Keeping skies safe over Oakland Beach

Posted 4/13/23

At the intersection of Oakland Beach Ave and West Shore Road stands what is quite possibly the most well-defended auto repair shop in the country.

If nothing else, Gearhead DIY Super Center …

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Keeping skies safe over Oakland Beach


At the intersection of Oakland Beach Ave and West Shore Road stands what is quite possibly the most well-defended auto repair shop in the country.

If nothing else, Gearhead DIY Super Center earns a tip of the helmet for the most unconventional military memorial in Warwick.

“It’s definitely a head-turner,” says owner Ron Long of the replica anti-aircraft emplacement guarding the roof of the shop.  “When we first installed it, we had a few really concerned people stopping by to ask if it was real.”

Although the imitation cannon looks intimidating from the street, climbing up the rickety ladder which leads to the roof quickly reveals that the weapon is just for show.  “It’s pretty much a perfect replica of an Oerlikon 20mm autocannon,” Long says.  “Except for the fact that the muzzle is a Mazda 3 muffler, the barrel came from a Honda CRV, the base is a Volkswagen brake disc, and the crosshairs were made from a Jeep stabilizer link.”

The lookalike gun was made by one of the welding classes offered at Gearhead, a “Do It Yourself” repair shop that provides customers with tools and guidance to complete their own auto repairs.  The gun, which is constructed entirely from old car parts, was installed on the roof three years ago. It now keeps an eye on the skies near Hendricken - no doubt keeping the airspace safe for passing Hawks.

Around the base of the jury-rigged canon is the inscription “USS Indianapolis.”  The WWII era cruiser was armed with 19 Oerlikon guns, and the ship’s story made quite an impression on Long as a child.

“Hearing about the Indianapolis as a kid was part of the reason I joined the Navy,” he explains.  “I wasn’t on AA duty, though.  Actually, I worked the catapults on an aircraft carrier, so my job was getting planes into the air, not taking them down.”

The Indianapolis was also armed with 24 Bofors 40mm guns, designed to prevent enemy aircraft from getting close.  If any planes managed to penetrate that heavy artillery, the Oerlikon was the last line of defense.

“It would have been a bunch of 19, 20 year old kids manning these guns,” Long says, demonstrating the scope of rotation on the cannon.  “Just 19 years old and they would have had kamikaze pilots bearing right down on them.  It took a lot of guts.”

Although well-protected against threats from above, the Indianapolis was unfortunately vulnerable to attacks from beneath; it was sunk by a Japanese submarine on July 30, 1945 off the coast of the Philippines.

“The survivors had to float for several days before help finally arrived,” Long recounts.  “Most of them died, either in the initial attack, or of dehydration, starvation, exposure, or sharks.”

Sharks were among the most terrifying threats faced by surviving sailors - some historians estimate that as many as 100 sailors were killed by oceanic whitetips, making the shipwreck the single deadliest feeding frenzy in human history.  The wreck and the ensuing attacks were described in an iconic scene of Jaws.

Out of the ship’s original crew of roughly 1,200, only 316 ultimately survived.  “I believe there’s only one crew member still alive today, so little memorials like this help keep the story alive,” Long says.

His wife, Cheryl, notes that the eye-catching roof ornament isn’t bad for business, either.  “We get plenty of people coming in who wouldn’t have stopped if it wasn’t for the AA gun,” she says.  “Some of them weren’t even in the market for anything in particular, but then they’ll start poking around or asking about services.”

In addition to the cannon, the store is decorated with a number of other welded creations made by students, including a small garden of metal cacti and a number of whimsical metal figurines.  Any prospective students interested in learning to weld - and perhaps build some heavy weaponry of their own - are encouraged to keep an eye on the store’s website, as the classes are expected to make a comeback in June

gun, antiaircraft


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