1st September 2011, 17:00
Although I covered my first trip in some detail, I missed out a unique experience. We had a Polish donkey-man on day-work who was one of the strongest men I’ve ever met. He was known just as “Paul”, because of his, to us, complicated name. He was about 5 foot 8 inches tall and well over 2 feet across his shoulders. As an example: I was cleaning the lubricating oil centrifuge and had lifted the Sharples bowl out of the frame and was preparing to tuck the body of it under my arm as usual to carry it to the cleaning bench when Paul asked “Where you want him?” (His command of English was not comparable to his physical strength.) When I answered, he picked it up holding its neck between his thumb and finger, took it hanging vertically to the bench, changed his grip and rotated it to the horizontal with a flick of his wrist! Came the time when the Second decided to spring clean the shaft tunnel which had acquired rather a lot of junk, in his opinion. Amongst this was a galvanised bin containing Soda Ash which had absorbed moisture from the air and instead of a mass of crystals was a solid block, weighing about 1& 1/2 hundredweight, say about 90 Kg.. This bin was put in a sack which Paul slung over his shoulder and we climbed the ladders to deck. I was instructed to go behind Paul and take some of the weight which I did without thinking of the consequences, by following with one arm extended upward and the other grasping the handrail. If Paul’s grip had slackened I would have ended up as a mangled heap at the foot of the ladder. Quite clearly nothing untoward occurred and we arrived on deck. Standing at the ship’s side he took the bin out of the sack, which was valued for “bagging” the plates, and we held the bin over the side and let go. The result was most impressive! For the first and only time in my life I saw a substantial hole in water. The bin was visible at the bottom of a hole more than 2 foot across until it was about 10 < 12 feet deep, until the water closed over it and it disappeared from human sight for ever.
Now to the second voyage and justification for the title of this thread. We sailed in ballast to Cuba where we entered the port of Puerto Padre. This had a single berth wooden jetty in a circular bay. According to Google maps it has a long narrow entrance which I didn’t see on entry as I was too busy on the movement book. This made for a naturally safe anchorage which was useful because we had to anchor overnight as the berth was occupied. So the opportunity was taken to de-ballast while we waited. The result was that we sat in our own personal halo of grey muddy London dock water. Don’t get too upset about the environment, anyway it hadn’t been discovered then. Extraordinarily, when we weighed anchor I was on the forecastle as an observer. The last few shackles of cable, which had been dragged around the bottom were so coated with mud that they resembled a tree trunk. Hosing it off returned the mud to where it belonged: accompanying the new addition. Although I don’t normally remember such details, I know that we berthed Starboard side to (alongside) because the jetty boasted a fully functioning bar complete with very loud outdoor speakers for its juke box! I remember that as, fortunately for us, the Engineers accommodation was on the Port side. Land access to the jetty was by rail only, a fascinating rail car was provided for personnel: it would carry about twenty people I suppose, and had no clutch or gearbox. To go to civilisation the driver pushed from behind and after a while there was a loud bang as the engine fired, followed by more bangs but getting ever closer together as speed picked up. To exit from civilisation and return to jetty, he simply pushed from the opposite end. This vehicle shared the narrow-gauge tracks that the train of flat cars used to bring us our daily ration of sugar. When I say “flat cars”, I am using the term advisedly. There were neither raised ends nor sides in use. They were just wide enough to have two sugar sacks laid end to end across them but I’ve now no other idea of their capacity. The locomotive was an awe-inspiring contraption. I think it was an 0 4 4 0 wheel layout but it was definitely oil-fired, because, just like any other oil-fired furnace, when forced, the flames tend to emerge in search of air! On the Starboard side a vertical twin cylinder engine was used to rotate a longitudinal shaft equipped with numerous universal joints; and, some sliding ones, which powered the driving wheels via bevel gears. Right on the outskirts of civilisation nearest to us was the “first and last”. It had a typical tropical open-fronted bar except that at one end it resembled a village shop, selling all sorts of things. Gradually the counter morphed into an alcoholics’ dream. Naturally you sat facing the bar and, having forgotten that the rails ran through the main (and only) street were completely taken by surprise when this Devilish machine followed by dozens of rattling clanking empties shot behind you in the dark. As it was accompanied by the flaming furnace it was a nasty awakening. All this just to sweeten Japanese coffee. When the loaded trucks arrived under the derricks they were boarded by two workers who put five of the 250 pound weight bags in a sling. In the cargo hold six men awaited the arrival. Initially a low wall about 4 foot high was built in the middle of the hatch. One man standing on this stack unhooked the sling, put the empty one on and the hook ascended and arrived at the truck just in time to be replaced