Thursday, July 18, 2013

'Cumshaw And The Art Of Horse Trade'

Back in the days of the OL’ Canoe Club… when crackerjacks still cussed like sailors and many ships still had wooden decks there was a form of Horse Trade known as ‘Cumshaw!’ I know many of you ol’ coots remember that phrase!!  Won’t hear of it in todays ‘PC’ no time for monkey business light in the loafer kinda’ Navy!! But back in the day… Cumshaw was the barter system involving all forms of unofficial trade encompassing smokes, chewing tobacco, cinnamon buns, tools, and nekkit lady books!!    Yep… that big heaping grey hull filled with seamen was noth’n more than a floating utopia of repair shops, supply centers, store rooms, hospital facilities, food stores & refers and just about anything else under the sun needed for a ‘Cumshaw Artist’ to get the job done!!!

Yes… procurement of required goods outside the supply chain was usually done by swap, barter, trade… mutual backscratching and robbing Peter to Pay Paul kinda’ thing!! Most unauthorized work was contemplated, capitulated and carried on using this primitive form of bartering with a small degree of larceny involved! Sometimes a can of coffee, carton of cigarettes or a log of Copenhagen could go a long way… especially far away from homeport!!

The best in the business could go out to the shipyard and get a large ‘thousand’ ton crane to haul hookers across the forecastle if the price was right!  One fella comes to mind off the ol’ Chucky ‘V’!! FC2 Allen was his name… quite the sly fox… he knew more methods to getting his way than a room full of lawyers I tell you!!! If you needed an extra pair of flight deck boots, he knew where to find them… an old gear head or vacuum tube they don’t make any more… he had a ready spare tucked away somewhere!! If it wasn’t in supply or it was too hard to get he knew somebody somewhere… a tender, MOTU, SIMA… that could hook us up!!

He always got away with it like a fat rat with cheese! I asked him how he got so good at the hookup game…

“I started out with nothing and still have most of it left... but favors for favors is better than money any day!”

Then there was the Pneumatic Chain Hoist Caper on the pier… while on the Ol’ Lucky No 7 we needed a new winch’n system as ours in the CIWS magazine had some internal problems! Well low and behold, there was a nice shiny Ingersoll Rand Two Tonner sitt’n right there on the pier just waiting for the taking!! Never figured out who it belonged too, just put a rag in my pocket… grabbed a junior shipmate… wiped it down… we picked it up… and we had a beautiful brand new air ran chain pulley!! And with a little bit of barter here and there the next thing you know we had it load tested and ready to go!!!  

Yep… I had to do a lot of cumshaw trad’n in my earlier years… especially when it came to gett’n paint, primer, some forms of hazmat before they invented the shipwide MSDS dickity doo! Usually the ship’s paint locker operated outside its own scheduled hours… never in a consistent manner and if you really needed something fierce, you’d better be willing to hook up the Boatswain Locker Bureaucrats because nothing was leaving their locker without their authorization!!!

Sometimes it was easier to go to the shipyard and get what you needed! Usually they had some shop that could and would help out for a minor fee!  Other times they had a warehouse that just wasn’t fully secure… in the case of the Puget Sound CIA area, you know right next to where they tear all the old subs apart?!? There was a fenced in area with noth’n but half empty paint cans and other stuff that could de-oxidize the Brooklyn Bridge… it all became useful!! We’d been grinding away at our decks and sponsons on the Chucky ‘V’ and found out about this paraphernalia called rust inhibitor worked wonders on cancerous corroded surfaces!! This stuff looked like it had been incubated in the farthest corners of a rhinoceros’s nasal cavity… all slimy and gooey!! We’d sneak into the fence late at night and siphon off two or three coffee cans of that treasured lubricated specimen making sure not to take too much ‘cause even silly hungover yardbirds can figure out when they’d been hoodwinked over time!!!

Funny thing is, we’d often get those same fellas to do some trade for powder coating and chroming of hand rails, lifelines and chains! Didn’t take much… just some empty shell casings, tool bags, ammo cans, an extra pair of boots or some yummy cinnamon buns!! 

And overseas… bartering was the law of the land, especially in Hong Kong! Any scrap metal, especially brass was like gold over there!! An ol’ Sea Daddy used to tell me…

“A port without trade is like a fish’n boat without nets!”

… A few Five Inch Brass Shell casings and a few cartons of smokes would usually do the trick!!! Those Chinese boat people would come aside and white wash the hulls with the finest haze grey and finish out a space or two just in time for liberty call!! With that came max liberty and a great port-o-call!!!

But I found being stationed in Bremerton there was a treasure trough of cumshaw to be tapped into on the waterfront… especially all those decommissioning ships out there! The Pyro, Parche, Arkansas, Truxton, Independence, just to name a few were all pull’n in with skeleton crews just ready to be molested!! A bit of scouting around those decomm boats and you could find tools… spare parts… some old nudie mags and plenty more to pick over like seagoing termites on a wooden schooner!! 

“How bout stealing us some gauddamn tools… Pick up some ready spares as well and an extra gun barrel for the CIWS mount if you can lay your hands on one."

