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January 29th, 2010

GREASIEST THING IN THE WORLD

The San Francisco Call. May 28, 1896

"Nearly the greasiest thing in the world at the present time is the old bark Enoch Talbot, which arrived in port from Redondo last Monday. Compared with her a Pennsylvania oil well is a soda-water fountain and a sperm whale a refrigerator car.

All the alkali in the economy of chemistry couldn't "out out" the spot that covers the Enoch Talbot from stem to stern, keel to truck, clew to earing. Even the winds that blow by her become lubricated from their passage through the oleaginous atmosphere and fly away all the faster from the instant association.

She is so oily that she floats in a calm of her own making, for no wave can hold its own against the unctuous charm she sheds around herself.

Twenty-six days ago the bark started from Redondo with 9000 barrels of crude petroleum on board. The entire interior of the vessel's hull had been fitted up with wooden tanks, into which the thick, tar-like fluid had been pumped.

She had head winds, calms and bad weather generally, which accounts for the long passage of twenty-four days. A short time out from port the pitching of the Talbot burst a tank, letting almost 1000 barrels of oil loose to roam around the bark at pleasure.

It may be said that that stuff in its crude petroleum way made the most of the opportunity. When it couldn't flow freely it seeped, and between the flowing and seeping it managed to get pretty much everywhere. The pitching and rolling of the bark dashed the oil here and there through the hull, forcing it where even the most ambitious fluid would not care to penetrate. It got into the bilge with the water leakage, and when the vessel had pumped out the oil came up through the pump well and ran out into the sea.

Every timber, and it seemed that every spar, block and rope was saturated, and the oleaginousness rampant in that hold reached as high as the royal trucks. It didn't ooze out through the seams of the Enoch Talbot, because she was an old Black Ball packet, and a ship with the great black disc on her foretopsail was never known to wear out.

For several days no particular danger threatened the oil-logged bark. She simply rolled along working northward, and Captain Johnson was careful not to drop any burning matches down into that rather inflammable hold. But the leaning of the vessel over to leeward caused the heavy, thick fluid to collect on that side, consequently the bark gradually acquired a dangerous list.

Everything solid that was movable was shifted to the weather side, and the pumps were set to work to help ease the bark. Several hundred barrels of oil were run overboard, smoothing the sea down for a wide distance around the vessel. During the bad weather the steam pump at the main hatch broke from its fastenings and fell into the hold, where it lay submerged in the petroleum.

The bark finally succeeded in getting off the harbor, where a tug smelled her out, it is said. She is at the Arctic Oil Works getting rid of her dangerous and inconvenient cargo. The old craft is all right, but she is about the greasiest thing in the world."

Well, the old Enoch Talbot did survive that incident and went on to continue working as a cargo bark for quite a while. I saw reports of her service in 1900, but didn't continue reading past page 2 of the search results in Chronicling America. For reference, the Black Ball Line was the earliest scheduled packet line between America (NY) and Great Britain (L'pool), beginning in the 1810's. There is another tale of the Enoch Talbot behind the cutCollapse )

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