The Pitsword Trunk

19 03 2009

What was nice about being an Interior Communications Electrician is the amount of time I got to spend in clean, comfortable, air conditioned spaces throughout the ship.

Except for those times when I found myself in spaces that were dirty and hazardous to one’s health…which was most of the places we worked in, now that I think about it.

One place in particular I came to loath was the Electromagnetic Underwater Log Rodmeter Compartment, more commonly known (by us, at least) as the Pitsword Trunk.

It was an unusual space, about 4 feet by 4 feet by 15 feet.  At the top was a hatch, which weighed about as much as a small humanoid (think Verne Troyer), which needed be kept closed at all times (except when somebody was in there working).  You would climb a ladder down about 6 feet, and step onto a narrow, slimy shelf.  From there, there was another ladder which went down to the bottom, which was generally covered by about a foot of seawater.

What was the purpose of this room?  Glad you asked.  Check this out.

Sounds high tech, doesn’t it?  Don’t get the wrong impression.  Until VERY recently, most military equipment (especially Naval equipment) is antiquated and…for lack of a better word, clunky.  Imagine Steam Punk, only not as ornamental.

So sleek and refined

So sleek and refined

What this “rodmeter” did was stick out a few feet past the bottom hull of the ship and, through means still a mystery to me, indicate how fast the ship was going.

When I say “stick out,” I’m dead serious.  The reason I was always down there was because whenever we  entered shallow water, somebody had to go down and retract the rodmeter (or extend it if entering deep water).   See that big steering wheel looking thing?  Its about the size of a steering wheel (hence the comparison).  That is what raised and lowered the rodmeter, which was about 5 feet long.

Its the process that annoyed me the most.  It would be one thing if I just had to go down there, crank that wheel, and be done with it.

Step 1:  To lower it, first you lift the rodmeter almost all the way out of the sea valve (the actual opening into the ocean) packing assembly.  MAKE SURE THE SEA VALVE IS CLOSED FIRST!!!!!

Step 2:  Climb the ladder down from the shelf to the bottom and stand in a foot of sea water.

Step 3:  Grab yourself some liquid soap.  Lube up the rodmeter, all five feet of it.  Seriously.  It’s not homoerotic at all.

Step 4:  Climb back up to the shelf to operate the wheel that raises and lowers the rod(meter).  Turn the wheel to the right about 3 times, which will lower the rod(meter) into the orifice on top of the sea valve packing assembly.  This orifice is a perfect size match, and inside there are 5 rubber gaskets (which should have also been lubed up with soap…did you forget to do that?  You better climb back down there and do it).  Lower the rod until it hits the top of the sea valve, then lift it up a few inches (about 3 turns of the wheel).

Step 5:  Go back down the ladder and stand in the water again.  This time, you can sit on that metal thing while you work.  It chirps every few seconds to remind you that its there (its some sort of sonar device mounted on the floor).  Its not a peaceful chirp, like birds or crickets.  It’s like an ear piercing “CHIRP…CHIRP…CHIRP MOTHER FUCKER!”

While sitting on the disgruntled chirping box, establish a firm seal with the gaskets by tightening the four packing nuts on top of the packing flange (a metal thing that sat on top of the orifice).

Step 6:  Climb back up the ladder to the shelf.  Open the sea valve and watch water flood into the compartment.  It looks like you didn’t tighten the gaskets just enough (or you tightened them too much and they slipped out of place).  Close the sea valve before the compartment totally floods.  Repeat step 6.

Step 7:  Repeat steps 5 and 6 until you are able to open the sea valve and NOT flood the compartment at the same time.  The best you can hope fore is a strong trickle of incoming sea water (as opposed to a geyser).  Once the rod is fully inserted into the packing and through the sea valve (75-77 turns of the wheel to the right), climb back down to the bottom and tighten the the packing nuts all the way.  Don’t tighten them to much, or else the packing will get crushed, which makes raising the rodmeter almost impossible for mere mortals.

When finished, take your soap, slippery wrench, and flashlight (oh yeah, bring a light with you, there is no light at the bottom of the compartment) back up to the top, being careful not to slip on the soap-covered ladders (especially since your boots are now soaked with soapy seawater).  Close the hatch, tighten down all 8 dogs (the latches that keep the hatch closed…sometimes a hammer is needed for that part).

Oh yeah, the hatch to the pitsword trunk is located in the CHT pump room.

CHT is the Navy word for SHIT.

Yes, in the Navy, shit gets its own pump room.  All the water from all the toilets, drains (sink, shower, washing machines, urinals, etc), and garbage disposals on board flow into this tiny, dirty, hot, smelly room.  Climb the ladder out of the pumproom (another 15 feet), go back up five decks, and tell the shop you have lowered the pitsword.

