By: David ‘Mac’ McAllister
Should you drop down into any engine room aboard any ship of the line; the first thing you would see, more than likely, would be the throttle board. The throttle board in addition to having the ahead and astern throttle hand wheels also was a gage board whereby the parameters of the main engineering plant were monitored. The throttle board in Main Control of a multi-wheeled ship offered the dubious distinction of monitoring the parameters of all the other engineering plants as well. A myriad of gages, enunciators, tachometers, repeaters, telegraphs, voice tubes, clocks, bells, clangstons and alarms, the throttle board could be intimidating to the uninitiated and served as the nerve center of the main engineering spaces. Consequently, the throttle board with its highly polished brass, bronze, aluminum and chrome became a show piece and a direct reflection upon the crew of snipes that manned that space. So it was on board one destroyer I had the privilege to serve in.
Controlling engine speed and direction, especially during maneuvering made for a very busy and interesting watch – my favorite. In order to keep up with the actions of a good throttle man dragging steam while answering bells, it would require the full-time concentrated efforts of three BT’s; a Burner man, Check man and the BTOW. Of course, this was before the days of the marvel of Automatic Combustion Controls (ACC). So the rivalry between watch sections could become intense. But that is fodder for other sea stories. This story concerns a new guy that reported aboard that was way too intelligent to be a fleet snipe.
MM3 came to us by way of all places the nuclear power program. Don’t know nor care what he did in order to end up on a Tin Can forward deployed to Yokosuka at the height if the Vietnam war, but he surely must have pissed off one of Rickover’s many Hench men. Given the pressure, temperature and specific gravity of sea water this guy could calculate its flow rate through the main engine lube oil cooler in his head; however, he didn’t have a clue as to which way to turn the overboard discharge valve in order to regulate main engine oil temperature. In other words there was a severe common sense short circuit between his brain and his hands.
If that wasn’t enough he also had a hard time grasping the how and why of the way we did things in the hole. Just didn’t seem to be enough Prussian blue or grease to get this guy’s head screwed on straight. Questioning authority was something that just wasn’t done in the 60’s and time-tested evolutions and traditional routines were the norm and were unquestionably abided by. I guess he was a messenger from the future. A warning to us of the turn that the Neo Navy would be making in the years ahead; it seems questioning the wisdom and authority of his superiors was one of his unwise attributes.
As I said the Throttle Board was the hallmark in pride of ownership in any engine room and reflected directly upon the sailors that manned it. Cumshaw was the machine that got most things done then; coffee being one of the lubricants that kept that machine running. Through the judicial use of pilfered coffee, we had managed to elevate the appearance of our Throttle Board to heights that reigned head and shoulders above fleet standards. Besides having everything that could be removed chromed, we had the board itself covered in sheet aluminum. As you all know, Brasso could turn Aluminum into a diamond in a goat’s ass when shined every day. Consequently, a pair of shades would have been a welcome addition to one’s uniform while standing Throttle Watch under the glaringly bright lighting of Main Control.
On most ships it was understood that standard procedure for the 4X8 watch Throttleman was to shine bright work. With us, it was, as a matter of pride, the job of all watches to constantly groom, shine and tweak the appearance of our Throttle Board. Well, except for one. You guessed it – Einstein didn’t get it. While an under instruction Throttleman he would begrudgingly to do his due diligence; however, after finally qualifying he slacked off on his titivation duties. No manner of refusal to be relieved by oncoming Throttlemen or berating by MMOW’s or MM1 himself could break this guy’s resistance to tradition. Said he couldn’t see the sense in all this shiny stuff which would invariably send MM1 into a purple rage and through the overhead.
MM3, although not a steamer and in fact, was more of a Boy Scout ashore, still liked to go over with his camera and immerse into the local culture and considered he to be a real gastronomic gourmet of fine cuisine. So he could be gotten to with threats of deprived liberty and his performance would marginally improve as port visits loomed on the horizon. He was especially fond of Japan, Japanese culture and their festivities. MM1 would use this to advantage and spared no rod to spoil this child.
