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USS North Dakota: Eighth Grade Lesson - The Floating Community - Work


The men of the USS North Dakota had regular duties when the ship was at sea and in port. The ship at sea had to provide for all the needs of a community that had a population larger than that of many North Dakota towns. The work can be divided into two classifications: the jobs of enlisted men and the jobs of officers.

The work of operating and maintaining the two Curtis turbine engines was assigned to enlisted men. The engines usually ran on coal, though they could run on fuel oil. The “coal passers” shoveled coal from the storage bins into the engines. This was a dirty and hard job that proved to be dangerous as well. These engineers worked in a room with no daylight, poor air quality, and high temperatures.

Sailor preparing meat for mealsThis young seaman’s duty was to prepare meat for the men’s meals. 2002-P-15-Album2-P52b.

Preparing meals was the job of enlisted men. Cooks and their helpers worked in high temperatures managing huge kettles and sides of beef and pork. Philippino sailors who were distinguished by their status as citizens of a nation under the control of the US, their dark skin color, and their lack of fluency in speaking English often worked as mess assistants. Their jobs were to serve and clean up after meals.

Stewards were enlisted men who attended the officers by cleaning their quarters and providing them with necessary services. When the ship was preparing to fire its big guns, the stewards had to secure all breakable items such as mirrors and lamps in the officers’ quarters to prevent them being knocked over by the recoil when the guns were fired. Even the ship’s piano had to be raised from the floor and supported by ropes because otherwise the strings would break under the stress of the guns’ recoil.

A variety of skilled and semi-skilled jobs were found on the ship, too. Printers published the ship’s newsletter, The Flash or the earlier Forecastle Log, as well as smaller publications including notices about the week’s entertainment. Blacksmiths forged metal pieces for repairs on the ship. Radio operators maintained the ship’s communications with other ships and with on-shore offices.

The North Dakota Flash NewsletterThe North Dakota Flash Newsletter (b)

The North Dakota Flash was the newsletter in 1921. It was much longer than the Forecastle Log and much more entertaining. It offers gossip, news of sports competitions, and an inspirational essay. Note that the newsletter was written and edited by officers, but printed by enlisted men. 2002-P-15-Album2-P58a.
The Forecastle Log NewsletterThe first edition of the Forecastle Log tells us a little about life on board the North Dakota in 1912. 2002-P-15-Album2-P68b.

Officers included the ship’s captain, navigator, and men who served as leaders in every office and operation on the ship. Many of them were trained as engineers and understood every detail of the ship’s mechanical operation.

In addition, like most land-based communities, the ship also had a doctor and dentist (both officers). The doctor was necessary for small and large health problems. In June 1915, as the North Dakota sailed into the shipyards for repairs, several sailors were being treated for diphtheria causing the ship to be quarantined.

The most glamorous job on the North Dakota was maintaining and firing the big guns. Each gun was assigned to a team consisting of enlisted men of different ranks (or “rates”) and an officer, usually a lieutenant or ensign. The ship was always prepared for combat, but the North Dakota was never to engage in battle. In the meantime, the business of the ship’s men was to maintain the ship and its floating community in good health, good spirits, and good condition.