U.S.S. Little Rock
CL 92 / CLG 4 / CG 4

* * * The BR / BT / WT Rating * * *

Boilermaker (B),
Boilerman / Boiler Tender / Boiler Technician

Page last updated: 23 January, 2018

General Info:

The Boilerman operates equipment that produces steam for propulsion engines and steam-driven electric power generator; tests and inventories supplies for fuel and water, maintains boilers, pumps and associated machinery.

Their general qualifications are: They should know how to work with common hand and power tools and have a strong interest in mechanical work.

What They Do:


DUTIES: Repairs and tests Fireroom (boilerroom) equipment. Renews parts, such as tubes, gauges, glass columns, valves. Repairs boiler plates and brick-work of boilers. Checks seams, rivets, welds, fits pipes. Lays out heavy sheet metal work. Maintains and repairs condensers, evaporators, various kinds of heaters, pumps, etc. Has expert knowledge of safety precautions of the Fireroom.

EQUIPMENT USED: Expanding tools, pneumatic hammer, oxy-acetylene torch, forming dies, blacksmith's tools -- forge, anvils, chipping and caulking tools.

TYPES OF BILLETS: Larger ships; repair ships; Navy yards and bases.


DUTIES: Takes charge of Fireroom (boilerroom). Reads steam and water gauges. Maintains proper steam pressure in boilers by controlling feed valves of oil burners, safety valves, and blow-off cocks. Operates equipment such as feed pump ejectors, condensers, pumps, super-heaters, evaporators, and draft system. Maintains and performs minor repairs on boiler room equipment. Removes scale and sludge from interior of boiler, and cleans valves, tubes, and other equipment. Supervises firemen. Keeps Fireroom log.

EQUIPMENT USED: Boilers, oil burners, stokers, pressure vessels, pipes, valves, gauges, pumps, etc.

TYPES OF BILLETS: All ships except the smallest

General Rating
Service (Specialty) Rating
B       Boilermaker
BR    Boilermaker (1956-1971)
BT    Boilerman (see WT  Watertender)
BT    Boiler Tender
BT    Boiler Technician (1976-1996 See Note:1)
WT  Watertender (1884-1948)
BTG      Shipboard Boilerman
Boiler Repairman
WTCB  Water Tender Construction

Note 1.  Navy Press Release:   Once one of the largest and most physically demanding ratings in the Navy, boiler technician (BT) merged with the machinist's mate-surface (MM) rating in October 1, 1996.

Because of the similarity in the responsibilities and training of BTs and MMs, and the reduction in split-room surface steam propulsion plants, the Secretary of the Navy approved the merger of the two ratings. This action will provide greater flexibility in detailing and broader career opportunities for Sailors. It also will improve operational and administrative efficiency.     More information is available in NAVADMIN 047/95.

Comments from the Crew
Tim Hartley - BT3

I worked in both firerooms and our oil-lab. Was on the Rock June 69 - Dec 72. Made friends all over the ship and saw places and people I'll never will get a chance to see again. Would do it again, and take a lot more pictures. If any snipe from that time don't know the name do they remember “Boom Boom” from the forward fireroom? Hope to hear from fellow snipes.

I can recall our Chief Engineer was J. Myrick and Ens Largent was one of our Division Officers. I worked under a few PO1’s: McKay, Wells, Starkey, Bush. All I can remember for now. Hope to see the Rock again before I get too old.....


Jim Sklarz - BT

It wasn't my intention to become a sea-going engineer. In fact, based on my education, my placement scores and my volunteer status, my recruiter promised me an "A" school of my choosing within the engineering rates. He assured me that this included the opportunity to become a Sea Bee, as was my sincere desire. Upon completion of boot camp I found myself on the way to BT "A" school. A fleet sailor I was acquainted with said, "So much for promises, sucker!"

I complained most vigorously and was determined to work my way up the Chain of Command until I got what I wanted. The chief I met with in the Service School admin office, a salty old dog with "green" chief insignia on his collar made it pretty clear to me that I could moan and groan all I wanted to. Doing so wouldn't change the fact that I was designated to fill one of the many engineering personnel vacancies that existed in the fleet at that time. At that point in the Viet Nam conflict, the Navy just didn't need Sea Bees who weren't already skilled tradesmen . "So, get yer tail back in the classroom and turn to, ya raisin-headed swabbie, or y'all will end up in the fire room just the same!"

