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Original posting 19 January 2008 on Don Gentry's BBS
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Route 460
The Yellow Brick Road to civilization, adventure and pride in service.
by Dex Armstrong
steamboat   ...Posted 2008-01-19 6:44 PM)

You done it again, Dex. In '60 I could hitch from D&S piers to Michigan and back on a 72. I had a cabby drive me all around DC once gratis. Had people buy me dinner and give me cash for the road.

"Those were the days, my friend, we thought they would never end."

Steamboat sends

MAD DOG  ...Posted 2008-01-19 8:20 PM

Made the trip from DamNeck to Columbus , Ohio and back many weekends.

True story:  An unnamed E2 is hitching West on the Pa . turnpike.

It's "zero dark thirty" and raining. A carload of gorgeous babes zooms by - gets about 50 yards ahead, slams it into reverse and comes back.

A good lookin' redhead rolls down the window and says, "Hey sailor. Tired of walking?"

Sailor says, "YOU betcha" and starts running for the car.

Just as he gets alongside, the redhead says, "Well piss in your shoes and FLOAT a while!" and the car peels out never to be seen again.


dex armstrong  ...Posted 2008-01-20 12:00 PM


After completing that rambling, "all over hell and half Georgia" diatribe...long forgotten memories began to parade across the reverse side of my eyeballs.

I had forgotten King's Barbeque south of Petersburg, Virginia....Old rascal named Ned ran the place. His wife supervised the kitchen and his lovely daughter waited tables. You knew that they served great food before you opened the door because there were five or six Commonwealth Highway Patrol cars in the parking lot. The featured barbeque platter was less than two bucks and it came with their famous "bottomless" iced tea.

Between Richmond and Fredericksburg, there was place called Ladysmith where the RF&P Railroad had a bridge. You could get under it in the rain, sit on your AWOL bag and wave at passing cars as they went by....It didn't take long for some patriotic big- hearted citizen to stop...back up 50 yards...roll down his (or if you were damn lucky, her) window and ask,"How far you going Sailor?."

"As far north as you're headed (Sir or Mam)"

The world was different then.

There were no Fleet Nannies who did away with hitchhiking. People felt honored picking up underpaid defenders of their freedom. Hitchhiking servicemen were part of the fabric of the nation. Hitchhiking American Bluejackets were one of the United States best recruiting tools. For many young lads, riding in a car with a homeward bound youngster in thirteen button blues, was his first contact with the adventurous life of a seagoing serviceman.

For some, a seed was planted in a daydreamers heart that germinated in the fertilizer only known to adventure seeking lads, that was harvested at SubSchool later in life.

The Navy Nannies - the same rascals that did away with the "never pin Dolphins on a dry shirt" tradition, patronizing professional ladies, locker clubs, cluttered piers, and settling differences with one's fists out behind a pierhead quonset hut, shitcanned hitchhiking. In the reckless pursuit of a "kinder, gentler society". We've tamed the freebooting participants....we've exchanged the "devil take the hindmost", don't give a damn, arrogant attitude...for a decidedly better behaved, highly disciplined, totally professional seagoing technician.

Pissing against the wind, tossing bar furniture and hitchhiking have become the distant memories of long ago practitioners of the seven knots submerged. answering bells on the battery, take her to 350, dead air and secondhand smoke Navy.

Steamboat...MAD DOG, let's face it, we've become the misunderstood relics of a "never to return, never to be understood" bygone era in the boatservice. I for one, loved hitchhiking...met some great people...saw a helluvalot of American real estate at eye level...learned a great deal about the inner goodness and generosity of the American public....had many opportunities to exchange ideas with folks I never would have met otherwise.

Forgive me, I seem to have crawled up on The Stump of Smokeboat Wisdom and need to step down.

There was a town called Suffolk, Virginia that at the time billed itself as THE PEANUT CAPITAL OF THE WORLD and international headquarters of the Planters Peanut Company....Planters hauled peanuts out of there by the truck and caught there in a snow storm once, spent the night in the entrance vestibule of a locked up Methodist church...and gave up and returned to REQUIN the next morning when it stopped snowing. Snow hitchhiking is can freeze one's doo- dahs off.

