TWO CHIEFS - ONE ENGINEROOM

By Esther Stormer and Jack Eckert

 

In her heyday the "Great White Mother," often called the Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw, had large crew and small crew manning. She needed the most men when breaking ice in the late fall, winter and early spring. When the season ice breaking season was over she returned to her Temporary home port of Cheboygan to lick her wounds and rejuvenate herself. Engines were overhauled and the ship prettied up for the other season which was simply, "show the flag."

It always bothered the Coast Guard Bean Counters and Operations People that the Mackinaw was locked on the Lakes and was not designed as an all purpose ship. To save money they minimally manned her during the "Show The Flag" Season. 

Now where did this labor pool to maximum man the Mac during the "Ice Breaking" Season?" 

They came from the Upper Great Lakes Lighthouses and Lifeboat Stations that were closed in the Winter, almost coinciding with the Mackinaw's needs. They provided quite a body pool and to save even more money, Temporary Additional Winter Duty (TAWD) was invented. Personnel on TAD were paid an extra one dollar a day for every day away from their station. This did not apply to personnel on TAWD.  So the Coast Guard saved about $100.00 per man and when spread across 35-45 men became quite a tidy sum. 

The Mackinaw needed all the Enginemen she could get. The extra cooks came in handy too. Seaman and Firemen could always be put to work. The Boatswains Mates mostly got in each others way.

The Mackinaw has three enginerooms and three motor rooms which required at least 12 men plus an Engineering Officer of the Watch for each watch, three watches a day, plus people to do other black gang functions like manning the electrical, damage control, and auxiliary shops to keep her underway. Each Engineroom Had a Chief in Charge, a First Class as an assistant, as well as a Chief for each of the shops. There were usually plenty of chiefs and first class to go around.

During the 1956 ice breaking season Chief "Doc" Holbrook and Frank Duch had B-3. Chief Stan "The Preacher" Phelps and Dick Skolweg had B-2, and EN1 Floyd Stormer and EN1 Bill Tomac had B-1. Both of the latter were on TAWD.

These two along with their watch and maintenance crew of Jorgenson, Eckert, Lange, Anderson, and a few others got along very well. Stormer and Tomac were great bosses and even with the internal competition between engine rooms, B-1 was the place to be.  

Then Floyd Stormer made Chief.

Then Bill Tomac made Chief.

Chief Floyd figured on returning to Skilagalee Light Station where he was Officer in Charge as soon as the season was over.

It didn't happen. Both Chiefs stayed aboard and none of the other chiefs were slated for transfer. This could be a problem. Having two chiefs in Charge of one engineroom is like having two women in charge of a house. They bicker and squabble.

For some reason, the men on the Mac assumed the two were fighting. So just to make life interesting, they manufactured a feud. They taped a line down between the port and starboard engines. One had port, one starboard. They also only used only the port and starboard ladders. They would argue and fuss at meals too.

This went on for a few weeks. Floyd was the editor of the "Mackinaw Weekly Rag," The ships unofficial newsletter. Needless to say it was full of the feud and the antics of the participants.

Those of us working in B-1 Engineroom knew it was a big "put-on" and we played along with it. It was good sport during a long ice breaking season.

When the so called “feud” reached gigantic proportions, the skipper ordered them to stop it “like YESTERDAY.” They walked out of the engine room, got on deck and hugged one another!! 

And the feud that never was, was over.

 

Esther tells another Tomac-Stormer story. When the ship came in they both tried to call home to tell the wives to pick them up. After an hour of trying, they gave up and walked home. Both wives were on the phone (to each other) and said, “we were just sitting here waiting for you to call.”

 

Return to Coast Guard Stories