The USS Pampanito, a U.S. Navy submarine that made six patrols in the Pacific during World War 2, is truly a national treasure. During its patrols from 1944 to 1945, it sank six Imperial Japanese ships and damaged four others. Its successful missions – conducted far below the surface of the ocean – propelled it to later serve as a Naval Reserve training ship from 1960 to 1971 as well as play a role in the movie Down Periscope in 1995.
Today, the ship resides at San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf. Following its years of service in various roles, the ship was designated a National Historic Landmark. But it was also in need of restoration.
Filling a need
When restoring a treasured national historic landmark, cutting corners is never the goal. The absolute best tools for the job are required – alongside a dedicated crew to make it happen.
The Pampanito restoration crew is made up of volunteers from the San Francisco Maritime National Park.
Association who are helping to bring the submarine back to pristine WW2-era fighting condition.
The restoration of a more than 300-ft.-long vessel requires a lot of manpower as well as specialized metal fabricating equipment. Thanks to the donation of a crucial piece of equipment from Hydmech, a metal bandsaw and cold saw producer, the intrepid machine shop crew has the tools to bring history to life. That piece of equipment is the VCS-20VSD bandsaw, a manual vertical-column contour bandsaw with a variable-speed drive. The bandsaw features a 20-in. throat, a 13-in. work height and a 2-hp motor. It utilizes blades from 1/16 to 1 in. and can cut a range of materials, from steel and aluminum to wood and plastic.
Just days after delivery, the machinists were operating the bandsaw to make specialty items to reproduce parts that would have been used on the historic warship.
Over the course of the 30-year restoration job, the volunteers often faced challenges in borrowing time from local machine shops, which was a time-consuming process. The Pampanito crew realized they needed a dedicated, in-house machine shop and set about acquiring the equipment needed to fill it.
“The saw was the critical piece to it,” says Richard Pekelney, who has volunteered since 1991 as part of the restoration crew working in the machine shop. “But we quickly realized that the used saws locally available were really beaten to death because people just don’t give up a good-quality saw.”
Not knowing anyone at Hydmech, Pekelney was pleasantly surprised at how quickly the donation came together.
“I got help from the first person who answered the phone, and they helped me find the exact person I needed to ask – and it wasn’t a protracted process,” he says. “They recognized our mission, saw the importance of what we were doing and went for it in just a couple of days.”
The submarine receives about 4,000 students a day, and 100,000 visitors flock to the site annually for a totally immersive educational experience. The restoration project has passionate people to get the vessel into ship-shape condition.
The national landmark attracts those who want to honor the people who served their country in a time of war, but also to have the unique experience of being on a real submarine. Tours through the restored USS Pampanito do just that.
“Everything is real,” Pekelney says. “Hydraulics, electronics, everything is very physical and very real. That inspires kids to ask how this technology works and why.”
Pekelney couldn’t be prouder of the achievements that the restoration crew have made in bringing the USS Pampanito back to its original condition. And he also couldn’t be more grateful to the team at Hydmech, which in addition to providing for the maritime industry, also serves the aerospace and automotive industries, steel service centers, metal fabrication shops and more.
“We really appreciate the incredible generosity of Hydmech,” Pekelney says. “It was a substantial donation and we’re happy that Hydmech, a producer of best-in-class saws, was the one donating it. We got a saw that’s going to last and last. It’s critical for us.”