a major airship or "LTA" air station took its name from the "Richmond Lumber Company" which had built a saw mill on the property around the turn of the century, to harvest and process the large stands of "Dade county pine", a type of pine tree noted for its high sap content which makes it almost totally impervious to insect and termite infestation and is so hard after drying and aging, that it is often worked with metal working tools.

NAS Richmond became the world’s largest blimp base. Located on about 2,500 acres of land (1,012 hectares) in the then near wilderness, 20 miles (30.6 km) southwest of the city of Miami, Florida's central business district. The Navy started construction of a major airship or "LTA" air station.

The need for the NAS Richmond facility came from the Nazi U-boat threat to Allied merchant marine. To provide anti-submarine patrol, rescue, escort and utility services in this area, Blimp Patrol Squadron ZP-21 arrived in October 1942.

The base grew quickly, using native timber and millions of board-feet of lumber shipped in from the Pacific-Northwest. Three large airship hangars and all of an active navy base's support buildings and barracks were soon completed. Over $13,000,000 was expended in the creation of the fully independent base which boasted three 16.5 story hangars over 1,000 feet in length.

The only recorded contact between a blimp and a submarine occurred on July 18, 1943 when Navy airship K-74 encountered Nazi U-134 in the Florida Straits. Shot down by anti-aircraft fire from the U-boat, the blimp sunk with loss of one life.

About The Hangars

The three airship hangars to be built at NAS Richmond were designed by naval engineer Arsham Amirikian, who designed a total of 15, nearly identical hangars for bases along both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

Each of the three hangars were 157 feet (47,9 m) high to the bottom of the truss arch, 257 feet (78,3 m) wide to the inside of the truss span, and 297 feet (90,5 m) wide on the outside. Each hangar was 1088 feet (404,8 m) long and covered an area of about 7 acres (2,8 hectares). The doors at each end of each hangar were composed of 6 panels, rolling on steel railroad tracks imbedded in the concrete apron. Each door panel was 120 feet (36,6 m) high and 3.5 feet (1,2 m) thick and are considered the largest single door panels ever designed and built.

The hangars were built of structural grade wooden timbers (mostly Douglas fir) to conserve steel needed for the war effort. By using wood, each hangar saved over 4,000 tons (3,880 metric tons) of much needed steel which went to building tanks, airplanes, etc. All fabrication was done in shops. Mill order lists, shop drawings, template work, and pre-cutting was accomplished and the finished pieces of the "hanger kit" were sent to treatment plants to be made fire resistant.

The hangar trusses were of a revolutionary type of construction. Each hangar consisted of 51, timber, hingeless, arch trusses on 20 foot (6,1 m) centers. To build the trusses, a traveling scaffold was constructed on top of 18 standard railroad flat cars. 3 cars on each of 6 rails running the length of each hangar. The scaffold consisted of a large, step-tabled platform, with the difference between platform elevations corresponding to the lengths of the trusses which could be easily handled. The scaffold was roughly the size of a 14 story building 120' by 190' (36,6 m by 57,9 m).

The first 80 '(24,4 m) section of trusses were assembled on the ground and lifted into place. Next, 40' (12,2 m) sections for each side, were assembled on the first level of the platform and hoisted into place with booms and tackle mounted on the scaffold. Likewise, the next two sections were assembled in the same way. Finally, the crown or center piece was assembled on the top of the platform and hoisted into place with gin-pole derricks. In the early stages of construction, workers built 1.5 arch bays per day. With experience, the number climbed to 2.75 per day!

Each hangar required:

2,719,000 board feet of lumber (252.603,4 square meters) A board foot is a unit of lumber measure, one foot square and one inch thick.
79.5 tons (72,1 metric tons) of bolts and washers.
30.5 tons (27,6 metric tons) of miscellaneous ring connectors.
33 tons (29,9 metric tons) of miscellaneous structural steel.

Each scaffold was constructed of 375,000 board feet (34.838,64 square meters) of lumber and 30 tons (27,1 metric tons) of steel.

