Come On, Texas!
On Saturday I had the opportunity to take a “hard-hat” tour of U.S.S. Texas (BB-35), which is preserved as a museum ship at the San Jacinto Battleground, near Houston. She’s one-of-a-kind, the last dreadnought battleship from the first great arms race of the 20th century. The tour was arranged by my colleague, Amy Borgens, for the benefit of the Marine Archaeological Stewards group. The tour was led by Ship Manager Andy Smith and the ship’s Curator, Travis Davis. There’s not very much about Texas that one or the other of those men doesn’t know.
It was quite remarkable, and I would urge anyone with a particular interest in technology or maritime history to take a similar tour if you can. Though the focus was mostly on the technology of the ship — structure, fittings and operation –there were quite a few very human touches, like personal locker whose owner had made a careful running account, inside the door, of all the other Texas sailors who owed him money. It was a long list. One of our group, a Navy veteran himself, commented that “there’s a guy like that in every division.”
The ship desperately needs a major overhaul and rebuilding of specific areas. There’s a significant amount of money set aside for this work already, but it’s not likely to be enough given the scale of the task, and plans are still being made to see how best to tackle the ship’s restoration and preservation with the resources available. As Ship Manager Andy Smith explained, it’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem. It’s hard to raise money without very concrete, specific plans as to how you’re going to spend it; at the same time, though, it’s hard to make detailed and pragmatic plans if you don’t know how much money you’re going to have to work with.
“Come on, Texas!” was a cheer her sailors used when rooting for their messmates in athletic competitions with other ships in the fleet, and it seems appropriate for this stage in the ship’s life, as well. In a few days, on May 18, 2012, U.S.S. Texas will mark her 100th birthday. Here’s hoping she’s still around for her 200th.
This diagram shows the locations appearing in the following images, roughly in order from aft (left), moving forward. More pictures after the jump:
After Steering compartment, at the Second Platform level. Texas could be steering from several locations, including the bridge, the conning tower and the Central Station on the Third Deck, directly below the conning tower. All of those wheels, as I understand, used hydraulic telemotor wheelstands, that controlled the rudder engines. This set of four wheels, located immediately forward of the rudder compartment, allowed the crew to manually control the rudder using nothing but muscle power and some gearing. Rudimentary engine telegraph and binnacle were located here, too, allowing basic control of the ship from this location.
Another view of After Steering, wiht the (dismantled) binnacle in the bottom foreground.
Steering gear compartment, Second Platform deck.
Fourteen-inch shell room, No. 5 turret, starboard side of the First Platform Deck. Shell were moved about using rails and chain falls from the overhead. At full load, Texas carried 100 rounds for each of her 14-inch guns, 1,000 shells in all.
Fourteen-inch Powder Room for the No. 5 turret, starboard side. This compartment, and one like it on the port side of the ship, held several hundred 105-lb. bags of cordite powder, up to four of which were used to propel a single shell. (Storage racks for the bags have been removed.) Great care was taken in maintaining the environment in these spaces, both due to the risk of fire and to prevent the powder from degrading while in storage, which could affect gunnery accuracy.
Ship Manager Andy Smith explains the functioning of powder scuttles (center) that lead from the 14-inch Powder Handling Room for the No. 5 Turret (background), into the Handling Room directly below the turret barbette. In this compartment, both powder and shells would be put in hoists to be carried up into the turret. The scuttle — bronze, to reduce the possibility of sparks — allows the 105-pound cartridge bags (up to four per shell) to be passed through the bulkhead with all hatches closed at general quarters.
Five-inch ammunition hoist (with shells and mockup powder bag), Third Deck Crew Space, starboard amidships, near the No. 3 Barbette.
Boiler uptake in the Drying Room, Compartment B-3, Third Deck. As part of her conversion from coal- to oil-firing int he 1920s, one of Texas’ boiler rooms was eliminated, and all of the exhaust from those boilers channeled into a single funnel. This lightweight metal trunking on the right is part of that system. Fun fact: the exhaust from each boiler went all the way to the top of the funnel in its own piping. A spotter would be assigned to watch the top of the funnel, and could report to the bridge which individual boiler was making too much smoke, allowing the crew below to adjust the fuel/air mixture in the furnace.
One of the ship’s three Boiler Rooms. I believe this is Boiler Room No. 3, Compartment B-3 on the Second Platform Deck.
The restored face of one boiler. The three silver-painted, circular openings once were fitted with oil burners, like the three below, to atomize the fuel oil being sprayed into the furnace and improve combustion. Looking at this machinery, I was immediately reminded of a passage in Monsarrat’s 1943 book H.M. Corvette, where he described the evolution of lighting off the boilers in his own ship:
Lighting up the boiler, the young stoker explained the process for my benefit as he went along. He turned a few knobs, seemingly at random, and then took up a sort of long-handled pair of tongs with a piece of cotton-waste at the end. This he dipped in a can of oil, and lit with a match: then he opened a small door under the boiler, and thrust it within. There was a subdued roar, and then a glow through half a dozen small windows. He turned two more knobs, and then began to watch, carefully, a pressure-gauge above his head. He looked very young to be allowed to play about the machinery like that.
The interior of one of the boiler’s two water drums, showing (lower left) the riveted construction and (upper right) the lower ends of the water tubes that pass through the furnace. Many, small-diameter tubes are used to maximize the surface area available for heating.
The interior of one of the ship’s boilers, showing the firebrick at the opposite end and (upper left and right) the water tubes in which the boiler feed water would be converted to stream.
Apologies for the terrible image, but this is the hydraulic telemotor in the Central Control Station, compartment A-118, on the Third Deck. This small space served as an auxiliary control center, and was located several decks directly below the conning tower.
The ship’s main electrical board, Distribution Room, Compartment A-60, First Platform Deck.
More electrical distribution gear, Distribution Room, Compartment A-60, First Platform Deck. The ship was originally fitted out with state-of-the-art electrical systems when new in 1914, running entirely on direct current. The rapid expansion of electrical application and the plethora of electronic gear that was fitted later, though, remained a constant struggle for the ship’s engineers to keep up with. Today, the ship staff sometime refer to this compartment, with its huge electrical switches, as the “Frankenstein Room.”
A merged image of Main Plot,” the control center for the ship’s main (14-inch) and secondary (5-inch) gun batteries. This space was fitted with electro-mechanical computers, now removed, that made the complex calculations necessary to fire a shell from a moving, rolling platform, to hit another moving, rolling target ten-plus miles away. Throughout her career, Texas maintained a reputation for good gunnery.
Ship’s Curator Travis Davis uses a profile of the ship to explain the gunnery systems that were coordinated in Main Control.
Raw images are available here, on Flickr. There’s an even more gooder set of tour images from Bill Jacomet, here.