Transmission 11: Nick Starace

Nick Starace_US Navy Ensign uniform_1957

Ensign Starace in dress uniform, 1957. Courtesy of Nicholas Starace.

I still have the pay stub from my very first trip — a whopping $424.61 before taxes, for eighteen days’ work with some overtime. That was big money in those days, certainly more than I had ever dreamed of making.

I served as third assistant engineer on board the SS United States starting in 1957, right after graduating from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. Nick Bachko, then-technical director at U.S. Lines and a Kings Point graduate himself, came to the Academy looking to hire two deck officers and two engineering officers. I was lucky enough to get one of the engineering jobs. I could not have asked for a better steppingstone into my career.

To give you an idea of just how fastidious the owner and crew were about her upkeep and appearance, a “smoke watch” would be posted every time she entered or left New York Harbor, where she drew so much attention. On those days, the order of the day was “NO BLACK SMOKE.” Oil-fired steam boilers that are properly maintained and operated should emit only a light haze. Nothing was to mar the majestic presence of this great lady as she made her way into and out of port along the Hudson River.

A watch-stander was therefore posted on the stack deck to immediately report any black smoke to the engine room. The concern was not for environmental reasons (there wasn’t the sensitivity about that then as there is now), it was primarily a matter of good operating practice, and at U.S. Lines we prided ourselves on the professional manner in which we ran our ships.

If there was black smoke emanating from one or both of her two stacks, we would soon hear about it from the U.S. Lines head office, as the vessel was always observed as she steamed past the office en route to and from her mid-town berth. To be honest I cannot remember if we ever got a reprimand, but the threat kept us on our toes.

– Nicholas “Nick” Starace, Third Assistant Engineer (1957)