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Someone is alive out there even though old

Tales of a Ref Engr

In Sydney on the Strathmore it was normal practice to pre-cool the refrigerated spaces down to temperature as soon as the outward general cargo was discharged ready for accepting the homeward refrigerated cargo. The lower holds were usually for lamb carcases and boxed beef carried at a temperature of 10deg F (-12deg C new money). To compensate for heat gains when the hold was opened and being worked on we’d take the temperature down to 5 deg F.
However on one occasion the foreman docker complained that it was too cold for his men to work. I tried to convince him it was only 10deg F and to prove it I’d place a thermometer in the hold.

In the Fridge Flat I snapped off the bottom of the glass capillary of a normal wood red spirit cargo thermometer and drained It, then slid a piece of fuse wire up the capillary until it read 10 deg F. After sealing the end it was hung in the lower hold and those dockers were quite happy to work in that temperature.

If they’d had twigged what was done they would have walked off every ship in Pyrmont and I would have had to stay hidden.

It was usual for the Ref Engr to check the temperature of oncoming cargos, and with a spear thermometer spent quite a lot of time on the jetty. Also in attendance were food inspectors who kept their eye on things and were ready to give advice if need be. Insulated trucks would line up waiting to unload. On one occasion way down the line of waiting trucks was a flatbed truck loaded high with frozen boxed rabbit with just a tarpaulin over the top.

As the very hot day wore on the boxed rabbit started to thaw and soon the thin wooden boxes began to stain heavily with watery blood. Stained boxes had no market value and I wasn’t going to accept them. Being brave I thought it better that an Ozzie guy would be better than a Pommie guy to tell the driver that the rabbits wouldn’t be accepted so the Food Inspector got the job. It was a relief to see that truck pull out of the line and disappear.

On one occasion in Sydney the 1st Ref Engr was given a whole frozen lamb and he had the carcase cut into the normal various joints and cuts by the ship’s butcher. This was as equally shared as possible and put into three bags. One for the 1st Ref, one for me the 2nd Ref and one for the Panch Sahib who did the 12 to 4 on the way home.

In Tilbury we had to go the Ministry of Agriculture to get a chitty to bring the meat into the country. As I lived reasonably close to Tilbury I worked by the 1st week in port going home at night then I had a week’s leave. I was glad to get back to sea as a fortnight of eating lamb at home was too much.

In Singapore a batch of CO2 refrigerant cylinders were sent ashore for refilling. On their return they were laid onto a cargo net and hoisted up but as usual sod’s law came into play and one slipped through the net. In those days the cylinder valve didn’t have a protection guard and on hitting the quayside the valve snapped off and the cylinder went along the quay for half a ship’s length and disappeared into the water luckily not hitting anyone or anything on the way. It’s not often that a P&O ship fires a torpedo.

Roger Monk
Carthage, Surat, Perim, Strathmore, Himalaya, Somali.

Re: Someone is alive out there even though old

I love reading your anecdotes Roger. Always interesting and entertaining. My first trip on Oronsay (1963) was in the fridge flat, even though I had never seen a fridge machine before, so I can relate some what! Alex Ross was the VO and Terry Green? the second as I recall.

