‘I’m Going to Make You a Ship Superintendent’

Tom Bonelli: Started in 1965 as a Piping Inspector and Retired as an Area Superintendent

When they brought the piping in from the vendors, all of it had to be cleaned. Oxygen-cleaned, put in vats, cleaned at a certain pressure. Then we would inspect the pipes and put caps on them. No pipes went on a submarine without caps on the end, and taped with the date. After the pipes were on the ship, we would go down and inspect the installation.

Everybody was geared up to go by the diagram and working plan. If you had a problem, you would stop. If the bolts and washers had to be copper-nickel and you had steel, you could not put those in.

If you stuck the steel in there, if you say, “Aw, who’s going to catch it?” the inspector would catch it. You can’t cheat on a submarine. It’s people’s lives. Everything has got to be by the plan.

I was promoted to ship superintendent by Norman MacIntyre in 1971. He says, “Come here Tom, sit down. I’m going to make you a ship superintendent.” Didn’t ask me. That’s the way he was. His father was the works manager – he ran the shipyard, all the trades. And his grandfather in Scotland was a works manager. So they were all shipyard.

The son? Smartest shipbuilder in the world. He would study the plans. He could tell you the size of the pump. What type of material the hold-downs were, where it went. He knew everything about a submarine. I mean his whole life was Electric Boat.

So I sat at Norman’s desk and he filled out the paperwork. He says, “I’m going to start you out at $9,999.” I say to myself, “Why don’t you just make it $10,000!” Scotchmen are tough.

Monday he called his favorite painter boss and says to me, “You follow him around. He’ll make you a ship superintendent.” He showed me everything I had to know.

I loved it. A line supervisor really earns his money. He’s got to worry about all the material. He’s in charge of 10 or 15 people. He’s got to worry about safety. Make sure his people are wearing glasses, safety shoes and they’re on the job at the right time. It’s a tough job. But at the end you’ve got a beautiful product.