Great Jobs: Chapter 10-A Trip Home For Christmas
I sailed out of New Orleans on a Diesel Electric Tanker for a number of trips as an oiler on the 8 to 12 watch, 4 hours on and 8 hours off. That was better than the old river boat 12 hour day of 6 on and 6 off. And, after a couple of trips, when the Pumpman signed off, I got the job as Acting Pumpman, but kept the Oiler job in the engine room too. Since I did not have an endorsement for a particular job, my designation was ‘Acting’. But that was ok, as I got paid overtime when I stayed aboard in port to pump off, or take on cargo. And, I learned quite a bit about maintenance in and around engine rooms.
And, some interesting things to know about tankers and liquid cargo.
Our home port was New Orleans, where not only do you find Oil Refineries, but you also found Sugar Refineries. So, on our outbound trips to Guantanamo Bay our cargo was bunker oil and fuel oil for the big navy ships and subs there. But, on the return trip we headed around the south end of Cuba and took on liquid molasses at Santiago and brought that back to the sugar refineries. Santiago was also renowned for its Rum, Santiago de Cuba.
Those types of cargo were very interesting, in that liquid molasses could be pumped into the cargo holds after we pumped off the fuel. But no way, could fuel be loaded where molasses had been. So, after each unload of the molasses we had to go back out to sea and clean the cargo holds. Molasses can be refined into sugar regardless of what ever else is in it. But, fuel oil with the slightest amount of molasses in it will stop the largest ocean liner dead in the water.
And, I learned some very interesting things about cleaning tanker holds. It is not always necessary to climb down into them to clean them. Only occasionally do you do that, and more for maintenance than for cleaning. But then, when you do venture into tanker holds, you need a mask and another crew member works with you in 20 or 30 minute intervals and you are tied to a lifeline. Tanker hold gasses can put you out in a matter of minutes if precautions are not taken. And, the gasses in the hold are not necessarily from fuel. Even water has an odor when stored for periods of time.
And, I am sure you are now wondering. ‘So how did you clean the tanks’?
Well, we had to go back down the 90 or so miles of the Mississippi River from New Orleans back to the Gulf and head out about 100 miles to begin ‘Butterworthing’ the tanks.
Tankers, in those days, had what were called Butterworth Valves; I suppose the name comes from the inventor. And no, I do not know if the very same system is used today. These valves were like huge sprinkler systems which sprayed live steam, or hot water under very high pressure in a revolving and up and down motion, something like a lawn sprinkler. And they washed down the tanks. Usually two or three passes were made. Once with the live steam and then with the water. Between passes the residue was pumped out and the tank was rinsed with the water and pumped off again. Now we could go back and load fuel for our next trip to Guantanamo Bay. This process usually took about 3 days, a day down to the gulf, a day working, and a day back. This job was handled by the Second Assistant Engineer, the Pumpman, the Second Mate, and a couple of seamen to help make and break deck connections
And, so much for interesting tanker topics. Let’s get to the rest of this story.
After several trips, it was getting close to the Christmas Holidays, and mom had sent a letter telling me that my cousin, James, was coming home on furlough from Italy where he had been serving in the Army. So, I decided to take some time off and visit home, especially for Christmas. I signed off the tanker and hopped aboard ‘The City of New Orleans’, that famous train of song and verse. That took me right into Carbondale, Illinois where I caught a bus to Saint Louis. In those days the Illinois Central which operated that famous train did not come into the Union Station but stopped at Carbondale where you got a connecting bus to Union Station. The whole idea there was fast passenger service with little delay. The whole trip, from Chicago to New Orleans or visa versa was less than 24 hours in those days. A walk over to Pine Street got me on the Tower Grove Streetcar which took me right to home.
James and Me, 1943
James Fitzgerald was my mother’s sister’s son, and his father who worked for Conoco Oil, was working in Illinois and staying with the family at the time. Their home was Texarkana, Texas. But, since his father was in Saint Louis, James decided to spend some time with the family, grandma, grandpa, my mom and his dad. And, since James was going to be all decked out in a fancy Army Uniform, I bought myself a Merchant Mariners Uniform. I never could stand to be outdone, you know. Beside that, all those gals who had been calling me 4F and a few other names, could now take notice and hope I would ask them for a date. But, too bad for them, they had goofed their chance. I had found a cute little, red headed, student nurse at Missouri Baptist Hospital, by the name of Doris Gallligher Guess I had a thing for nurses, and mom was a graduate nurse.
All in all it was a great Christmas that year of 1943.
Home and Family, Christmas 1943
Watch for Helmer's next chapter on Great Jobs in the October issue.
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