John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Month: March, 2014

Naming Liberty Ships

During the first two years of World War II Great Britain lost so many cargo ships that this island nation was forced to recognize a dreadful possibility; she would be starved out of the war unless she quickly acquired replacement ships. New ships had to be constructed rapidly, be simple to operate by the rawest of crews and be easily replaced. Only America had the resources to build them and the Roosevelt administration, in its “short of war” policy, consented. The Maritime Administration, Marad, adopted the British design, but modified and standardized it to produce a new freighter, officially the EC2-S-C1, but better known as “Liberty Ship.”


The first liberty, Patrick Henry, was laid down on April 30, 1941, launched on September 27th and finished on December 30th.  FDR personally christened this ship one of fourteen launched that day. Patrick Henry took 150 days to fabricate from first steel to launch with a total building time of 244 days. Building time dropped dramatically to an average of 42 days as prefabricating techniques improved and, one ship, Robert E. Peary, went from first steel to launch in 4 days, 15 ½ hours.


In all 2,711 Liberty Ships were built in 18 shipyards. Almost all U.S. Flag Liberties were named after dead Americans. The famous included Presidents: Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt but also James Buchanan and even Jefferson Davis. John Hancock was among signers of the Declaration of Independence so honored, but so were the less notable; William Hooper, Francis Lewis, Josiah Bartlett and Button Gwinnett.


Other patriots abound; Thaddeus Kosciuszko, Nathan Hale, Betsey Ross, Samuel Adams, Israel Putnam, John Paul Jones, Molly Pitcher, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Paine and Paul Revere. Names familiar from our Civil War; Julia Ward Howe, Matthew B. Brady, Nathan Bedford Forrest, Fredrick Douglass, Joshua Chamberlain, Barbara Frietchie, George A. Custer, Harriet Tubman, Jubal Early, Stephen A. Douglas, Winfield Scott, Harriet Beecher Stowe, James Longstreet and Philip H. Sheridan. (Alas, SS John W. Brown didn’t bear the fiery abolitionist’s name; John W. was an early 20th Century labor leader.)


Men and women adventurers and explorers included Davy Crockett, Wyatt Earp, Ponce De Leon, James (Wild Bill) Hickok, Amelia Earhart, Geronimo, Daniel Boone, Annie Oakley, Amerigo Vespucci, Kit Carson, Pocahontas, William F. (Buffalo Bill) Cody, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.


Those of letters were represented; Mary Austin, Charles Carroll, Edgar Allen Poe, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jack London, Anne Hutchinson, Zane Grey, Washington Irving, Mark Twain, Thomas Wolfe, Emma Lazarus, Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, Ring Lardner, Joyce Kilmer, Ralph Waldo Emerson and William Cullen Bryant.


Song, dance, stage and sports; Abner Doubleday, P.T. Barnum, John L. Sullivan, Edwin Booth, Lou Gehrig, John Philip Sousa, Carol Lombard, Will Rogers, John Ringling, George M. Cohan, Christy Matteson, George Gershwin, Knute Rockne and George Gipp.


Inventors, industrialists, household names; Alexander Graham Bell, George Eastman, Samuel Colt, Richard Gatling, James Bowie, Edison, Morse, Robert Fulton, George Pullman, R.J. Reynolds, W. R. Grace, Goodyear, DuPont, John Deere, Glenn Curtiss and Wilbur Wright.


Architects, engineers, doctors, scientists, jurists; Mayo Brothers, George Washington Carver, Sanford White, George Goethals, Johns Hopkins and Booker T. Washington. Publishers, attorneys and politicians: Adolph S. Ochs, Edward Everett, Wendell Wilkie, Horace Greeley, Clarence Darrow, William Gorgas, John Marshall, James G. Blaine and Louis Brandeis.


Names local to New York; Al Smith, Samuel J. Tilden, Franklin K. Lane, C.W. Post, Floyd Bennett, William Floyd, Jacob Riis, and Peter Cooper.


