For what felt like the millionth time I unlocked the door to my third floor cold-water walk-up. My jacket went on the hook on the back of the door. I'd stopped at the Asian market down the block for a handful of burger and a pint of half 'n half. They went on the counter while I cooked up a batch of chicken-rice on my one electric burner. In the mean time I twisted half-dry the clothes in my five gallon pail, refilled it with cold water and set it to soaking once again. Soon the rice was done. I set it aside. I fried up my fatty burger, dusted it with flour and stirred until it bubbled. Then I added a healthy dollop of half 'n half. Once well-stirred it made a decent gravy. I thinned it with more milk and added it to the rice. Along with a glass of water I had a good, filling dinner for about three bucks. For breakfast I'd have some wheaties out of roach-proof plastic container with the rest of my half 'n half. The garbage would go out to the dumpster with me on my way to work so as not to encourage the roaches.
Besides a bit of fruit and a daily vitamin pill, that had been my diet for over sixteen years. Occasionally I splurged on smoked sausage, potatoes and sauerkraut, but that was maybe once a month when I really had a taste for some fat in my diet. It's no wonder I was skinny.
I rinsed out the previous day's clothes in the bucket, hung them to dry then stripped to add my current clothes to the bucket. A gallon of water heated on the burner went into my budget washing machine along with some soap and enough cold water to fill it to a couple inches from the top. Then I pounded the mix with an axe handle for a few minutes. I owned three shirts, three pairs of pants, six pairs of socks, three sets of underwear which I kept on a small table and a spare pair of boots under it. Other than the table and chair at which I ate, the only furniture in the efficiency was the bed. Oh, there was also a small book shelf that held all the volumes of the Merchant Marine captaincy courses. They were well thumbed. I'd read each of them at least three times. Re-reading those and reading at the library took up my free time.
Why did I live like a broken-down old hermit at the ripe old age of thirty five? I had a mission. By damn, I was going to buy a ship by hook or crook. I lived in that dump ever since I'd passed my apprenticeship at twenty. I bought clothes and bedding once a year. All my money went into the bank. I kept buying five year savings bonds or municipality construction bonds every time my bank account reached five thousand bucks. All my certificates sat safe in a deposit box in the bank because my door lock was for shit and I didn't want them to disappear on me. I didn't miss beer or nights out on the town or anything else anymore. The only decoration on my walls was a picture of a tug boat. That was my goal. That was the prize. Nothing would stand between it and me save grim death.
After doing my dishes I took a standing bath with a pot of hot water in the sink, tempered by cold water from the tap. My towels were getting thin, but they didn't have any holes in them yet. They would serve. As usual, I went to bed early because 4:30 came around quickly. I had to catch that first bus or I'd be late for my shift. I worked from 5:00 AM to 3:00 PM five days a week. It gave me long afternoons to get my business done.
I'm Sid Kelstrom. I'm a heavy equipment fabricator at the shipyard, here in Norfolk.
It seems that I'd always been interested in ships. For my eighth birthday dad took me down to the port where several owners had gotten together for an open house. It was a life-changing experience for me. I had it fixed in my thick head that I was going to own a ship of my own someday come hell or high water. I apprenticed as a lathe operator, joined the union and gone to work straight out of high school. Mom and dad were impressed at my single-minded approach to saving money but eventually became troubled by it too. I took night classes to get my tool-and-die rating. My pay per hour crept up steadily. Eventually I could use any equipment in the shop except for the CAD-CAM stuff--nobody could touch it without a college diploma, which left me out. Still, I could mill a thirty-foot long drive shaft five feet in diameter and the seven foot tall brass bushings for it, cut the keyways and mill the couplings for the ends as well as fabricate the traveller bearings that supported the shaft. I'd even learned how to troubleshoot and rebuild "small" diesel engines, up to about eighteen hundred horsepower. My union card had me down as a master millwright.
I came home one day to find a big guy sitting at my kitchen table with a .45 pistol in front of him. I shrugged. Either he was going to shoot me or not. I hung up my jacket and sat on the bed to take off my boots.
"Man, you strange. I seen more furniture in a dog house. You ain't even got a teevee!" "Nope. Don't want one. It'd just be a distraction." "What's wit you? I seen you go to work every day, come home dirty as hell. You gotta be workin' a job." I gestured at the picture of the tug on the wall. "I'm saving every damned penny I can. I'm gonna own a ship like that someday, dammit, or die trying." He stood up, studied the picture for a while, picked up his pistol and left, shaking his head. I grinned. It was the third time I'd had a visitor like that. The others couldn't believe it either. One guy left me a twenty out of pity.
I had finally banked over that magic number, two hundred thousand dollars. Now, instead of re-investing in more CDs and municipal bonds I cashed them in as they came due and deposited everything into a savings account.
I was on the look-out for an old tugboat with a blown engine. I planned to strip it down and rebuild it from the ribs on up. I had a seven fifty horse Caterpillar engine that I'd totally rebuilt sitting in storage, just waiting for a new home. I spent my Sunday afternoons at the library using the Internet to search for my project boat.
It took me nearly another year but I found a hull whose operator suffered from being in the wrong place at the wrong time. A big container ship was off loading dry boxes full of heavy glass sheets. The two boxes he'd clamped were heavily overloaded and broke the crane's clamps just as the load was over the tug, some four stories below. The pilot and his three crewmen were instantly squashed flat. The boxes crashed through the deck and half flattened the fuel and water tanks. It must have been one hell of a mess.
The shipper's insurance paid off, but the manufacturer was put out of business over the deaths.
I snatched it up for twelve grand. I was almost dancing as I made the call. It was so much less than I'd thought I'd buy a project boat for. The hull and framework were solid but everything down to the bulkheads needed replacing. I paid five grand to have it stripped out and another six to have it trucked from New York to Norfolk. I rented a covered workspace with an overhead chain hoist and metered electricity, then sat back to do some planning. The hull was laid down in the sixties and no doubt had some thinner spots after fifty years of operation. I could fix that with a hot sputtered chrome steel deposit once the hull was stripped down to bare metal and pickled to expose the crystalline structure and prepared to take the metal. It was a hot plasma process that required shielding to keep bystanders from getting retina burns and a pumped air supply for the operator. The receiving surface would have to be electrically charged to attract the metal ions so there would be no ground contamination, hence the EPA wouldn't get its panties in a wad. I'd have to electrically insulate the hull to do the job, then shift it in the cradle to cover the areas previously protected by the cradle. I could see that it would take a while, but it would be worth the effort. It would also make the hull tough as hell!
I knew I'd need new tanks, mounts and fittings. I could fabricate the mounts and fittings, no problem. I'd seen enough ship's engine compartments to know how and where to run the lines, too. I'd need some mixing and control manifolds for the fuel, oil, exhaust and water. Then I had to lay out the engine room equipment, make sure the lower decks would carry the load and securely mount it all. Since I intended to keep all the living space on one main deck I could use the bow as storage and a work room. Hell, why not put the washer and dryer in there, too? First, though, I had to make a trip to the breaker's yard for an electrical panel, generators, tanks, pumps and manifolds. Everything, but everything aboard ship had to be run in conduit. The pipe, fittings and boxes were going to cost me a small fortune.
Whoah. Wait a minute. I couldn't just slap this thing together like a bloody cat boat. There were just too many subsystems and critical dimensions, not to mention home runs to the power panel in the pilot house, to make it nearly impossible to just throw together. There was no way that I could even calculate the space needed for the conduit runs. I needed a ship's architect, and I needed one fast. I could get the hull work done while they pulled together the design, but anything beyond that was hands off until I got the plans to work by.
.... There is more of this story ...