Although this was not to my liking, what choice does one have at that point? The Navy's got you and you had better make the most of it! BT's were in short supply and the Navy was doing everything possible to fill those billets as quickly as possible. I busted my hump in an accelerated class and surprisingly, graduated in the top five of my class! The chief who had read to me from the good book was pretty pleased too, and as it turned out, I was allowed to choose my homeport. Since my family was mostly all settled in central MA, I asked for Newport and was assigned accordingly. The Navy was even so accommodating as to offer me a choice of ship type. I wanted to be on something bigger than a DD or a DE but I didn't want to be on an auxiliary craft, preferring assignment to a bonafide man-o-war. When I heard that I was going to be a part of the crew of the Little Rock, I was excited!

It was spring of 1972, I think, when I first saw her tied up at the pier in  Newport, at that time about an hour and a half ride from my home. She looked pretty awesome to me, all business for sure: Two gun mounts forward and the missile launcher on the fantail spoke of just how serious a threat she could be. My Dad, a retired USMC Gunnery Sargent seemed pretty impressed, too. It must have brought some memories back to the Gunner the day that he walked me down that long pier. He had been a sea-going Marine back in the late forties, assigned first to the Marine detachment aboard the battleship Mississippi and later to the detachment aboard the USS Worcester CL-144, the light cruiser named for his hometown. With a total of eight years of sea duty, my Dad became a Shellback, something that I never had the dubious distinction of becoming, and served two combat tours in Korea. He also did one tour in Nam, retiring in 1971 with twenty-four years total service.

Assigned to B Division, the Division Officer at that time was LTJG Bill Largent. He was pretty cool and encouraged me to advance myself, even suggesting OCS, for which he said I seemed very well suited. But I had it in my head that I was more suited to being one of the “Indians” versus one of the “chiefs”!  His boss, the Engineering Officer, was Mr. Myrick, a LCDR at the time, I think.  We had two first class PO's, as I recall, BT1 Nemeth from NH and BT1 Wells from ME.

I remember that a chief from the cruisers Springfield and / or Albany, BTC McMurtry, joined our crew while I was aboard the Rock. He had previously served aboard the USS Dealey, DE- 1006. This vessel was gifted to the Republic of Uruguay and became their flagship, El Siete de Julio (“the 7th of July” - the date signifies their independence day from Spain). While the Rock was in the yard in Boston in the fall / winter (?) of 73, this South American vessel was also in port and could be boarded by the public for inspection. In comparison to the typical USN bunker fuel burning ships of the time, the fire room on El Siete De Julio was as clean as an operating room! With highly polished deck plates, fancy knot work on all of the ladder railings and all the valve wheels chrome plated, her innards where as sharp as many of the dressed-up quarterdecks on our Navy's vessels that I have seen. The sailors from Uruguay had her gussied up nine ways to Sunday and not so long before she had been destined for the scrap yard. What a transition for the old girl! One other sailor assigned to our division, BT2 Clark (not BT3 Theo Clark), was also a prior Dealey crew member and could tell you how nicely she had been tricked out. Years later, I found out that one of my very best friends from the small central MA town that I was living in was also a prior Dealey crew member and actually remembered McMurtry and Clark! What a small world!

I have a pretty good memory for details overall and have a lot of other memories that I can add to this monologue at some point later on. I also recently acquired a Little Rock cruise book from that era that is loaded with photos that many of you here may find interesting. At some point I'll make it a point to spin a yarn or two more and will also scan and download some of the better photos from the cruise book here.

Would I do it again? I had some great times associated with my time aboard the Rock and with my buds from B Division.  You bet I'd do it again!

Second posting added by Jim ...

In my previous post I waxed nostalgic about my Dad and his career as a Marine NCO and the fact that he was seagoing for a time. I mistakenly said that he was assigned shipboard for eight years. I have since had a chat with him about those days and come to realize that with all that action he was involved in, it was actually crammed into only a four year period! Also, when I mentioned that he ended up being a Shellback, I don't think I mentioned that he was a Shellback twice! That means that he was one of the do-ers instead of the do-ees the 2nd time he crossed the equator! I think that made him a "Golden Shellback!" Maybe someone here in the association has some knowledge of how that works.

Also, I told about how the was assigned to first a battleship and then to a cruiser. Then I talked about how I came to be a designated BT, who some of my division leaders were by name & rank and then what some of my memories were. I also shot the BS about somebody else's ship but I didn't actually talk about just exactly what I did on the Little Rock. Well, as I promised, I'm back to tell a bit more and this time I'll try to stay focused!

I was assigned to work in the Oil Lab on the Rock. I was part of the team that received, tested, transferred and stored fuel oil for the ship, diesel oil for the generators, and fresh water for the crew. Although I never personally did so, I understand that my fellow “Oil Kings” were involved in aviation gasoline storage, too. That would have been for the chopper.

