In the summer of ’36, word came that the camp would be decommissioned and personnel reassigned. I had been in touch with Madge and she said she could get me a job with the WPA in NYC. I took it, office clerk. It was a project writing scripts for out-of-work actors, etc. My job was to run the stencil machine and collate the pages run off. It was boring work. In the fall of ’36 my father got me a job with the new Gallagher Bros. Sand & Gravel Co. The owners were the sons of old Pete Gallagher who had died back in ’25. They had just started up the company and had bought a WW1 Navy tug at Philadelphia. The sons, Murray and Peter, and the prospective skipper, Jack Sullivan, drove all of us down there. A tug towed the Navy tug to a dock in Philadelphia where the crew was to put it beck in operation. I worked my tail off on that tug, scraping pitch and sawdust off wooden decks, dismantling brass fire hydrants, scraping red lead off, cleaning Cosmoline off all the stainless steel in the galley area, and lots of painting. When new coils of mooring lines came aboard I thought I would make points with the skipper and splice an eye in a 7″ mooring line. Unfortunately I pulled the wrong end of the line out of the coil, spliced the eye. When he saw what I had done, I got really bawled out. The eye was ok, but when you pull the wrong end out, the line will develop kinks in it. To correct, it was necessary to stream the line astern later on, after we got underway to get all the kinks out.
When we finally got things together, we got underway for NYC via Delaware River, up along the coast and on in to NY. I got very seasick on the way, and I remember being drooped over the starboard bulwark railing with waves breaking over me. One washed me down the deck, but a fireman standing inside of a fire room half door reached out and got me by my britches to keep me from going overboard. The way I felt I didn’t care if I did. We towed scows from Port Jefferson to the city. Each weighed 1000 tons with sand or gravel. We towed from 8 to 10, one behind the other until we neared Whitestone area, at which point the tow was made up into a harbor one. This was done by reeling in the 2″ tow wire, which was about 1000′ long, and disconnecting it from the lead scow. Our tug would then whip around and come in alongside the sixth scow; if 10 were present and run a bow, spring, and stern line to it. The scow captains of the 5th and 6th scows would disconnect their mooring lines at same time. Our tug would then ease the last five scows out a bit and proceed ahead and lay them alongside the front five, which were still proceeding along due to the momentum of their weight plus currents. Scow captains would lash the two tiers together. Our tug would then move ahead and maneuver in front of the double tier, pass a bridle and haul them down through Hellgate and the East river to a dock on Newtown Creek opposite 54th Street, Manhattan. As we approached that creek, the tug took in the bridle, moved back along the portside of the tow, made up, and eased the ten scows in alongside the dock. From there we would take one or two scows to various sand & gravel docks around the Hudson, East River, and over in Staten Island and Brooklyn. We would also pick up empties and take them up to a stake scow near College Point. When 10 or so assembled, we would haul them back to Port Jefferson for a new load.
I can remember having to climb up the high sides of empty scows and crossing from one to another with snow and ice all over them to release mooring tines that were usually frozen. I got pretty good, thanks to older deck hands showing me the knack of tossing a 7″ mooring line eye onto bitts or bollards 20′ away and some 10′ or so above our deck. There were three deckhands, and we stood watches as follows: two stood six on and six off, while one was day man on call all day and anytime at night. You usually weren’t called at night unless it was an emergency while day man, or around the harbor moving scows around. One time I caught almost three days of night and day operations in NY harbor. I would catch a catnap at the base of the smoke stack in between moves. When the skipper needed me, he would toot a whistle, which was steam and would wake the dead. I got $96 a month plus keep.
We worked six days a week, after which time we would tie up the tug wherever the last job was. We got 24 hours off and had to be back at the end of that time. Sometimes you got off at some God-forsaken place and it would take an hour and a half to get home. My father and the crewmembers cautioned me in getting from docks to nearest subway always to walk in the middle of the street to avoid a mugging. Out in the middle you had a chance to run. We ate good, always had two kinds of meat with a meal. I had to help the cook peal potatoes. We had home made pies and cakes. The day man also had to clean the Captain’s and crew’s heads, splice lines, mend fenders, do some painting, grease the towing machine, and wash down the decks. These chores were divvied up with the two six on, six off watch standers. Coming down the East River with a big tow at 5A.M. always intrigued me as the city looked so quiet. Some times, we tied up at a dock and the skipper would phone our dispatcher for orders. While alongside you had to keep an eye on dock hang on types who would steal you blind. Dirtiest job was pulling in a mooring line that was in the water in Newtown Creek. I am sure it was 50% heavy crude oil and chemicals plus sewerage.
When we left Philadelphia, the end of ’36, a northeast storm off Cape May caused our steering cable to part. We all turned to with block and tackle getting the two broken ends together and putting wire clamps on. Waves were breaking all over the fantail with a lot of us being knocked down every so often. Another tricky operation I had to do was get the chafing wooden beam under the tow wire so the latter would not chafe on the metal “monkey” rail around the stern taffrail. The beam was 8’ long, cut from a length of 6×6 wood. The top was hollowed out about two inches. After the tow wire paid out to 1000′, the skipper would go ahead a bit and surge the wire. When that happened, the wire would spring up a foot or so above the monkey rail. That is when you would get the chafing beam under the wire as it came back down. When the wire was seated in the beam I secured it with four tie-ties. The wire would stay in the beam due to its weight. We would grease the monkey rail occasionally to reduce friction. When it came time to take the wire in, you would take the tie-ties off and when the skipper surged the tow wire, remove the chafing beam. You had to move fast on these. I also ran the large steam-driven towing winch.
Tides were a major factor in towing, as you had to get through Hell Gate with a favorable one. Many times old Jack would bellow down to the engine room, to give him every turn they could get on the propeller. We had a triple expansion steam engine. The oilier had to stand on the guard railing surrounding the engine to reach the various bearings that needed oiling. When the rpm got too high, the engine would throw oil all over the engine room and the oilier. Whet a mess! How they kept their footing was really something.
When we were in Philadelphia, I was painting a boat deck ventilator that led to the fire room. A Swedish engineer was below getting ready to light off the boiler, and he had an explosion. The fire and smoke came up and knocked me out of the front of the ventilator. The engineer was burned a bit but got the fire out. Damage was minor. Another learning experience for me was when I jammed a turn around the after bits. I had to use a fire axe to get the stern line loose. Old Jack really read the riot act to me. If it hadn’t been for the fact that the owners had put me aboard I am sure Jack would have put me on the beach. Another company towed scows out of Port Jefferson and a few times, we raced them to see who made it through the gate first. One time we had 10 scows to their nine and beat them, shades of Mark Twain and the stern wheelers!
I really loved the life and studied books to become a pilot. Old Jack Sullivan taught me a lot. However, it was not to be. About the beginning of July 1937, we were shifting from long to harbor tow. A foul-up in bell signals from Jack to engine room occurred that caused the tug to back into the lead scow almost killing the scow captain. Our rudder got jammed over. Old Jack did a lot of maneuvering and by going astern got the ten scows over to the stake boat at College Point. Well, it was going to be necessary to have our tug towed to a shipyard for repair and it would take sometime. We were to go on half pay. The old-timers advised me this would be a good time for me to go to college as tug boating was for people without an education so I decided to try that.
to be continued…