Update: 27 December 2009
USNS Albert J. Myer (T-ARC 6)
USNS Albert J. Myer (1967) before bow modernization (Notice the sailing ship like hull profile) passing data in Pacific
The Albert J. Myer was one of two sister ships built by Pusey & Jones of Wilmington, Delaware as Army cable ships and delivered in early 1946. The Pusey & Jones Record of WW II Shipbuilding shows:
|P&J Hull #||Original Name||Type||MC #||Delivered|
|1108||William H. G. Bullard - became Navy's Neptune (ARC-2)||S3-S2-BP1||2557||Feb-46|
|1109||Albert J. Myer||S3-S2-BP1||2558||May-46|
As far as I know these are the only two Maritime Commission S3-S2-BP1 types. Both ships were probably intended for the Army's Transportation Corps supporting Army Signal Corps missions. More on that subject can be found under my Army Ships pages, particularly under Signal Corps. Instead, both ships were delivered in 1946 to the Maritime Commission and sent nearly directly to reserve.
Sometime in the early 1950s Albert J. Myer was activated for Army service. I have so far been unable to find the specific details of that service. It definitely involved the Alaska Communications System that was installed and maintained by the Signal Corps and later the Air Force. I do know the ship was in the Seattle area for a considerable time. Bill Glover's "U.S. Armed Forces Cables" mentions Myer laying "the Hampden, Newfoundland shore ends of CANTAT 1 in 1961" so she did work in the Atlantic as well. Her sister, the William H. G. Bullard, apparently never having left reserve, was acquired by the Navy in 1953 and extensively modified for Navy commissioning as the USS Neptune. For details on that ship and more detail on the work of both these ships see my Neptune page.
Albert J. Myer was acquired by the Navy from the Army in 1966 and is named for a pioneer in the Army Signal Corps and its first Chief. That name was retained. She thus had a name unique among the Navy operated cable ships. When I first saw Myer she did not have the blue and gold stack rings of a USNS ship, but a red, white and blue scheme. I remember a Navy tug captain being mystified and asking what kind of insignia that was.
The old Myer had an extremely loyal, almost fanatical, crew that I was told moved to live nearby in the Seattle area when she was laid up between Army and Navy service. That period in Washington State was legendary among the loyal crew waiting for her to be reactivated. It was apparently here they gained a nickname of "the Happy Valley Gang" they applied to themselves. At that time the three other cable ships were Navy crewed and cable operations are different from cargo or other operations the USNS ships generally dealt with making Myer's civilian crew unique. Myer had the only civilian cable crew in the Navy until Neptune changed to USNS status.
While other crews came and went, Myer's was amazingly constant. In the old days she had only one Captain that I know of and he was really in love with her. He was also a real expert at cable ship operations and went on to Captain AT&T's C. S. Long Lines, a ship with a record of historic accomplishments.
II have recently located photos of the ships as constructed for the Army. The photos of Myer on these pages reflect an almost "as built" appearance. The bow sheaves and hull form are definitely of original design. The notable differences are the framework above the bow sheaves, the little "pop up" wheel house with the old flying bridge becoming the bridge wings, extra boats and the LORAC antenna.
The SS William H. G. Bullard was acquired by Navy only seven years (1946-1953) after construction and apparently had never left the reserve fleet. She was heavily modified by Navy for commissioned service as the USS Neptune. Photos taken during that modification are found at Neptune's NavSource page. One photo shows the original look of the ships as compared to photos taken during construction for Army.
The following photo of Myer alongside Flyer for chart transfer shows the arrangement of the new wheel house built on the old flying bridge.
The original bridge structure is unchanged in the photo above except that large windows have been replaced by ports. The old open, flying bridge originally with supports for a canvas cover form the bridge wings for the new wheel house. Cable/survey control and data processing areas are in the old bridge area. Until modernization in the early 1980s neither Myer nor Neptune had areas designed for survey and modern cable work. Spaces were makeshift, often cramped and sometimes separated in inconvenient ways. See my Neptune page for a view of the change.
