Stokers & trimmers - Ships Nostalgia
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Stokers & trimmers

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  #1  
Old 24th May 2005, 02:05
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Stokers & trimmers

Last night whilst browsing on the net I came across a couple of brief articles on stokers and trimmers, they were mainly about people on warships but I would imagine they would operate similarly on merchant ships.

I never sailed on a ship that burned coal so I've had no experience but I doubt I could imagine a less glamorous job. Imagine during the war on a stormy Atlantic convoy, in the bowells of a defenceless merchant ship, the heat and dust and the expectancy of a torpedo coming through the side at any moment. That and a world without rum would have to be my vision of hell.

They must have been very strong physically and mentally. I would like to read more about these men can anybody steer me to a web site where I can learn more about them.
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  #2  
Old 24th May 2005, 02:40
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Stokers

Apparently they were also known as the black hole gang, many thanks for the reference Zelda
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  #3  
Old 24th May 2005, 04:14
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Exactly as I'd imagined the conditions, what a wonderful description, you could almost see the picture.
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  #4  
Old 24th May 2005, 05:00
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And which reminds me of the song "A'firing the Mauretania" which says it all about the black gang down below..certainly very tough individuals in every respect to have stood the rigours of the job.
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Old 24th May 2005, 06:56
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Don't know the song Doug could you hum it for me please?
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  #6  
Old 24th May 2005, 07:48
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Did you catch it Derek??
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Old 24th May 2005, 08:59
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You could read 'The Death Ship' by Ben Traven. It was written in 1926. Forget the Boy's Own" , ring to the title, originally written in German, it is recognised as a classic.

Dave
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  #8  
Old 24th May 2005, 12:50
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Stokers and trimmers

There were still a few coal burning ships on the Oz Coast in the early 60's. One, the SS Balarr was owned by Australian Steamships Pty. It was one of the River Class built at Whyalla after the war.
It had two B&W water tube boilers with mechanical stokers so firing these boilers was a far cry from the days of hand firing the old Scotch boilers. There was a hopper at the front of the boiler which was topped up as required, generally at the rate of 5 mins shovelling every 20 mins. There were three firemen to a watch, one man to each boiler and the third worked in the bunker as a trimmer. They rotated their duties around between watches so that each man had a turn in the bunker. The bunker was filled in Sydney at the beginning of each trip and was sufficient for a return trip to Fremantle so there was no trimming required for probably about half the voyage anyway. At the end of the watch the ashes were raked out at the back of the boiler and were left cool down ready for the next watch to shovel them into a hopper where a high pressure jet of water discharged them overboard through a pipe.
The boilers were not very big and the boiler room rather spacious so it was a relatively cool working area. It was what some may describe as being an "old man's home".
By 1962 steam ships were becoming rare and to find a coal burner was even rarer. She had a triple expansion engine with a Baurwach exhaust turbine.
I spent 8 months on her as 4th Eng. getting steam time in for an endorsement on my ticket.
At that time I think BHP still had two of this class, the Iron Duke and the Iron King.
Before I left I took some 8mm movie of the engine room and stokehold and the National Maritime Museum in Sydney have a copy of it for anyone that is interested.
I hope this adds a little more information to the Stokers and Trimmers topic.

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Sid.
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  #9  
Old 24th May 2005, 14:29
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Sid thanks for the great description I am slowly starting to build a picture in my head about these guys and the job they did. Thanks also to the people who recommended some books. As I said in my original post they didn't have the most glamorous job on the ship but I have a feeling in my bones there are some very good tales lurking in their history and I intend to pursue it further.
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  #10  
Old 24th May 2005, 20:43
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I served as a Fireman/Trimmer when I first went deep sea,then when most of the coal burners converted to oil we became Firemen/water tenders(keeping an eye on the water glass on the steam boilers). The trimmer job was to bring the coal from the inside of the bunker (Hold) and dump it on the deck plates for the fireman to shovel into the fire. Most of the cargo ships I was on had three boilers with three fires to a boiler. A couple of old ships I sailed on (Banana Boats) had 24 fires back-to-back we called them ocean going coal mines. We did receive an extra tot of rum from the chief, and we were known as the Black Gang. If you need any more info on coal burners just send me a email or a post.
John Rogers. Coal dust.

Last edited by John Rogers : 24th May 2005 at 21:48.
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Old 25th May 2005, 00:56
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Interesting looking notice board in the background Dave. The heading is Honour roll and then what look like colours as sub headings, any idea what it all meant?
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  #12  
Old 25th May 2005, 01:52
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I just read the poem that Zeewestie posted, its right on the mark.
Every Fireman did his time in hell working as a trimmer before he was promoted to Fireman. Inside that coal bunker you had a couple of three bulb light clusters to light your way, a wheel barrow and a very large shovel.all you could see were the other Trimmers white eye balls. The thing was the longer the voyage the further one had to go into the bunker to wheel out the coal.
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Old 25th May 2005, 10:18
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Here's a nice photo from Daveinnols's gallery. I use this as a background photo. It pixilates a bit but I like the atmosphere.
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File Type: jpg Stokers.jpg (86.6 KB, 188 views)
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  #14  
Old 25th May 2005, 11:35
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It only needs one of these gents to have horns on and that would be the perfect picture of hell.
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  #15  
Old 27th May 2005, 02:28
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Hi Derek,

The steam tug Forceful at the Queensland Maritime Museum runs trips into Moreton Bay several times a year. She is manned by volunteers and stokers are always required.

