04 November, 2017

Hull Number 401

Forgive me for geeking out in this article, but I wanted something I could direct people to when the subject comes up.

RMS Titanic.  Yes, I'm one of the "Titanic" people.  I dislike the term "Titanic Fan" as that is a rather derogatory term.  I also wouldn't call myself a Titanic "historian" because, when compared to actual historians, I don't know squat.  I also don't like the "Titanic enthusiast" term.  I'm an "armchair historian".  I read books, a lot of books and also watch any documentary (even the preposterous ones) that I can get my grubby paws on.  Despite my self-imposed "armchair historian" status, I know a lot more about Titanic than the average Joe/Jolene.  Allow me to share my background regarding Titanic.

My gateway to Titanic was not Walter Lord's book "A Night To Remember".  The spark that lit the fire was a model.  In the summer of 1982 I was about ten years old, my sister was getting married and, after the rehearsal, dinner was held at a place just outside of town.  I don't know if the place was "for hire" or if the place was owned by friends, but it was a rather nice house.  There was an indoor swimming pool at ground level and the second level, a mezzanine you might say, had some tables and a "U" shaped bar.  Along one of the walls sat a large model of this ship.  Black hull, white superstructure, four funnels...  I had been interested in ships from a very young age because my Dad had been in the Navy.  His "bluejackets manual" was one of my favorite books and still is.  Being the inquisitive child I was, I asked an adult about that model.  I was told it was the Titanic.  That model captured my attention even though I had no idea what "Titanic" was besides some ship.  After that was all said and done, I did what people used to do when they wanted to know more about something back then.  I walked downtown to the library and searched the card catalog for "Titanic".  I found one book.

I read Walter Lord's "A Night To Remember" in just a few sittings.  I just couldn't put that book down.  Once the book was finished I returned it to the library and forgot about Titanic.  Just a few years later Dr. Robert Ballard found Titanic.  The first I knew about it was from the cover of National Geographic (Dad had a subscription).  I remember holding that magazine in my hands, staring at that classic photo, almost not able to process what I was looking at.  Of course, I dove into that magazine like a boy possessed.  I hadn't realized it until that day but Titanic had its hooks in me.  I wanted more information, I craved more information.  We didn't have cable TV, we didn't have internet...  That issue of National Geographic was all I had until much, much later in life.  I did find a book in the early '90s, Charles Pellegrino's "Her Name, Titanic", which I devoured.  Now that I think of it, I should read that book again to see how it compares to what we know of Titanic now.  After the discovery of the wreck there was a bit of Titanic mania but nothing like what was to come.

I saw James Cameron's movie with my best friend in the theater while visiting, oddly enough, my Sister over Christmas break '97.  I had known a movie was coming out and was chomping at the bit to see it.  It didn't help much that the game (Mac and PC on the same discs) "Titanic: Adventure Out of Time" came out the year prior to Cameron's movie.  I played the hell out of that game.  I watched the movie, bought the VHS version as soon as it was available and revelled in the mass quantities of information that were spewing forth.  The movie, as good as it was, created a monster.  The movie created... Fans.

I believe that if James Cameron had had a free hand and unlimited resources, he would have put out the best documentary anyone would ever see.  Unfortunately, that would have been a financial disaster.  At that time, the audience for an "in theater" Titanic documentary would have been rather small.  Expeditions to the wreck are not cheap.  Before the movie "Titanic" as we now know it, and the mania that surrounds that movie, there's no way Mr. Cameron could have raised enough money to pay for an expedition to Titanic for just a "documentary".  I think Mr. Cameron, sort of, had to put the Jack and Rose love story into it just so it would sell.  And sell it did.  There is definitely a line which marks pre-movie and post-movie.

Pre-movie, if I had started talking Titanic, I would have been looked down upon as a huge dork.  Post-movie I could, pretty much, have a Titanic conversation with almost anyone and appear as if I were an expert (LOL).  The post-movie hysteria died down and the general public pretty much forgot about Titanic again.  But the historians, enthusiasts and idiots like myself kept right on with it.  The growth of the internet helped quite a bit.  Encyclopedia Titanica is my favorite website.  I urge you to visit and peruse the wealth of information available there.  The research articles are my favorite part.