In some ways the two ships were not the most comfortable for living. The were some of the least comfortable for work with Neptune's work spaces for us being almost makeshift with my chart working table on one occasion being a sheet of plywood in a cramped, poorly lit space. Our living spaces were behind those ports seen awash above. In warm weather and a sea running they became either stuffy or, accidentally, more than a bit wet. I don't remember discomfort. I remember the pleasure of near absolute quiet with those Skinner Uniflow engines, the quiet nights when the sea was calm lying at one of those ports open to the world and sometimes, those rare occasions when we were in commercial radio range of shore, listening to music with a portable's antenna placed in the port. Second only to Flyer these were my favorite ships. I would take them any trip over the modern little AGS ships with large "staterooms" and air conditioning.
In most respects life aboard Myer was like that aboard Neptune after it became a USNS ship. A particular memory of the old Myer was sunning on the gratings next to the bow sheaves. On each side is a steel grating working area. For weeks we operated on almost glassy seas.
When sitting or lying on these gratings you were well ahead of the disturbance caused by the bow and able to see the sea surface as yet undisturbed. Looking only slightly ahead or directly down from the middle of the grating revealed sea surface life as if from a low flying balloon. I remember all sorts of small things, sea spiders, and other things too small to make out moving about on the mirror like surface. It was also possible to see clearly down into the water so occasionally fish could be seen. When dolphins showed up you really had a great view of them playing in front of the bow wave. I spent considerable time lying face down on a blanket over those gratings watching sea life. If only there had been digital cameras then!
After the major modernization I saw both ships tied up together shortly after they were back in service. They had become visually identical. I never went aboard the modernized Myer, but others in our group had been aboard both and the differences were almost nil.
I always liked the cable layers (though Neptune and Myer were both classed "repair") and found them interesting with a straightforward working atmosphere. I believe the core crews were different, probably due to the special skills needed and the limited pool of experienced cable operations people. Myer was decommissioned 1/1/94.
USNS Albert J. Myer in 1970
Albert J. Myer, along with Neptune were in the National Defense Reserve Fleet (NDRF) until August/September 2005. Despite being shown as being "Ready for Disposal Non-Ret Exceptionally clean; good reef candidate" they, along with Mizar, are being scrapped. Yes, they were "exceptionally clean" (meaning no asbestos, PCBs and such) as they are essentially new ships awaiting disposal. The 1940 vintage shown is misleading as they are essentially 1980s vintage -- post recognition of asbestos and PCB dangers. Despite that they are meeting the sadder end of being ripped apart.
Albert J. Myer left the James on August 17th and arrived in Brownsville, Texas in early September 2005 for scrapping. Neptune was due later in the month. I expect hurricanes Katrina and Rita have delayed her arrival. Mizar had left on August 16th to make a much shorter trip to Bay Bridge Enterprises, LLC, on Elizabeth River a few miles from the reserve fleet.
Steve Hilsz, who salvages items from ships being scrapped that may be of interest to collectors, has provided some photographs of Albert J. Myer at her last mooring. Anyone interested in such items can view his web page at http://www.navysalvage.com/ or call (928) 859-3595.
Albert J. Myer at Brownsville awaiting scrapping.
These photos show the very prominent bow sheaves of the "new" Myer and Neptune
Bow sheave and structure of the new versions.
I hate to see them go, but as I mentioned to Steve, their existence in the "reserve" fleet had the feel of that body upstairs in the "Bates Motel" and I'd really rather not visit them in that condition.
Brigadier General Albert J. Myer
Until long after last seeing the Myer I knew nothing about the name, other than it was for some Army officer. Then I found he had been important in development of the Signal Corps. The USNS Albert J. Myer was in good company. I didn't know until searching for "Albert J. Myer" on the net that "Fort Myer (and adjacent Arlington National Cemetery) traces its heritage to the Civil War. It is the only active fort of the original 68 forts that guarded Washington, DC, and is named after Brigadier General Albert J. Myer, founder of the Army Signal Corps. Today, Fort Myer serves as home for the 3d US Infantry (The Old Guard) and the US Army Band (Pershing's Own). Also located here are the homes of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Chiefs of Staff for the Army and the Air Force."
General Myer was one of those people of the time who did more than one important thing. That included being "founder and father" of the US Weather Bureau and another namesake with the "General Albert J. Myer forecast facility on Aero Drive adjacent to the Buffalo-Niagara International Airport."
Army Ships: Albert J. Myer was part of the little known U.S. Army fleet.
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2005, 2009 by Ramon Jackson
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