I was lured into doing a trip a few years ago in an attempt to get a free trip for my son (about 11 at the time). I spent a day on board getting up steam and learning the ropes, then the following day doing the trip. Yes, it was murder, but my son, who I ended up paying for, thought it was hilarious watching me through the skylight! When I surfaced in the Bay, most of the BBQ had been eaten too. Despite all that, it was a great day and gave me renewed respect for the stokers of old.

The tug, 115 ft and 288 grt, was built in Glasgow in 1925. I sailed with a BHP Chief Engineer who's father was Chief Engineer on the voyage out to Australia, apparently the trip took about 6 months (via various coal bunkering ports). During the war she spent time as HMAS Forceful and was still working in the Brisbane River until about 1970. Full info and photos are on the museum's website www.qmma.ecn.net.au

So, Derek, if you live near Brisbane and you're feeling fit, here's a chance to live the stoker experience.

Thanks to Dave M for reminding me about the great book "Death Ship" by B Traven. The author was such an enigma, no-one even knows what the "B" stands for or what country he was from. I read the book as a teenager and despite the privations it described, it was one of the things that drew me to a seagoing life. I must try and get a copy and read it again.

John T.
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Old 27th May 2005, 03:32
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Thanks for that John. Prior to moving down to Tassie 18 months ago I lived in Brisbane for about 16 years. Many times as I drove around I saw the old tug and also the warship they have there. I always meant to do the trip you described but never got round to it. Your great story now makes me deeply regret that I never did it.
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  #17  
Old 13th June 2005, 15:32
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Quote:
Originally Posted by thunderd
Thanks for that John. Prior to moving down to Tassie 18 months ago I lived in Brisbane for about 16 years. Many times as I drove around I saw the old tug and also the warship they have there. I always meant to do the trip you described but never got round to it. Your great story now makes me deeply regret that I never did it.
Derek,

The warship in the old drydock you mention is HMAS Diamantina. At the end of World War 2, the Japanese forces in the Solomon Islands signed the surrender documents on board the ship and copies are posted on her. Well worth a visit.

A few weeks ago, the Lord Mayor of Brisbane, Campbell Newman, took a swim in the dry dock (which is leaking and not as dry as it's supposed to be). It was some sort of publicity stunt, but he decamped fairly quickly when it was pointed out that there are also sharks swimming around in there!

John T.
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  #18  
Old 14th June 2005, 02:41
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Well John its good to see a politician joining all the other sharks????
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  #19  
Old 15th June 2005, 02:23
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sometimes in the shipping pool in Liverpool there would be a mass rush for the door out of the place , everyone knew it was the Chiripo looking for firemen, she was a skin boat and had 32 fires back to back they tell me
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Old 15th June 2005, 12:19
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Tell forgive my ignorance but what's a skin boat? Also how many stokers and trimmers would 32 fires need on a watch/shift?
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  #21  
Old 15th June 2005, 12:49
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When I sailed on Fyffes Banana Boats we called them Skin Boats.(Banana Skins)
I sailed on three of their ships the Cavina, Bayano,and the Ariguani they were built around 1921-1923 and they all had 24 fires. We had one Fireman per six fires and four Trimmers servicing the Firemen for a total of eight per watch. On the Cargo ships we had nine fires for three boilers,two Firemen and two trimmers per watch. The Skin boats were also called Plum boats by some people. (Fruit)

Last edited by John Rogers : 15th June 2005 at 12:57.
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Old 15th June 2005, 14:01
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When I sailed on Fyffes Banana Boats we called them Skin Boats.(Banana Skins)
And I'll tactfully avoid being deleted from the thread by not repeating what we used to call passenger ships.
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Old 15th June 2005, 19:32
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Come on Dave you are among shipmates. I heard them referred to has "Bloods" when they are about to give a tip for service.
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Old 16th June 2005, 09:34
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Quote:
Originally Posted by John Rogers
When I sailed on Fyffes Banana Boats we called them Skin Boats.(Banana Skins)
I sailed on three of their ships the Cavina, Bayano,and the Ariguani they were built around 1921-1923 and they all had 24 fires. We had one Fireman per six fires and four Trimmers servicing the Firemen for a total of eight per watch. On the Cargo ships we had nine fires for three boilers,two Firemen and two trimmers per watch. The Skin boats were also called Plum boats by some people. (Fruit)
Many thanks for the answers to both my questions John.
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Old 16th June 2005, 13:20
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You are welcome.
John.
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