UPDATE: ‘Bob the Builder’ Helps Keep Battleship Missouri Shipshape Ready

SCE retiree Bob Albin, 86, has volunteered his woodworking skills on the historic ship for the past 15 years.

March 25, 2014 | By Justin Felles

Editor's Note: Bob Albin sadly passed away on May 6. We are glad we had a chance to tell his story. Below is the original story that ran on March 25. 

In 1998, the Battleship Missouri made its permanent home in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and soon, TV news broadcasts were calling for volunteers to help repair the historic ship. Bob Albin answered the call, and 15 years later he has logged more hours than any other volunteer on the historic ship.

“I wasn’t doing much besides woodworking, so I went down and signed up,” said 86-year-old Albin. “I was on ships in the Navy, but I’d never been on a battleship, and I knew it had a teak deck that needed work.”

Albin, who worked for Southern California Edison (SCE) for 37 years and retired in 1987, made his first trip to Hawaii for his in-laws’ 50th wedding anniversary. After his wife passed away a few years later, he returned to the Aloha State — this time, to stay.

Looking for a way to pass the time, Albin, a former SCE groundman, lineman and service planner, took up woodworking. “I couldn’t just sit around and do nothing,” he said. “I told a friend I wanted to buy a lathe and turn bowls. She said, ‘Well, why don’t you?’ So that’s what I did.”

Little did Albin, a World War II veteran, know how much woodworking he would be doing in the coming years. As the chief volunteer on the Battleship Missouri Memorial, he’s known as “Bob the Builder” among the memorial’s staff and has completed hundreds of projects on the ship.

Initially, Albin didn’t specify what he wanted to help with and he did anything the staff asked, even bringing his own tools.

“I established a can-do attitude and slowly worked my way up,” he said.  

With Albin’s encouragement, the memorial’s staff purchased a few woodworking machines and set up a repair shop on the pier. Thanks to the volunteers, the memorial opened for tours seven months after it arrived.

Albin has helped replace the teak on the famous “surrender” deck where WWII officially ended, and he’s built custom flag holders and a visitor welcome station. But he’s most proud of building new stairs to help tourists navigate the ship.

“A lot of people had no idea how to navigate the ladders on a battleship, so the stairs have made it much easier to get around,” he said.

Despite the challenges he’s faced, Albin keeps a positive attitude.

“You get a whole lot of things done that way, so that’s what I did in my career, and that’s what I’ve carried over to my life on the ship,” he said. “I can still work with my hands, so as long as I can do that I’m going to work. Maybe in another 10 years I’ll see how I feel.”

Caroline Aoyagi-Stom contributed to this piece.

Topics: People