Castle Roland

Three Finger Cove - Robert
Book II

by Chowhound


Chapter 26

Posted: 29 Oct 15

Three Finger Cove – Robert

Copyright © 2012 - 2015
by Chowhound
All rights reserved

"'Dad' are … are we going to fly there?" the excited twelve year old asked, as the limo turned into San Antonio Airport.

"Yes, 'son', that we are. Haven't you ever flown before, Robert?" asked Mr. Ken.

"Yes, sir, when those men took me out of the state, for the weekends," replied the lad.

Ken Thomas smiled at the boy as the lad looked this way then that way taking in all the sights of the active airport. They checked into the General Aviation terminal and proceeded through the TSA checkpoint before taking a short ride to their waiting aircraft.

"Is this WHOLE plane just for US?" an astonished lad asked his 'dad'. "I always flew in the regular planes with loads of other people."

"Yes, it is just for us, but this isn't as big as some of the planes I use, Robert," replied Mr. Ken.

They took their seats, while the crew loaded their bags, and soon the plane taxied to the active runway. Then, once cleared, the plane raced down the runway and took off to their destination, Hobby Airport, Houston. The man watched as the boy looked out the window and excitedly remarked at the places he recognized and how small the cars looked.

It didn't take long after take-off for the flight attendant to offer them some refreshments and take their dinner meal request. While that was happening, the co-pilot asked Robert if he wanted to go up front and view the cockpit and maybe 'fly' the plane some. Ken laughed as the lad quickly unbuckled his seatbelt and rushed to the front to join the pilots.

Ken Thomas felt really good inside, knowing the boy would be spoiled some this weekend. He did feel bad about not including Eric, but he wanted this time to be 'just them' as he did with Collin when they went to California after all the Holiday parties they had. The man hoped they could get much closer as 'dad' and 'son' and clear away some of the awkwardness, which occurs at times, between them. Realizing the lad would be kept busy for the time being, Ken reclined his seat and closed his eyes.

"'Dad', 'dad'" the man heard, before opening his eyes, "they let me steer the plane. That was sooo awesome! Then, they explained the whole cockpit to me and what all the instruments were and how they worked," quickly spoke the lad, as only an overly excited twelve year old can.

"Oh, did I wake you, 'dad'?" meekly added the lad, "I'm sorry if I did."

Ken smiled at the boy and then yawned. "No, not really, I just laid back to enjoy these soft seats and to rest my eyes. The flight attendant will soon be serving our dinner and before long we'll be landing," explained the man.

And sure enough, the flight attendant came back to setup their tray tables and brought them their simple meals of steak filet for the man and a cheeseburger for the lad. They ate quickly knowing they would land, in about twenty minutes, and had to clear their seats before landing.

As soon as they disembarked, they heard someone calling "Mr. Thomas, transportation for Mr. Thomas" and then saw a man holding a sign, with Mr. Ken's name on it. Robert had never personally experienced anything like that. Sure, he'd seen people holding signs when he and his mom and dad departed their plane before and so now he'd know what it all meant.

"I'm Mr. Thomas," Robert's 'dad' called out.

"This way, sir; your transportation is right over here. By the way, my name is Vince and I'll be your driver for the weekend," explained the man.

Robert didn't know what to think as he followed his 'dad' and the man to a long vehicle parked to the side of the terminal. "'Dad' can he park there?" whispered the twelve year old.

"Yes, 'son' he's allowed to. We're at the General Aviation side of the airport and some companies, like Vince's, have special TSA access here. Do you notice he isn't parked past that line? He'd be in big trouble if he were. Hey, 'son', do you need to use the 'little boy's room' before we start out to our hotel?" fully explained Mr. Thomas.

"Oh, yea, which way is it?" replied Robert.

Both men pointed in the same direction and the boy hurried towards the building. Ken helped store their bags and then he, too, went to find the restroom.