One research article on Encyclopedia Titanica turned my view of Titanic on end and caused me to view that ship's story from a completely new vantage point.  That article was "Acquitting the Iceberg" by Peter Elverhoi.  That article made me realize a lot of what I considered "fact" in regards to Titanic was simply myth that has been perpetuated throughout the decades.  From that point on, I would only considered actual facts.  Things said about Titanic without proof were pure speculation.  Guesses.  This new view of Titanic led me to the documents which, to me, are the basis of what we know about the night Titanic sank.  The inquiries.

I've read the US Senate inquiry and am only 1/4 through the British inquiry.  The British inquiry seems less of a witch hunt than the US inquiry but the US inquiry started immediately after survivors reached New York.  If there was an attempt to cover anything up, it would have been weak at best.  There simply hadn't been time to organize a cover up.  The survivors were scattered, some simply vanished into America, there was no way to organize a cover up.  That being said, I think some of the crew were probably covering their butts and may have left out certain details.  They wished to remain employed after all.  Details of the disaster can vary greatly from witness to witness.  Especially times of events.  The only times I would trust are from the witnesses who expressly stated that they had taken notice of the time.  When you read the inquiries, try and forget what is currently known about Titanic.  The biggest sin a person can commit when researching Titanic is to look upon the whole thing from a modern perspective.

A person researching Titanic must be wary of the marketing wank that is spewed forth to sell stuff.  Overly dramatic "documentaries", conspiracy theories, speculative facts...  I've watched many, many documentaries.  Sometimes I learn something new, sometimes I watch an hour-long program only to realized nothing of what was said can be proven.  The things that are know about Titanic are few.

Since this article is getting to be quite long, I will continue in Part 2.  If you have any questions, please feel free to comment.  I may not respond right away, but I do check in regularly.

22 August, 2017

Another New Guy: Redux

In this post I, pretty much, degraded the "new" (at the time) guy to the point of being a complete idiot and a failure as a wanna-be mechanic.  Well, I have been feasting on humble pie for some time now.  The guy went to the day shift for about four to five months and then got moved back to night shift.  I don't know what happened during his time on day shift but he's not the same.  Maybe it was getting some good experience while among more mechanics than just grumpy me.  Maybe something "clicked" in his head.  I don't know, but he's much better.  He's not as much of a slob either.  He's got a new tool box, lots more tools and he seems to take pride in them.  All of this was plain to see within a few days of coming back on night shift.  He's also getting a formal education at the local tech school.

I stand corrected, I'm impressed and I now think he's going to do okay in this field.  How wrong I was back then.

27 July, 2017


Those that know me probably think I'm happy in my mediocre, beige, ho-hum life.  I am.  A random thing at work last night got my dream of my ideal life going again.  I don't know how it ended up at our shop but I saw a flyer for a diesel shop in my Dad's home town.  On closer inspection I saw that this shop is on the same street as my Dad's boyhood home.  These places are in a little village somewhere in northern Wisconsin.  The kind of place where, if you blinked at the wrong time while driving through, you would miss it.  Among my siblings, some cousins, a couple of aunts, a couple of uncles and myself, this little village holds a special place in our hearts.  The reasons are many, but we all love the place.  It's the place where my Mom and Dad met and their respective families became connected.  I missed out on a lot of the "good times" that my siblings and cousins (all older than I) frequently talk about due to the age gap, but I did get to experience a little bit of it.  They'll talk about the overnight stays for Christmas, Grandma working at the Post Office, Grandpa working for the highway department etc.  Most of what I remember is Grandpa being bedridden and day trips.  I used to feel a little sad that I had missed out on things but I eventually came to love my own version of that place.  I learned to love that my experience from that little village is unique.  Ironically, my last "normal" experience at Grandma and Grandpa's was to help get things set up for the auction.

Anyway, years ago I mentioned in jest that if I ever won a lottery I would move to that little place and buy Grandpa and Grandma's house.  I would then buy other family (extended) homes and keep them set up as places for my cousins and siblings.  I also mentioned buying the gas station/garage where my Dad had once worked, changing it back to its original name and then live my life out in pure happiness.  It won't happen, but it's something that makes me smile when I think of it.  The flyer I found at work last night put some weight behind that pipe dream.

