Dad Recalls Life on Coast Guard Cutters Chautauqua and Taney

Growing up, my brother and I were sometimes treated to amazing stories from the time our Dad spent on Coast Guard Cutters Chautauqua and Taney in the 1950s (see also: His home movie of the hazing ritual young recruits went through upon their first crossing of the Internal Date Line: Pollywogs). Recently, he wrote down some of his memories of working in the boiler room on an original steam ship, the intensity of the seas they endured, and the life of an old salt. It’s an experience that’s largely gone from this modern world, and I wanted to share it here for posterity (with his permission).

Jim Hacker served in the US Coast Guard from 1955-1959. He was on the Taney in 1955 and the Chautauqua 1959, Cape St. Elias Lighthouse 1957 and various buoy tenders in-between.


My first assignment was on board the cutter Taney which served in the battle of  Pearl harbor. [He later served aboard  the Chautauqua].  She was also steam driven and I worked in the engine room as a BT/3 (boiler tender 3rd class) Diesel engines were just coming out and replacing steam during my term. I am glad I had the opportunity to serve aboard steam driven ships during a dieing era. Never to be experienced by anyone again.

I miss the sounds, the fire in the boilers, the escaping steam in leaking pipe joints and the eternal heat. Talk about working in hell. Blast furnace heat, trying to keep your balance in a stormy sea, lack of fresh air and the constant smell of crude oil used to fire the boilers. Washing fuel filters and other parts in a bucket of diesel oil in a heavy sea was enough to make anyone seasick.

The smell combined with the heat, lack of fresh air and and a pitching ship made it difficult for me to make it through a watch without heading topside and heaving my guts out over the rail, especially at two or three in the morning in heavy seas. Calm seas, no problem. Then crawling into your bunk with your skin covered with a layer of steam oil because you were just too tied to take a shower or the ship was pitching so wildly you couldn’t stand up in the shower anyway. You have to remember that The Chautauqua and Taney were stationed between calif and Hawaii or between Hawaii and Japan. ( the point of no return for airlines and we were there to rescue them if they had to ditch at sea.)

This  was before weather satelites and we had to follow hurricanes, tornadoes and squalls, often getting into the eye so we could send weather forcasts for airlines and maritime vessels. Being in the middle of a storm was state of the art and we were the original storm chasers. If we wern’t in a storm were becalmed by the doldrums. A glass flat sea and not a breath of wind. This is when we would have swimming, small boat races, ( rowing) volly ball games, fishing and just time to relax. If you could play an instrument small bands were formed, beer was passed out and it was time to relax and soak in the sun. All this and being paid $72.00 a month. Not a bad deal. Hey, room and board was included. Cigarettes … 10 cents a pack. Paid once a month and no where to spend it. Such a deal. YES, they were the good old days.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T4FIS1FnOQg

A you watch the video above (embedding disabled unfortunately, but you can click the link to view), shot in Terra Del Fuego, and see ships in rough seas, just know that this is what I experienced on a regular basis on the Taney and Chautauqua. Nothing here that we didn’t experience and it was our duty to follow storms and hurricanes to make up weather reports. At times the ocean was so rough the ship would lay on it;s side and waves would come down the smoke stack and put the fire out in a boiler. We would have to open the fire box. put in a ladder and climb down five feet and bail the water out with a bucket, then re- light the boiler and keep going. Fortunatly we only lost one boiler at a time, so we always had some power to steer by and run the ship.

And that is why I am an old salt.

– Dad

16 thoughts on “Dad Recalls Life on Coast Guard Cutters Chautauqua and Taney

  1. I served on the CGC Chautauqua in 1973 in Norfolk, Va the year before it was decommissioned. I also was on the CGC Absecon in Norfolk Va. for 2 years before it was decommissiond.

    I liked the old Absecon more because it was diesel with two engine rooms but the engine room in the Chautauqua was much quieter because of the steam power. Oh the heavy seas were bad on both ships.

    Wish I could relive a few of those days.

  2. I note that the official Coast Guard history of the Chautauqua lists her as home ported in Hawaii to 1973.
    However, I served on the Chautauqua in the winter of 1973, apparently just before decommissioning. I was the medical officer on the Bravo ocean station patrol out of Norfolk, Virginia. We went to the Davis Straight via a two day stop at St Johns, and were relieved from ocean station 2 and half months later by the Dallas or the Campbell, I cannot remember which. Anyone have more information about this late patrol in her history?

  3. I served on the Chautauqua in 63 to 65 as a deck ape. I had transferred from the Taney and transferred to the Taney from the Sebago, which was then at Mobile Alabama. The Taney was at Government Island Alameda, Ca and The Chautauqua was at Sand Is. at Honolulu harbor.

  4. I served on the Chautauqua 1957-59 with Jim Hacker can relate to all he said, touth but good times, also On Sebago 59-60

  5. Nice to find this posting. Brought back some memories. The Chautauqua was rough riding but very seaworthy like most cutters. I was aboard 58 to 60 as a BM2-1. Rarely went down in the engineroom. It was too hot there for this decky. However, I do recall most of what Jim mentioned and still think about how far the cutter rolled on its side in rough seas and seemed to stay there for a spell before uprighting itself. Thanks for sharing Jim’s posting.

  6. I remember setting on the fantail Chautauqua 1957 watching Sputnik fly over and the Weatherman on board stated their goes my job

  7. I also was a radioman on the Chautauqua from when she arrived in Norfolk in 1972 when I was transferred off the Chincoteague which was decommissioned till summer of 1973.

  8. Don – As radioman – were you part of the prank played on me? I received an official looking “message” that the doctor on board our ocean station bravo relief ship broke his leg in heavy weather, and that I was going to be transferred to the Dallas for another 2 and half months tour!

    Michael Newton

  9. It is good to see everyones comments and long lost memories. Those days are gone but will never be forgotten. I wish I would have taken more pictures.

  10. I served on the Chautauqua from 57 to 59 and was a hospital corpsman with Chief D J Black. I was on board when they evacuated a sailor from Columbus Ohio who had gullian barre syndrome. Don Jagoditsh (bones)

  11. I also served on the Chautauqua 4/72 till 6/73 as E4 Radioman after it was moved from Hawaii to Norfolk – lots of mechanical issues even though we did 4 ocean station patrols and 1 Guantanamo – we were all worried about her being seaworthy during a particularly rough Bravo patrol

  12. It is good to see so many people responding to the original post. The only one I remember serving with is Clarence Mee. Lots of great liberties together in Honolulu behaving badly,
    listening to Martin Denny and the Beachcombers, skin diving, and too many Mai Tais.
    Memories I wouldn’t trade for anything.
    Jim Hacker BT/3

  13. I served aboard Chautauqua in 64-65 as a SN. Loved those double Victors with the break in Yokosuka

  14. Ed McGarvey I served aboard the Chitauqua from 66 to 68 Sand Island Hawaii. Boiler Tender. We rode out 3 Typhones in 67 damaged the ship and went to San Francisco Dry docks for a complete revamp. At 9 to 11 knots we called the new Red Stripe our Racing stripe. We had a fire in the ship yards. Semper Fi

  15. I think I may have actually been one of a few of us that had a good ride on the old hulk. I had the privilege of riding the old rust bucket from Honolulu to Norfolk. We got liberty in Panama during their festival it was pretty impressive for such a poor country,plus visited a few other houses. After about a month in Virginia got a plane ride back to Honolulu

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