As they rode down Interstate 45, towards their hotel, their driver, Vince, confirmed their itinerary for the weekend. He asked them questions about what they expected to see and if they made plans in case it rained. Learning they put together their trip only Thursday morning, Vince told them he'd plan some alternate activities for them for 'just in case'. The ride took approximately forty-five minutes before the travelers arrived at their destination, the Springhill Suites Houston, NASA/Webster.

They were booked into a Queen Suite, on the fifth floor, and as soon as Robert entered the room he went to the window to look out. Mr. Ken took their bags off the trolley and placed them on the appropriate bed. Finished, he took the baggage cart back to the lobby while Robert checked out the room.

"This is a nice place, 'dad'," offered Robert, when Ken came back into the room.

"Yes, I like to stay in this type of hotel when I'm not on a business trip, Robert. They're always clean, the beds are comfortable, they offer a small refrigerator, a microwave oven, a nice sized TV, but most of all, they have a real good morning buffet," replied Mr. Ken.

Robert smiled at hearing the buffet comment and then wondered if they had a swimming pool. His 'dad' explained they did but it was an outdoor type and it was just too cold to use at this time of year. The man told the boy he knew of only two such hotels nearby with an indoor pool. The man said one wouldn't be anywhere near as quiet as this place would be, come bedtime, but the other might be a possibility the next time they came there.

As their driver took the two travelers out for a late dinner, the two talked about the flight down and more about what Vince had planned for them to do and see that weekend. When dinner was over, Mr. Ken had Vince take them back to their hotel where the two men made plans for the following day's pick-up time.

"Have you seen these places before, 'dad'?" Robert wanted to know.

"Yes, I brought Collin, Ryan, and Eric here just before the judge sent Collin to live with his grandmother," replied 'dad' Ken.

"Oh … so Eric has already seen what I'm going to see. Is that why you didn't want him to come with us," the lad tried to confirm his suspicions.

"Oh, no, 'son'," answered Ken. "I thought I already explained I wanted this weekend to be just us … to be together for the first time we went on a trip. I wanted us to try to get to know one another better seeing we sometimes keep miscommunicating at times. I'm sure Eric could have been a great tour guide, during this trip, but then it would be you two hanging out together and then I'd feel left out and all by myself."

Hearing that, Robert realized he was being selfish by wanting Eric to be there with him. He knew his 'dad' was trying to do something 'special' for him and with that he went to his new 'dad' and hugged him and apologized for being 'selfish' and explained what he meant. The two sat on the edge of the bed while they talked out what just happened. In the end, Robert fully understood why his 'dad' did the trip as he had and appreciated the man really tried to be the 'best' dad he could be to him.

"Hey," began Mr. Ken, "what do you think about getting an ice cream?"

"Sure, but I didn't see any ice cream stores as we drove in and we don't have a car to go anywhere. So, where would we get an ice cream?" asked the curious lad.

Ken smiled at the lad and replied, "We could walk to that gas station right next door and see what they have in their freezers."

'You've stayed here before, then, haven't you! And, that's why you know they have ice cream," the youngster accused his 'dad'. Then, before you knew it, Robert was being tickled 'to death'.

"Stop … stop … I give … I give," laughed the twelve year old. "I'll pee my pants and then you'll be sorry," continued to laugh Robert.

"I'll be sorry will I? It will be you who has the wet pants, not me," Mr. Ken laughed back, but then stopped tickling the boy.

"Phew, that was fun. Now, let's go and get me some ice cream," smiled Robert, as he hugged his 'dad' again.

Saturday morning the two travelers got up early enough for them to enjoy the Breakfast Buffet offered by the hotel. Mr. Ken had coffee, of course, eggs, toast, a muffin, and a banana. Robert chose cereal, waffles with syrup, OJ, a muffin, yogurt, and then tasted some eggs. He told his 'dad' he wanted to check and see how good they were so he could get something different the next morning. Ken Thomas just laughed at the boy and wondered where he'd put all the food he'd already eaten. Before long, Vince arrived and the two went up to their room to wash up and use the bathroom before leaving for their first stop – Seawolf Park.