Rafters were added after all of the trusses were in place. The entire surface was then covered with tongue and groove sheathing from the outside. The roof covering covered an area of approximately 10 acres (4,1 hectares). After the sheathing was in place, a composition roofing paper was applied over a tacked, felt slip sheet. Men installing the roofing were suspended from staging platforms, working from bottom to top.

The huge doors at each end of the hangars were built from structural steel members and covered in fire resistant plywood. The doors "tucked" into the enormous concrete towers (one of which is still on the Gold Coast Railroad/NAS Richmond property). The doors rolled on carriages supported by steel rails on the bottom and steel door tracks on top. The upper track was supported by a box beam girder spanning the door opening.

Of course, the last question everyone asks... each hangar cost approximately $2,500,000.00 in 1942 dollars. If you had built these hangars, in 2002, each one would cost $27,684,049.00. Just imagine the cost of building these hangars today!

A major hurricane on September 14th and 15th of 1945 resulted in the destruction of the three “hurricane proof”
blimp hangars and the resultant loss of twenty-five blimps and 365 fixed wing aircraft parked in the hangars.

Click here for first hand account of that storm.

NAS Richmond ceased operations in November 1945 with portions of the facility becoming
Miami University, Miami Metrozoo, and assorted private and government applications.

The only remaining base-related building is, Building 25, the Headquarters Building.





Only door structures survived.


In late 1995, the decision was made to create an exhibit detailing the history and important role the base played during World War II. On 16 September, 1995, over 200 people assembled on the apron of what was Hangar 1, Naval Air Station, Richmond, to honor and commemorate the 50th anniversary of World War II. Colors were presented by Navy Sea Cadets. The invocation was by Mr. Ken Fox, former machinist mate, who was stationed at NAS Richmond. Ms. Maggi Cook read the Dade Heritage Trust resolution of support. Ms. Connie Greer presented a plaque, accepted for the veterans by LCDR. James Sinquefield (retired), former WWII blimp pilot. A speech by NAS Curator YN1 Anthony Attwood, USNR, was followed by a tour of the base by NAS Curators, Cesar Becerra and Alan Crockwell.

The groundbreaking was at the NAS boiler room. Handling the "Gold Shovel", were CDR Paul Reiman, USN, Commanding Officer, Navy Recruiting District, Mrs. Robertson, wife of W.W. II blimp skipper, Allan McElhiney, NAS Fort Lauderdale Curator, and Cole Crockwell, son of Alan Crockwell and future Navy Historian.

Also on hand were LCDR Tomas Zapata, USCG, LCDR Paul Gilson, Navy League, MSCM Bob Browdy, USN (Retired), LT Steve Lorcher, USN, Alex Durr, Association of Naval Aviation, and a host of other good folks!

The Grand Opening of the Naval Air Station, Richmond exhibit occurred 14 September, 1996.


                     Building 25 (1942)                                                                  Building 25 (1962)                                                                          Building 25 (1996)

Save the Blimp Base
From this Naval air station airships hunted U-boats in the Florida Keys.

By John Sotham
Air & Space Magazine, September 01, 2001

Just outside the fences of Miami's Metrozoo - a 740-acre park where sleek monorails glide above a faux African plain-sits a handsome two-story wooden building surrounded by tall grass. A few boards hang askew from its clapboard exterior, and the roof above its portico is held up temporarily with steel girders. To get here, we've threaded our cars through a forest of spindly pine trees to this reclaimed clearing, a journey that evokes an exciting sense of discovering something forgotten. Just outside the building's entrance, Navy Petty Officer John Smith yanks the cord on a portable generator, which coughs to life. A few lights flick on, and we head down a creaky hallway and enter a large storage room, where a slide projector sits on a table and overturned paint buckets serve as seats. It's hot in here.

We're inside what was once the headquarters of Naval Air Station Richmond, a blimp base hastily constructed in the early months of World War II. As the slide projector clatters, Naval Reserve Chief Yeoman Anthony Atwood narrates and two former crewmen, who launched on blimps near here, stand by to lend their voices to the story. The crewmen, Ford Ross and James Sinquefield, have joined a small band of enthusiasts organized by Atwood who want to restore the headquarters building and convert it into a museum.

