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.

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

32 Replies to “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

  16. Johnny Mack brown is my dad. And he was on the Chautauqua from 60 to 64. He loved that time in his life more than anything in the world… He has told me story’s for my whole life about his time on Chautauqua. And he is happy every time he speaks of it. He was a radioman. And always talks about being in a typhoon and how rough it was over in the waters near Japan. He would love to talk to anyone that was around at that time..

  17. My Dad was on the Chautauqua in Norfolk until is was decommissioned in 1973. CWO Richard Moore. He recalled being given the keys to the ship and told “Decommission”. He had to make sure everything was accounted for and dispersed out properly. I remember the last day he was on that ship, he told us that when approaching that morning, everyone was so friendly to him. Coming home we noticed that he had one brown sock and one blue sock on. They never told him. How funny.

  18. my father served onboard from 58 to 60, he had some great pictures of the initiations and Midway Gooney Birds, his name was John Ware,

  19. My friend Patricia Hess is looking for a service member who served on the cutter Chautauqua in Japan 1961-1963. She met him, Neil, while he was on leave on Anna Maria Island, Florida on Holmes Beach. Neil gave her a zippo lighter with an inscription
    Neil to Pat
    USCGC Chautauqua UPG 41
    Japan 1961-1963

    Neil owned a 1958 corvette, friends were Pat Hess, Terrie H. and Jimmy, and a drink called “Singapore Sling”

    Patria would like to return the lighter and catch up on the good ole days. Please email Pat if you can help connect Pat to Neil.

  20. My Dad was on the Chautauqua, Chief Basso MMCM, down in the engine room. We grew up in Hawaii from 1957 till I graduated in 1971, my dad is gone now, but my Mom still lives in Hawaii and my brothers as well. Lots of stories about the poker games, pranks on the youngsters, and he was apparently a bit of a tough guy. He loved to sing, play ukulele and the harmonica. Lots of Hawaii to Japan tours and also a tour during the Vietnam War. Loved when we would go to sand island to meet the ship coming back into port. Arms full of plumeria leis made from the trees in our neighborhood to give to Dad and his friends. We got to board the ship, eat in the Chief’s mess, tour the ship then home to open the gifts dad always brought home. Once her brought fancy 3 speed bikes back for my brothers and myself. Great memories and living in a great time of our lives….

  21. Chautauqua 1958-1960
    Coming from a small Oregon logging community the coast guard provided a swell introduction to the world.
    I recall heavy seas, “the ship is coming about” sometimes creating a mess if during a meal time as the old boat would lean way over and momentarily hang there.
    It was fun being out on the bridge in the rain and wind watching the mountainous waves ‘sweep’ the deck.
    Most of us were young, first time away from home and I had an apt across the street from ala moana beach – good times.

  22. One of the fellas aboard , during ww2, wrote a book, I bought it, read it and passed it on to a nephew, now I cannot recall the authors name.
    Anyone know?
    Thanks, Shannon

  23. Fresh out of boot camp. Sent 2 Hawaii. Stationed on the Chautauqua. 4 about a year. Volunteer to go to the Basswood in the Philippines & go 2 Vietnam . Buey
    & light houses. I learned of my old ship being decommissioned . With a skeleton crew. Upton was his last name.
    Seaman. Good 2 hear.


  24. I served on the.Chautauqua from 1962 to 1964 I was on the deck force as a BM striker. My name is Raymond Middledorf would like to hear from any shipmates.

  25. Wow ! Just came across your blog through the USCGC Chautauqua tag. I served aboard her ‘70 – ‘71. It was a difficult experience at times (awful weather, physical assault on a good friend, general depression) but also a truly eye-opening experience of the world (trip to Japan, collecting oceanographic and meteorological data, making some great friendships, being stationed in Hawai’i). I’m very glad to have had the experiences and I grew a lot in that time. The old Chautauqua is long gone now, but the memories endure. I will be traveling to Hawai’i this coming July after a fifty year absence to look at volcanoes on the big Island (retired geologist).

    I’ve enjoyed reading some of your blog entries and am sad to see that the entries are becoming increasing infrequent. You have a nice writing style in the short blog essays, but which gets lost in Twitter posts.

    Thanks for listening.

  26. My Pops Dana VanSlycke was a Radioman on the USCGC Chautauqua when it was in Norfolk from 72-73. He was fantail hopping and was man overboard. Glad all you old salts saved him! Thanks!!

  27. My dad, S. Fred Patterson, served on the Chautauqua in the late 1960 – early 1970 out of Sand Island. Made the trip to Japan once from what I was told. He was a yeoman. Retired from CG in 1977 after serving in Miami District 7 Office, worked directly for person in charge of the district. Passed away in 1998, Winter Park, FL.

  28. I served on the Chautauqua 1966-67 a a 3 class GM and made rate as 2 class GM with Chief Miller giving me my final practical on the 5-38 mount.
    We had a great gunnery department, with GM1 Butrum keeping us going and getting it done.
    I enjoyed my time at Sand Island and the double Victors we did. After making rate I was transferred to Guam and the Basswood.

  29. To Shannon zaichenko, my name is James and served on the Chautauqua. I was out side fantail hopping and saw your dad go overboard. .

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