On Route 17, before you got to Glouchester (where the posted speed through town was 5 miles an hour to fleece members of Arliegh Burke's 2nd Fleet every Friday)....about two miles south of Glouchester was a Bar-B- Q joint called Eddy's PIT COOKED PORK BAR-B-Q...directly across the street, was a Mt. Vernon looking structure called the HOGG FUNERAL HOME. It seemed that with my twisted sense of humor, I was the only dumb sonuvabitch that found that funny as hell.

Between Glouchester and Tappahannock, there was a diner with a rather plump lady who ran the counter, took your order, brought it to you from the kitchen, wrote your check and took your money at the counter cash register. I forget her name but whatever in the hell they paid her wasn't half enough...the poor sweetheart did everything. There was a sign above the cash register that read IN GOD WE TRUST...ALL OTHERS PAY CASH...and the floral decorations down the counter were plastic and poked in washed- out pickle jars...It wasn't found in FODOR's GUIDE TO FINE DINING but it did make a halfway decent chicken salad sandwich and the plump lady put a nice size set of dents on the front of her blouse.

Somewhere along Route 17 there was an International Harvester dealership. They would give you a free cardboard cup of coffee and let you take a whiz in their men's room. If I ever need a tractor or mechanized manure spreader, I'll buy one from them simply based on their kindness to an eighteen year old boatsailor with traveling twenty buck fortune.

It was hard to get a ride across the Yorktown Bridge, for some reason only understood by God and The Holy Ghost, people wouldn't pull over and give you a lift on the Yorktown side of the bridge. Maybe Jesse James used to hop out of the bushes and rob'n the hell would I know? You were better off if you simply hauled yourself and AWOL bag across the bridge on foot....sometimes people would stop and pick you up on the way over.

Steamboat and Mad Dog...we were young, we had the whole world to romp around in...we could piss on the petunias, thumb our collective noses at the accepted norms, accepted conventions and recognized boundaries of conventional wisdom.

We were qualified Submariners and that came with a seabag of invisible perks and prerogatives that would have been the envy of Cromagnon Man, Attila the Hun, Sir Henry Morgan and the entire Apache Nation.

We weren't bolted to the planet and had access to Zeus's golf bag full of lightning bolts. Archimedes once said,"Give me a fulcrum for my lever, and I will move the world."

At eighteen, Mike Hemming once said,"Give me a pool cue and I'll bust every head in between me and the head...(Bells Fine Culinary Emporium, Norfolk...1962).


dex armstrong ...Posted 2008-01-20 12:48 PM

This entire thread is directed at old non housebroken, senior citizen discount eligible former submarine underway watchstanding rapscallions. Old jabberwocky's standing in the Holland Club on-deck circle waiting for the longevity odometer to roll over to the point of clubhouse who buy Viagra in the hen egg size and use reading glasses the thickness of observatory lens.

The foregoing can only be properly understood by men who have embarked on thumb arranged travel adventures, with nothing between themselves and complete starvation but an unopened box of Good&Plenty's stuffed in a peacoat who have slept under the stars by the side of major highways....peed behind rusty Martha White Flour who fashioned cranial rain deflectors out of folded up newspapers and who have traveled six hundred miles in a soggy jumper.

This thesis on some of the specific elements of a well spent youth, is dedicated to the men of an era where the nation we loved and proudly served owed us nothing, but the honor of wearing her uniform and the honor of wearing Dolphins forged on the anvil of WWII by the personal heroes of the downline generation of those whose only desire was to be just like the gallant bastards.

It is dedicated to the smokeboat riders...who are the only ones who can equate with the times represented, traditions remembered and the carefree nature of old timey submariner'ing.

It's dedicated to the men who stuffed everything they owned into something akin to a bloody breadlocker and went to sea. era of "first night in" battery charges and Class B movie marathons....the era of pin-ups taped to the back side of a head stall door, mid watch hot cinnamon buns and coffee that would float pool balls and anchor chain links....back when the term "member of ships company" meant that the man had given a large chunk of his heart to a specific hull number.