It took about an hour to drive to Seawolf Park, located just outside of Galveston. There is only one way to get there and it is a convoluted series of twists and turns before you even begin to see the USS Stewart sitting high at the Park. Vince let the travelers out, at the entrance, and proceeded to park the limousine.

Ken Thomas last visited the park about nineteen months ago when he took Collin, Ryan and Eric there. He didn't notice anything new about the park, this time around, but he knew the volunteers only worked one weekend a month and mostly to just rehabilitate the interiors of the submarine and the destroyer. He paid the entrance fee and asked Robert to choose which ship he wanted to explore first. The USS Stewart won out.

"Geez, 'dad', this is so awesome! I never visited anything like this before and you said this ship fought in World War II?" asked the pre-teen.

"Yes, my 'son', it says here in the brochure it's 'One of only two surviving destroyer escorts in the United States. It says they built it at the Brown Shipbuilding Company in Houston, Texas in 1942, and commissioned it on May 31, 1943. The destroyer escort is 307 feet long and is the second ship named for Rear Admiral Charles Stewart, commander of the USS Constitution from 1813 to 1815.

"The Stewart began her service as a school ship, training student officers prior to escorting President Roosevelt in the presidential yacht down the Potomac River to rendezvous with USS Iowa in the Chesapeake Bay for his mission to Casablanca and Tehran. She served in North Atlantic convoy operations in 1944, making 30 crossings. The Stewart then moved to the Pacific theater in 1945, to conduct training exercises out of Pearl Harbor until the end of the war.

"They decommissioned her in late 1945, and got formally donated to Seawolf Park in 1972. A dedicated group of talented volunteers and veterans have been restoring and maintaining her, ever since. The group meets the second week of each month to work on the ship, including acting as tour guides. Approximately 600 Navy veterans nationwide have a special interest in Stewart and are dedicated to keeping her valiant service memory alive.'"

The entire time Mr. Ken read the brochure out loud to Robert they walked along the main deck. And being a boy, Robert touched everything and anything they passed. He even jumped up onto the gun seats to get a 'feel' of how it must have felt to sit there and fire the gun. Unfortunately, the guns were welded in-place and do not move any for a youngster to really get that 'true' feeling of the gun. The lad did get to see the depth charge racks, and a few 'mock' depth-charges, located over the stern.

The two climbed up the first steps they found. Those led up to the Superstructure Deck. There, they were able to walk through some of the passageways and even look into some of the locked rooms that were outfitted with 'period' pieces that represented what the sailors had available to them during that time.

The two visitors were a bit disappointed they couldn't go down into the crew areas. The people working there explained the passageways in those areas aren't very wide and could be claustrophobic to some plus they just weren't fixed-up enough yet for display to the general public. Robert, though, was fascinated by the 3-inch and 4-inch guns on board and the views from the front of the bridge. But every time he turned to 'port', or the left side of the ship, he always saw the submarine, the USS Cavalla, and couldn't wait to get on her. He often saw people enter the sub at one end and come out the other so he knew he'd be able to get a better view of the insides.

"Cone on 'dad', we've seen all we can see on this ship. Let's get over to the sub. I see people going inside one end and coming out the other. I bet we get to see a lot more of her than we did of this one," explained Robert, as he tried to hurry his twenty-something 'dad' along and down the stairs.

Robert acted like the kid he was. His enthusiasm bubbled over into his 'dad' who, even though he had already seen the two World War II fighting vessels, couldn't wait to see them through the eyes of this new 'son'. The escort proved to be interesting, as he watched the twelve year old look and touch what he could reach, but he knew the submarine would be totally another experience to behold.

The signs weren't too clear as to which hatch to use to descend into the interior of the sub. With no one there to direct them, the two travelers picked the one at the bow of the sub to start their inspection tour. Ken allowed Robert to descend first knowing he would be entering the forward torpedo room and getting an eye full of gadgets and torpedoes and sailor bunks.

