The New Grosse Ile Navy Exchange Service Station

 Story by Richard P. Johnson

Sometime in the early 60’s, Jim Osgood was asked by the XO, CDR John Boyd, to select some sailors to remodel the old barracks – mess hall – tailor shop – etc. into a full service gas station garage, complete with wash rack and hydraulic lift. It was the building next to the Navy Exchange Gas pumps. The XO told Jim that the Exchange did not have the funds for a contract but could find the money for the material that we would need.

Jim then selected Lyle Eastom, Ken Veneir (ya, a corpsman) Bernie Ouellet, Homer Crook, and myself, Dick Johnson, as the core personnel and we all went TAD from the shops and lines for the project. Naturally, it was in the dead of winter and the building had no heat! Enterprising as we were and after freezing our (you know what off) we got pre-heaters from Ground Support and a supply of gas and solved the problem of heat.

Interesting on how the project proceeded as I never had been in on this kind of work (guess Jim needed a gofer and brawn but all he got was a gofer). The stripping of the building went kinda well but one day as we were removing a walk-in reefer, one of the walls fell and we could account for only 5 people, one was missing, Bernie Ouellet! We all just knew that he was under the wall!  We started calling for him and finally he walked out through a door leading to other parts of the building! He had been on a cumshaw mission! Never did find out what he was looking for!

Jim used Public Works electricians and plumbers (Seabees) for the electrical hookup and utility work (heating, drains and water) but we did all the installation of conduit, boxes, and such.

Digging the hole and running the lines for the hydraulic vehicle lift, placing and pluming the cylinder, and setting it in concrete was a sight to behold. Jim really knew what he was doing. After that initial work Bernie and I proceeded to design and build a wash rack, complete with drain, in the second bay. After the concrete was poured for the floor and the wash rack, we found that the drain system really worked. Slope to the drain worked, floor was smooth, what more could a guy ask!

All this time we got a visit from John Boyd on a periodic basis so we had to show some progress. The building of that vintage (1942/43) was constructed of southern yellow pine and as you might not realize, it hardens with age, no, it becomes like concrete! Did you ever drive a 16 penny nail and have it bend in half like a rubber nail? Well we did; probably used at least twice as many nails as necessary. You know, bend one, throw it away and maybe drive the second one completely. This happened as we built partition walls, from the razed walls to form the Gas Station office and storeroom.

While we were sheet rocking the inside of the exterior walls we made sure that they were adequately insulated (those that were there, understand). Sheet rocking done, after bending a hell-of-a-lot of nails, we began Taping, mudding, priming and final coating the walls. As you know paint and beer go together so we obtained a couple of cases of beer, a CO2 fire extinguisher, and we were in business. Now these ceilings were about 12’ high so most of us, except Bernie, were on ladders painting and each had a bottle of cold beer, and who should come past the windows to the door but the XO, John Boyd. Bernie yells out, “The XO is here!” We were high enough in the air so we could hide the beer in our shirts but Bernie was caught on the ground with a case of cold beer. In comes the XO and all Bernie could do was to sit on the case of beer and act nonchalant. The XO came in looked around (and directly at the case of beer) asked a couple of questions (not related to the beer) and left not to return again until we were completed.

For those that were there and used the service station I am sure it was functional and made money for the Navy Exchange and ultimately Special Services (they got part of the profits).

As a footnote I sure would have liked to have been there or be there when that building is razed and see the look on the faces when they see the “insulation” fall out!

The Navy Exchange did put on a party for us and for the Grand Opening of the Gas Station, with all the bells and whistles (that means food and booze) but that’s another story! 

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Revised: June 30, 2010