That's the group of screwballs this crap was intended to be understood by.


steamboat  ...Posted 2008-01-20 1:07 PM


Thank you for your collective memory of what life was like in those mostly forgotten times when we were non-rated, desperately poor, desperately lonely and largely forgotten servants of our Nations Defense Department. Somehow we made the most of an impossible situation of being a very small cog in a very large wheel and thrived. Our youth and naivete' factored in there, but I think that being "ships company" on a tried and true heroine of the war in the Pacific did give us a feeling of identity and self importance.

Keep coming with your musings Shipmate, they are platinum records to this old smokeboater's soul.

Steamboat sends

dex armstrong  ...Posted 2008-01-20 5:16 PM


We were young testosterone loaded, crazy as hell, fifty feet tall, bulletproof, Dolphin hauling idiots...who loved life and ridin' submarines.

We dated wimmin that only had to have a pulse rate and the ability to place themselves in positions horizontal to the lateral plane of the earth. We barked at the moon and took no prisoners. We swung from limb to limb...drank stuff that would dissolve a main battery turret on a heavy cruiser...loved our Mothers...and tossed cookies over the gunnels of more than one liberty launch returning to the contraption wearing our recognizable hull numbers.

We had guys we shared messdeck benches with, who owned War Patrol pins and WWII service, theater and victory medals...and played hearts, acey-deucy and shot craps with them relieving our collective wallets of burdensome cash overloads.

We crawled up onto stinking flashpads once inhabited by folks who actually knew, first hand, the sound of exploding depth charges and the sounds of ships on the receiving end of ordinance UPS'd to them, as they broke up and took a short trip to the floor of the Pacific.

I think the key word in all this is the word YOUNG.

Youth is the period that the Creator set aside for inexperienced lads to test their antlers, knock the bark off trees...piss against the does...drink deeply from the well of stupidity - bounce off numerous stationary objects - learn the fragility of the human body - the laws of gravity and the lessons of over indulgence.

Steamboat, there was no better way to make the transition from boy to man, than being incubated in the inside of a diesel boat pressure hull. Consumption of hydraulic oil laced java, moldy bread, Post Toasties loaded with acrobatic mites hopping up and down, clabbered milk, baloney with the green fuzzy fur surgically removed...breathing cigarette smoke loaded air.....taking a three minute shower every ten days....surviving the atmosphere released from #2 Sanitary Inboard Vent every other day....having CPO's constantly making reference to the legitimacy of your birth...your sub par IQ...the inadequacy of your appearance, lack of personal hygiene and unacceptable social behavior.

We made it. We got our twin fish and became a member of SubRon Six: the Jesse James Gang of the East Coast. We were the lads who sallied forth from Pier 22 to do battle with Pings, PDC's, Imaginary boogie men, non-existent enemy ships, floating crap wandering around in the ocean, seagull droppings, abject boredom and guest riders whose only reason for stealing onboard oxygen was to serve to cork up the Forward Battery Passageway.

Steamboat, thanks for understanding and being a part of it all. Wish I'd had the opportunity to have shared the contents of a passed fifth with you at some liberty launch landing in a faraway land or have had the opportunity to leave inner locking beer glass rings with you on some dinged up table top in a worn out gin mill somewhere beyond EAST BUBBLEGUM - where buck nekkit maidens shinnied up palm trees to bring you coconuts and personal pleasure.

Hey, we rode petroleum powered scrap yard cheating antiques. We rode fuel eating over-the-hill leaking contraptions, the Navy no longer stocked parts for - rust buckets kept alive by sister cannibalization, theft, multiple organ transplants and prayer.

Don't let ANYONE ever tell you we weren't a special breed or discount our contribution to the history of our wonderful force.

Thanks Steamboat for giving a damn.


dex armstrong      Posted 2008-01-21

There was another preferred method of travel.

If you hit it big in an Orion payday crap game, found the Hope Diamond in the oily rag dumpster, got adopted by the Sultan of Saudi Arabia or inherited a train load of Carlings Black Lable  -- it was the Trailways bus out of Newport News - or NOB.