I thought "I could get a job at that diesel shop.  I could buy Grandma and Grandpa's house back.  I could walk to work.  I could have my family up there for holidays just like the old days."  My brain started to wander and think about the things I would have to do to get the house looking like it used to.  Where the fishing poles used to be stored, where to put the fridge, hoping recent owners hadn't remodeled the thing too far from original...  Oh, the possibilities.  If I had the guts to do it, I could make part of that original dream happen.

So, yes, I do have a dream.  Though I am quite happy in my current life.  We all have that "ideal" life which we think of.  Sometimes we can make it happen.

17 May, 2017

I'm Happy

Whenever I start thinking life is going well something bad happens.  Nothing bad has happened but from past experiences I'm very leery of letting myself think that everything is coming up roses.  But I will do just that for a little bit.

I've recently reconnected with some of my old flying buddies (virtual flying) and we are searching for the lost member of the 35thCAG.  The guy I've know longest, Dadman (I call him Daddy-O) have never really lost touch completely and I'm grateful for that.  I met him on the virtual flight deck of the USS Essex back in 2000 and we quickly became friends.  He's my eternal wingman and a better one will not be found. 

I've also reconnected with my friend and mentor, Rob, from my days in the courier company's repair shop.  I was very happy to find him still kickin'. 

For the moment, I'm a happy camper :)

18 February, 2017

I Know A Lot. Here's Why.

During discussions I often hear someone ask a question.  For example, I was discussing how my friends and I would classify the women at the bar by what type of ship they would be.  Yes, I know, I was rather mean in my youth.  Anyway, the young guy in the shop said something along the lines of "What about the Titanic?  How could they not see that iceberg?"  I know the answer to that question.  The third guy involved in the conversation looked at the young guy and said "Dude, don't open that can of worms."  The third guy had suffered through a thirty minute lecture on the Olympic class ships.  He knew how I was capable rambling on for almost any subject.

These conversations, after I'm done spewing things that the other people don't care to hear, I'm asked "How the hell do you know so much?"  Simple.  I read.  A lot.  Props to my kindergarten teacher and my family for teaching me to read.  I acquired my basic literacy skills in the '70s.  There was no internet, no Google, no cell phones.  I had newspapers, National Geographic magazine and libraries.  Whenever I wanted to learn something I would ask a teacher.  If the teacher didn't have an answer I went to the library and searched the card catalog for a relevant book.  I would then borrow a book, or two, and read it.  Whatever sparked my curiosity.  With the advent of the internet, and its seemingly endless resources (I love Google Books), I devoured everything I found.  A large proportion of the information I take in will, most likely, never be used.  It was simply answering a question that popped into my head.  I once read a book that contained "crafting" types of things and one of the projects was about how to turn an old pair of jeans into a skirt.  I'm never going to do that, but I'll be damned if I don't know how to do it.  Mom taught me how to sew when I was a kid.  On to a more relevant, and current, example.

I read an old, circa 1902, machine shop practices book a couple of years ago. In it was a section about making a tool to resurface valve seats (water valves) and I thought "Ha, ha. Who would need to do that these days?" Well, when I took the stems out of the faucet for my basement laundry sink, I found a slightly chowdered seat for the rubber seal. I have an old house and my first thought was that I was going to have to replace the damned thing. Then that book I had read popped into my head. "I'll be goddamed..." Whipped up a tool on the lathe, resurfaced the seats, reassembled with new seals and new gland packing. Good as new.

This past Christmas, at my Sister's, some music was playing over the TV and, while my Brother was skipping through channels, I heard one little snippet of the soundtrack from James Cameron's "Titanic."  I asked the people in the living room if they were familiar with RMS Olympic.  I received blank stares.  That was enough to lead me into what became an hour and a half lecture on Titanic, Olympic, Britannic, Lusitania etc.

So there you have it.  I read a lot of books.  I also watch a lot of documentaries.  There's no reason you can't do the same.  I'm not particularly smart, I just retain a lot of information.  Any time you wonder how something works I urge you to research that subject.  Answer that question.