The Kaloosh Maker

By Charles L. Umpstead

[A sea story as told by Chief Boatswains Mate Wilbur Mathis, Officer-in-Charge of the Toms River lifeboat station, Seaside N J in the spring of 1949.]  

Chief Boatswains Mate Wilbur Mathis had a way of running into his men goofing off who should be on a work detail. One of his many comments was, “Hey, kaloosh maker get busy.” Time after time we heard this expression and time after time we scratched our heads wondering, What is he talking about?

One day we found out. After being called a kaloosh maker, the seaman asked, “Chief, just what is a ‘kaloosh maker’?” As I remember now, that was exactly what the Chief wanted to happen—he had obtained his goal.

In the middle of the afternoon he called a muster and sat the crew down at the mess deck table and began to answer the question.

“Richard ‘Dick’ James was from Northeast, Pa., joined the Navy May 20, 1943, and was sent to Samson, N .Y. for basic training. Boot camp in those days during the war was accelerated and demanding, even so Dick graduated in the top ten of his class. Somehow he drew an assignment that did not require him to travel in a group that was customary in those days, he was one lone sailor heading to Seattle for an assignment on the seagoing tug Farris.

“As he headed west aboard the train, he was content for about a day and a half until boredom set in and he started looking for something to occupy his time. Because he was traveling alone, he carried his own service jacket. Although it was sealed, his curiosity got the best of him and he devised a way to open the jacket and read the contents. Noticing he was rated as a seaman second class, Dick was not happy—he had been in the top ten of his class and thought he deserved more recognition. Racing to the stores during 10 and 15–minute train stops, he acquired what he needed to make some changes of his service jacket, and then resealed it as though it had never been touched. Chief Mathis revealed that the “remarks” section of his jacket now explained that due to his accomplishments during boot camp, that the Command had promoted him to seaman 1st class with a designation of a Kaloosh Maker’s striker.

“This created quite a stir when he arrived aboard the Farris. The executive officer, Ensign Parker, had no idea what a Kaloosh Maker was and too embarrassed to ask, he more or less gave Dick the run of the ship without any work details. Dick slept most of the day and read or played poker most of the night. Not assigned to a duty section when the ship was in port, Dick went ashore, drinking and visiting you know where as often as he wanted.

“When orders came in for the ship to transfer a 3rd class petty officer, Ensign Parker made him a KM3c and shipped him off to a destroyer escort. Strange thing, somehow he always received his proper amount of pay for the rate he held.”

Chief Mathis, during the telling of this story, went on and on with names, dates, ships, battles and the fact that Dick eventually ended up on an aircraft carrier, and had become CKM (Chief Kaloosh Maker), had a gang including a 1st class a 2nd class and 2 seaman strikers—he had taken over a compartment similar to the damage control shop.

“The captain and the exec. did not want to show their ignorance of the fact that did not know what a Kaloosh Maker was, but when the Fleet Admiral came aboard for an inspection, he questioned the ship’s billet structure and wanted to know what this gang did, for he had never heard of this rate either.

“The word went down the chain of command for the Kaloosh Maker to demonstrate what his specialty. The CKM assembled his gang and dispatched them to different parts of the ship to gather small and not so small pieces of soft metals. After collecting a sufficient quantity, they started pounding it into a ball. It grew bigger and bigger and began filling the compartment; then they moved the ball out onto the hangar deck. Finally it grew to sufficient size and the Chief put out the word, ‘today we do our thing.’

“With the crew assembled and looking on, the ball was rolled to the flight elevator and brought up to the flight deck. Through the efforts of his gang and a few volunteers, the large ball was pushed over the side and it went ‘KA-LOOSH’ into the water.”

Chief Mathis had a smile on his face as he looked at our eyes filed with disbelief, then calmly said, “Everyone back to work.” You, too, can be a kaloosh maker, just do nothing, BUT MAKE SURE YOU MAKE A BIG SPLASH!  

EPILOG:  When I retired in 1967 I became a plant fire marshal for Philco-Ford where they made TV cabinets. During the day I would be in and out my office many times. The four secretaries in that office on occasion would ask what my job was. I replied, “I am a kaloosh maker.” After a while curiosity got to them and one asked, “Kaloosh maker? What is that”?

I knew then what Chief Mathis felt when he was asked the same question 20 years prior. I gathered them all together and gave them a short version. When I left Philco-Ford, one of the cards given me had printed on it, “To The Kaloosh Maker.”

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