Fire Aboard the S. S. Warwick

By Stanley E. Halfhill

The old S. S. Warwick came into the harbor the other day and tied up in Berth 22. An old Union Oil tanker of many years service, this was destined to be an unusual day in her life.

    The Warwick is well known to the "boys of the Harbor", particularly the boys of Boat 2. Well might they shudder when they see her passing by in the channel. They have good reason to.

    One day as she was loading gasoline at Union Oil, across the turning basin from Boat 2, she caught afire. A crew member working in the paint locker forward (the f'oc'sle), suddenly dashed aft down the cat-walk, his clothes aflame, and as he passed the open hatches of the different holds, they blew up with loud detonations. This living torch continued the full length of the ship and finally jumped off the stern; a corpse before he hit the water.

    What a sight for the crew of the Boat as they left quarters and started across the channel. The ship was a mass of flames form stem to stern. A sight fit to recall the story of the new truckman who, when he thought he was riding to a similar conflagration one day, edged up to the Captain from his place on the side of the apparatus and quipped: "Say, Cap, do you accept a man's resignation on the way to a fire?"

    Well, we have no record of any of the 'arbor boys resigning that day and swimming ashore. Instead, with a mixture of good luck and some very fine fire-fighting (to quote the authorities) that fire was finally and quite suddenly extinguished.

    But that story can't be done justice here. Let us recall another bit of department lore as regards the S. S. Warwick, She was up in the Bethlehem dry-dock for extensive repairs, one time after that and her holds wouldn't clear of gas. Down into her bottom went a fireman with a McCaa 2-hour oxygen helmet and fixed that little trouble. But as the apparatus passed her bow on the way beck to quarters, this Joe (and his name was Joe) read her mane so boldly painted there and he was heard to remark, "Well that old so-and-so! If I' a known it was that old girl, someone else could have had that job!.

    It seems that "the old girl's " reputation with the local "Smoky Joes" was ruined forever after that first trouble when she caught afire and killed some of her crew. So now we come down to the present day as she lays tied up in 228. For if we wish to go a little farther with the traditional calling of a ship as "she", then "she" will be divorced and remarried this day, and after getting her "face lifted" she will probably go flouncing down to sea again on her restless shuttling to and fro to keep the lamps of China from lighting. Note: Nowadays, oil that crosses oceans puts out more lamps that it lights via aeroplanes a la Blitzkriegs.

    For today the Warwick will start serving a new master, for she has been sold down the river to a banana republic. In a colorful little ceremony aft, the Stars and Stripes flutter down one end of the halyard as the flag of the proud little South American country travels up the other. And there is saluting, clicking of heels and of cameras; pretty girls with pretty dresses and flowers; officers with uniforms and importance; new crew members with paint brushes and old crew members with old war bags, going ashore. So her old servants tell her adios and her new ones paint out her old name and the big "U" on her funnel and disguise her rather well with new raiment. But the boys along the water front aren't so easily fooled. They probably will still think she is an old reprobate at heart. And as she slides down the tide some fine evening some Smoky Joe will raise an eyebrow at her passing and say, "Why I knew her when . . . "


This article appeared in the June 30, 1940 issue of THE GRAPE VINE.

Copyright 2000 - All Rights Reserved