In preperation, boatsailors would breakout some travelling chow;  fabricate weird sandwiches on a messdeck table;  wrap them in paper pilferred from the radio shack or somewhere else on the boat, like DRT tracing paper and pack them in an AWOL bag. You could grab a couple of sodas from the geedunk stand on ORION and haul for the bus launching area.

It was also smart to rinse out a jar with a screwtop lid and tuck that in your AWOL bag to take care of contingencies that might arise due to the absence of an on-board head. I often wondered what became of those jars of enroute contributions at the final destination.

For those of you who entered the Navy later, NOB stood for Naval Operating Base. It was the main hub of the many Naval installations around Norfolk and headquarters for all the Comlants: ComSubLant, DesLant, AirLant and WhatEverElseLant. And it was located at the conflence of Taussig Boulevard and Hampton Boulevard in Norfolk.

There were buses designated specifically NAVY- NEWPORT NEWS and NOB SPECIAL. The buses were on their last legs. Next stop was the junkyard scrap metal crusher. They were made in the late 1870's, had wooden spokes in the wheels and ran off of a wood fired boiler. The window wipers were two large rats with squeegies. The seats were all rump sprung and there was no head aboard.

Most of the drivers were retreads dredged up at old folks homes and the routes were mapped out by National Geographic. If any of you remember Friday's at DesSub Piers, out in the pierhead parking lot, there was an endless row of pay phones. And on Fridays there was a two block row of Trailways and Greyhound bald tire wheezers.

You could board a bus marked DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA for twelve bucks one way -- twenty bucks there and back. If you were wealthy enough or born to parents who subsidized your existence with postal delivered infusions of foldable currency, you could treat yourself to a 200 mile trip through rural America on a wornout bus built by Barney and Fred.

Prior to arriving from the dark, remote part of the planet where they kept these antique monsters, they had been loaded with "For Rural Delivery" stuff.  That meant that in the course of the trip to your ultimate destination, the driver would stop at mailboxes in places on no existing map in the middle of nowhere and leave packages marked HARVESTER PARTS, Burpees SEEDS, Windmill BLADES, Sears-Roebuck Fashions and WEST BEND BED PAN MANUFACTURING COMPANY. It was like you were riding piggyback on the mechanical pony express.

Bus travel in the late '50s was a form of planetary locomotion indulged in by individuals with no other choice -- other than saddling a donkey, jumping a train or wearing out shoes. Also a public bus seat could turn a set of whites into a yellowed looking leper suit. There was no way to travel by bus and arrive looking like anything but a White Tower burger flipper.

There were popular mens magazines to read on the trip - like SAGA, TRUE ADVENTURE, MEN'S, and that barbershop favorite POLICE GAZETTE. They contained articles with the literary merit of compositions appearing on the inside surfaces of a TEXACO head stall. and were written to appeal to men with the intellect of a Hostess TWINKIE - but made great reading for Naval Personnel operating at the E-3 level of the saltwater plowing society.

Back then there were things simply known as "a pack of NABS" - made of peanut butter and Ritz crackers wrapped in cellophane. Your average bluejacket could easly live on ten packs of NABS for two weeks.  I often wondered why astronauts didn't just pack their space suits with packs of NABS and load a bunch of DADS OLD FASHION ROOT BEER. But then it dawned on me --  the sonuvabitches were all officers and never planted their butts on raggedy ass bus seats for a trip north from Norfolk and probably wouldn't know what a pack of NABS were.

On mixed military/civilian buses you got to meet the raw unvarnished members of the general public that inhabited the lower spectrum of society and you never forgot the kindness and unsolicited generosity of the wonderful people you met. In America it is not uncommon for those who have next to nothing to share what little they have with others. The concept of greed begins much farther up the food chain. On a bus, a shared pack of NABS equals any of the gifts in the saddlebags of the The Three Wisemen.

There are those of you out there, who remember tooling down the pier when they put down three section liberty on Fridays. With your clothes, toilet gear, survival rations and thirty bucks in an AWOL bag, heading for some distant location.

You were wearing Dolphins and had a firm grip on owning the entire world. You were eighteen. You were very patriotic. And nobody knew who you were, what you were doing or that diesel powered submarines still existed.


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