The Tug Captain

As told to Frank Dewey by Dickie Derrick

Frank DeweyQuite a few years ago, Richard "Dickie" Derrick was working as a conductor on a "Whittier Turn". When the barge was brought to the dock Dick went aboard to knock off most of the handbrakes to prep the cars for unloading. As he walked along an outboard track he came across two sets of trucks chocked to the deck. No railcar, just the trucks! He immediately got with the First Mate to find out what car was missing. Looking at the deck plan they discovered that a loaded propane tank had been washed overboard.

A call went immediately to the Coast Guard as such things can constitute a hazard to navigation. Fortunately, the incident was prior to the opening of the Valdez Supertanker Terminal. Imagine, the Exxon Valdez bumping into something like that. A search was quickly mounted, locating the errant car two days later, bobbing around in the middle of Prince William Sound. Propane being much lighter than water the tank was floating upright and probally looking like a white UTLX submarine.

A tug was dispatched to drag the naughty puppy home, BUT during the night the tank "broke the tow" drifting into the darkness once again. Again another search was started and soon the tank was again located and again the tug got a line on it, but tankcars are not built with towing scegs, bits or cleats, so in the seas. You guessed it! It broke free.

Well, enough is enough, with costs rising the only thing to do is to sink it. Who do you call? The Coast Guard of course. So, with a representative from Petrolane on board, a USCG Cutter is dispatched to dispatch the hazard to navigation. With all avalible crewman lining the railing the cutter pulls abeam about a 150 yards off. On the captains orders the guncrew takes aim with its 3" gun. "Captain", says the man from Petrolane, "I believe we are much to close." "Do not worry the guncrew is very good and can't miss at this range," the Captain replies.

The crew is excited, the captain is excited, the man from Petrolane is excited. The Captain's command is given, "fire when ready, Mister Burke." Ensign Burke relays the command and "BLAM" the round rapidly flies the short range to target. "BOOM" the round strikes the hull and explodes in a shower of water with a glancing blow punching a hole in the top of the hull.

Confidently the Captain watches the spectical unfold, in fear the man from Petrolane says something to the effect of "OH #*@!! NO!" Confidently Ensign Burke shouts the command, "REPEAT!" The trained guncrew rams another round into the chamber and fires, this time a solid direct hit.

As a point of history, AIR/ GAS weapons were used to terrifying effect in the "Gulf War". But the largest single air/ gas weapon ever detonated, was on a quiet day in the tranquil serene waters of....... you guessed it, Prince William Sound.

Yes Virginia, the explosive-combustable volume of 70 tons of propane is enormous. The humbled captain, the crying man from Petrolane, bleeding ears, the buckeled hull plates, the singed beards and flesh of the crewman all testify to mighty power when you combine the inherant kinetic energy of Man's will and simple cooking gas.


© 2000 Frank Dewey