Tuesday, November 1, 2016

STORIS' construction in Toledo remembered

Above: STORIS on her launch day at Toledo Shipbuilding Co. Left, RADM Richard Schmidtman, the Coast Guard officer who supervised the building of STORIS in Toledo.

She was the Galloping Ghost of the Alaskan Coast, Bulldog of the Bering, the STO-pig or The Mighty STO.

The men chiefly responsible for building STORIS called her “Patches.”

I was poking around the Web doing some follow-up research and ran across an oral history interview conducted with USCG RADM Richard D. “Dick” Schmidtman on April 21, 1988. RADM Schmidtman was a LCDR and CDR who worked as Resident Chief Inspector at the Toledo Shipbuilding Company from April of 1941 to June of 1944. While at Toledo, he supervised the conversions of ALMOND, ARROWWOOD and CHAPARRAL from commercial ferries to CG tenders. He also supervised the new builds of MACKINAW and of course, STORIS. His wife, Mildred (also known as Julie), sponsored STORIS at her launch. 

In other assignments, RADM Schmidtman served in various administrative positions with several afloat tours, including command of the CGC EASTWIND. He was District Commander of D13 when he retired in 1967. In October 1991, when STORIS took over the title of Queen of the Fleet, RADM and Mrs. Schmidtman were at the ceremony to remove the covering to reveal STORIS' new gold hull number "38." He passed away in 1995.

The oral history provides a fascinating look into the construction of STORIS. RADM Schmidtman refers several times to Harold Wood, who also was supervising the construction of the ship for the Coast Guard and was also likely a LCDR at that time. Wood would serve as EO on STORIS during the Greenland Patrols and as her CO during her historic Summer 1957 transit of the Northwest Passage. There is a separate oral history for CAPT Wood, as well, that is an excellent read, talking about the Greenland Patrol and, naturally, the Northwest Passage trip. That will be another post. 

The relevant references to STORIS from RADM Schmidtman run from pages 20 to 24, after the RADM explains how he joined the Coast Guard and got involved with ship construction. The interviewer is noted as “Sam.” (SG in CAPT Wood’s interview…”

RADM Schmidtman’s biography from the USCG: https://www.uscg.mil/history/people/Flags/SchmidtmanRBio.pdf

And the oral history in full: http://fcgh.org/wp-content/orals/Dick_Schmidtman.pdf 

RADM Schmidtman, noted as “Dick” throughout

… So I went to headquarters and then they sent me out to the Toledo Ship Building Company to start building the Storis. And I didn't know until the middle of 1941 whether I was going to get a master's degree or what they were going to do, but I did. They sent me a master's degree. And I don't know how many times this happened in the past, but I got a master's degree with no bachelor's degree. Later on, the academy gave all the graduates, including the three-year types a bachelor of science degree in engineering. 

[Sam] And that B.S. is probably appropriate.

[Dick] Yeah probably. Well chosen. Well, my experience at the Toledo Ship Building Company was not only educational, but very pleasant. A nice bunch of people at the Toledo Ship. The head man on the scene was an Englishman by the name of Joel Rollinson, who had come over to Canada from England for Lloyds of London. And then they moved down into the states and got this job at Toledo Ship. He was the junior superintendent. We got along famously. We liked each other and we liked each other's families and although we had a lot of battles, we settled them peacefully and amicably and we got along fine. However, the Storis was designed to be an all-welded ship. Toledo Ship was not really qualified to build an all-welded ship. They didn't have enough welders for one thing. The only welding that they did was to patch up riveted ships which came in off the lakes. And as he said in the days when it was a shipbuilding company, which they didn't do anymore at this time - this was 1941. He says "they used to build them by the mile and cut them off every 600 feet and put a bow and a stern on them" and they were all riveted, of course. Well, that meant that they had a large crew of riveting people. All of the trades, the heaters, the riveters, the holder uppers. 

[Sam] And the buckers.

