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Originally proposed in 1861, USS Keokuk was finally approved on 18 March, 1862, in the post-Hampton Roads rush to build anything and everything that looked like USS Monitor. Unlike Monitor's rotating turret, Keokuk sported two fixed "gun citadels", which remained in place as the gun crews manually moved the guns to one of three gunports in each citadel. She was a one-off design, and one that didn't fare very well under concentrated gunfire. Launched in December of 1862, she went into combat for the first time during the Union Navy's initial attack on Charleston in April, 1863. Sailed to within 550 yards of Fort Moultrie, she took over ninety-plus direct hits, which holed her composite armor --alternating steel and wood beam covered in boiler plate -- and while not a single member of her crew died, she did sink the following day. The Confederates later stole her two 11-inch Dahlgren guns from under the noses of the blockading Union fleet. For more on that story, check out my New York Times piece, "Raiding the Keokuk".

This is the now out of production Verlinden resin kit, in 1/200 scale. As can be seen in the photos, it's a simple kit, with only 19 parts, and more than half of those are the mooring bits and extra cannon. Besides the parts in the actual kit, aftermarket used includes etched-brass boat davits and railings from Flagship Models, chain from AK Interactive, and figures from some eBay shop that I picked up years ago. I also replaced the simplistic ship's boats with CMK resin replacements, intended for the 1/200 scale Bismarck kit (they look close enough), and I used a length of line from Cottage Industries Models for the flaked rope on the stern. I drew the anchor in CAD and laser cut the components. I also did my own artwork for the nameplate and laser cut it from a scrap of acrylic.

After initial assembly, that took all of 10 minutes, it became apparent that the bolts and armor seams were WAY over scale, as is often the case with ironclad kits. Keokuk's bolts (not rivets, they didn't rivet ironclads) were flush on her decks, so I sanded them off. I thought of using a beading tool to indicate the heads, but I wanted to keep this a more simple and quick build. I also sanded off the molded-on anchor chain and anchors at this point; they were fine, but their removal made sanding the rest of the hull easier, and separate chain and anchors just look better.

The paint was the thing on this project. I used mostly Vallejo Model Color paints, thinned for airbrushing. After a base coat of German Gray, Black Gray, and Black Green, all sprayed in intermittent patterns over everything, I started weathering. There's a guy on YouTube that goes by Nightshift. He builds armor, but I used several of his weathering techniques on Keokuk, specifically the oil wash splattering, and his custom made rain streaking mix. While his techniques are meant for 1/72nd to 1/35th scale armor, I was able to play around with them and give some nice variety and texture to Keokuk's appearance. I also used weathering washes and oil to add fading, rust, and other bits of color.

Final details were straight forward. The CMK boats build up very nicely. The Flagship Models railings likewise are easy to work with, but I used clear monofilament plastic thread for the lines between them; they don't flex much, so they look more like metal bars than hemp ropes. Oh well. I snagged the flag out of a bag of extra decals I have on-hand (don't count the stars on it). The figures are brush painted with Vallejo Model Color, again; I made an attempt to add Black crew members to Keokuk -- Blacks served widely on Union warships during the conflict -- but my skin tones don't look right in the photos, so I may retouch them. The base is a scrap of poplar that I had lying about, and as previously stated, I laser cut the nameplate out of acrylic.

When in production, this kit could be found for around $25 US, but since Verlinden's demise, I see it on eBay for over $75. I'm not sure if it's worth that much, but it is a simple and fun kit to build, that is also fairly accurate. A note on that accuracy: a lot of models depict Keokuk as having wooden decks. I have never been able to find any proof of that from period documentation, which is why I find this kit in this scale, and Cottage Industry Models 1/96th scale kit of Keokuk, to be the most accurate available.


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