"Awesome!" Robert lightly verbalized, as he alighted on the deck and got to looking around. Mr. Ken knew to what the lad referred as Eric gave the same response during his first look at that room. Just about everything of importance inside the submarine had been labeled. And Ken was grateful for that, because he didn't know very much about subs. He figured he could have probably 'faked' his way through giving names and descriptions, but he didn't want to mislead his 'son' on something as important to this curious youngster.

"Robert, listen to this," announced 'dad' Ken. "The USS Cavalla, a Gato-class submarine, was a ship of the United States Navy named for a salt water fish. The submarine is best known for sinking the Japanese aircraft carrier Shokaku, a veteran of the Pearl Harbor attack."

"'Dad', does it mean that was an aircraft carrier which launched some of the airplanes that attacked Pearly Harbor?" asked a surprise Robert.

"Yes, son, it does", replied. Ken.

"Good for the USS Cavalla!" was all Robert had to say about that.

Just as on the USS Stewart, Robert had to touch and attempt to operate everything he could. He climbed into one of the 'racks', or a sailor's bed, felt the torpedoes and looked down into the tubes the torpedoes were shot out of. The two tourists then continued their self-guided tour by going through one of the watertight doors. The lad laughed at how easy it was for him to get through but that his 'dad' had to climb through and he still struck his head.

They walked a short distance down the passageway and stopped at the officers' quarters. Robert couldn't believe how small the rooms were and that all the officers shared one toilet and shower stall that you could barely turn around in. They also saw the officer's mess, or dining room, the wardroom with its dead reckoning table and finally the captain's cabin. Robert couldn't believe the officer's even had a small sink and mirror with which to shave and clean up in.

Their next stop was the Control Room. Here, Robert got an eye-full, again, but this time of the hundreds of gauges and valves it took to control the submarine. The lad stood at the large wheels that control how the sub dove through the waters and at what angle. He wished he could have pulled back on the manifold levers to feel what it would have been like, but they had been welded in-place so all he could do was feel the cold, worn knife handles. The access to the coning tower was padlocked and that disappointed the boy as he couldn't see out the periscope to understand how that worked.

The next stop, after going through another watertight hatch was Crew's Galley and Mess. He saw the men had checker/chess boards laminated to the tables and they couldn't seat too many people at a time. In the Galley, the lad got to see the equipment used to cook the food but the item that grabbed his attention was the garbage disposal device. He read how it worked and came away amazed knowing about something he never could imagine.

The Crew Berthing Area became their next stop. They learned that two-thirds of the enlisted crew slept there and, of course, Robert had to try those bunks as well. They also got to see where those men went to the restroom, or 'head'. Robert's comment of "Yuk" was heard by all the other nearby tourists. The youngster thought the larger shower room adequate until he learned that all fifty plus enlisted men had to use it. A "Geez" came out of the lad's mouth after learning that.

The Forward Engine Room came next on their tour with more gauges and valves and wheels for the boy to touch and try to turn. This area wasn't as interesting as it held both diesel engines which took up practically the entire room. Then came the Aft Engine Room that held the #3 and #4 diesels engines that drove the submarine. The passageway became much wider in that room but again not much to focus on and interest a twelve year old boy.

They came upon the Maneuvering Room and that had loads of gauges and small wheels. They learned the electricians on duty here controlled the source of the power and the submarine's speed with the set of silver levers at the rear of the power cubicle or "cage" and with the various controls and meters on the panel above the levers.

The electricians also controlled the speed of the diesel engines from there. What really impressed the young lad came from learning that the electric power to run the electric motors, which propelled the sub, was provided from diesel engine driven generators while on the surface and large electrical batteries while submerged.

They eventually came to the Aft Torpedo Room, their last stop of their self-guided tour. An interesting piece of information they learned, from one of the displays, was the room was actually the 'After' torpedo room and not the 'Aft' as everyone called it. They learned the After Torpedo Room carried 8 of the submarine's 24 torpedoes. That the 3,000 pound torpedoes were loaded into the tube by hand operated block-and-tackle after a storage skid was pulled in line with a tube on the track and locked in place. Amazingly, it could all be done within just a few minutes.

