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Steve Clark pays attention to detail

USS Iowa model built with grandkids
Steve Clark and his four grandchildren, who live in Mount Vernon, have built the USS Iowa battleship model over the past two years. (photo by Ann Gruber-Miller)

SOLON– Steve Clark has crafted toys over the years for his grandchildren. But he made his latest toy along with them: a scale model replica of the USS Iowa battleship.
Born and raised in Mount Vernon and a 1967 graduate of Mount Vernon High School (MVHS), Clark now lives in Solon. Since 1979, he’s been teaching industrial arts at Clear Creek-Amana High School.
Clark and his four grandchildren, who live in Mount Vernon, have built the USS Iowa battleship model over the past two years.
“It was a labor of love for my grandkids,” Clark said. “I enjoy making toys, and this is a big toy when you come down to it.”
Steve is the relative of many Clarks in the area. He’s one of 12 children of Jake and Marcella Clark of Mount Vernon, and the grandfather of four Mount Vernon kids: third-grader Gretta, second grade twins Adam and Erik, and first-grader Kevin Zehms. The children’s father, John, is a 1994 MVHS graduate. Their mother, Samantha, is a 1995 Solon graduate.
In 2013, the grandchildren saw some movies with battleships and went on a family tour of the USS Alabama in Mobile, Ala. After that, they and their grandfather decided to make a model of a battleship.
They chose the USS Iowa, which was not only named after their home state but was also the lead ship in its class of fast battleships. It served in World War II in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and also served in the Vietnam and Korean Wars.
In 1943, the USS Iowa carried President Franklin D. Roosevelt to Algeria on the first leg of his trip to meet Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin at the Tehran Conference. Both a bathtub and an elevator were installed to accommodate Roosevelt. In 1945, it served as Admiral William F. Halsey’s flagship at the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay.
The ship was decommissioned in 1990 and, in 2011, was rehabilitated for weekend tours in Port of Richmond, Calif. In 2012, it was donated to the Pacific Battleship Center in Los Angeles and became the USS Iowa Museum. Residents of Iowa can get into the museum for free by showing a driver’s license, Clark said.
Clark decided to replicate the 1942 version of the ship. He found a picture and the ship’s measurements on the Internet, and scaled the ship down with graph paper in a couple of days. Using a scale in which five-eighths of an inch equaled 30 feet, he scaled down the original 889-foot long, 160-foot tall ship to a model 30 inches long, 12 inches tall and four inches wide.
He and his grandchildren used flat sheets of balsa wood and did a lot of gluing. Clark made an inner frame, put wood around it and carved it. The kids helped cut the wood and did a lot of the sanding and painting.
Clark made the parts for the ship out of materials that resembled the original and that he could work with. He made the super structure of the mast, which sticks above the model six to eight inches, out of a brass brazing rod; the hand rails by stripping out really thin electrical wire; the propellers by cutting and forming flat pieces of brass; and the anchors by melting lead into a mold he carved from rubber chess pieces turned upside down.
Clark built two small catapults, which were used for launching airplanes off the back of the ship, and carved two small airplanes a couple of inches long out of wood to put on the catapults. He also made a wooden stand that says “USS Iowa,” and painted a replica of the ship’s crest on it. He painted a ribbon board showing all the ribbons the ship was awarded for the battles in which it sailed.
“My whole goal was attention to detail,” Clark said. “If I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it right.”
Clark even did it right by his family. He painted a list of the names of everyone who worked on the model. With just one name painted per line, it says: Made by / Erik / Gretta / Adam / Kevin / Zehms / Papa C.
“The grandkids want to do a submarine next,” Clark said. “I said I’d like to do one of the ships I served on (in Vietnam).”
Clark served on tank landing ships, which were as long as a football field, about 55 feet wide and could float in 14 feet of water. Used in World War II to assault beaches and run equipment ashore, they were also used in Vietnam to transport personnel and equipment and provide logistical support.
In a few years, Clark and his grandkids may have a submarine or tank landing ship built; maybe both.
The grandpa who’s always liked doing things with his hands isn’t likely to quit any time soon.