How Two Negatives Made a Positive

There are many stories that could be written about those naval officers who stop at nothing in their pursuit of promotion. Some did so at the expense of their families. Descriptions of their deeds are in the category of inhuman-interest stories. Also, their self-serving chicaneries were often at the expense of naval readiness. However, I did observe one instance wherein two of those negatives, each in pursuit of self interest, caused a positive.

The tale starts with a salesman who, in the nineteen fifties, somehow managed to get inside the Navy’s Amphibious base at Little Creek, Virginia, find the building where the material officers were located, and zoom in on me as if he was a guided missile. He already knew that I was the officer immediately concerned with the maintenance of the Atlantic Fleet’s twenty-seven Amphibious Force steamships. He started his spiel at once and extolled the virtues of Hagevap, a trade name for a compound that would double the amount of potable water produced when substituted for the starch then used to retard scale formation in low-pressure evaporators. Also, Hagevap would virtually eliminate the need to periodically rid evaporator tubes of scale by hand chipping. The latter process was exasperating and sometimes resulted in damaged tubes. Moreover, doubling available potable water for the crews and troops in the amphibious ships would be like doubling ice-cream rations for grade-school kids. What the salesman was saying was too good to be true.

In a manner meant to hasten the salesman’s exit, I explained that what he was proposing would require a Bureau of Ships Instruction and that if he wanted to pursue the matter he would have to go to Washington, D.C. and submit his proposal to the Bureau’s Captain Tessin. The purveyor of Hagevap then said, “I just came from a meeting with him; he told me to see you.”

I felt sure that the truth was being stretched, so I replied, “Relax a minute. I’ll phone Captain Tessin.”

Captain Tessin, with whom I had good rapport, responded with enthusiasm, “Yes, Hagevap will do everything that guy is promising!”

“Then why don’t you issue a Bureau instruction? Why send him to see me?”

Captain Tessin then unfolded a tale about Negative No. 1, “My boss, a captain much senior to me, some years ago assigned a project to the Navy’s Engineering Experiment Station for development of a compound to do exactly what Havevap does. If the effort is successful, his name would be used to identify the compound. Thus whenever I propose adoption of Hagevap he phones the Experiment Station and the project manager there tells him that they are making progress and need another few months. This has been going on for over a year. If the forces afloat demanded Hagevap now, there is nothing my boss could do about it!”

With skepticism about Hagevap suddenly turned into determination to employ Hagevap, I pumped the salesman for more information. He then advised that the compound should be injected with a metering pump rather than relying on the evaporator’s vacuum as was the case with the starch treatment. “The cost of a combined mixing tank and pump is $2,000,” he said.

My problem suddenly became how to obtain the $54,000 that was not in our budget for purchasing twenty-seven tank-pump units and how to work around the senior material officer, Negative No. 2, who would never stick his neck out to do what Captain Tessin suggested.

I told the salesman that I would call him as soon as I had a solution.

Immediately after the salesman’s departure I started plotting with my assistant about funds that we could divert without causing a flap. At that instant Negative No. 2 dashed out of his office, interrupted and excitedly said, “Admiral Fulton just phoned. He said that an aircraft carrier was detained in the Mediterranean. Authorization for a few-million dollars worth of overhaul work will expire within a month. He wants to know if we could obligate some of that money!”

I said quickly, “There’s $54,000 for Hagevap.”

Just as quickly, Negative No. 2, intent only on pleasing Admiral Fulton, said, “Yes! Yes! What else?”

At that instant, he didn’t know what Hagevap was!




Copyright © 2005 (text only) by Louis D. Chirillo