Feb 12, 2017

Frank Hurley and the "Lost" Deck Edge Elevator

An LHA, showing the deck edge elevator in the port stern quarter
I worked at the Ingalls Shipbuilding Division of Litton Industries from 1972 until 1978.  Some time in 1975, I transferred from the DD-963 Destroyer program to the LHA program.  I worked within the LHA Program Office where I ran the change boards for the program.  We met all day every day in offices near the fitting out area in a building known as the "Wet Dock" building.  Sharing the building with us shipyard personnel were several manufacturer's representatives who were agents of the companies that supplied equipment and systems to the ship yard.  One such representative was Frank Hurley, who had an office adjacent to mine.  Frank was a long-time resident of the Gulf Coast, having resided in Biloxi for over 30 years.  He was one of those outgoing individuals who never met a stranger.  He had friends up and down the coast.  At one time Frank had been a representative for Murphy Diesels, a Wisconsin company that marketed medium-sized diesel engines.  He marketed these engines to builders of shrimp boats along the coast, and often got involved in helping buyers set up financing for boats and equipment.  As a result, I think he knew just about every banker on the coast.  He also knew all the politicians anyone would ever want to know.  He was a really nice guy and we all got to look forward to his arrival each day at which time we'd hear another "Frank story."

A typical deck edge elevator
Frank Hurley represented several companies who were suppliers.  One such company was Jered LLC, a supplier of hydraulically-driven deck edge elevator equipment.  These elevators, which move aircraft from the flight deck to the hangar deck and back, are enormous, complex systems.  The elevator platform itself weighs thousands of pounds and may have a lifting capacity of 30-40,000 pounds.  Suffice it to say that the equipment components behind these devices took up a lot of warehouse space when they were delivered.  My recollection is that they were manufactured in Michigan.  When the components (pumps, switches, controllers, hydraulics, etc.) would arrive in Pascagoula, we would conduct a very though receipt inspection before placing them in secure storage.  Everything was carefully accounted for.

I was shocked one morning as I arrived at my office and was greeted by a very angry Frank Hurley.  "Your idiot shipyard workers have lost one of my elevators!"  I asked him to calm down and tell me what he was talking about.  He sat down and proceeded.  Apparently, it was nearly time to install one of the elevators and Frank had gone to one of the warehouses in which the equipment was stored.  He had been there a few weeks earlier to witness its receipt-inspection at the time it had been delivered.  He had seen where they had stored and labelled every hydraulic component, motor, pump, controller, hose, and fitting.  And yet, when he had gone the day before to check its condition, everything was gone.  Frank checked with the warehouse manager.  Their records showed that it should be where Frank had looked.  Frank talked to the "Ship's Superintendent," the individual who was the "choreographer" for all things related to that hull.  He knew nothing about the deck edge elevator except to point out to Frank that they planned to start installation and integration "in a couple of weeks."  Frank was baffled and he was extremely upset at the shipyard.

I had established a policy within my small organization that we were problem solvers -- that we would never let a known problem go unresolved that we could help fix.  In that spirit, I summoned my change board representative from the Materiel department, a gentleman named Glenn Briggs.  Glenn was a sleuth when it came to locating lost objects.  He was the "St. Anthony - Patron of lost objects" of our organization.  Frank repeated his story and Glenn took notes.  Then we turned him loose.

After a couple of days, Glenn located the lost equipment.  It was in the shipyard's scrapyard and recycling center!  And even more mysteriously, no one had a clue how the stuff had gotten there.  There was absolutely no paper trail -- from the initial warehouse, from the transportation organization, or from the scrapyard.  It was as if the equipment had flown under its own power!

Frank Hurley was a happy (and relieved) man, but we never figured out how his deck edge elevator equipment had gotten lost and relocated.

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