The forgettable and forgotten; Uriah Rose (Arkansas politician founded the Rose Law Firm: see Hillary R. Clinton), Billy Sunday (evangelist), Sun Yat Sen (first president of the Rep. of China), Nachman Syrkin (Zionist), Andreas Honcharenko (no record found except her ship), Virginia Dare (first white person born in America), Albino Perez (Mexican politician, governor of New Mexico, assassinated one month in office), Archibald Mansfield (Reverend Mansfield led Seaman’s Church Institute), Sewell Seam (Appalachian coal mining developer), Hinton Helper (North Carolina, opposed slavery for curious reasons before the war; a white supremacist after the war.)


These and other names of ships can be explained by a fund raising provision that any group that raised two million dollars in war bonds could nominate a name for a ship.


Far more Liberty Ships survived the war than had been anticipated as the tide for the Battle of the Atlantic turned in favor of the Allies by the later part of 1943. After V.J. Day, almost 1,000 U.S. Flag Liberties, declared surplus, became the backbone of international merchant fleets replacing the ships they lost during the war. They remained a mainstay well into the 1960s until the container ship revolution finally sent them to the breakers. There they where joined by their U.S. Flag sisters who had spent almost all of the years after the war resting and rusting tied up side-by-side in reserve fleets located in American bays and rivers. Deemed old and obsolete, they too were towed to scrap yards.


But two survived to carry on, the aforementioned, John W. Brown, based in Baltimore (named for the labor leader) and the Jeremiah O’Brien based in San Francisco. The O’Brien carries the name of a native of Maine who commanded the sloop, Unity that captured the HMS Margaretta at the Battle of Machias, ME, the first naval battle of the Revolutionary War. Both Liberties remain operational and make several short voyages in protected bays each season. May they live long and prosper.

Confessions of a Roller Coaster Addict

When do you admit that you are a roller coaster junkie? For me, it was the summer of 1983 when I engineered a “supposed adventure” for three extended family groups to drive in convoy style down Interstate 91 to Agawam, Massachusetts to visit Riverside Amusement Park. Riverside was a sleepy rural park that had been re-invigorated that summer with the opening of a new, world-class wooden coaster, the Riverside Cyclone. The owners wanted to replicate the famous Coney Island coaster, but space constraints had reduced its footprint. Still, I had read rave reviews about this coaster. It was one of the first of a new generation of wooden roller coasters to open at a time when older units were still being abandoned, left and right. The Riverside Coaster was the resurrection of lost coasters I loved; Rye Beach’s Airplane Coaster, Palisades’ Cyclone and Coney Island’s Bob Sled, Tornado and Thunderbolt.

We drove down from our rented vacation cottages on the New Hampshire side of the Connecticut River near Brattleboro, Vermont in three cars. On arrival at Riverside, we discovered that the roller coaster section didn’t open for over an hour. As the appointed time drew near, I made my way with my children, nieces and nephews as close to the starting point as we could get and, when the gate opened, I took off like a shot. Family lore has it that I knocked down several old ladies and children in my successful bid to be on one of the first trains out. Balderdash! No old ladies were involved in that stampede and, if a couple or three kids went down; well, survival of the fittest is my defense and I stand by it.

My children already knew my zeal for coasters. On a previous Delach family outing to Bush Gardens I convinced our daughter, Beth, to accompany me on a steel coaster. Beth, then a pre-teen, was just building up her coaster “sea-legs”. So to help her along, I told her to put out her hand, palm up and I started putting money in her hand. I answered her questioning look with, “Let me know when you have enough so we can wait to ride on the first car or the last car.”

What triggered these recollections was a recent story in the New York newspapers that ground had been broken for a new steel roller coaster in Coney Island on the site of the old Thunderbolt. Scheduled to be open by Memorial Day, this $10 million, 2,233 foot-long Italian-built beauty promises to take riders straight up 115 feet, drop them straight down speeding them at 55 miles per hour through a 100-foot loop, a zero-gravity roll with dives, hills and a corkscrew; all within two minutes at $10 a ride.

Hotcha, sign me up.

