May 27, 2014

Exploring the USS Razorback Submarine

If you’re ever crossing the Arkansas River in Little Rock, don’t be surprised when you look down and see a real World War II submarine, the USS Razorback Submarine at the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum. Our boys were over the moon excited when we happened upon the old sub; so, of course, we had to explore.

Sometimes a road trip leads to learning about and seeing things you never imagined you’d get to see, especially so close to home. Offering tours on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, the museum welcomes visitors to go on an underwater adventure with them into the belly of the USS Razorback.

Exploring the USS Razorback Submarine in Little Rock

History of the USS Razorback

The USS Razorback was sold to the Turkish Navy in 1970, the reason you’ll see a Turkish flag with the United States flag on the sub. In 2004, the city of Little Rock bought the USS Razorback. You can read more about her history, but here is just a little bit of her story.

You would think that being in Arkansas, the name Razorback is somehow affiliated with the Arkansas razorback, but not so. The USS Razorback was actually named after the Razorback Whale after being built in Kittery, Maine at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. She served in both World War II and Vietnam, and was active during the Cold War.

During World War II, the sub would patrol, sank Japanese ships, captured Japanese POW’s, and rescued American pilots who had been shot down. An interesting fact our guide gave us was that 1 in 6 submarines were destroyed during World War II with no survivors, a fact that immediately made those of us on the tour cringe. However, according to our guide, the USS Razorback did not lose a single sailor.

Visiting the USS Razorback in Little Rock, Arkansas

Inside the USS Razorback

Visitors can tour the submarine, exploring the outside and climbing down into the submarine to walk from one end to the other. As we met our tour guide, he told us a bit of the history of the USS Razorback, and then he took us up on the ship itself. We started at the end of the submarine, climbing down in, via a ladder and a fairly skinny hole.

Space was tight, and as we got down into the bowels of this huge ship, I couldn’t imagine having to live like that for months at a time or longer. Amazing men, these sailors who volunteered to serve in submarines, because they weren’t forced into this; and only men served in submarines. Yes, the Navy paid them double the wages, but they raised their hand to serve in a sub.

USS Razorback BunksBunks were tight. Men shared the bunks, taking triple shifts – meaning they worked one shift, slept another shift, and had “down time” the other shift. As one was rolling out of bed to go to work, another was rolling right into the same bunk to take his place. They called it hot racking.

USS Razorback Submarine Torpedo Room

Because of the heat from the engines, the temperature on the sub stayed in the upper 90′s on into the 100′s. So, you can imagine how hot, sweaty, and stinky these guys must have been. Water was also limited, so they took very few showers and only 30 seconds at a time. Our tour guide told us that they generally worked in their underwear and flip-flops because of the extreme heat.

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USS Razorback Submarine kitchen

As we walked through, we saw the tiny bathrooms, the mess hall, the kitchen, and more. Food was stored wherever possible. The question was asked what would happen if someone were to die while out to sea. The answer: the body would be stored in the freezer (located in the floor under the mess hall), right along with the food.

The officers’ quarters were a bit roomier. The Officers ate the same food but did have a separate kitchen and dishes; they actually used fine china.

USS Razorback Control Room

Then there was the control room, where all the main action took place. You wouldn’t believe all the buttons and levers….

Of course, our boys were mesmerized by the torpedo room, asking questions and staring in awe.

USS Razorback Hours, Tickets and Info

The museum is open Fridays and Saturdays, 10am-5pm and Sundays from 1pm-5pm. Full admission for adults is $7.50; children under 12, seniors, and military are $5. Museum with no submarine tour is $2. If you are visiting, I recommend ladies wear pants (skirts and ladders just don’t mix in such tight quarters), and closed-toe shoes like sneakers, no flip-flops. Between ladders and making your way through different compartments, it’s just better to be completely comfortable and able to freely move from place to place.

The museum is also available for group events like birthday parties, group tours, school field trips, and something our boys got pretty hyped up about…. a group sleepover in the actual submarine with a real submarine veteran. Sleepover guests get to explore even more parts of the submarine than the general public.

Many people have voiced their fear of claustrophobia while down in the sub. This was something I was afraid of too; but in fact, it really was not as bad as I thought it would be. The tour was so interesting, and the guide kept us moving, stopping to tell us stories. We really were just so curious and exploring everything we could, that we had no time to even worry about feeling closed in.

Question for you: Have you ever explored a submarine? What did you think?

Mel Lockcuff

Arkansas Women Bloggers member Mel Lockcuff is a wife and homeschool mom to 3 boys, a family lifestyle blogger, freelance writer, and lover of the outdoors. She’s the owner and writer behind Adventures of Mel, where you'll find adventures in family, food, crafts, DIY, outdoor living, travel, and more. Mel’s work has also been featured in 66TheMotherRoad Magazine, as well as with Only in Arkansas, Visit Rogers Arkansas, Rhea Lana's, and Great Day Farms. Mel and her family live on a small 1-acre homestead in Northwest Arkansas.

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