‘Titanic in Miniature’ –The Wonderful SS Shieldhall SNR Podcast

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    Stephen B. G

      I have just been listening to this episode of the Mariner’s Mirror Podcast – This is a wonderful episode. I just listened to while walking my Westie. It reminded me of a few things from my seagoing past that I wanted to share.

      1. The Chief Wawatam. In 1980-82 I served as an Ensign on the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Westwind, an icebreaker stationed in Milwaukee, WI. In the winter we’d break ice on the lakes, and in the summer, we’d go to the Arctic. One January we were working the Straits of Mackinac, and I noted a black streak along the ice. Later I found out the source was the Chief Wawatam, a coal-fired steamship built in 1911. I later saw her underway, being used at the time as an icebreaking train car ferry across the straits. As I watched her cross our track, I noted the amount of unexpended coal dust that was issuing from her stack and being blown along the ice—hence the black streak. She was later scrapped, but her triple-expansion engine was salvaged, restored, and is on display at the Wisconsin Maritime Museum in Oconomowoc, WI. See the picture attached. They’ve got it set up so you can press a button, see the valves and pistons move and see the engine-order telegraph function. This is a wonderful little museum by the way, complete with a WWII Submarine on exhibit.

      2. Teak Decks. When I was a cadet at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, I twice had the opportunity to sail on our training Barque, the USCGC Eagle. The Eagle was built in 1936 by Blohm + Voss, was both welded and riveted as you mentioned the Shieldhall was and had teak decks as well! As cadets we had the lovely job of holystoning those teak decks each morning, by the way. In 1980 the Eagle was docked at the Coast Guard Yard in Curtis Bay, MD, as was the Westwind—both ships there for maintenance. I had the opportunity to visit the Eagle during that time and found that they were replacing the original teak decking. The old decking was being piled up for later use in mementos that could be sold or used for PR purposes. But one of my friends was an officer on the ship and offered me about a 20” segment of the old decking, which I still have. By the way, after 44 years of use the wood was barely worn down. There is a groove along the sides of each strip, presumably for the caulking to prevent water from rotting the metal deck beneath, and there is little difference in the thickness of the strip above or below that groove.

      3. Unfortunate Odors. When you mentioned the smell associated with the Shieldhall’s cargo, it reminded me of port visits, especially overseas. When we docked the ship, after hooking up to shore power, and water, connecting to telephone (back then, computer access now), the Damage Controlmen would haul out their flexible hoses to discharge sewage. Because of pollution laws we couldn’t discharge the effluent within a certain distance of the coast, so we’d store the sewage in our holding tanks until they were close to bursting and pump it off in port. Often this was to what we called a “Honey Truck”—a sarcastic reference to a tank truck that would receive our sewage. While some of these trucks featured hookups for our discharge hoses, more than once the truck driver simply opened a hatch on the top of the tank, and the discharge hose was stuck in, leaving the odors to waft out of the open hatchway. Talk about unwelcome odors that would pervade dock, ship, and the area around it. After a bit, though, you’d just get used to it. It was just one of those dockside odors you expected to encounter.

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