Re-appropriating stuff off a decomm had become second nature to anyone homeported in the Northwest! We procured lots of ready service spares, tools, DRT parts, foul weather jackets, T-wrenches, DC fittings, gaskets, nautical doo hickeys, and little electronic dippity doos we had no idea what they were for or how they worked… but if it could be used for trade it went with us… free of charge!! Hell those ships are still just sitt’n around mothballed for the last twenty or thirty years!! Even my very first ship, the Baglady, was sitt’n there oxidating in the cold water before she got sold for scrap!! Hell I think we’d even taken a bell from one of the Quarterdeck POOW Shacks… cross pier thievery to the thirty-third degree…

 "You can leave a fresh turd on the table and someone will walk off with it in ten seconds around here!"

Then again if you were really smart you’d learned that the Filipino Mafia was pretty much in control of all the goods and had all the connections to food, supplies, laundry and the Barbershop amongst many other things! If you got in real good with these fellas they could ensure a crackerjack’s quality of life was well tak’n care of with plenty of kickbacks!! To be connected to the Filipino Mafia was to get faster… better service than anyone else… needed your ears lowered… they took care of you… needed a specially pressed uniform… they invented that hocus-pocus!!

These silly sons-a-bitches siphoned off more cumshaw around the world than ‘Ali-Baba and the Forty Thieves!’ Yes… nepotism and corruption were rampant but these fellas had all the goods… plus the pansit, lumpia, and a girl named Rosa waiting just for you in Olongapo!! They were a tight group too!! Hell they even ran the Navy Exchange!!!

And if you didn’t want to deal with the mighty second hand slop served on the messdecks or the burnt out horsecock and hockey pucks being served for midrats with a side of buzzard balls tainted with lizard pheromone… and some old ‘East German Lady Olympian Gym Shorts’ it might behoove you to get real chummy with these guys!! Arnel was the Chief Culinary Specialist on my last boat… ‘King’ of the Filipino Mafia onboard!! He could get you just about anything you wanted… and made some killer Swedish Meatballs… but everybody was complaining…

“Arnel, what’s up with all the gauddamned rice you always feed us?  Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner… since when did rice become a staple in the US Navy? “

… another would say…

“I feel like one of them gauddamned  ‘Little Rascals’ eating mush all the damned time… enough is enough!”

“It’s cheap, cheap! You guys complain too much… I get rid of rice, you stop complaining!”

That son-of-a-bitch was slicker than a minnow’s dick! Next thing we knew the rice disappeared and the meatballs turned into porcupine balls and we’d plum been duped… he was putting the rice in the meatballs!! We were gonna shove that shit down our throats rather we wanted it or not!!!

But that ol’ art of cumshaw, sailor bargaining underhanded giveaways was just a delightful part of our evocative past! All those midnight requisitioninig cloak-n-dagger Paint Locker Raids… Now you See it Now you don’t kind of nonsense… You’d get a one way ticket to the ol’ Naval Consolidate Brig nowadays for hustling the Yeoman and swindling the midwatch in a game of cross pier transport pilfering!!!
The ol’ swashbuckl’n days are all over now! The salty ol’ coots from yesteryear would welcome you with a smile on their ugly mugs and regale you with bullshit at close inspection lacked anything certifiable or credible!! They’d have you decked out with relative bearing grease… the ‘Captain’s Crank,’ batteries for the sound powered phones and a ‘BT’ Punch all before the ensign was lowered at sunset!! These my friends were your very first important lessons in the art of horse trade & cumshaw while learning to be humble and not snitch on your watch captain!! Just remember the first thing they taught you before you left for Boot Camp… when in the showers, ‘NEVER… EVER’ drop the soap!!!
Yep… working in the Cumshaw Navy was at times like surviving a prison camp… eventually, it would turn the best of us to a life of acceptable crime... it was just a matter of time…


  1. cumshaw is still a big thing in SE Asia - maybe too big...

    your post brought to mind King Rat by James Clavell

    This Bud is for you! For all the things you do!

  2. Cumshaw is always in practice, aboard and ashore. You just have to have the balls to do it still

  3. not too much of that going on anymore, that's for sure..

    I do remember going over to a decommissioned amphib, when I was on the Essex and "borrowing" everything we could lay our hands on that "might" be needed..

  4. I remember doing a lot of this in my years in the navy.. both coasts.. in port, under way, in foreign ports, heck even with foreign navies! It was always the best way to get that special thing or job done that ya just had to have. Amazingly, no one ever asked how I always had powder coated searchlights before deployements on such short order? Hmmm...

  5. Yokuska was a cumshaw paradise. Our Senior Chief procured a tri wall of boondockers from DRMO, all size 5 through 7. Many a yardbird wore navy shoes. All the welders used old welding rod cans as toolboxs, funny how they would hold two cartons of cigarettes hidden with a rag on top. Shoes, cigs, Johnny Walker red, playboy magazines, never ever throw them out. Got a lot of much needed work done upside the system.

  6. Yokuska was a cumshaw paradise. Our Senior Chief procured a tri wall of boondockers from DRMO, all size 5 through 7. Many a yardbird wore navy shoes. All the welders used old welding rod cans as toolboxs, funny how they would hold two cartons of cigarettes hidden with a rag on top. Shoes, cigs, Johnny Walker red, playboy magazines, never ever throw them out. Got a lot of much needed work done upside the system.

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