My only previous experience with a 90-degree lift and drop came last summer at Universal Studios in Orlando. It was one of eight coasters that I rode with adult children, in-laws and grandchildren in several visits to Universal and Disney. That trip was a successful test of my year and a half old hip replacement. With the exception of one or two coasters that required contortions that I can no longer even consider attempting, every ride was successful. We rode great coasters; The Hulk, Dueling Dragons, Space Mountain, Expedition Everest, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Rock’N’Roller Coaster.

But Rip Ride Rocket was something else. From day one, my two oldest grandsons, Drew and Matt, raved about this coaster as did the Orlando Sentinel which proclaimed it the most exciting in the city. The line was long but moved quickly because this coaster is zoned into separate blocks which allow multiple trains to operate at the same time. If something goes wrong on one train, every other one stops within the zone it is located.

The ride had precautions I had never seen before, maximum height lines.  Located at the beginning of the maze and just before boarding, my 6’6” son and son-in-law, Mike and Tom, had to clear both to ride. They cleared the first one by about a half-inch, but when they passed under a second bar, this time the clearance was no more than a quarter of an inch. Their look of concern was too much so I said, “C’mon guys. You know for insurance purposes, they set that second bar lower than necessary. You’ll be fine; but then again, I’m not the one who may be decapitated!”

An attendant did confirm that they were within the height maximum, but she did admonish them: “Don’t put your hands up.”

They each rode with one of the boys so I was left to ride solo with a teenage boy. The coaster has a feature that allows each rider to program speakers on either side of them to play a rock tune of their choosing. This was a non-starter for me as I had removed my glasses before we entered the line but I watched my companion do his thing. What happened next was sobering. The restraint on this ride is a bar that comes down from the side. The boy brought his down so it rested with a console right in the center. Due to my size, mine stopped at an angle, the console off center. I looked at an attendant who gave me a thumb’s up, but a voice inside my brain gave me a warning in an eastern European accent: “Not good, not good at all!”

Too late, next thing I knew we were going straight up vertically that produced a terrible feeling that I was sliding out the back of the car. Then we went over the top and started straight down; Oh my God, the rest of the ride was a blur, a very fast blur. Wow, the boys and the Sentinel were right and I didn’t go home in a box.

But a note of caution: Beth was disappointed she missed riding the Rip Ride Rocket and returned to it with Drew only to find it was out of action. Someone had tripped or fell during loading or unloading and the ride shut down. Remember those zones? People were stuck at places all along the coaster including the top of the tower supporting the vertical lift. They had to be led down a series of stair ladders to the ground and the ride didn’t re-open for three days. “Not good, not good at all!”

How We Name Things

The methods used to name public places has evolved over the years from the traditional approach of tagging it with an appropriate name that identifies it as the Empire State building, United Nations and Pentagon, or where it is located like the Brooklyn Bridge, Pennsylvania Turnpike and Panama Canal. Honoring individuals has always been an exception, the George Washington Bridge, Hoover Dam and the Eisenhower Locks.

But times have changed. Takes sports edifices, today, overwhelmingly, the process is how much money can you get for the naming rights. Stadiums and ball parks are the most obvious, Met Life Stadium, FedEx Field, Citi Field and AT&T Stadium are simple examples. But then it can become more complex if the old name was considered iconic. Take Denver’s appropriately named, Mile High Stadium. When it was replaced by a newer version, it morphed into Sports Authority Field at Mile High (whatever that means) or the Superdome; which, as if by magic, became the Mercedes-Benz Superdome after it was re-built following Katrina.

The more venerable playing fields have held onto their traditional names; FenwayPark, Madison Square Garden, Yankee Stadium and Wrigley Field although the latter must include an * as it was originally named after the chewing gum family. Others change names quickly and frequently like CandlestickPark, also known as MonsterPark and 3 Com Park. Another, the Miami Dolphins home, currently named, Sun Life Stadium, but a.k.a. Land Shark, Dolphin, Pro Player and originally, Joe Robbie Stadium.

