Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Joe's Gas Station Adventure

I did a stint as one of the engineers at Harrah's casino boats in downtown Joliet, Illinois, from the end of 1995 to mid-1998. They had two boats, and I did time on both boats, on nights and days. Working this way, I had the opportunity to work with all of the assistants at one time or another. Two of them that were standouts for the shenanigans that they got into were Joe Luchowski and Larry Garvey.

Joe Luchowski was one of my helpers on the Northern Star. Joe was an ex-navy engineer; he had had plenty of sea time over his many years in the Navy, and he was a damn good person to have on watch in a crunch. He had a wealth of practical knowledge on the kind of things that could go wrong in the engine room, and a good mental store of ideas on how to effect a fix with a minimum of time, effort, and money.

As an indicator of Joe's practicality and clear thinking, consider this.

On the Northern Star, we had several sea chests in the engine room. These boats were built down to a price, not up to ABS standards, so sea chests were done during the build on the quick and dirty. Typically, they were a piece of 12 or 14-inch diameter pipe about a foot tall, welded to the bottom of the hull, with a piece of plate steel welded onto the other end to form a top, with a few pipes of various sizes welded into the sides to serve the devices with the river water they needed.

We had one of these in the center of the engine room, and it had a two-inch valve that was leaking and needed to be changed out. One of the other engineers was worried to death about this. He didn't have a lot of experience, tended to exaggerate the possibilities of what could go wrong, and honestly, he was a very inept mechanic. He had been on a tear about how we were going to have to drydock the boat to change this valve.

That was never going to happen. A gambling operation was never going to interrupt the money flow for something like that, and there was nowhere nearby where it could have been done anyway. Curt was still going on about it one evening, and Joe was tired of hearing about it. Joe asked me if we had a 2” valve, and I told him we did. He said, “C'mon, let's go. Curt, you can watch.”

Off we went, and I had a good idea of what he had in mind. Up came the deck plates, and pipe wrenches and other necessary items were set out. Joe shut off the refrigeration stack (just bar coolers) that depended on that line for cooling water, closed the valve, and was disconnecting the copper line from it. I was busy prepping the replacement valve by spreading a heavy coat of sealant on the threads of the valve end that would go on the seachest. With everything ready, Joe loosened the old valve.

At this point, Curt's eyes got wide, but he stayed silent. I had the new valve ready, opened wide. The draft of the boat was only about six feet, and it was only a two-inch line, so the water pressure and volume wouldn't be that great. Joe looked at me, grinning, and said, “Ready?” I nodded in the affirmative, and he spun the old valve off. A fat stream of water shot out of the line, and I jammed the new valve down over it. The water started shooting out of the open end of the new valve, keeping me mostly dry and allowing me to easily get the threads started. A quick spin to engage a few more threads, and then, spin the valve wheel to close it, and no more water! It took about five seconds, and I doubt that we let in more than five gallons of canal water. We tightened up the valve, fitted the copper line back up to it, restarted the three bar coolers and it was done. We were still pretty dry, too.

Curt was utterly flabbergasted. When he found his voice, he began threatening to fire Joe for endangering the boat. Really? I told him that I'd write Joe a commendation for taking care of a problem without a drydocking with innovative problem solving. We argued about it for a while, and Curt finally gave up and went home. It made a good tale to tell our reliefs when they came in in the morning.

OK, we've established Joe's creds as a resourceful, quick thinker, so this brings us to Joe's gas station adventure.

We were sitting around one evening in the shop area on the Northern Star, swapping lies, and Joe rolled out this little gem of an early morning encounter he once had while fueling up his old Jeep in Norfolk, Virginia.

Joe had spent a lot of time assigned to the Norfolk Naval base while he was still in the navy and he had an apartment off base that wasn't in the greatest neighborhood. Leaving the base in the small hours one morning, he stopped to gas up his ride. He swung into a gas station not too far from his apartment, pulled up to the pumps, and started filling the tank.

While he was doing this, a bum approached him. He started hitting Joe up for money, and Joe told him that it was three days till payday and all the money that he had was going in the tank so he could get to work, there wasn't any to spare. They went back and forth for a while, and the bum was developing more and more attitude as it went on. Joe got tired of this and told the guy to leave him alone and go away.

At this point, the bum pulls out a knife and yells, GIMME YO F!@#$N' MONEY!!! Joe looks up, and this guy is closing on him with a knife. Without missing a beat, Joe pulls the gas nozzle out of the tank, aims it at his would-be assailant, and squeezes the handle.

Joe is telling this whole thing in a calm, even tone. When he was describing this scene, his comment was, “You'd be surprised at just how far gasoline will shoot out of one of those nozzles.”

He hoses down his would-be attacker with gasoline, all the while fumbling in his shirt pocket for his cigarette lighter and yelling “YOU WANT WHAT?? WHAT?? WHAT DO YOU WANT???” “PLEASE, MISTER!!! PLEASE!!! I'LL GO!!! I'LL GO!!!” The lighter was empty, out of butane, but the flint wheel still worked. Joe gave it a couple of flicks with his thumb just for effect. The would-be robber dropped the knife and ran.

Joe goes in to pay for his gas and finds the night guy inside his bulletproof glass enclosure laughing heartily. He bought Joe's gas for him, saying that that was the best thing he'd ever seen in years of working nights there.

Joe won the storytelling competition that night, we all threw in the towel after hearing this one.

                                                 (Not Joe, but you get the idea.)

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I did a stint as one of the engineers at Harrah's casino boats in downtown Joliet, Illinois, from the end of 1995 to mid-1998. They had ...

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