Robert couldn't believe that each torpedo warhead contained 643 pounds of a high explosive and could travel over 4 nautical miles at a low speed setting of 31.5 knots, or more than 2 miles at its maximum speed of 46 knots. If they used steam torpedoes it left a visible wake of exhaust gasses that pointed back to the submarine that fired them. When the electric torpedo became available it had the tactical advantage of leaving no visible wake, although it could only travel at less than half the speed of the steam torpedoes.

When they exited the Cavalla, they found themselves running to the nearest shelter as the sunny sky they left, when they entered the submarine, turned to clouds and rain. As the two explorers waited for Vince to bring the limo to the main entrance, they talked some about what they just saw. It didn't take Vince more than two minutes to get to them so they continued their discussion in the car.

As Vince drove back the twisty way they came, he talked to Mr. Ken about the weather. The owner of Three Finger Cove learned the weathermen forecasted rain for the rest of the day and accepted Vince's suggestion to switch to Plan B. As Vince drove to their next destination, Robert began to tell his new 'dad' how he saw what they just experienced.

"I don't think I'd have wanted to be living back during World War II," announced Robert. "I can't believe the equipment those men had to use and their beds were not comfortable at all. And did you see what they all had to use for the toilet and then those showers. Boy am I sure glad I am alive now and not then."

"Well, Robert, we live in the time we are born. Yes, what we have today outpaces and outshines what those men had back during the Great War. But think about this, seventy plus years ago that's what they had. What will the people have to use in say another sixty to seventy years from now. A boy your age, when you are seventy-two, might say the same thing about what we have today verses what he has then. Those men back during the war didn't know the wonderful things we now have so they couldn't think about how 'bad' it was for them. They just did what they could with what they had. Did I explain that well enough for you to understand?" asked 'dad' Ken.

"Yea … I mean, Yes, sir, I understand what you mean and yes, at the time, I did compare what we have today to what they had and you're right," Robert agreed "Things are being improved every day and new and exciting advances are revealed to us all the time. I guess we should admire those men for what they were able to do back then. Am I right, 'dad'?"

"Robert, you are a remarkable young man … to be," and Ken had to laugh. "'Son', in the short time we've been together, you amaze me with your more than basic knowledge and perception of things. I know you love school, because you told me so, but I didn't know how observant you were and 'mature' you are in some things. I know you'll be thirteen in about four months but listening to you and talking with you tells me you are way beyond your years. Tell me, Robert … did anyone at school, or even your mom and dad, ever ask you to take some tests to check your intellect?" seriously asked the man.

"You mean like IQ Tests or something like that?" quickly responded the lad. "My teacher, at the school I attended, before they took me away from my parents, talked to my mom and dad and me about being tested to see what my I.Q. might be. But, I never did anything like that."

"So, someone did notice you were a bit 'smarter' than some of the other kids, that is wonderful, my boy. Say … how would you feel about still taking those tests? Did they worry you or freak you out as kids today might say?" Mr. Ken wanted to know.

"Well, I don't get upset about taking tests, if that's what you're asking, and I sometimes like taking them as they tell me if I learned what the teacher wanted me to. Those TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills) Tests I find aren't hard but other kids' do 'freak out', like you said, over them. Then there's those STAAR (State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness) Tests we now have to take in Math, Reading, Science, History and others subjects when we get into high school," honestly answered the lad.

"Robert … what would you say to taking an I. Q. Test … just to see what your real intelligence is? Would you have any qualms about doing that?" queried 'dad' Ken.

Robert sat there a few moments thinking and then asked, "Do you mean if I'd be OK with taking that test, or if I'd be apprehensive and get sweaty palms and try to avoid it at all costs?" smiled the youngster.

Ken saw the mischievousness in the boy's answer and smiled and replied, "So, you'll do it, then?"

"Yes, sir … I think it would be neat to know if I am smarter than a 'fifth grader'."

They both had a good laugh over that last comment.

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