As Atwood talks, his hands make shadows on the sepia-tinted photos flashing on the wall. "Richmond was eventually home to 25 K-series blimps, three hangars, and 3,000 men," he says. "The hangars were 16 stories tall, built of Douglas fir brought in by train. The blimps protected ship convoys in the Florida Straits, and [Richmond] was the headquarters for the fight against Nazi U-boats operating in the Caribbean."

Ford interrupts: "That's not a K-type blimp, Anthony, that's an M-type."

Atwood rolls his eyes. "Okay, okay, as I was saying...," he says.

The story proceeds, and the enthusiasm brims. Atwood, Ross, and Sinquefield tell me that except for this building, the only other above-ground remnant of the base is one of the massive hangars' corner pillars, which stands about 300 yards away. But other clues to the site's past are around, if you look carefully. Directly outside the building under the relentless sub-tropical undergrowth, Atwood's volunteers found a four-foot-wide Marine Corps emblem the Marines had placed next to NAS Richmond's flagpole. And the old ramp is in plain view-it's now part of the parking lot at the zoo. Families who've come for a nature experience exit their minivans where ground crew released the mooring lines that sent the lumbering blimps on their lonely patrols for German U-boats.

Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, enemy submarines began bringing the war close to the U.S. mainland. In late 1941, a Japanese submarine shelled a highway outside Santa Barbara, California, and on the Atlantic coast, U-boats would sink 574 U.S. and Allied merchant ships in 1942. When the war began, the U.S. Navy had only 10 blimps capable of coastal anti-submarine patrols. Soon more than 200 would join the fleet.

Most of them were K-type airships, powered by two Pratt & Whitney R-1340 Wasp engines, which gave them a top speed of 77 mph. Their envelopes were three-ply cotton bags impregnated with rubber or synthetic neoprene. The interior was coated with paraffin to make it leakproof. Most of the K-ships were 252 feet long and held as much as 456,000 cubic feet of helium. But when deflated, the five-ton envelope could fit into a shipping box 12 feet long, six feet high, and six feet wide.

Fleet Airship Wing Two was formed at newly built NAS Richmond to cover the Caribbean. On July 18, 1943, K-74 and K-32 lifted off their concrete pads and rose over south Florida for a routine patrol. K-74 was headed for the upper keys, while K-32 was to fly farther out to sea, turn south toward Key West, and finally head north again. Later that evening, both airships would be in position to keep watch over a tanker and freighter scheduled to pass from the Gulf of Mexico through the Florida Straits to the open Atlantic.

Blimp patrols were mind-numbingly boring, lasting as long as 12 hours. Armed with a single .50-caliber machine gun and four depth bombs hanging from racks beneath their control cars, the craft were hardly intended for heavy combat. Their crews were ordered to monitor the positions of friendly ship traffic and report any sightings of U-boats, which could then be attacked by warships, if any were in the area, or by fighters from Naval Air Station Key West.

K-74's skipper, Lieutenant Nelson Grills, commanded a crew of nine: co-pilot Jay Jandrowitz, navigator Darnley Eversley, mechanic J.L. Schmidt, bombardier Isadore Stessel, radiomen Robert Bourne, J.M. Giddings, and John Rice, gunner G. Eckert, and seaman J.W. Kowalski. As the craft took up its station over the straits, U-boat U-134 was running on the surface and recharging its batteries, its crew on deck enjoying the fresh night air. The blimp's crewmen first saw two blips on their radar, clearly the merchant ships they were monitoring. Then, near midnight, they saw a third blip. They moved forward to investigate. And there it was: a German submarine, on the surface and headed in the direction of the two merchant ships. There was no time to marshall aircraft to intercept the sub. Grills descended to 250 feet and opened the throttles to bring the blimp to its maximum speed.

"We were in a tough spot...," Grills told Anthony Atwood in 1997. "We decided that the best we could do was see if we'd draw fire. We felt that saving those ships was worth the blimp."