Shipboard we had evaporators that were run by one of the Enginemen that produced our boiler feed water, if I am remembering the process correctly. Underway, these same evaporators were used to produce fresh water for drinking, washing and cooking. But their primary function had to be to make enough pure water for the boiler. Note: The toilets were on a salt water flushing system, fresh water being far too valuable a commodity once we were underway.

We had many oil storage tanks throughout the ship. I seem to remember that altogether we had 95 oil storage tanks, counting the overflow tanks. The access tubes to take a sounding tube sample for a tank might be located in a berthing compartment next to 20 sleeping men. An oil king might have to ease into this dark compartment with a flashlight, find the sounding tube, take a sample and measure the depth on the tape and take it back to the duty oil king PO back in the oil lab. There the tape measurement would be recorded to calculate the quantity in the tank and the sample would be tested for dissolved solids and the percentage of water it contained. If either were too high and it was used in the boiler burners, it could result in poor combustion or worse, flameouts. Flameouts happen when the flow of fuel to the flame is interrupted by a shot of water or contaminants that plug the fine holes in the sprayer nozzles on the burner guns.

There were two firerooms in line with each other and the engines (2) and propeller shafts (2). There was the forward fireroom and the after fireroom. We might steam with only one boiler lit up and a second boiler on standby in the forward fireroom while the after fireroom was in a maintenance mode or vice versa.

If the petty officer in charge of the forward fireroom needed to change his oil feed tank because it was almost empty, the oil lab had to have an available tank tested and ready for him. We had to find an oil storage tank, test it, certify it as acceptable and log our results, then pump it up to a feed tank. There were feed tanks on either side of each boiler and there were two boilers in each fire room.

Pumping oil was a frequent, necessary and at times complicated job. The oil kings were responsible to the bridge for keeping the ship from taking more than a one degree list. The Rock was already a top-heavy beast and among the B division crew members it was speculated that anything more than five degrees and she might roll over completely but that was probably all just scuttlebutt! Hey, BTs had to have something to BS about, too! But I can tell you that it wasn't more than a few moments before the phone was ringing and somebody on watch on the bridge was raising Cain with the duty PO if we squeaked past a one degree list! We had a big brass pendulum on the wall in the oil lab so we knew it as soon as they did when we were going to have some explaining to do!

The whole point in talking about our responsibility to the bridge here is that, if I go and start pumping 1000 gallons of bunker oil out of a tank located a third of the way down the starboard side from the bow and at about the waterline, it's going to start affecting the ship's attitude in relation to the water. The bridge has plenty of factors to deal with in jockeying the big girl through the water so you don't want to give them anything else.

Pumping all that oil to another location may mean that you also have to go to the port side and transfer some of the oil stored there over to the starboard side to replace what you moved to the feed tank. See? Pumping oil could get definitely get a bit complicated. Find a tank, test it, transfer it, replace it to maintain a proper attitude of the ship. If the testing part goes bad, you go looking for another tank. If at any point a sailor made a mistake in his testing, look out! Now you've got to start the whole process over again, possibly after you've just had a boiler flameout and a back wall explosion!

When I mentioned that we had 95 tanks, including overflow tanks, I didn't elaborate very much on that. The Rock was originally designed to burn the very thick, black oil that the Navy called Navy Special Fuel Oil (NSFO) and the rest of the world called “bunker oil”. To handle this crud, which was stored in the cold steel tanks of our ship which plied the cold Atlantic waters, the thicker-than-winter-time-molasses NSFO would need a little heat and needed to be finely sprayed under pressure to burn most economically. But getting that cold junk out of the tanks and to the burner front where the heat was located required some serious suction. Our fuel oil pumps operated on 150 psi of steam pressure (actually considered low pressure steam) to pull a powerful suction on those gunk filled tanks. Then once the pipes were full of this stuff in motion and we were topping off a feed tank, we would shut down the fill valve. But shutting that valve took time and the tank might actually top off and overflow. We couldn't have the excess over flow into the water. So the overflow pipe on the feed tanks went into an overflow tank. Failure to periodically check the levels in your overflow tanks and thereby insuring that they get emptied could result in a spill while transferring oil in port. Overflow tanks DO count as storage tanks. Ask me about it some time.

