Ex-CBI Roundup
October 1987 Issue

With the 789th Pipeliners

By Norm Maino

The 789th left Newport News on the U.S. General Butner on April 24 or 25th, 1944, first stop Capetown, South Africa, for a few hours leave. Next, on to Dur-bin, Africa, then on to Bombay. Then we took a train to Calcutta. We then went to Budge Budge. The pipeline was already in operation. The 789th took over operation of about 375 miles of line. We could not get the expected volume so we started checking pressures along the line. Many parts had pressure which was not acceptable, so in low pressure areas we started to run what we called "Rabbit" in the line which called for digging up the line, breaking joints and installing rabbit, start pumping and push rabbit until it would go no further, dig, remove clean pipe and replace rabbit, connect pipe and pump again. This went on for weeks. It was finally decided to start at No. 1 Station and clean it all. Some times we might get a mile or more, and sometimes two or three pipe lengths. The Second Station, called 1A, was approximately 60 miles from Budge Budge. It has been said in previous Roundups that gas was pumped from Calcutta. Gas was pumped from Burma Shell tank farm in Budge Budge located about 25 miles down the Hooghly River from Calcutta. We cleaned pipe to Station No. 2.

The first 60 miles of line was heavy steel pipe and used dresser couplings. The rest of the line was invasion pipe with exceptions here and there where heavy pipe was needed. Many times in chasing rabbit we would come to a 90 degree bend that would involve digging large holes or bolting elbows of maybe 12 or more bolts. Temperatures made the pipe move ever so little, but made reinstalling the elbows very hard especially while standing in gas above our knees. I remember pulling one man out of the hole because the night air was heavy and he breathed in so many fumes he was incoherent. I went in myself and the next thing I remember was coming to, about 100 feet from the crew who were still working to connect the line. Commercial cleaner (rabbit) did not do the job, so we designed and built our own using plugs cut from discarded airplane tires.

INSTALLING LONGER PIPE where line came apart at Budge Budge. That is 100 octane gas in the ditch.
Photo by Norm Maino.

Much of the line from Budge Budge through and beyond Calcutta was laid along a railroad right-of-way, and then new rail lines built over pipeline, which in many cases we had to pull rail ties, and a few times move the complete rail line two to three feet, do our work and then replace and tamp ties into proper alignment. Luckily we had a couple of ex-railroad workers on our crew. We took 2x4's, bamboo poles, rock and all kinds of sticks, etc., out of the line.

We also pulled a line across Hooghly River. It was 3,000 feet across. We built the line in three 1,000 foot sections and as we pulled the line across, we would weld the next section. On the pulling end, we could only go about 200 feet and then unhook, back up and hook on again. The tide would carry our line downstream and we would lose lots of slack.

We had a few blowouts when the contractions would pull the pipe apart at the couplings. One blowout was Christmas morning of 1944. It happened near Camp Canchparra. We had over one inch of gas on all water wells. Another was near Station 1. We pumped all we could into tanker trucks and had guards to keep natives from starting fires, but someone did start a fire and we had quite an inferno, which burned a few thatch roofs and some natives, but no G.I.'s were burned.

No, we did not fight with guns and bombs, but we did the job we were sent to do. We had a good company of men and very good officers. I am sure if we had been called upon to fight in the mountains we would have made a good showing. I am also sure other pipeliners and pumpers had their share of problems. The 789th received the Service Award for superiors service by increasing volume from 81.5 capacity to 96.72 designed capacity, also for untiring effort, initiative and attention to duty. There was lots of improvising such as melting down aluminum and casting bell housing from a grey marine engine. The shop was under the supervision of M/Sgt. Glen W. Brewer, under the command of Maj. General Covell.

Chinese pose in their tank. Photo by W. O. Rutledge.

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