After weeks on the Gun Line we returned to Yokosuka for some much-needed upkeep and repairs. We would be in for a ten-day period that happened to coincide with the summer dance festival Bon Odori. After out chopping and during our transit back to Yokosuka, MM3 with liberty and the pending festivities paramount on his mind kept after his watch station cleaning duties all the while bemoaning the bright work and it’s very existence. Seeing as there is a God that watches over all liberty hounds and maintains just and righteousness within the world of sailors, MM3 had duty the first day in. After the plant had been shut down and cold iron watches set we all shifted colors and bagged it on liberty confident in the fact that no trouble could possibly come to MM3 in a cold plant. After all, he was only assigned some minor cleaning and painting duties of the upper level while on watch; nothing mechanical or technical. No problems right – wrong.
The next morning, after quarters, we all dropped down into main control to be greeted by the haziest grey Throttle Board you have ever seen. Seems MM3 had taken it upon himself to expand his painting project to include that demon Throttle Board and all its exquisitely gleaming bright work that he despised. As we all stood there mouths open thinking WTF, MM1 slid down the ladder and was stopped cold in his tracks in front of our now greyer than grey focal point of space pride. WTF turned rapidly into O’ Fuck.
MM1 was sort of like a chameleon in that his moods were expressed by the color of his face. When the world was right with regular meals and bowel movements, he glowed with a pleasant peachiness. When we were receiving counter battery his color range would change to a pale grey with tinges of green depending on the closeness of the rounds exploding around us. When pissed, a crimson tint would start low in the neck creeping at first and then spreading into his cheeks as his aggravation increased. However, this morning his face had gone from pleasant peachy to purple – this was bad. Code purple meant that nobody would be spared his wrath; best not say anything and better yet best be looking for a hideout.
MM1 wheeled around as we all scattered for safer environs and glared at MM3 through bloodshot eyes. With a brain still deprived of oxygen, resultant of all the booze consumed the night before, he clenched his fists. Paralyzed, I know MM3 thought he was dead because I had serious doubts for my own safety, and I hadn’t done anything (for a change). Taking hold of his senses, MM3 dived for the deck, avoiding what he thought was going to be the knockout blow; while, we all made like busy cause one couldn’t be expected to testify to what one never saw. This being one of the unwritten laws of the day and corporal punishment could be dealt out swiftly although often times unjustly, we were all surprised as MM1 relaxed his hands and as if an afterthought reached into his breast pocket. Pulling out a stack of liberty cards he calmly and silently thumbed through them. Finding MM3’s, much to our relief, he placed the rest safely back into his shirt pocket. As MM3, kneeling on hands and knees, looked up MM1 slowly and methodically tore his liberty card into confetti. Tossing it into the nearby shit can, as his color returned to its normal pleasant peachiness, he told MM3 “You may turn in a special request chit to me to replace the liberty card you just lost after that fuckin Throttle Board is the way it was when I left the ship yesterday”. Turning, he left the space, we all turned to and nothing more was said.
Meanwhile, MM3 spent his nights disassembling, cleaning, polishing
Meanwhile, MM3 spent his nights disassembling, cleaning, polishing, and in general, restoring our Throttle Board to its former pristine, knock your eyes out, begging to be shined condition. I don’t know whether appealing his plight to higher authority ever crossed his mind; rather, I think somewhere in that overly intelligent beanie of his, a primitive sense for survival held sway preventing him from doing anything so foolish. Oh, Bon Odori came and went and never missed the absence of MM3.
I think back on that event, the scene still vivid in my mind. The violator on his knees, of his own volition, was tried, found guilty and executed by a court of one.
I think back on that event, the scene still vivid in my mind. The violator on his knees, of his own volition, was tried, found guilty and executed by a court of one. Mast had been held surer, swifter and with less consequences than had a report chit been generated. That was the power and uncontested authority of an LPO back in the day, in my Navy. The power of the Wheel was never questioned, especially by an MM3.
I have no idea what eventually happened to MM3. Wouldn’t doubt that he got out, hired on as a high dollar low brain operator at Three Mile Island. I will tell you this, though; after his little come to Jesus moment with MM1, that guy couldn’t slide down into Main Control what that MM3 wasn’t beating a steady path for the can of Brasso and a rag. He may never have really come to like that beautiful, gleaming star of the forward pit – our Throttle Board; but, when MM1 was around he sure acted like he loved it.
David “Mac” McAllister a native of California, now resides in the Ozark Mountains of Southwest Mo. Having served in Asia for the majority of his 24 year Navy career, he now divides his time as an over the road trucker, volunteer for local veteran repatriation events and as an Asia Sailor Westpac’rs Association board member and reunion coordinator. In his spare time he enjoys writing about his experiences in Westpac and sharing them online with his Shipmates.