Like Mary Poppins

That Sunday afternoon in the spring of 1955 inside the Boston Naval Shipyard duty office was typical; it could not have been more boring. Then the shipyard’s telephone operator fielded a phone call to me. A troubled voice announced, I’m Sam Wakeman, the General Manager at Beth Quincy.”


The caller didn’t need to tell me who Sam Wakeman was. In those days the general managers in shipyards like Bethlehem’s in Quincy were big wheels in the marine industry. I was all ears as he continued, “Yesterday we attempted to launch an offshore Texas Tower and it stuck on the ways. We have been struggling since and it hasn’t budged an inch. I need to borrow the Navy Yard’s 100-ton floating crane in order to place our crawler crane that weighs 80 tons on the tower’s platform. From there it can reach where we have to dismantle a section of the ways that we cannot reach otherwise. I have to have the Navy’s crane here before 8:00 a.m. tomorrow!”

Sam Wakeman’s demeanor was that of someone who was resigned to having to deal with a government bureaucrat, a mere Navy lieutenant, who would have to inquire of other bureaucrats who might, but probably wouldn’t, know what to do until someone with sufficient authority arrived on the next day at the start of the regular workweek. What he didn’t know was that my regular planning job included providing the Navy Yard’s services to a private enterprise subject to three conditions. I already knew that one was satisfied. There was no other floating crane in the Boston area that could lift 80 tons. All I replied was, “Give me your number, I will phone you within thirty minutes.”

Still reflecting skepticism, Beth’s top manager said, “I’ll phone you!”

I immediately contacted the waterfront operations office that had cognizance of the yard’s tugs and floating cranes and established that the 100 tonner and tugs were available. I next phoned my boss, Captain Fulton the Planning Officer, and explained the situation. I also advised that there would be no time for our planners to estimate the fee that we were required to charge and for me to obtain a certified check in advance as specified in the Chief of Naval Operations pertinent instruction. Captain Fulton authorized me to waive both those requirements. Not more than 10 minutes had elapsed since Beth’s General Manager hung up.

When anxious Sam Wakeman phoned again 20-minutes later he was stunned silent when I said, “Our tugs will have our 100-ton floating crane off of your yard by 0800 tomorrow. You can comply with the necessary paperwork later in the week.”

After recovering from the shock of having discovered such efficiency in a public shipyard, Beth’s General Manager stressed the need to have the floating crane there on time because he would have many workmen standing by, etc. Thus when I issued the order to the waterfront operation’s office I added a factor of safety; I specified 0730 and added a bit about the importance of being in Quincy on time. The waterfront gang added an additional safety factor; they were standing by off of Beth’s launching ways at 0700. That must have really shocked Sam.

Later that week an interesting fellow delivered the certified check. He was Jim Bush, the project manger for the Raymond De Long consortium that was to land the Texas Tower No. 2 on Georges Bank, 110 miles east of Cape Cod. He said that he wanted to personally thank me and then invited me to go aboard the launched tower before it left Quincy. That was an experience that I’m not likely to ever forget.


When I arrived at Beth Quincy I was surprised to discover that the tower’s platform was raised up to its full height placing its deck about one-hundred feet above the pier and that there didn’t seem to be any provision for access.

Just then a whirley crane landed an empty bucket alongside. So there I was with Jim Bush and two other hard hats from the heavy-construction industry, all absolutely accustomed to being so transported to high places, trying to act as nonchalant as they were while the crane operator simultaneously and quickly raised the boom, rotated the crane, and hauled in on the single whip (cable). Centrifugal force kept us in the bucket that seemed to be flying through space at an angle of forty-five degrees.

No amusement park ever matched that thrill.


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

Notice: ob_end_flush(): failed to send buffer of zlib output compression (1) in /home/japaniam/public_html/lou/wp-includes/functions.php on line 5279

Notice: ob_end_flush(): failed to send buffer of zlib output compression (1) in /home/japaniam/public_html/lou/wp-includes/functions.php on line 5279