Hidden treasure…no, seriously, I mean it. Hidden treasure!
Working on this project, you learn that whatever is needed, the team can build it. This has been demonstrated time and again! Yet there have been occurrences that would give the equally strong impression that there are unseen souls watching over the project. There are times when the people and parts come in the front door and seem to have been guided to us by…well, by someone.
The team has made tremendous progress on the radio room. Approximately 120 degrees of skin on each side of the room is riveted (viewed from the rear, this would approximately be from one to five o’clock and from seven to eleven o’clock position). The floor stiffeners are in place. Judging from the radio room and other areas, it was time to get serious about some other major pieces in this area and chief among them was the top turret dome.
As with most other surviving Fortresses, we will not have the complete turret assembly in the airplane. This is a large, complicated mechanism that mounts to the floor, adds considerable weight, and consumes a lot of room aft of the pilots’ seats. We will have only the dome and the guns installed in it.
The dome itself is a steel, aluminum, plexiglass, and glass assembly. It mounts two fifty caliber machine guns. Plans were made to build or buy one, if possible. On Thursday, September 16, Roger Deere dropped off a parts manual for the top turret, adding impetus to the search. Now, we could obtain some part numbers and get serious about this acquisition.
Barely thirty minutes later, a phone call came in. We now have a top turret dome.
Well, wasn’t that lucky? Lucky...or something else?
Let’s go back a few decades to the war years. Steel Products Company of Springfield, OH, has a contract to build 350 turret domes. Somehow, one of these domes comes into the possession of an employee of the company who decides to put it under his porch. Whether it was a prototype, end of production piece, an article deemed scrap, we do not know. In any case, the dome sat there, snug as a bug in a rug (or snug as a dome in the dirt) through decades of rain, freeze, thaw cycles, and subsequent owners of the house. There it sat, undiscovered, undisturbed, unwanted, for more than 65 years.
It is now September. 2010. Early that month, the current owner of the house is doing some renovation and she wants to clean out the area under the porch. Removing some lattice, she looks in and sees what she thinks is a very old television. A friend who was helping with the clean up looks under the porch and realizes her “TV” is in fact the top turret dome for a B-17. He is familiar with the turret domes, since he was an inspector for Speco, which was formerly named Steel Products Company. He carefully extricates the dome and brings it out into the light of day. So now, not only does he have his hands on a very unusual piece of history, he knows the crew who might be able to use it is just a few miles away in Urbana!
He called the hangar and spoke with Randy Kemp…
On Friday September 17, Randy told the crew he had to make a run to Springfield, for reasons kept to himself. He returns to the museum hangar with the dome and placed it on a workbench to the astounded looks of the crew! It was slightly corroded around the base but it is a complete dome with all the plexiglass panels, bullet proof forward glass, and even some minor hardware (pulleys and springs) inside. Since this piece was never shipped, it has no serial numbers, making it an even rarer piece, if that were possible.
The restoration began immediately, and the turret has now been disassembled, cleaned, and stabilized. The plexiglass panels have been soaked, cleaned, and buffed to a factory shine. When complete, it will look brand new. The extension cap has been reformed and at this point, work on the turret is nearly complete. . But our head scratching over how it came to us continues unabated.
Coincidence? Definitely. Lucky? Absolutely. Explainable? Uh, no, not exactly, unless you believe that B-17 top turret domes are often hidden under porches and discovered decades later just when a nearby Flying Fortress construction crew requires it. This is a long shot way beyond long shots!
The dome, once fully assembled, will be stored for a couple months before it is time to install it. But every time we take a look at this serendipitous gift, we shake our heads. This dome has a lot of interesting verbs attached to it: acquired, hidden, survived, discovered, given, restored, and (soon) installed!
We cannot explain the factors that brought the dome to us. We can only shake our heads, look skyward, and offer a smile of thanks. So, next time you are in our hangar, take a few pictures of the dome. It has quite a history already. And, one day, this piece of hidden treasure will continue its journey from under a porch in Springfield, OH, to the sky.