The Oil King

Note: There are a lot of acronyms in this story......they are all discussed in detail at the end under "Definitions"!

By Richard H. King, CDR USNR-Ret.

At the time of this story, CDR King was LT JG, Main Propulsion Assistant (1965-1968), 
(Assistant Engineering Officer for Main Propulsion) 

    The FRAM destroyer was essentially one of many versions of late WWII destroyers that were "life extended" by virtue of a program called FRAM (Fleet Rehabilitation and Modernization Program).  Some of the FRAM'd Destroyers eventually ended up with twenty five years service in our Navy and thirty more years in a smaller Navy (South Korea, Taiwan and South America, plus Greece and Turkey).  The FRAM program began in the late fifties and was ended in the early sixties.  The common thread, good and bad, was that these destroyers were mechanically reliable.

    They were also labor intensive; everything in the engineering plant was manually operated including the water level of the steam drums in the boilers.  It took about 20 engineers around the clock per watch to man one of these things as they needed to operate at a steady 600 PSI. The 1200 "pounders" (lbs per sq. inch operating pressure) came later and had some design problems. The main, turbo and auxiliary steam lines on a FRAM Destroyer had bolted flanges which ship's repair force could repair or at least do a "ship to shop and back" repair (by removing the bad piece, carrying it to a shop, picking up the new piece a few days later and re-installing) . The 1200 pounders had all welded steam connections and only a highly certified welder could work on them followed by extensive x-ray and similar tests requiring expensive test equipment carried only by some tenders. That is why ship's force generally could not do their own steam line repairs on Post FRAM Ships.

    And although they were supposed to need less engineers per watch than FRAM DESTROYERS, that goal was never achieved.  They had the same number of boiler technicians (BTs) on watch per boiler, except they became tired, bored and sleepier quicker when the automated system was actually working and when the "s" "h" "t" "f" they did not have the options FRAM BT's had.  And when there were problems, problems a FRAM crew could fix with ship's force, only a shipyard could fix a 1200 pounder. So what did we gain?  Hardly nothing.  Back to the drawing board.  Hence the gas turbine Spruance Class.

Enter the OIL KING !

    The "Oil King" was the boiler technician (BT) in charge of the some 200,000 gallons of black oil (NSFO) we carried in about twenty different tanks, including four "ready service" tanks (two forward and two aft) and three amidships tanks that we rarely tapped.  The OIL KING had watch stander's liberty both underway and in port and an open gangway under most circumstances.  According to some "BUPERS" (Bureau of Personnel) manning document, on a FRAM it was supposed to be an E-7 position during wartime, E-6 during peacetime.  He had his own little shack with laboratory equipment and had to test feed water quality and fuel oil quality on a regular basis (several times a day on feed water).  We had two fuel oil transfer pumps which he or his assistant used every few hours to move oil around from storage tanks to the service tanks to keep the ship on an even keel.  

    I have a vivid picture in my mind of the Oil King sitting at the Chief Engineer's Desk in the Chief Engineer's stateroom studying the tank tables and charts (the stateroom designated for the Chief Engineer was slightly to port of the after service tanks and that was where their sounding tubes were located, or just outside the door).  Good thinking on the part of someone at BUPERS because if an officer's stateroom had to be invaded day and night every few hours by someone, it best be the Chief Engineer who best understood why. Either the Oil king or his assistant would be in and out of there throughout the night taking soundings with a flashlight.

    When we refueled (whether at sea or in port) he took command of a sound powered phone circuit that led to each of the twenty tanks.  With diagrams and papers in front of him, he would direct other BT's when to shut key valves and eventually when to call for cease pumping.  It was LT Al Sherman's and BT2 Richard Morton's opinion that the best rank for the job on a FRAM was a senior E-5.  Chiefs were too lazy to do it right and First Class were better used as being in charge of a fire room. But he had to be the best and brightest BT2, smart as a whip and stable as a rock. Even as early as the late sixties, an oil spill off Shelter Island Yacht Club in San Diego Harbor could ruin a lot of officer's day including the Captain's.  

    The Oil King had direct access to the Captain, Chief Engineer and of course the junior officer and Chief in the chain of command.  He would fill out a small form every morning about our fuel state, with input from the Water King (a Machinist Mate) as to water volume but which included the results of his laboratory tests as to water quality and under our system he was supposed to route a copy to the Chief Engineer, MPA, Chief BTC and Chief MMC before lunch.  The original copy went to the Captain as part of the "noon report".   We were blessed with some good ones on "Chevy" during my watch, but the best of the greatest was in my humble opinion, BT2 Nathaniel Thomas from Virginia. 

    The picture at left was taken before he became "Oil King", he was then "top watch" and maintenance chief in the forward fireroom.  At the time, he was the only Black (of any rank) in "B" Division and was highly respected. He really caught my attention when I realizes he was doing 90% of the paperwork for both firerooms (MDC/PMS).  