with a full sling. Meanwhile, in the hatch the sacks were upended on the stack, given to one of the other five men who RAN with it to where it was needed and returned for his next load. This continued until about one or two o’clock when a siesta intervened after which work continued until the train was empty and returned to the mill which was apparently on the other side of the bay. The mill produced 2 000 tons daily which meant that in five days we were fully laden. A most important docker was the water carrier. Into each hatch he lowered a wooden bucket containing a block of ice the size of your head. It melted quickly enough to quench the thirsts of all six men. When all five hatches had been supplied he had to start again! The sugar was what I know as Demerara sugar consisting of crystals approximately a millimetre across, but also widely called turbinado sugar, or so Wikipedia claims. I understand that this is an early stage of refining and still has some molasses in it. Anyway it was delivered to Japan more or less in perfect condition, apart that is from a small number of sacks in the tween decks under our cracked decks. The dockers used very long slings and working two men to a bag, put so many in that they were trying to lift four or five tons. Although the derricks were emblazoned “S.W.L. 10 Tons” this referred to using multi-block tackles and definitely not the single pull Union-Purchase which was rigged. After successful cargo discharge and hull repairs we headed for Townsville, in ballast of course. Ten or twelve days out and the deep-tank contents had fermented until the stench was so strong that people changed to the weather side rather than face the effluvium escaping from the ventilators. It was decided to freshen it up and it drained down to sea level by gravity. The ballast pump was warmed through and the steam admitted: the rate of vertical oscillation had to be seen to be believed! far in excess of Weir’s designed speed of 19 strokes per minute. So at six o’clock on Sunday morning I was involved to help the other Junior investigate and then rectify. Considering the age of the ship it was astonishing that there was no provision above the pump for lifting tackle. The Second wanted us to drill and tap the deck-head but as it was also the store’s deck and was only 5/16ths thick we “accidentally” drilled it oversize and had to use a 1/2” Whitworth threaded eye-bolt secured with washer and nut which was thoroughly riveted over. After all, our fingers would be the first at risk and we had both grown attached to them and wished to keep it that way! After substantial dismantling, the water-end piston was found coyly nestling at the bottom of the cylinder. It was reunited with the piston rod and a new split pin fitted after drilling out the old one which had sheared off flush with the rod. Despite this freshening up, when we de-ballasted in Townsville, there was about 6 inches of mud on all the horizontal surfaces except for the tank bottom which had a foot of it. After much tank cleansing loading commenced. This sugar came in 100 pound sacks and was a stage further along the refining trail. It was what I know as brown moist, having much smaller crystals, even smaller than conventional white sugar. Sacks were delivered to a Bench adjacent to a few removed hatch boards where they were cut open and decanted into the hatch. Clearly this would be a slow process under normal conditions, but the dockers were indulging in one of their favourite pastimes: a go-slow and it took three weeks to get half loaded. We moved to Cairns and stayed for another three weeks. Completely irrelevant but interesting all the same: the contemporary licencing laws prohibited pubs from opening on Sundays. In Townsville it was necessary to sneak in through the side doors to allay one’s thirst. In Cairns the front doors were wide open and one of the national papers ran an article while we were there entitled: “The Evils of Sunday drinking in Townsville”! The day we sailed the Chief Engineer blotted his copy-book so badly that I’m sure he would have been lucky just to be demoted. I never found out. He was accompanied in his blotting by the Second Engineer who would most certainly have been sacked. Even after all this time I don’t want to elaborate on their demeanours. Lionel.

marco nista
1st September 2011, 19:31
Zebedee -

. The locomotive was an awe-inspiring contraption. I think it was an 0 4 4 0 wheel layout but it was definitely oil-fired, because, just like any other oil-fired furnace, when forced, the flames tend to emerge in search of air! On the Starboard side a vertical twin cylinder engine was used to rotate a longitudinal shaft equipped with numerous universal joints; and, some sliding ones, which powered the driving wheels via bevel gears.

A wonderful [& very accurate] description by a Non-Railfan of what could only be an American 'Shay' geared locomotive !

I don't supose that you got any photos of this loco or the railcar ?

Shays were built for heavy low-speed haulage over dubious industrial track which was often very steep & tightly curved, which accounts for the sliding joints as the bogies [at least two & sometimes as many as four] were powered & gave the loco a flexible wheelbase.

The boiler was mounted off-centre so that the two or three cylinder vertical engine could be mounted on the starboard side.

Would it be OK with you if I were to put an extract from your post up on the 'Industrial Railway Society' & 'Narrow Gauge Railway Society' forums ?
Members would be most interested.

Many thanks !