Fueling and Lubing Around

by Mike Hemming

Smokeboat engines suck fuel like thirsty sailors suck booze after 3 months at sea. And if you put going home turns on, look out for serious consumption of petroleum products.

Our boats were good for about 11,000 miles on about 110,000 gallons of fuel. Definitely not EPA standards for MPG in our new touchy-feeley world. But hell, ours was not a touchy-feeley job. We were tasked with being ready to go out and break ships and kill people. So getting about a tenth of a mile per gallon to get there didn't matter to us. That mileage was at a standard bell on two engines... Crank up those big GM's or FM's to full on four, and you start using some serious juice. Seems to me about 800 gallons per hour to hit 20 miles per hour. The downside of all this consumption was that it had to be put back aboard. Enter that magical snipe called 'The Fuel King'. It was the only crown I ever wore, except for "That skinny MM in the AER".

Fuel king is a rite of passage for any snipe that moves up the ladder in the engine rooms. Kind of like being Spare Parts P.O. except that it's thankless, dirty, cold and you can't steal anything. Going home with buckets of dirty diesel oil will not win you any 'sugar' on the homefront. Anyway, the fuel king was any 3rd class snipe that could count to 110,000 without using every toe in the navy.

Fuel consumption figures had to be kept and also kept correct so the officers knew how much the boat weighed. Once a trim officer ignored or 'lost' the fact that #1NFO tank was 'empty', i.e. now filled with seawater and thats heavier than fuel. The boat dove about 30,000 pounds heavy... Talk about a down express. We were in Long Island Sound on school boat ops and stuck our nose in the mud at 125 feet. From the bugged-out eyes of those students in the engine room, I wonder how many went ashore and off to skimmers. After a short discussion with the skipper and the aforementioned officer showing my numbers were there and correct, I headed aft to the sound of a serious chewing out.

Our fuel, before it could be used had to be run through a centrifugal purifier to spin out all the dirt and water in it. The purifier had a cylinder that rotated at 25,000 rpm to do this. The water flowed out the end and to the bilge, but the dirt stuck to the sides and had to be cleaned out. With relatively clean fuel at lower speeds the oiler might not have to do it all on a particular watch. But at high speeds with dirty fuel it might be done 2 times a watch. It was a knuckle-busting and dirty job, even worse in any kind of sea. If you put this monster back together unbalanced or with a bad bearing, it would do a shuddering fandango about the time it hit 25,000 rpm, scaring a newbe oiler's socks off. Me, after hitting the stop button, I waited in maneuvering for things to quiet down.

Fuel from Navy sources was usually pretty good, but if gotten from locals, look out. Carp once fueled in the Azores... Any hoses in that place should be inserted in a different orifice and carry a different liquid. Anyway, I don' t know what was in that diesel but it was the hottest burning stuff I ever saw. Percy Turner said it was jet fuel, it burned exhaust valves out at a fast rate. We were replacing a set on a cylinder at least once a day. I couldn't get the engineer to let us shift tanks, the lazy jerk wanted to use fuel from amidships to make his compensation easier to figure. Finally, the Old Man said shift to another tank because we were running out of spare valves. That damn fuel sat in that tank until we off-loaded it in the yards.

Fueling was a simple process. Snipes hauled aboard and hooked up black greasy hoses and the station pumped it aboard. All the oil king had to do was line up the right tanks and make sure they weren't over filled. If they were, oil went into the water making them troubled waters. Stories abound of oil kings who learn that sleeping while fueling can cause you to spend days breaking rocks and nights fending off a big bosun's mate named Bubba in Leavenworth. So this one never slept or read skin books while fueling.

Defueling was a little harder and took much longer. The fuel in the tanks was blown ashore with 15 psi air. The problem came after finishing that some tanks were full of seawater. This can't be sent to fuel tanks, so must be blown into a 'doughnut' to separate the oil and water. Trouble was, no doughnut... All night long and it hadn't showed. Its 5 AM and liberty is drawing close. Ah, hell! lets blow it over the side. At 15 psi, it aint going fast enough to beat the sun and the oil smell which is getting stronger and stronger. What seemed to be such a good idea to a sleepy mind, now isn't at all. Inching up the pressure to 17psi and a strong out going tide saved the day.

