Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Come On, Texas!

Posted in Memory, Technology by Andy Hall on April 28, 2012

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.



13 Responses

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  1. g2-132541380fdf5651404aa716e6ac486e said, on April 29, 2012 at 10:14 am

    So the Olympia in Philadelphia is the previous generation, correct?

    • Andy Hall said, on April 29, 2012 at 11:06 am

      Yes, and of an entirely different type (Olympia is a protected cruiser.) Olympia is faced dire circumstances of her own right now, but they’re both ships worth saving. Texas is not, as I gather, in as desperate a situation as Olympia, but the battleship is a much bigger challenge is terms of mere size and cost:

      Both ships are technically still property of the USN. The Navy tends to be hands-off about these things (they have other priorities), unless the historic vessel is in serious jeopardy. In that case, they can put pressure on various parties to make some sort of accommodation that best benefits the vessel — at least, in theory. As I understand, Olympia is currently in a phase where other non-profits are developing proposals to take over the ship and its operation. My colleague Amy has a photo album of Olympia here from 2010.

  2. corkingiron said, on April 29, 2012 at 1:13 pm

    Sounds like a great trip. Canada had the fourth largest Navy at the end of WWII – but most of it was promptly scrapped. Other than the destroyer HCMS Haida, sitting dockside in Toronto as a floating Museum – I don’t think there’s much left of it – and nothing from WWI.

    In the close-up of the hydraulic telemotor, there appears to be a seawater filter just behind the vertical shaft – was that for cooling purposes?

    • Andy Hall said, on April 29, 2012 at 1:35 pm

      My pictures of the telemotor are lousy. Here’s a much better image:

      The green box (approx. 6 inches x 112 inches x 12 inches) you see in the upper center part of my image is one of two, mounted above and on either side of the stand. It contained (contains still?) oil for the hydraulics system used to transmit commands to the engine after that turned the rudder. See:

      (Note the speaking tube in this one)


      Also not shown is a big handle, Immediately above the telemotor, which controlled a clutch to engage one of three wheelstands to control the actual steering engine — from the bridge, the conning tower, or the Central Control Station.

  3. corkingiron said, on April 29, 2012 at 1:46 pm

    Thanks. I’ve helped in retro-fitting to install hydraulic systems for steering and control (bow/stern thrusters and stabilizers) – and we used sea water drawn through a sea water filter to cool the hydraulic oil in the reservoirs – those pictures show the filter connecting to what I assume was a reservoir, so I suspect it’s operating on the same principle.

    It was a struggle wrestling the heavy rubberized hoses through the craft – I can’t imagine what it must have been like here with hard-plumbing – and with the huge electrical cables the DC power system would have required as well.

    Ah, you bring out the boat-builder nerd in me.

  4. Bill Harshaw said, on April 30, 2012 at 11:52 am

    Has anyone considered Kickstarter to raise funds?

  5. Mike Silverman said, on April 30, 2012 at 2:31 pm

    I spent some young years on very old ships. The key problem is that salt and water do a serious number on steel and iron, which means that too much maintainence is never enough. These museum ships get in very bad shape very quickly. Even with an unlimited budget for repair and ventilation steel ships deteriorate quickly.
    Ironically, the very old, but wooden, USS Constitution and HMS Victory may be in much better shape.

    • Andy Hall said, on April 30, 2012 at 2:40 pm

      Your point is well taken, but I’m not sure that wooden ships are much better off. Constitution and Charles W. Morgan have both undergone MAJOR reconstructions in recent years; Constitution had hogged something like 4 or 5 feet over the years.

      As for Victory, there have been reports that she’s gradually pulling herself apart because of unequal stresses in her current configuration. And get this — some years ago, someone got concerned about the weight of the mainmast resting on her keel, so they cut through the keel to let the weight of the mast rest on the dock floor. Insane.

      No easy answers.

      • Reed said, on May 1, 2012 at 7:28 pm

        Thanks for the USS Texas tour (and the link to the Olympia photos). Very cool.

        My family toured the Constitution on a chilly early spring day a few years ago. The sailor who guided our small tour told us that, over the last century or so, something like 90% of the ship’s structural wood had been replaced, but that the keel and a few ribs were still original.

        When I thanked him for the tour and mentioned that my dad had served on destroyer escorts in WW2, he asked if we could stay for a few minutes after the end of the guided tour. We did, and what a treat. He took us below to the orlop deck and even opened a hatch and let the kids climb down below deck and stand (one at a time) on the keel itself.

        I’m not enough of a writer to do justice to that experience, but it’s really something to be able touch a piece of history like that…

        And speaking of bringing old rusty ships back from the dead, if you are ever near Albany, NY, I highly recommend a visit to the USS Slater, the last WW2 destroyer escort afloat in the USA. The standard tour is thorough & informative, and you can arrange hard hat tours as well. The website has lots of info, including text & pictures of the Slater’s history and ongoing renovation:

  6. Lyle Smith said, on April 30, 2012 at 5:34 pm

    Very cool that you got to go down even further into the Texas. It’s a very neat ship with a neat story. Even those it is a battleship I am amazed at how small she is still… compared to some of the future battleships, like the Alabama.

    Hope Texas and/or the United States can keep her afloat for many more years to come.

  7. Lemuel said, on May 6, 2012 at 1:45 am

    Great post. I’m very jealous! I love to visit museum ships and have been to a number in the U.K. and Australasia. If I ever make it over to the states I’ll be sure to try and check out the Texas. The other early 20th century battleship I’d love to see is the Mikasa in Japan (launched 1900 and was the Japanese flag ship in the Russo-Japanese War).

    • Andy Hall said, on May 6, 2012 at 7:57 am

      You’ll be amazed. (Note the tour I attended is one that has to be arranged specially, in advance.)

      There is a story that after WWII, Mikasa was going to be scrapped as part of the demilitarization of Japan, but Nimitz intervened to allow her preservation as a museum.

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