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The heaviest lifters at Yokosuka Naval Base are cranes Yokozuna and Ozeki. They are named for the first- and second-place sumo wrestlers.
The heaviest lifters at Yokosuka Naval Base are cranes Yokozuna and Ozeki. They are named for the first- and second-place sumo wrestlers. (Courtesy of Ship Repair Facility, Japan Regional Maintenance Center)
The heaviest lifters at Yokosuka Naval Base are cranes Yokozuna and Ozeki. They are named for the first- and second-place sumo wrestlers.
The heaviest lifters at Yokosuka Naval Base are cranes Yokozuna and Ozeki. They are named for the first- and second-place sumo wrestlers. (Courtesy of Ship Repair Facility, Japan Regional Maintenance Center)
Chain falls hang in the gear room at Yokosuka Naval Base's Lifting and Handling Department.
Chain falls hang in the gear room at Yokosuka Naval Base's Lifting and Handling Department. (Allison Batdorff / S&S)
Besides warships, the crane department has the "biggest toys" on Yokosuka Naval Base, jokes Lifting and Handling Department Director Thom Halo from the top of "TJ" the land crane, on Wednesday.
Besides warships, the crane department has the "biggest toys" on Yokosuka Naval Base, jokes Lifting and Handling Department Director Thom Halo from the top of "TJ" the land crane, on Wednesday. (Allison Batdorff / S&S)

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — “Beavis and Butthead” didn’t make the cut. Neither did the names of a pair of miniature Doberman pinschers.

A recent vote decided instead that Yokosuka Naval Base’s two newest land cranes would be named “Yokozuna” and “Ozeki” — the Japanese titles conferred upon the best and second-best Sumo wrestling champions.

They join the ranks of movie monsters and pets in bearing the load of Yokosuka’s unique tradition — christening the cranes responsible for the base’s heavy lifting. Eight of the base’s 240 cranes wear nameplates. These are the base’s land or “portal” cranes that can move 90,000 to 330,000 pounds and dwarf the base’s mobile, bridge, jib and monorail cranes.

“Usually, cranes just get a number,” said Kevin Parrish, who travels to Navy bases performing annual audits for the Naval Crane Center.

“This is the only place I know that names them.”

There’s “Gojira” — Japanese for “Godzilla” — which faces off against “Kaiju” (monster) in Dry Dock No. 6.

Another Godzilla nemesis, the mighty flying dinosaur “Rodan,” stands watch over the USS Kitty Hawk aircraft carrier in Berth 8. You can walk along the boom on “TJ” towering above Dry Dock No. 4. And “Zeke” and “Tetsu” — both named for the beloved dogs of men who helped get the crane program off the ground — play together in Dry Dock No. 5.

“Those dogs are now immortalized … at least for the next 20-30 years,” joked Thom Halo, the Ship Repair Facility — Japan Regional Maintenance Center’s Lifting and Handling Department director. “Everyone wants to know about the names. I’ve probably repeated the story a hundred times.”

The names are both products of a cooperative spirit with the Japanese and a sense of humor, Halo said. All of the land crane operators are Japanese, as are most — 45 — of the recently created crane department’s 52 employees.

SRF commanding officer Capt. Stephanie Douglas calls the land cranes her “first love” and christened “Zeke” with a bottle of champagne when he first started operating in 2002.

Much of the large crane operations were shut down in 1999, she said.

“Our cranes were between 60-65 years old and couldn’t pass inspection,” Douglas said. “We were a shipyard without cranes and it was scary.”

The crane’s primary role is to keep the fleet operationally ready. Unlike other shipyards, Yokosuka’s repair periods must be less than 180 days, as warships must be able to deploy quickly in an emergency.

This means maintenance, Halo said.

“The cranes might lift valves, gun turrets or radar off a ship for work,” Halo said. “I saw one pick up and move a cement truck into a dry dock the other day.”

And although the cranes don’t move the ships themselves, they are the “biggest in the sandbox,” except for the warships, Halo said. Each one costs about $3 million and was built by Sumitomo Heavy Industry of Japan.

Safety is at a premium, he said. “Cranes are a dangerous place to work,” Halo said. “There are no second chances. If one flips over into a dry dock, the driver won’t live through that.”

“‘Drop’ is not a word in our vocabulary,” said Dale Hardesty, the division head of crane operations.

The department recently won two major awards. It is also preparing to get two new land cranes in the next few years. This means another naming contest, said Halo.

“We’ll ask the commands for their ideas and take a vote,” Halo said. “People really get into it. Last time it took a month and people kept stopping by the office.”

The interest is indicative of his Japanese colleagues’ respect for the machinery, hard work and sense of ownership, he said.

“Sometimes you hear workers referring to ‘Tetsu-san’ and ‘Zeke-san’ and you have to think for a minute before you realize that they’re talking about the cranes,” Halo said.

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