Public places have become a problem as we are just not building enough new highways, bridges, tunnels and airports to fulfill the desire to put someone’s name on them. Gone are the days when Robert Moses could take a plate load of things to bear his name, Robert Moses Niagara Hydroelectric Power Station and the Moses – Saunders Power Dam, Robert Moses State Parks (two of them) and Robert Moses Causeway. No, if we want to plaster a person’s name on anything but a high school, the old name must either come off or be amended to incorporate the VIP. The Triborough Bridge became the Robert F. Kennedy (RFK) Bridge, the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel (already a mouthful,) the Hugh Carey-Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, National Airport, Ronald Reagan-National Airport and the Queensboro Bridge, the Ed Koch-Queensboro Street Bridge. (Of course, nobody calls it that. It’s the Ed-Koch-59th Street Bridge.)

Right now the new bridge being built across the Hudson River to replace the Tappan Zee Bridge appears up for grabs. Some pundits are petitioning that it be named after Pete Seeger in recognition of his work in cleaning up the Hudson River. A couple of problems with that. Ole Pete, despite his many talents, was a member of the Communist Party and a life-long apologist for the Workers’ Paradise. Also, the existing bridge already has been christened with a politician’s name. It is the Malcolm Wilson-Tappan Zee Bridge (named after Nelson Rockefeller’s long time lieutenant governor who became governor when Rocky became Gerald Ford’s VP. Alas Malcolm only lasted a year losing to the same Hugh Carey of tunnel fame.) But most importantly, if the new bridge is to receive a new name, it’s my bet that Andy Cuomo will name it after papa Mario.

This all becomes complicated and a bit silly. Fortunately, at least the City of New York has tempered the madness by declaring that it will no longer change the official names of highways, byways and tertiary streets. Instead, if there is a good reason to honor someone, their name will be added as a ceremonial name and the appropriate sign added to the street pole. I believe they learned their lesson following the ill-fated agreement to re-name Sixth Avenue, Avenue of the Americas. The best part of this system is that if the honoree’s persona and name recognition fades into oblivion over time, few will challenge replacing it with a new ceremonial moniker. Certainly, that is a better idea then having to live with Major Deegan whoever he was.

Ode to NFL Nicknames

Before we close the book on the 2013 season I’d like to give a shout out,

to players past and present whose nicknames set them apart.

Here’s to the friends, foes, heroes, fools, villains and sad sacks.


Here’s to Spatz Moore, Crazy Legs Hirsh and Night Train Lane,

Concrete Chuck Bednarik, Iron Mike Ditka and Mean Joe Greene.

To Too Tall Jones, Broadway Joe, Deacon Jones, the Kansas Comet and Sweetness,

Big Ben, the Bus, the Tank, PAT, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Here’s to the Galloping Ghost, Prime Time and the Touchdown Maker,

Slingin’ Sammy Baugh, the Refrigerator, the Freezer and the Kitchen.

To Y.A., T.O., R.C., J.D., O.J., C.C., J.P.P., D.D.T., L.T. R.G.3, and T.D.

Fatso, Pork Chop, Pudge, Big Daddy, Dump Truck, and the Pillsbury Throwboy.


Here’s to Bullet Bob, the Blonde Bomber, Burner, Big Game and Bambi,

the Golden Boy, the Gunslinger, the Hammer and the Throwin Samoan.

To Dr. Death, Diesel, He Hate Me, Mad Duck and Mad Stork,

Matty Ice, Little Joe, RevisIsland, the Sheriff, Tom Terrific, and Easy E.


Here’s to Megatron, Hotel, House, Mercury, Lights Out and Long Gone,

Mongo, Moose, the Inconvenient Truth, Playmaker and the Nigerian Nightmare.

To the Gravedigger, the Assassin, Hacksaw, and the Minister of Defense,

White Shoes, Rocket, Red Rifle, Uptown, Anytime and the A-Train.


Here’s to Thunder and Lightning, the Crunch Bunch, Hogs and Posse,

Steel Curtain, Purple People Eaters, the Smurfs and Well Dressed Amani Toomer.

To Bad Moon, Wildman, the Tasmanian Devil and Smash and Bash,

Flash 80, Joe Cool, Ocho Cinco, Snake and Touchdown Tommy McDonald.


Great handles, a toast to all, how dull the game would be without you.