Author Topic: Recent visit to OMSI and USS Blueback  (Read 25506 times)

Offline FER

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Recent visit to OMSI and USS Blueback
« on: May 03, 2016, 04:36:35 PM »
A month ago I spotted a low airfare from the east coast to Portland, Oregon and decided it was time to visit my last submarine in the continental US...

While OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry) is very much a children's museum with lots of "play" exhibits and a mediocre planetarium, their display and interpretation of USS Blueback is first-rate. The submarine is permanently moored on the Willamette River. Its propeller is displayed on-shore near the sub. This is a relatively modern submarine, said to have been the last diesel-electric sub in the USN when it was de-commissioned in 1990. It's a "diesel Skipjack" or perhaps a "Tang in an Albacore suit". Its interior fittings remind me of Growler and Nautilus but unlike those boats, everything is open, and tours are live. The tour/interpretation was professional and entertaining and easily among the very best that I have encountered.

Unusually, this sub still has its batteries, and as an old thread here notes, they use an "Energizer Bunny" as a talking point for discussion of the batteries. The periscopes are fixed in position, trained on the Portland skyline, and visitors can take a peek. The museum makes effective use of recorded sound effects to suggest the sound of life aboard vessel. Some of this is obvious enough, like the thundering noise designed to give a hint of the roar of the diesel engines. Other effects are subtle, like the sound of dishes clunking and banging as if someone is washing up in the galley --a simple thing yet compelling.

Blueback had about fifteen seconds of pop-culture fame, appearing briefly in an episode of "Hawaii Five-O" in the late 1960s and also briefly in "The Hunt for Red October". By the way, the class boat (of three), USS Barbel, appeared briefly (but full-screen!) in an episode of "The Brady Bunch" in 1972, where it was identified as a "nuclear submarine".

I highly recommend a visit to USS Blueback if you make it out to Portland. It's 45 minutes well-spent. I would suggest skip the rest of OMSI and get another technology "fix" by driving an hour to the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum, a world-class museum that houses the famous 'Spruce Goose'. And yes, it really is huge.

I have now visited all of the museum subs that are currently open to the public in the continental US. I intend to add HMCS Onondaga to that total this summer so I can claim "all in North America" :). It has been a fun project. Subs are good, clean fun and also because they are remarkably well spread out around the country: some 22 submarines in 15 states. Visiting a sub museum takes half an hour, sometimes an hour, rarely even two or three hours, leaving a day or a weekend to explore. And what better excuse would I ever have to visit North Little Rock, Arkansas or Manitowoc, Wisconsin, or Hackensack, New Jersey?? There is enormous variety among the subs both in terms of the intentions of the display and the quality and the style. Some are treated as memorials, others nearly private clubs, and many are major elements of maritime museums and science museums. Some are popular tourist attractions, other nearly unknown. There's no way to measure them all on a single scale... If I had to recommend a subset, the top three would be Cobia, Blueback, and Nautilus with U-505, Cod, and Pampanito just behind. But there are none that I would omit if I did it all again. :)

Frank Reed