Re: Someone is alive out there even though old

Yes Roger I remember my time with Ellerman & Buchnell 1965
I was on the City of Canberra docked in Melbourne
The temp 108 degrees F
E&B sailed with two Ref Engineers and when taking on Ref cargo we did 12 on 12 off at sea 6 on 6 off no third Ref Eng.( although we did get overtime)
I had taken over the watch at 6pm and proceeded down onto the wharf where thirty + wagons (railway)were waiting to be unloaded.
I started taking internal temp of the 62 lbs of beef cartons and after testing approx 8 wagons, found that they were all defrosted (my spike and thermometer needed no force at all to penetrate the meat)
I informed the 2nd officer that I was shutting down the loading, at which time, all the wagons on the wharf were shunted off back to the blast freezers (I am told that the next ship in would receive the refrozen beef)
The wagons had been on the wharf since 5 am and believe in or not were not insulated!
I checked the cargo in the hold which had tarp screens hanging from the inside hold top, in this way loading was done by walking through the screen (remember that loading was done by hand)
The meat was part frozen but we had to accept the fact that we had taken it on board.
On entering the refrigeration flat I found that only 2 of the w blocks were on line and the brine temp was only -5 degrees F
The holds were at -2 degrees.
In the proceeding 2 hrs I had to bring on line all of the remaining compressors 4 including the standby compressor and was only able to shut down the standby at 2 am
The ship was still being loaded at 6 am the end of my watch.
The junior engineer on watch went to the 1 st Ref Engineers cabin at 5.50 am to call him up, but could get no reply and on attempting to open the cabin door could not get it open.
I went to the 1 st Refs cabin and found the door unlocked was wedged shut and forced the door open to find that there were a large number of empty cans and boxes against the door and the deck covered, in among which I found the 1 st Ref and the government meat inspector, out cold.
I now had found the reason for the disaster on starting my watch.
The 1 Ref did not relieve me until 11 am and said " you should have finished at 6 am"
He never realized what had happened in the past 16hrs.
He died 3 yrs later at age 36 and I think you will know how

Re: Someone is alive out there even though old

Hi Barry
A very interesting article about your loading experience in Melbourne while on the City of Canberra. I looked up on the Clyde Built Ships site and saw she was a 10, 306 ton motor ship built in1961 by Barclay Curle. Looking at the photo of her she was a nice looking vessel with most of the holds for ‘ad. Who were the makers of her “W” fridge compressors?

Tales of a Ref Engr 2

On the Strathmore while on the Ozzie coast the Barman of the Verandah Cafe obtained a white parrot. Unfortunately after a few days his cabin colleagues were fed up with the new addition squawking and talking. The 1st Ref Engr and I the 2nd spent quite a lot of our time hidden behind the bar making sure his Ice maker was working well and the Barman managed to persuade my boss to adopt “Persil”.

“Persil” soon settled in to his new abode and late at night the 1st Ref would take him out onto the Tourist Deck and let him walk round the hand rail of the Tourist Swimming Pool which was just outside the Engineers accommodation. Being approached by late night passengers who usually said “who’s a pretty boy” etc and much to their surprise the parrot would reply “what’s the matter with you eh” and a few other phrases he knew.

The 1st Ref’s idea was to take “Persil” home to his daughter. After a few weeks when the phone rang in his cabin the parrot would say “hello 1st Refridge”. On arrival in Tilbury the 1st Ref discovered that he required a permit from the Ministry to bring the bird in, so he decided to leave it and get the necessary paperwork while he was on leave. However, the Dock Staff boys took advantage of the bird’s learning ability and had taught “Persil” a few expletives before the 1st Ref returned. “Persil” was therefore denied UK residence and committed to a life at sea.

Later when I joined the Himalaya the above mentioned barman was the 1st Class Dance Deck Barman and so the Ref boys had a new haven.

On the Strathmore we had a 3rd Engr who was a keen cyclist and it wasn’t unusual for him to be cycling round the Tourist Deck and Swimming Pool when he came off the 8 -12 at night. Whenever we got to port he was off for a ride around when not on duty. Still on the same ship we had a 4th Engr who was learning to play the clarinet and if you walked into the boiler room on the 12 - 4 night watch it wasn’t uncommon to hear him practising. The poor Tindal and Paniwallahs went through hell.

Another 4th Engr on the Strathmore always made the comment of “All you do is walk around in a clean boiler suit with a gas cylinder on your shoulder”. Whenever you tried to explain about being clean when working on deck, his comment was “pi— off and go and put some more oxygen in the fridges”. He may have been an expert on Babcock and Wilcox Boilers but he didn’t know much about refrigerants. I was just waiting for the time when he had to sit his 2nds ticket and came and asked how refrigeration was achieved but he was one of those good long term engineers who never bothered about tickets so I never had the pleasure.

Roger Monk

Carthage, Surat, Perim, Strathmore, Himalaya, Somali.