The German crew saw K-74 and opened up from the conning tower with a 20-mm cannon. Grills' crew returned fire. As the blimp passed over the submarine, the sub's deck gun shot up its envelope and damaged its engines, which caught fire. According to Atwood, the crew released their depth bombs, but as the airship's aft section passed by the submarine, K-74 took more fire and began to lose altitude. Within minutes, it settled into the waves and U-134 slipped away into the night.

The crewmen scrambled out of the control car's hatches and inflated their life preservers, but their raft floated away before they could board it. Within minutes, one of the merchant vessels K-74 had been monitoring cruised past, oblivious to the recent battle. Its sailors didn't see the blimp's crewmen in the water, clinging to each other to stay together. Radioman Bourne had managed to send a message to Richmond before the blimp went down, and by morning, a rescue aircraft spotted the men and directed a rescue ship to pick them up. But Isadore Stessel had become separated from the rest, and as he waved to the aircraft, he was attacked and killed by a shark. Grills had become separated too. It wasn't until later that evening, after spending close to 20 hours in the water and fending off another shark, that he was finally spotted by K-32 and rescued.

Grills and his crew were initially under a cloud of disapproval for attacking the sub against orders and for the loss of the blimp. But after the squadron commander interviewed the crew, Grills, and later the rest of the crew, received the Purple Heart. It wasn't until 1961-after analysis of German records revealed that K-74 had damaged U-134-that Grills received the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Still, vindication for one member of the crew was slower in coming. It took 40 years for the Navy to give a commendation medal to Isadore Stessel's family. "It was a bunch of 19- to 20-year-old kids in a blimp risking their lives," says Saul Stessel, Isadore's cousin. "They did damage that sub-the radio contacts give evidence that the blimp hurt them and they could not submerge. It was [later] attacked by a Navy Avenger [torpedo bomber], and it got as far as Spain until it was attacked by a [Royal Navy] Liberator and sunk."

The shootdown of K-74 is the only recorded combat loss of a blimp during the more than 500,000 hours of patrols flown worldwide during the war.

The sawgrass is whipping through the open windows of a Hummer, the civilian version of the burly military Humvee. Alan Crockwell, an amateur historian who volunteers his time to a growing effort to preserve Richmond's headquarters building, guides the vehicle to a flat table of asphalt surrounded by pine trees. We've parked where one of Richmond's three blimp hangars once stood-massive 1,086-foot-long structures made of wood beams and hung with sliding iron doors, whose graceful roofs arced to 183 feet.

As the war drew to a close, the base's K-series blimps were joined by new M-series ships that the Navy tested here. But in September 1945, scarcely two months after the war was over, the base was called upon once again to face down an enemy lurking at sea-a hurricane tracing a lazy path through the Caribbean. At the time, hurricane prediction was a shaky science at best-all that was known was that the storm would likely strike the state, but it was unknown where it would come ashore. Military aircraft-Grumman F6F Hellcats, Corsairs, and P-51 Mustangs, among others-were flown from nearby bases and from the deck of the USS Guadalcanal to the refuge offered by NAS Richmond's sturdy and cavernous blimp hangars.

The storm came ashore on the mangrove-entwined coast of south Florida, cut a swath across southern Dade County, and tore through Richmond NAS. The hangars, which stood close together and were stuffed with blimps and hundreds of fighters and bombers, withstood the winds. But one of them caught fire, perhaps from a short circuit. Witnesses reported seeing the winds drive flames horizontal, and eventually all three hangars were ablaze, lighting the night sky with burning wood, aircraft, and fuel. When the rain stopped, only the smaller buildings and the hangars' concrete corner pillars were standing.

Crockwell kneels and picks up a few oddly shaped glass beads from the asphalt pad. Others are melted irregularly into the surface, interspersed with a few metal fragments.

"You can really get a sense of how hot the fire was," says Crockwell. "These beads are all that's left of the windows. We find a lot of other fragments of glass and metal around-pieces of aircraft and airships."

