When You’re Accountable, You Learn

Sam Grills: Started in October 1956 as a Shipfitter; Still Working as a Design Tech

A shipfitter is like a carpenter only with steel. In those days, you’d have full-size paper or wooden templates that had been made in what they called the mold loft. You would take these templates and lay them on raw steel, like angle iron or beams or steel plate of various grades.

They used to mark these manually, back then, with a hammer and a prick punch. Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!

You’d put marks in there where the cuts were going to be. There would be reference lines like water lines, buttock lines, things of that nature, which would help the mechanic or the shipfitter.

Buttock lines are vertical and parallel to the center line. And you’d have frame lines, parallel planes from the forward end to the aft end of the ship. From these space references you could take dimensions and line things up.

The mold loft would take into account the variation in tolerance and they’d add a little extra stock, like an inch. Taking into account the extra stock, you would scribe the actual surface from which something was going to fit, so that you knew how much you were going to take off.

You really began to work when you went out and did a job on your own. When you’re accountable for making it fit, that’s when you really learn.

My first job like that was on the Tullibee. I had to put in a catwalk, an angle iron and plate walking surface in the lower level in the engine room. You got the pipefitters and the laggers and the other shipfitters and the service welders. Everybody else is walking all over everything.

I was going crazy!

The years that I had in the shipyard are something you can’t buy. I appreciated having brought that with me to the drawing room.