    We also had an interesting unannounced "FLAG VISIT" in the forward fireroom when he was steaming a boiler, in charge.  I had twenty seconds to tell him (by phone) a four star was going to be climbing down the ladder to his boiler flat.  The Admiral challenged the "perfection" we had down there and really grilled Petty Officer Thomas.  Thomas was great, he said "we work hard and long" but once you build a near perfect plant, it is easy to keep it that way.  WOW, I was impressed, as was the four star Admiral.  The Admiral grilled Thomas, the Captain stood behind the Admiral and I stood behind the Captain waiting for disaster to strike. Nathaniel Thomas argued with the Admiral and won his case.  I know the Admiral was impressed. If I recall directly, the Admiral was Vice Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Revero.  I was shaking. Petty Officer Thomas remained calm and collected. He stood his ground and defended his boiler flat that he was in charge of.


Now for some definitions:

  1. BTC stands for "Boiler Technician Chief" (E-7) in olden days "Boiler Tender Chief".  

  2. MM stands for "Machinist Mate", the rate that handled the steam turbines, turbo generators, evaporators, condensers, etc.  

  3. In simplistic terms, the "BT's" made the steam and the "MM's" put that steam to work and sent the condensate back to the BT's to make more steam.  It was called the "steam cycle" because in theory you used the same water over and over and over again.

  4. "MPA" stood for "Main Propulsion Assistant" which I describe to civilians (easier to understand) as "Assistant Engineering Officer for Main Propulsion".  Or on a merchant steamship, "First Engineer" (after the Chief Engineer).  

  5. "MMC" stood for "Machinist Mate Chief (E-7).  Actually, we (on the USS Chevalier) had a "SPCM" (E-9).  "Steam Propulsion Chief Master".  Same as Sergeant Major in the Army or Marine Corps.  The idea was that upon moving from the rate of E-8 to E-9 you were suddenly an expert in both of two closely related rates.  And that was fairly much true, but it is my understanding that we went back to the way things were in the olden days and the rate of SPCM has been abolished.  

  6. The E-9 rates are now MMCM  (Master Chief Machinist Mate - E-9) or BTCM (Master Chief Boilerman - E-9).  

  7. MDC and PMS.  In the days before you had a computer, the Navy was trying to use mainframe computers to sort out a lot of information concerning the maintenance of Naval ships.  "MDC" stood for "Maintenance Data Collection".  "PMS" stood for "Planned Maintenance System".  There were a bunch of forms, which were very complicated, that sailors had to fill out, and everything was done in code. There was a thick book that came with the system where you found your problem and looked in the book and found the right code.  
        I remember one interesting case involving a "chair".  What, a chair?  Yes, a chair, in the engineering log room.  It was an aluminum chair and the seat of the chair was broke.  We were under a moratorium for buying new office furniture.  I figured if the tender (a ship used to supply destroyer's with parts and supplies) would cut me a piece of plywood to screw onto the chair, perhaps with some padding and some sort of vinyl covering, I could re-cycle that chair for another ten years. 

        So I tried to fill out a "4700-2C" form for the tender carpentry shop to make me a new "seat" for a chair.  All I was asking was for the tender carpentry shop to cut a piece of plywood, apply some padding and stretch some sort of naugahyde over it.  The problem that developed was that there was no "code number" in the MDC system for a chair.  I took that case as a challenge and spent weeks at it.  My chair was eventually fixed, but the amount of paperwork it took outweighed the chair.  The system was not user friendly.  For example, if a bearing wiped on a pump shaft, the sailor who fixed it had to fill out a 4700-2B (repair completed).  
        If something was broke, but we didn't have the needed part, he was supposed to fill out a 4700-2D (repair deferred).  If the ship wanted either a shipyard, SRF or Tender to tackle the job, a 4700-2C was filled out. This was an early attempt by the Navy to use computers to replace the memory of the senior petty officers and officers actually on board as to what was done to what machinery when and what we need do to soon.  We had no computers on board.  But about six months after all these little forms had been sent in, we would receive a fifty pound box of paper of computer print out (perforated at the edges) telling us what we did and what we needed.  Nobody ever ploughed through those reams and reams of material because by the time it got back to the ship, it was ancient history and by that time we had new problems. Things may have got better later, I will let our younger members address that. 


Comments on the Navy's "Planned Maintenance System" (PMS)

    I think it was around the time our reserve crew was on McKean that I was introduced to PMS.  "What are we doing this weekend?"  "Were doing PMS on the condensate pumps".  I still believe in the theory of if it ain't broken don't fix it, but Oh No, we had to unbolt the deck plates on the lower level and disassemble a perfectly good condensate pump while standing in the bilges.  The shaft and impeller were removed and micrometer readings taken of the wearing rings and other dimensions.  Then it had to be put together again and you didn't just run down to Manny, Mo, & Jacks Condensate pump supply house either for parts.  All the gaskets had to be made by hand using a ball peen hammer on the edges and a gasket cutter for the holes.  If we were lucky Engineering Supply had some bearings left over from WWII, but most of the time nothing was wrong with the pump. Robert TeGroen



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