One of the most idiotic things that ever happened about fueling concerned some admiral who was coming to the Orion. Somewhere, some moron LCDR decrees whites will be worn on Pier 22 that day. Great if you are some clean fingernailed QM wandering down the pier to get your frilly undies from the laundry truck. Not so good if you are an E-3 wrestling a fuel hose from the pier across another boat. Try as I might, nothing could be done about allowing my men to wear dungarees. Admiral Pantywaist might have the vapors if he saw sailors in 'gasp' dungarees! I finally got an extra clothing allowance for my men whose whites were ruined by someone's stupidity. You know, it probably wasn't the Admiral's idea but some ass-kissing subordinate... At least, I hope so.

Taking on lube oil was easy here in the states and places like that. But in ports with no naval presence it was a little more difficult. Before Carp left for the Med, the COB, an old time ENCS, calls me up to the messhall, hands me a note and says,

"Take this to shop so-n-so and see Chief Smith, he'll tell you what to do".

"What's this for?"

"An air-powered barrel pump, 'n you'll thank me in the Med."

So off I go, entering the shop, I ask for Chief Smith. I am grilled as to what I want and why I want to see the chief. Sensing the object of my search is within earshot, I say,

"Chief Zeigler sent me to see Chief Smith."

Then from out of a nearby office a voice says,

"Come in here sailor, and tell me why Shorty Zeigler hasn't been shot for impersonating a chief by now."

I go in the office to see the world's oldest ENC... His ribbons look like a billboard on his chest capped off by twin fish and a war patrol pin with a galaxy of stars across the bottom.

"Sit down boy, how's Shorty?"

Being called 'boy' by this guy was no insult because from the looks of him he had paid his dues when the collection committee was a serious group. Then he proceeds to tell me that Shorty was his hardest case to get squared away back in 40 something, when he came aboard. While talking about what a useless non qual Shorty was, he reads the note, hands it too a hovering 3rd class, who scoots out like mouse on a cheese run. Once the chief tells me how hard it was to get the COB qualified, he goes on for some time about the stunts they both pulled on liberty in Pearl and other places. One of which was remarkably similar to one that the COB had recently chastised me for, involving alcohol and returning to the boat not quite on time and in the proper uniform. I am thinking hmmmmmmmmmmm, this is worth while info. After some time listening to a machinegun delivery of Shorty's numerous crimes and faults, a barrel pump appears beside me like magic. Finishing up, he sends me on my way with,

"Say 'Hi' to Shorty for me, and by the way don't believe a word that sumbitch ever says about me."

At this point its 1000 hours and I do know enough not to return to Carp too soon. So until about ½ hour before liberty goes down, I hole up in Bells for the day, to drink some brews and wonder if Thelma really does belong to the human race. After several, I decide she does, and that story they told about her and Dex in the phone booth is probably not true. Anyway, I can't quite envision the required position as it was described to me.

Returning down the pier, I meet the COB, show him the pump, and say Chief Smith says 'Hi'. The COB kind of grins and says,

"See you tomorrow."

As I walk away the COB says,

"By the way, you can thank me by not believing a word that sumbitch said about me."

"Sure Chief, Sure."

So its off to the Med and along about Naples, we need some lube oil. When we pull in, a barge pulls up along side of us and sets 10 barrels of lube oil on deck. I got a below decks watch to stand, so its midnight before I can pump the lube aboard. I did have my oiler line everything up,so we are ready to go as soon as I'm off watch. Inserting the barrel pump into a barrel and crack the 225 air to it and Kachunk, Kachunk, it's a-pumping. Speeding up the pump to as fast as is reasonable, Bill and I watch it go. As it is midnight and warm in Napoli, crewmembers are coming back now.

"How's the beer?" I ask Secor.

"Not bad, I liked the Peroni," he says,.

"Well, Bill and I could use a couple... Take this money and go get us a six-pack".

Off he goes, but by the time he reaches the brow he has enough money for a case.

Returning with a case of Peroni's, Bill and I each crack one open... Ahhhh! Kerchunk Kerchunk goes the pump, stopping only to move it from one barrel to another. Beers are quaffed by a bunch of snipes, on and off duty. Its taking about ½ hour per barrel, and two barrels for a case of beer. There always is a non-qual to hand money to for another beer run and life is good. Stories and jokes are told, shipmates are harassed, empty barrels beat on, and oil is pumped.

The Torsk's oil king stops by, seeing the barrel pump, wants to borrow it. In unison, six Carp snipes say, "Two cases of beer and um, make it Peroni."

"Or go see Chief Smith and don't believe a word he says about Shorty."

Kachunk, Kachunk, Kachunk.