THE LEGEND OF JOHN DOBBIN

From "We've Been There" 1992 by Esther Stormer

 

 

Our Coast Guard too has it's lore - This preposterous tale is part of it. It has gone through many metamorphoses over the years and is still told in one of it's many forms........

 

During the late 20's and early 30's, Coast Guard Destroyer and Cutter crews amused themselves by orally passing on bits and pieces of Coast Guard folklore; usually at the expense of their "White Water" Sandpounder partners in crime. In the process they often invented legends of their own.

One of the favorite early yarns had to do with the legendary, "John Dobbin" who, with the aid of his sponsors allegedly put one over on the establishment. Like most legends, there may have been a small kernel of truth in the original story, but by the time it had made the rounds by word of mouth, the truth may have been lost in the shuffle.

Stripped to the bare bones, the story tells of the crew of a "now since long decommissioned" Surf Station, passing the hat to obtain funds to buy a horse to help them with their heavier chores such as hauling the surf boat or equipment to a wreck site. Later, when it became apparent that the horse was eating them out of house and home, the Keeper enlisted him (the horse) in the name of JOHN DOBBIN, to fill an existing vacancy at the station. When it became apparent that the new "surfman's" salary was insufficient to keep the horse supplied with hay and oats, the conspirators managed to get him promoted to BM2/c, the next higher rating.

All went well until one day when orders were received to transfer "BM2/c JOHN DOBBIN" to a cutter. Instead of panicking, the resourceful crew sold the horse to a local farmer and dashed off a report to District Headquarters to the effect that DOBBIN deserted. As ridiculous as it may seem, there are a few old timers around who insist that the equine Sandpounder is still carried on the rolls as a "deserter."

Folklore is regional however, and some folk heroes change identities within the locale in which their tale is being told. This might account for the fact that some old time yarn spinners claim the real hero of this preposterous tale has a hybrid named JOHN MULE who was carried on the payroll of the Coast Guard Yard where he earned his keep by hauling coal out to coal burning cutters moored at the end of the long finger pier.

This yarn was related by Commander William M. Erhman, USCG (retired)

 

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