[Dick]  The buckers right. And they were only willing to take the contract for the Storis if the Coast Guard would allow them to put rivets in that ship. So the Coast Guard made, what to my professional opinion was, a mistake. They told them they would do it. They would let them rivet and then they would let them weld. Well, according to what I had learned at MIT, that is the wrong to do. If you rivet first then you weld, at least that is the way it was done, and the process of welding with the heating and cooling will loosen rivets. Now you have got a hole through the ship with a loose rivet in it. You've got a leak. It is not the thing to do. You either go one way or the other., but that is the way they went. That was the first step. In the second place, they didn't know how to build a welded ship. By which I mean, when you build a welded ship, you get plates out of the structural shop, the ship fitter shop and you take them down to the building berth and you have to put them up against the frame of the ship and hold them in place until you get it welded. Well there are systems that have been devised using clips and wedges so that without drilling any holes in the plate, you can hold it in place until the welding has been completed. Well, Toledo Ship didn't know anything about that. They are ship fitters. They are experienced, professional artisans - just didn't know how to do that. So, it became my job to teach these people. Now, I was fresh out of school. I was a lieutenant a two-striper and much younger than all of these people, but it was a gratifying job and I enjoyed doing it. And Harold Wood was my number one man, he was the prospective engineer officer for the Storis and he hadn't been to MIT, but he knew about welded ships. So the two of us took on this job and we had a heck of a time and we made a lot of mistakes and maybe let a lot of things go that we shouldn't have. At one point, we were calling the ship Patches because they were forever drilling holes where they shouldn't and we were making them cut these things out and put a patch on it in its place. A case in point was the main sea chest doubler. Now this, of course, is a plate that is quilted on over the regular shell plate the hull plating of the ship and the regular shell had been in place for some time. Now, they were going to get out the sea chest doubler that had to have an opening cut in it for the sea chest, of course. And then be placed up against the ship and held there until the welders had welded it in place. Well, this was still the summer of 1941, the war hadn't started. So they were still on one shift a day. And it was my practice to walk through the yard down the building berth and look at what they had done for the day before I went home. The yard was closed down and everybody had gone. So there I was walking down looking down under the ship and I saw these spikes sticking down. Horns coming down out of the bottom of the ship. So I went up underneath the ship and damned if they hadn't drilled holes in that sea chest doubler and bolted it in place. So I was fit to be tied. The next morning I was in Joel Rollinson's office bright and early and I said "damn it Joel, they have done it again." And he said "what have they done?" and I told him and he sent for the quarterman ship fitter, old Tom Naylor and he came in and we told him. And he looked at me with complete honesty and he said "how were we going to hold it up there while we weld, are you going to put somebody in it to stand under it?" I said "of course not, you use clips and wedges. You remember, you heard that before, clips and wedges. And you weld the clip to the shell plate and the clip comes across the new plate and you drive a wedge in it to hold it in place. And that is what you do until you get it welded." He said "oh well." So I said "okay Joel, throw it out, get a new one." And I said "I'm going to give you a break, I'm going to let you plug wall the holes you put in the shell. I ought to make you take the shell plates off too, but I'm not." So, "okay" he said. So Harold Wood and I used to say "this poor ship, god knows how long she's going to last, but it won't be very long." And here it is 1988 and the Storis is still in full commission and going like gangbusters. 

[Sam] 50 years.

[Dick] Oh yes. Woody ought to be telling. You have had Woody on one of these, haven't you?

[Sam]  Yes.

[Dick]  Did he tell you about the fuel tanks in the Storis! 

[Sam]   No. 

[Dick]   Well, the specifications called for the interior plating, the interior side of the plating in where the fuel tanks are to be treated not painted, but treated with linseed oil. A linseed oil treatment which would then dissolve in the diesel fuel and go out with the diesel, but would protect the plate from rusting, corroding. Well the yard had another idea. They had some kind of patented paint that they wanted to use which would do the same thing, but better and cost less. And, of course, this was at this point, a fixed-price contract. This is before the cost-plus days after the war started, you had a lot of cost plus. In fact the Mackinaw was cost plus, the next ship that followed it. But, some knuckle head in naval engineering headquarters went along with the idea and nobody beat it down so they were allowed to put this, I can't remember the name, it was something like musterol [phonetic]. You know the stuff you rub on you. It had a name something like that - musterol. It wasn't Rustoleum. Anyway, they painted this junk on the plates that were going into the fuel tank and poor old Woody had to live with it after he left with the ship. When they left in October of 1942 for Boston and had to go out through the St. Lawrence River. Fortunately, their fuel filters were duplex. They had duplex filters, but he said they actually had to have a man standing constantly over these filters because this musterol was washing off and remaining in suspension. See it didn't dissolve like the linseed oil would have, it remained in suspension and when it hit the filters, of course, it clogged the filters. And when that happened, they had to switch over to the other side and pull the filter and clean it, put it back in. I think they wound up putting cotton or bunting or something around which they could just strip off and throw away. But they were doing that constantly all the way around to Boston because of these jokers. Well they were good people. I liked them, they were all good people. Anyway, poor old Woody lived to regret that one.

[Sam]  They had probably developed that for use in a steam job for bunker oil rather than for diesel oil.

[Dick]  I really don't know. I don't know why it shouldn't have done the same thing with bunker oil because it was thick enough so it may not have even washed it off in the first place. 

[Sam]  Yeah and you don't have to filter that.

[Dick]  But diesel oil is very penetrating. It is like Liquid Wrench practically and it caused a lot of trouble.

[Sam]   I had similar problems in my boat.

[Dick]  An interesting thing happened in connection with the Mackinaw which was the next job the Coast Guard gave Toledo Ship and that was at the launching. Of course, both the Storis and the Mackinaw and common with most ships in the Great Lakes, it was launched side ways and they were dry docked. However, in the case of the Storis, she was a small enough ship so that there was plenty of room in the dry dock. In the case of the Mackinaw, the Mackinaw's beam was 75 feet and the dry dock was something like 80-feet wide. There was very little room to spare… 

The rest of the interview continues with the launch of MACKINAW and then-CDR Schmidtman’s career progression in research and afloat tours, such as CO of CGC COOS BAY and EASTWIND. It is an interesting read but the section on STORIS and her construction is fabulous insight, especially since it is almost certain that everyone who was involved with the construction is now gone. My good friend LCDR Brent Michaels served on MACKINAW for something like 12+ years and explained that when he was on Big MACK, they had attempted to have a reunion for shipyard workers who built her and there were hardly any left at that time. Brent came off MACKINAW 21 years ago already. He’s gone now and STORIS, too. Heavy heart…

They called her “Patches,” and questioned whether she would hold together. Yet STORIS served over 64 years in some of the harshest, most violent seas on Earth. She retired in beautiful condition after serving her country with Honor, Respect and Devotion to Duty, only to be betrayed by the very government she served. 

Photo of RADM Schmidtman from an EASTWIND memory collection on Jack’s Joint Coast Guard page:  www.jacksjoint.com/The%20Mighty%20E.pdf

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