Lon Allan, Navy veteran
"The voice of the sea speaks to the soul." Author unknown.
He was seven or eight when he began building with wood. He always liked working with his hands. Someday his love of navy ships and his love of woodworking would converge. But for a long time, life took a different turn. Lawrence Wayne Allan, called Lon, was born in Riverside, California on July 3, 1939 to Harry and Gertrude Allan. His brother was born four years later.
They moved to the San Joaquin Valley where Lon graduated from Selma High School in 1957. He was student body president, was in FFA, and was a member of the speech club and drama class. At Cal Poly, in San Luis Obispo, he was involved with the drama program and earned a B.A. in English, graduating in 1961.
It was while Lon was doing graduate work for his teaching credential, in 1962, when he received a draft notice. He took the physical, then had to sign a form that had a place for comments. Lon didn't agree with one item on the form so began to write his comment; this irritated the recruiter who told him to just sign it. Lon completed his comment and as he turned to leave, the recruiter snappily told him he would be drafted soon. Lon knew that meant to the jungles of Vietnam, so he headed straight to a Naval recruiter's office. He joined the reserves and returned to Cal Poly to work toward his teaching credential; he attended regular Navy drill meetings at the airport and eventually, before completing his student teaching, he was sent to the Naval Training Center in San Diego. With his teaching career put on hold, it was at this time that he decided, since he had a Bachelor's Degree, to become an officer in the Navy, which would extend his military years.
Lon attended Officer Candidate School in Rhode Island and, on completion, was commissioned as an Ensign. From there he returned to San Diego to the Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, not far off the coast on an island.
After this training, he was assigned to the USS Cavalier APA37, but it was a long trek to get there. He was put on a four-engine prop driven plane for a 36-hour flight to the American Naval Base in Yokosuka, Japan. From there he boarded a passenger train for a two-day trip, passing through an undersea tunnel to Kyushu, the southern most Japanese Island. He got off the train in a town called Kagoshima and there he saw, anchored in the bay, the ship that would be his home for the next 18 months.
Lon built this model of his ship from a block of pine.
This was a 492 foot long Bayfield-class attack transport ship named for Cavalier County, North Dakota. It was first launched in 1943 and scrapped in 1969, but during it's time at sea it earned five battle stars for WWII service, four for Korean War service and five for the Vietnam War.
Of his time on the ship, he said, "I crawled over every inch of that ship from the keel to the upper spaces." He was the personnel officer, and as a junior officer, he was also to stand watch at his battle station -- a twin barreled gun which required two sailors to operate it -- one to turn it left to right and one to maneuver it up and down. Lon never understand how it would hit anything, but they never had to try while he was aboard.
They were at sea approximately fifty percent of the time. Being a troop transport, they carried troops to many different beaches, some of which were in Korea, Okinawa, Hawaii, and Camp Pendleton; when they would get close to the beach, the troops were moved to small crafts called LCVP (landing craft vehicle personnel) or "papa boats" as the sailors called them. These boats were about 36 feet long and held 36 soldiers. Lon's crew managed one of the debark stations. He would drop a large cargo net over the side of the ship and the soldiers crawled down it to the smaller boat. Lon's skipper asked him to take pictures of these boats as they unloaded the soldiers onto the beach, so he put in a lot of hours in the smaller boats, taking photos.
In 1964, Lon was promoted to Lieutenant Junior Grade (LTJG), the next higher commissioned officer rank after Ensign. He was assigned to Assault Craft Squadron which was at the Naval base on Coronado. They had about 35 to 40 amphibious boats of different sizes, but too small or too slow to go across the ocean. These boats were transported on larger ships. The squadron had three divisions, the other two were in Japan and Okinawa. It was during that time that Lon was promoted to Lieutenant.
In December of 1965, he was released from active duty and the Navy moved him back to San Luis Obispo county where he did his student teaching, while also serving as an officer in the Naval Drill Center at the airport, where he had begun his Naval career three years before. In 1967, he resigned his commission as a Naval officer.
But Lon Allan's love of naval ships did not stop there. It would spring forth years later, after retirement, when he would craft navy ships out of blocks of pine.
Until then, he had a fulfilling career. In the fall of 1966, he was hired at Atascadero High School, where he taught English, Speech, Drama, and Journalism. He directed plays and supervised the school newspaper. After six years of teaching, he took a job with the local newspaper, the Atascadero News, where he worked for 35 years as a writer, photographer, and editor. He wrote a weekly column called, "Along the King's Highway", which covered such topics as his love for the Lone Ranger and his hatred of chickens. When the newspaper changed hands, he went to work for the San Luis Tribune as a junior reporter and where he wrote a weekly column for ten years.
Lon at work as a reporter.
After retirement, Lon began doing woodwork as a handyman to supplement his retirement income. Eventually, he combined that love of woodworking with his love of Naval ships. The first one he completed is a six-foot model of a PT boat, which is on permanent display at the Warbird Museum in Paso Robles, along with nine other naval ships that he has crafted. He also has one on display at the Camp Roberts Museum. He has three of his completed ships in his home, and two in the garage that he is working on. It takes him about 6 months to complete a ship.
These three are in his home, the one in the foreground is the ship he lived on for 18 months, the USS Cavalier, the other two are the USS Nimitz Aircraft Carrier and the USS McGowan on the left.
When working on a ship, he will use a small model or a photograph of it so that he can construct it with accuracy.
This image shows the meticulous detail, each piece was handcrafted out of pine. The small dark circles represent office windows; Lon's office was just below the little black lifeboats.
A remote controlled boat he is working on in his garage; it's a Vietnam War era river gunboat.
In addition to making models of Navy ships, Lon does the newsletter for the Kiwanis, is a member of the Printery Foundation and the Estrella Warbirds Museum. During his fifty years in Atascadero, he served on the Colony Days committee, was Chamber of Commerce president, and was president of Atascadero Historical Society.
There are few in Atascadero who haven't heard his name or know him. He is thought very highly of by those who know him. A former student from his teaching days fifty years ago, sums up Lon Allan this way, "He was always available, always there to help, he influenced a lot of students, including me. I think of him all the time. "
You might take the man out of the Navy, but the Navy will never leave the man. His love of the Navy inspired others. His student of fifty years ago said, "It's because of Lon Allan that I joined the Navy." According to Lon, it was the love of being at sea and the love of Naval ships that led him to recreating these ships out of pine during his retirement years. In his words, "I loved wearing the uniform, saluting and saying, 'Aye Aye Sir' to the captain. Most of all, I loved being at sea on a sunny day with a hot cup of coffee, standing watch on the bridge of that Navy vessel."
"The voice of the sea speaks to the soul." Author unknown.