Owning One-Sixteenth of a Real Clunker
by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong
 
 

Back in the days of ‘Once upon a time…’, back when submarines sucked fuel through a hose and their crews wore red lead and zinc chromate spattered dungarees, and non-rated personnel were paid less than the fellows who clean sewage plant filter screens…  Back in those days, bluejackets invented creative transportation.  Namely, co-op joint ownership ‘on its last legs’ automotive transportation.

 The crew on Requin had two jointly-owned pieces of four-wheel junk…  A Studebaker known as the ‘Hudson River Highway Whore’ and the ‘Requin Road Rocket’.  The ‘Rocket’ was a ’56 Ford.

 Ownership consisted of a group of sailors, but for title, registration and insurance purposes, I have no idea how that was handled…  Except that the yeoman gave any incoming mail concerning the two vehicles to a third class main power electrician, who shall remain nameless.  My share in the ‘Requin Road Rocket’ cost me fifty bucks and ten dollars a month.  We all shared parking ticket and maintenance expense.

 The rattletraps were maintained through cumshaw motor pool transactions, junk yard purchases and donations from poker game winnings.  Up in our J-50 barracks, after each hand the winner tossed fifty cents into a Planters peanut can.

 We had auto mechanics out the kazoo…  Enginemen, ‘motor macs’ (machinist mates)…  Why, damn near every raghat on board had turned wrenches on an old jalopy or family car before being issued a seabag and dress blues.

 Those ‘four-wheel wonders’ served many purposes.  First, they were transportation…  Cheaper than cabs and transportated your butt from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’.  They got you out to the beach and back, out to the fast food and Chinese chow joints on Military Highway, made late-night pizza runs, and hauled us out to our Willoughby Spit ‘Snake Ranch’.

 But, more than that, most of the time our old clunkers sat parked in the pier head parking lot, leaking oil and reeking of stale cigarette smoke.

 For an E-3 who spent 90% of his naval career living in a very small cast iron communal zoo, completely devoid of any vestige of privacy, it was a refuge of peace and quiet.  You could go out there and read, or listen to the radio.  You and a buddy could visit the geedunk wagon (aka ‘roach coach’), buy a couple of those lumberjack boot-tough muskrat burgers, a small bag of greasy fries, go to your two-door sanctuary and listen to a little Johnny Cash and old Hank Williams.  Nobody came to get you to load stores, handle lines or run stuff up to the radio shack on Orion.  The United States Navy’s jurisdiction came to a screeching halt at the door handles of our four-wheel invisible kingdom.

 One night at the first Requin reunion, we were having a few beers in the lobby cocktail lounge.  One of the wives asked,

 “Anyone remember first night in?  Husband has the duty?  Sex in that rust bucket car in the parking lot?”

 Several ladies with decidedly gray hair, smiled.

 It was not uncommon to find evidence of personal birth control on the parking lot gravel or lovely Lucy’s panties hanging from the rear view mirror.  On one of the vehicle’s ‘Rig for getting underway’ check-offs was ‘Check the ashtrays for potentially embarrassing castaways'.

 The cars filled up early before pro-football games.  We’d get up to the Orion ship service and load up on pogy bait and geedunk, and haul out to the parking lot.

 If you tried to listen to any kind of sports event or live broadcast on the messdeck R.B.O. radio, you can bet your ass that at some point the duty officer would show up and inform you that in fifteen minutes, the inboard boat in the nest would be shifting berth.

 “Armstrong, Stuke, Badertcher, and two more of you will be needed topside to handle lines.  Find the ‘T’ wrench for the forward capstan.”

 Every time the squadron scratched its ass, they needed at least five or six non-rated idiots.

 By the time you got the boat resecured, lines taught and recleated, you had missed the game-winning hit, a fantastic punt return,  or a game-reversing run of unanswered baskets.  I missed damn near all of John F. Kennedy’s inaugural speech to load stores going outboard to a boat getting ready for a northern run.

 That’s what made listening to the radio out in the pierhead parking lot far more enjoyable.

 Another benefit was that you didn’t have to listen to ‘long in the tooth’ old chiefs and senior petty officers tell you about great players and teams that existed way before your mother got pregnant.  Nobody who slept in Hogan’s Alley gave a rat’s ass about Bronco Nagurski and Ty Cobb…  or the old St. Louis Browns.  Especially when the New York Giants and Y. A. Tittle were on the Bears’ three-yard line.

 The cars were great places to go and sleep when the deck apes were using pneumatic scalers.  For those of you who have never had the benefit of trying to sleep with clowns working on the hull or ballast tanks of a submarine with air-driven tools, visualize sleeping in an empty oil drum while some idiot bastard pounds on it with a sledgehammer.


BACK