Go take a shower.

Whats funny is that the pump room, to me, always smelled like poo and that orange scrubby cleaning product (for hands, there was always a bottle next to the small sink at the end of the room).  To this day, I can’t smell that orange scrubby stuff without smelling 500 peoples poo and shower runoff.

Next time I’ll tell you about when me and an E-5 flooded the trunk and had to call the emergency response team.



11 responses

22 03 2009

Cant wait to hear the next story. Its nice to find out how the other half of the military lived.

4 06 2009
Mark Phillips

Not all pitsword trunks are alike and yours sounded exactly like the one that I was crawling in and out of for 4 years on the USS Fort McHenry (LSD 43) and then the USS Tortuga (LSD 46). You should join the IC group on facebook. Thanks for bringing back the good old memories. Oh yeah and by the way I never spilled more than a gallon of water out of the sea valve in 4 years. But some of my guys flooded the trunk solid once.

15 06 2009

I was on an LSD also, so I would imagine they are the same design. I have never spilled more than a gallon either, it was the E-5’s fault (of course).

12 02 2010
Brian Hickey

How funny… I was trying to describe what a pitsword was to someone at my desk job and I find Mark commenting here… (he and I went to C school together at GLakes after the same deployment on two different ships)

The trunk I fought with on the Vincennes CG-49 had a busted sea valve and had to be swapped without closing it – the fwd overflow would always…. ….overflow and we’d have to change the sword.

The trunk on the Hopper DDG-70 was fully enclosed and had to be ventilated if you were going in. Tightest spot I’ve ever crawled in to. I almost lost both my thumbs while replacing the sea valve once. My CPO and DIVO didn’t secure it well enough to the hoist and it slipped while my buddy and I were handling it. No broken bones, but he ruptured the skin around all eight fingers and I bruised both my thumbs. I’m the only one who can tell Turd’s he was all thumbs after that.

PHiiiLLiiiPS!! Get back to work on dat one!

17 02 2010

I actually found this site because I posted a picture of the pitsword trunk on the IC men Facebook group and a civilian friend of mine wanted to know what the pitsword was. I looked it up, found this, and posted it in the comments for the pitsword picture. I miss the trunk right now and it’s constant chirping. I spent the last two weeks onboard needle gunning the trunk whenever I had an hour to spare. There is really nothing like a freshly chipped and painted trunk.

17 02 2010
Mark Phillips

Oops! That last comment was me.


17 02 2010
chuck davis

Just read a story about the KENNEDY and other carrier wherein the “pitsworth room” is the place aboard where the initial name of the ship or hull number is somehow welded or otherwise put to stay. Any comment on this? Chief Davis

6 01 2012
RM1(SS) (ret)

My brother was a skimmer IC, too – wish he were still around to share his sea stories with me….

14 01 2012

Great post! I was an IC2 on the USS Coral Sea, CV 43. Our pit sword trunk was about 30 feet deep, and, like you said, about 4 feet by 4 feet. I had the pleasure of working down there more than I care to think about. On one occasion, another fellow and I had to pull the valve off to sand blast it, do some maintenance on it, and repaint it. What a pain in the ass.

We also had to repaint the pit sword trunk while in the Med…THAT really sucked. Everyone was forced to do 2 hours a day chipping paint in that hot, smell, cramped space. It took forever to chip 20 years of paint. I almost missed a man overboard drill because I was chipping paint down there, and couldn’t hear a thing.

I didn’t know there was an IC-man Facebook page…I’m off to find it!

2 05 2013
Eddie Craven

I can’t believe you pulled the sword out of the packing. No wonder you always flooded the space. My method is to open the packing nut 1/2 to 1 full turn. Lube up the sword. Open the valve. Lower the sword. If it was too rough, then the ship was traveling too fast. 5-10knots is the only safe speed. After that it is ridiculously hard to lower/raise. I’ve had the Cheng, CSO, and CO down there because I wouldn’t lower it until they slowed down. Seriously. Anyway, once the sword is fully lowered, tighten the nuts the 1/2-1 full turn. Done. No water in the trunk.
The middle packing is very thin and if you loosen it up to much will roll. Hence water spraying uncontrollably.

12 03 2017
Robert Pasheilich

I also had to chip and repaint the pit sword trunk on the Mississenawa. I believe this is why I have copd as the red lead primer screwed up my lungs. Doubt I could ever prove it though. When we would come back up after 2 hrs painting,fresh air would smell funny ,we would be high as help,and about twenty minutes later,we have a terrible headache. Thanks Navy.

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