Reflections on the photo used in the bogus '1954 article
on future computers'
The other day I received an e-mail with the following photo and caption from a old friend of mine, Dave, who over the years has sent me some many
uncharacterizable jokes that I named the folder I store them in 'dave' ... (Mouse over the link above and read the URL address.) The photo
as you'll see in my note back to Dave, has been doctored. It is a photo of a reactor control room of a US Submarine, upon
which I severed for five years. As I sat looking at it, old memories came flooding back ...
This picture was taken from a 1954 issue of Popular Mechanics magazine.
Be sure to read the text under the picture.
This photo is a fake ... the background is a control room of a S5W submarine reactor control room ...
it was on display at the navy memorial and someone took a photo of it and modified it ... I should know, I stood watch in one for five years of my life.
On that note, where the teletype machine stands was the rear wall of 'maneuvering' as the control room was called. It was 12 feet long and 5 feet wide ... when the crew
were seated behind the panels, there back was against the back wall, that was how tight it was.
The 'Throttleman' stood watch behind the wheel. The wheel was used to control the flow of steam to the submarine propulsion turbines. As more steam was pulled out of
the steam generator, it 'drew' more heat from the reactor coolant, the cooler water reentered the reactor, and the slight decrease in temperature caused less neutrons to leave the 'core' which
caused the reactor to increase the number on nuclear reactions that were occurring, which resulted in more heat being generated, which was transferred to the water exiting the reactor and
returning to the steam generator ... At one time I could explain this all with mathematical equations, but that was long ago. Suffice it to say, it was self-balancing operation that I enjoyed
The middle panel is the reactor control panel. Here is where the reactor operator used to sit. the upside down "L' looking stick at the bottom of the panel was the
reactor control switch, which was used to move control rods in and out of the core ... which is how we started up the reactor as we went to sea. 99.99% of the time the reactor operator had
nothing to do other the tell 'tall stories'. On the other hand, the tiny switch to the left of the lowest set of dials was the 'Reactor Scam Switch.' In an emergency, all he had to was turn
the switch and all the control rods would be forced into the reactor instantly shutting it down.
We used to scram and restart the reactor on a routine basis ... just to keep ourselves sharp. I think my fastest time was 4 minutes .... but the real fun was in
starting the plant up from cold shutdown ... there were hundreds of things that had to be done in a proper order, and you had to know all of them by memory ... I loved the challenge.
The far left station was where the Electrical Operator sat, he was responsible for controlling the main breakers that distribute electrical power through-out the
submarine. We had two steam powered electrical generators that created over 2 mega-watts of power ... enough to power a small city.
I would sit on a chair behind the electrical operator and supervise all three ... We stood 6 hour watches, on a three watch rotation, for up to 12 weeks while at sea.
No days off, no vacations, no sun. The average temperate in maneuvering was usually 85 degrees. We we're not allowed to read anything but operations manuals.
I was only 22 when I was qualified to run the reactor by myself. My three-man crew were between 18 and 21 ... It was a lot of responsibility ... and we knew it, and
while the reactor compartment was only 40 feet from reactor itself, I never felt safer, more sure of myself, or sure of what was expected of me in my life.
In a lot of ways it was very hard, and stressful work, but in other hand , it was a very easy job to do ... for we all knew we would never get a second chance if we did
something wrong, so there was no question, everything had to be done right the first time. I learned the importance of team work ... We all knew our lives depended upon each other doing
their jobs correctly, and because we always worked as a tem, we always came home safely.
Its a lesson I've carried with me, and while I don't always meet the standards expected of that young 22 year old fresh out of college, I still try to archive them when
and where I can.
Thanks for jogging a few old memories.
PS: Did I mention that I discovered I was claustrophobic when they closed the hatch?