Friday, February 25, 2011

Waiting for my Ship to come in.

There’s a port on a western bay
and serves a hundred ships a day
Lonely sailors pass the time away
And talk about their homes
And there’s a girl, in this harbor town,
And she…

That was as far as the song got before a sailor laid aside his pool cue, strode over to the communal radio, and disgustedly snapped it off.  Romanticized versions of Navy life as envisioned by hippie musicians do not play well in a building filled with bored and irritable sailors.

It was my second day at the transit barracks.  I’d just come off of 30 day leave following a 15-month deployment to the Naval Communication Station at Finegayen Guam in the Marianas Islands.  It was great to be stateside again and it was with some anticipation that I awaited the arrival of my first ship, the destroyer U.S.S. Dehaven.  I was literally “waiting for my ship to come in”.

The Dehaven was out on a two-week reserve training cruise and I had arrived at the Naval Station Long Beach, the Dehaven’s homeport, midway through that cruise.  Upon reporting for duty at the Naval Station I was apprised of the situation and assigned a bunk in the transient barracks to await the return of my new ship.

A transit barracks is an earthly manifestation of limbo, or perhaps more like a very pleasant jailhouse, a jailhouse where the inmates can come and go as they please and order in pizza.  A sailor in transit, if clever, has no duties while in that status, unless, of course, that sailor carelessly announces his presence to the notice of the Master-at-Arms (MAA) the arbiter of law and order in a division or transit barracks setting.  The plan of the canny sailor is to evade being placed upon the MAA’s watch bill, that roster of unfortunates which assigns specific duties to those enrolled upon it.  Generally, a clever sailor can avoid the shackles of the watch bill by spreading the word that he is scheduled for oral surgery.  When morning roll is called and the MAA enquires “Where’s Smith?”  more than one witness will attest to Smitty’s preexisting medical/dental commitment, and generally the matter will be dropped until the following morning.  Usually, after two or three days of this, the elusive Smiths’ ship has come in and he affects his escape from the domain of the MAA, however, such  evasion grows increasingly difficult with the length of incarceration in the transit barracks.

(embiggen through clickage)

Characteristically, it behooves shirkers to stay away from the barracks during working hours, say eight in the morning to four in the afternoon.  Beyond four-thirty the coast is clear and all the prodigals return; swelling the ranks of the barracks residents considerably.  The evening is consumed going to and returning from the mess hall, watching television, drinking ripple, or smoking tobacco or weed;  sleeping the hours away like stateless nomads, refugees in flight, orphans with nasty habits.
The very transient nature of the denizens of the transit barracks is not conducive to forming friendships, or in tipping one’s hand to any great degree regarding personal status or situation.  That’s sort of the jailhouse mentality part of the transit barracks.  However, if you run across another sailor who’s reporting to the same ship as you, that’s an entirely different story.  The two of you, now shipmates,  instantly bond into an unbreakable alliance against all “those other assholes”.   Find a shipmate in transit and it can be very “smooth sailing” indeed.

My shipmate, Rick, was just as glad to find me as I him.  Seems he had broken his glasses, quite severely, one lens was missing and the other was haphazardly held together with a band-aid.  He was a steward, essentially an officer’s valet and cook “I think I’m the only white steward in the fleet” was his bewildered self assessment.  I think he may have been quite right. 

Rick and I joined forces on that second day and managed to form a fine alliance to get us through the remaining two days of our incarceration.  We’d watch each other’s belongings when one or the other had to leave the building,   we’d take turns making frequent calls to the harbor master’s shack inquiring as to the status or imminent arrival of the Dehaven, and we’d take turns providing each other with plausible alibi’s to explain each other’s absence at morning muster.  We were a working model of how to successfully navigate the rocks and shoals of the transit barracks milieu, a living embodiment of the phrase “shipmates stand together”.  A lone wolf in a transit barracks, a county lock-up, or a family reunion is the picture of vulnerability, easy pickings for the sharks and maiden aunts that patrol such places, shipmates, however are invincible in their unity.

On the fourth day, our deliverance, like Ricks new lenses, was at hand and we were summoned to the MAA’s office with the news that the Dehaven was clearing the breakwater and would be tying up at piers 17 and 18.  After delivering this welcome news, the MAA surveyed both of our faces and enquired, “How long have you two jokers been aboard my barracks?”  Rick swiftly replied for both of us;

Just got in last night chief”.

Shipmates, stand together!

For a really accurate depiction of the transit barracks lifestyle, check out the outstanding Jack Nicholson film, "The Last Detail".

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Something I've been working on

I took delivery on a new mortising machine two weeks ago.  This may be the last major piece of machinery that will come through the front door of Victory Wood Working.  With this powerful tool I can drill square holes.

How 'bout them apples?  The magic is done by driving a hollow square chisel containing a rotating auger into a piece of wood.  It's pretty cool and will allow me to quickly and accurately make mortise and tenon joinery in my furniture projects.

Every large tool such as this needs a bench or stand to anchor it on for stability.  What I've been using are these machinery stands which I get from Sears:

They work just fine, though they aren't particularly attractive and certainly add nothing to the 1942 theme of my shop.  So I decided to use this opportunity to start making my own machinery stands with a period look.

Two-by-fours, sheet MDF, and 5/8" plywood, mostly on-hand, were dragooned to get the project underway.  For stability I filled the base with several pounds of ceramic tile that I've had lying around waiting for something to do.

Here's the stand carcass with the  mortiser in place.  Generally, I make wooden tool lockers for all of my major machines, this time, however, I used the opportunity to build one right into the pedestal itself.  The pedestal is also the same size as my shop trolleys which can act as "wings" for this stand.

So, here comes the "design-ey" part...

Chevrons and stacked vertical buttresses provide classic art deco lines.  Here, primed and ready to paint in a two-tone green scheme (like the rest of the shop).

I installed the door with classic (and simple) kitchen cabinet hinges with a little wooden ball as an elegant little pull.

The chisels, attachments, and tools have plenty of breathing room.  This is also a perfect place to store the operating manual.

All I need now is a little King Kong clutching a diminutive Fay Wray scrambling to the top.

Making the chips fly,