Down in the Engine room on the Bennington, and what appeared to be throughout the whole ship, things were pretty much by the book, cut and dried. If you came in from an Engine Room from another ship, and even though you had stood the watches on board that ship, you still stood under instruction with a qualified person until you proved yourself. This way you learned to do it "our way" or the "Bennington way", and there was no misunderstanding about loosely used terms. In lieu to the story I'm going to tell, one needs to know that the engineering machinery on the Bennington was pretty much in tiptop shape.
When standing throttle watch, there were 2 terms used. One was "cruising combination", which would be comparable to a car doing 60 mph and seeing a speed zone up ahead and a stop sign on up ahead, and just taking your foot off the gas pedal and letting it slow down on its own up to the stop sign. This was done basically to give the boiler tendors in the fire rooms a chance to pull burners out of the fire boxes if the ship was slowing down to keep from lifting safetys; or if we were speeding up, it give them a chance to stick more burners in to increase steam so we wouldn't pull it down below 520 lbs. This was the standard used on normal flight operations.
"Double up, Double down" was something altogether different. That was comparable to seeing a twister coming across the road up ahead of you, slamming on your brakes, wheeling to one side of the road, throwing your transmission into reverse, wheeling to the other side of the road, throwing your transmission in drive, and kicking her in passing gear and getting the H__ out of there! Quick stops, emergency stops, and braking action was accomplished by throwing the rotation of the propellor in the opposite direction that the ship was going in. Examples of these operations: Arresting cable breaks and jet goes over the side; coming up along side an oiler to unrep.; or entering or leaving port. When it was said to "Double up Double down", it meant "Do it and do it NOW!" and what happened as far as the burners went, that was the BT's (Boiler Tendors) problem.
After decommissioning of the Bennie, I went to the Bon Homme Richard, and they did things differently! Surprise! Surprise! Surprise! Golleeee!!! About a wk. and a half after I had reported on board, they had a Dependents' Day cruise, when the family got to go on cruise for a day. Of course, everybody I knew lived in Iowa, so I was put on the watch bill. The E6 in charge of the After Engine Room asked if I was qualified for throttle watch. I said, "I WAS on the BENNINGTON!" He said, "Well, then you're qualified here, too." So when they said "Double up Double down", it was leaving port, and later entering port, so there was no problems. It was like on the Bennington.
BUT one MEMORABLE day in the Tonkin Gulf, I happened to be on the 8-12noon morning watch on #2 throttle. Main Control announced on the sound powered phones to the other 3 throttlemen and the fire rooms, "We are going to be coming up along side of an oiler for unrepping and we are now on Double up Double down." I hadn't been on there fully long enough to realize just how bad a shape the machinery was in the Engineering Dept. The BHR was a CVA instead of a CVS, they had just literally rode a good horse into the ground. The automatic regulators didn't work and had to be regulated by hand on the lube oil pumps as the ship increased speed or decreased speed. BHR's version of Double up Double down was just a glorified version of "cruising combination" unbeknownst to the 7 of us who had transferred from the Roaring 20.
From the sound powered phones came the words, "We're coming up behind her." We were doing standard speed which was probably up to about 20-25 knots when ALL OF A SUDDEN, "Back two thirds" rang up on the engine order telegraph. CLANG CLANG! I turned the dial indicator back to Back Two-thirds, which was approximately 88 rpms backwards, to acknowledge that I had received the signal. I immediately began cranking the Ahead Throttle shut while at the same time cranking the Reverse Throttle open. At the same time I watch my steam pressure to make sure I didn't drag it below 520 lbs. and watched my Tachometer so I didn't overshoot the 88 rpms backwards (or they would have to wrap the boilers up from being melted down - such as a pan burning dry on a stove). All of a sudden, I hear a bunch of hollaring, yelling, and a bunch of commotion down on the lower level about losing oil pressure! At the same time, I heard a bunch of yelling and screaming over the sound powered phone, "Number 2 where in H__- are you going?!!!"
What I didn't realize, being I was the only Bennington sailor on throttle that morning, that I was doing 88 rpms backwards while everybody else was coasting about 100 rpms forward, and was pulling the bow into the side of the oiler that was going to unrep us! All of a sudden, I got a bell CLANG CLANG!!!! for standard speed forward again!! And some more hollaring and yelling on the lower level, saying "Get that BLANK BLANK oil pressure down" because the chain driven lube oil pump had kicked in and was cranking out mega pounds of oil pressure because they had manually speeded up the steam pump to accommodate the chain driven pump when the shaft had slowed down.
I hear over the sound powered phones "NUMBER TWO, the Main Propulsion Assistant wants someone to relieve you, and wants to see you IMMEDIATELY in the Foreward Engine Room!!!!" I went up to see the MPA who told me, "We almost wiped out an oiler!" in not too quiet of a voice and waving his arms, and wondered what I thought I was doing. I told him, "That's the way we done it on the Bennington, and nobody on the Bon Homme Richard told me that it was done differently on the Bon Homme Richard," and that my Supervisor said if I was qualified on the Bennington, then I was qualified on the Bon Homme Richard!!!
After we got that straightened out, he explained to me, in a little calmer voice, that the machinery wasn't in that good a shape, and he had persuaded the Captain to do it this way. Following this, the new Bennington transfers were THOROUGHLY instructed, and there were Qualification Sheets we had to fill out and we had to be checked out on them ----- LIKE THEY DID ON THE BENNINGTON!!! before you stood watches by yourself. However, the story doesn't end here.
A new captain arrived a couple of months later, who didn't know how things were done in the Engineering Dept. on the Bon Homme Richard. He was used to the Bennington style. So imagine the surprised look on his face when he rang CLANG CLANG! "Back Two Thirds", and we SHOT BY THE OILER doing about 20-25 knots, and our propellors hadn't even started turning backwards yet. It took going around for 2 more tries before the Capt. realized what was going wrong, and we finally got up along side the oiler. The Capt. and the MPA had a SHORT talk, and the MPA was informed, this time, "We will do it the NAVY way!" which of course we know as THE BENNINGTON WAY!!!!!
As luck would have it, guess who was on throttles the next time 8-12noon. I was on #2 AGAIN, and another Bennington sailor was on #1 throttle which was Main Control, and he said, "Guess what Tommie, we're coming up along side an oiler, and we're on Double up Double down,and the new Capt. says we're doing it BENNINGTON STYLE!" #1 and #2 propellor were the starboard propellors. He had thought he had made it very plain to the port propellors #3 and #4, which had been on the Bon Homme Richard the whole time they had been in the Navy that whenever the bridge rang, we were to do it immediately, no questions asked.
Needless to say, when the bridge rang CLANG CLANG! "Back Two Thirds", 2 Bennington sailors on the starboard side were turning 88 rpms in reverse while the 2 BHR sailors on the portside of the ship hadn't even touched their stern throttle yet, waiting for Main Control to tell them how many rpms to back off to. We about nailed the oiler AGAIN!!!! And the 2 Bennington sailors were CLANG CLANG! ordered "Standard Speed Forward!" which was done immediately, thanks to that old Bennington training and knowhow. Again, there were more instructions, and the Capt. once again indoctrinating about the NAVY WAY!!!
I'm glad no one got hurt because it was serious business, but it still could be a script for "McHale's Navy Part II", couldn't it?
Bill Thomas MM3