One of the projects assigned to me by the B Division Officer, LT Largent, while I was part of the the oil lab crew was to locate and map out all the oil storage tanks and their associated sounding tube locations. When I was detached from ship's crew, there was a tank map on the wall in the oil lab covered in plexiglass. We kept an inventory of all tanks by marking the plexiglass with a grease pencil. On days when we were transferring oil and it was known that oil made it into the over flow tanks and it was not immediately pumped out, it was thusly noted on our inventory map. Whenever oil was being transferred about the ship, a topside watch had to be posted to watch the overflow ports just in case somebody closed or opened the wrong valves or took a bad sounding. With the advent of my storage map and its religious use, we didn't have any transfer spills. Topside watches were posted while we were underway above the Arctic Circle. Even though it was only October, these watches were limited to fifteen minutes to insure that no sailor suffered the effects of exposure.

As oil kings, we were also responsible for taking samples off the boiler water side, cooling them to a safe temperature for handling them and testing them for PH. If the PH as wrong it resulted in water pipes that corroded inside or produced scaling, creating a condition where optimal water flow reduced boiler operational efficiency and increasing the frequency and expense of waterside maintenance. We periodically had to add a powder very much like baking soda to the boiler feed water to bring the PH into line. We even used this same powder to clean our coffee urn with. I'd wager that we had the best tasting coffee on the Rock!

The boiler feed water testing process involved the use of sodium hydroxide and very hot samples so there were some cautions that had to be taken. I once splashed some sodium hydroxide in my eyes and had to use the sample water to flush them out. There were a few moments of worry on my part! Fortunately, I had followed all precautions and I was wearing my glasses, reducing the extent of my exposure. Also, I had waited the appropriate amount of time so that my sample water was running cool out of the sampling tube and could be used to flush my eyes!

One of the other things that oil kings were involved with was handling fresh water while in port. We would test it for chlorine level and would add chlorine as necessary, which was often while we were over in Europe. The evaporators were so critical to our operation while underway that once we were in port we were always seeing them shut down for scheduled maintenance and repairs. We would use the local water in port and top off all available storage tanks before we left port.

As I look at the cruise book that I scored, I see a lot of familiar faces. Fellow crew members that I remember well are big Bill Gale, a BT3 from CT, Bob Lytle of NH, Timmy Hartley of PA and FN Paul Lenihan of Boston, a nice Irish kid who was thrilled to be home when the Rock was in the yards in Charlestown. BT2 Roger Thompson of Iowa very kindly let me borrow his Louis L'Amour and Max Brand paperbacks when he was through with them. BT3 Mark Womble of GA was a funny dude who did a good job of impersonating a certain first class from NH. Talk about funny!

We went on a NATO cruise called Operation Strong Express. I have a lot of memories of that time and will some day come back and relay them to you all here. For now, that's all I have time to offer you!

I wish you all fair winds and following seas! And as they say in Norfolk, "Go Navy!"

Jim Sklarz


Don Pleu - BT3

I was in the Oil Shack from 1970 to 1972 and I remember when “Jimbo” Sklarz came aboard.  BT1 Wells was in charge of the Oil Shack and I was a BT3.  Oil King duty was the best job in B Division.

As Jim stated we were in charge of the potable water as well as boiler feedwater, NSFO and JP5.

I recall a voyage from the states to Liverpool England, and 2 days from Liverpool we lost all of the fresh water pumps aboard.  On more than one occasion we caught the Captain in the shower and suddenly no water.  We jury rigged the Forward Fireroom's Bilge Pump to provide the pumping force.

Also Jim pointed out that the tank sounding tubes were located throughout the ship and we had keys to every space that had a sounding tube.  Two such spaces were the Captain's and Officer's Galley.  Every man in B Division new we had access.  I recall one night while we were in port, a couple of Snipes came back from being ashore after sampling the local talent and libations. Well I was on duty and had to go to the head, and when I came back the key to the Captain's Galley was missing.  It seems one of my Bud's went to the Captain's Galley and found a fresh-from-the-oven turkey.  In his drunken state he decided to take the bird down to the Forward Fireroom to share with the crew on duty.  In his unsteady state he spilled the juice from the pan on the steps of the ladders from the Galley to the Fireroom.  Well the Galley Cook followed the trail to the Fireroom and caught him red-handed.  A certain BT who shall remain anonymous, and a member of this Forum, was found guilty at a Court Marshall and was fined the cost of the bird.  It seems that the Captain was to entertain local guests aboard and personally bought this Turkey Breast in lieu of serving them standard USN chow.

Our B Division group was quite eclectic at that time with a mixture of Yankees and Rebels.  See if these names ring a bell: Cisco, Cocuzo, Baumwall, Harrellson, Powell, Starkey, DaVilla, Wallace, et al.

Don Pleu

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