Inside B.I.W’s gates

I always wanted a peek behind the gates at Bath Iron Works, and I got one on Maine Maritime Museum’s BIW trolley tour. The one-hour tours aboard a trolley bus (if you want to be comfortable, bring a cushion as a sit-upon) are narrated by former BIW emloyees, who share their experiences, insights, and pride (big emphasis on that latter term, the slogan here is Bath built is best built). File this under Must Do when visiting Maine.

Prior to boarding, we had to supply our full name, signature, and citizenship, and relinquish cell phones and cameras (you know, security issues). The trolley departs from the museum,  enters BIW  at the South Gate, then s-l-o-w-l-y zigzags through the yard, stopping at key points, such as the monstrous Ultra Hall building, where the modular Mega Units are assembled, and the gigunda, 750-foot-long dry dock (shipped from China, through typhoons and ocean storms). The individual modular sections are moved by self-propelled transporters, with upwards of 80 wheels to support their massive loads. Truly wish I could’ve snapped a few shots to bring the mammoth proportions to life.

Along the way, guide Norman J. Albert, who worked at the yard for about 40 years, shared such trivia as the reasons behind the various colors of hardhats, the stories of old-style ways launching gone awry,  how BIW’s towering  cranes flip the modular units (which are constructed upside-down, for ease and safety), and the changes in both shipbuilding and ships over the years (In 1988, BIW employed 12,250; today that’s reduced to around 5,600 worker).

Currently under construction are the  Arleigh Burke-class AEGIS guided missile destroyers, with four more slated for delivery by 2011, and the lead ship of the new Zumwalt destroyer class.

NOTE: These tours are extremely popular, and reservations are necessary at least a week ahead, if not two. And here’s a hint. I toured the museum’s grounds prior to the tour, and while all of it adds to the experience, watching the launching demonstration really helps understand the process and the changes from ways launching to dry dock launching. By the way, you can purchase sandwiches and even a lobster roll at the museum’s outdoor (seasonal) Even Keel snack bar.

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