Crockwell motions to the overgrowth next to the pad. "One of the legends of the place is that after the war was over, they dug big pits and pushed the aircraft parts into them," he says. "It's enticing to think that somewhere out here there may be pits full of World War II aircraft parts. Some of the oral accounts tell us that after the fire, you could buy a P-51 for $50."

As the Navy cleared the wreckage of the base, a demolition team dynamited the concrete pillars. One refused to fall. Now one of the highest structures in southern Dade County, it's bristling with antennas and is the central relaying station for the area's 911 service. Blimps never returned permanently after the storm, but the base's helium plant continued to supply Navy airships for years. Richmond's other buildings served a variety of uses, such as providing classroom space for servicemen going to school under the G.I. Bill, and later as space for Naval and Marine Corps Reserve units. The end came in 1992, when hurricane Andrew leveled all except the headquarters and that single, stubborn pillar.

Today, Anthony Atwood and his volunteers hope to give the HQ building its final assignment, as the official all-service military museum and memorial of south Florida. Atwood, a former Navy recruiter on temporary recall at a reserve station, has made the salvation of Richmond's headquarters building and the memory of the blimps and crews that flew here his own crusade, and intends the story of NAS Richmond to be the subject of his master's thesis for an advanced degree in history.

The year before the city of Miami's centennial in 1996, Atwood says, "there was a lot of community consciousness raising, and being a community-activist-type person, I [wanted to organize] a commemorative event at the site of the old blimp base." To honor U.S. servicemen, Atwood put together a ceremony that attracted 300 people and raised an American flag where NAS Richmond's flagpole once stood.

Bolstered by the turnout, Atwood and a core of volunteers set up a display about the base at the nearby Goldcoast Railroad Museum. As the group began to publicize its efforts, members placed on display in the headquarters building artifacts they found nearby, including aluminum fragments from the blimps and structural parts of the hangars. More volunteers came forward, some of whom had been blimp crewmen or had served at the base as civilians, and gradually the idea of restoring the HQ building took hold.

"I'd like to see this as a federal institution-an ongoing museum for young and old alike," Atwood says. "We hope to see a veterans' memorial, nature trails behind the building, and a replica of the Vietnam [memorial in Washington, D.C.] wall."

Before restoration, however, a few problems with the building's location must be solved. Although the Army Corps of Engineers owns both the building and the land around it, nearby land is owned by the University of Miami, which has its own plans for expansion, and access to the old base is limited. The solution is to raise the building by hydraulic jacks and truck it about 350 yards to a plot of federal land accessible from the neighboring Metrozoo's main entrance road. Atwood has enlisted the help of several Florida politicians, including U.S. Senator Bob Graham and Representatives Carrie Meek and E. Clay Shaw Jr., to steer the project through the competing priorities of a major university, federal agencies, and one of the largest zoological parks in the nation. Mayor Paul Novack of Surfside, a town just north of Miami, has been a key ally. "In this place, the museum would be a natural buffer between the zoo and [nearby] development," Novack says. "And when the building is moved, the land behind it will be restored to a natural state."

"It's just the right thing to do," says Atwood, whose father hit the beach on D-Day during World War II and who has the conviction-and salesmanship-of a military recruiter. Even though negotiations have been long and complicated, they have resulted in what he calls "a strange coalition of environmentalists and military people slightly to the right of Attila the Hun."

Once the officials have inked the deal and the structure is moved to its new home and restored, NAS Richmond's headquarters building-survivor of war and at least five hurricanes-will return to service, reminding its visitors that long before exotic animals roamed nearby, blimps prowled the skies.



The NAS Richmond crew is: James Sinquefield, LCDR, USN (retired), our "Pilot"; YN1 Anthony Attwood, USNR, our "Navigator"; Cesar Becerra, our "Sparks"; Alan Crockwell, our "Gunner"; and Gold Coast Museum Director, Connie Greer, our "Ground Controller".

The Friends of NAS Richmond is an informal, non-profit association of aviation buffs, veterans, patriotic, community minded citizens, servicemen and women dedicated to preserving for future generations, the rich military heritage of historic South Florida.

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