If the SS Nieuw Amsterdam teak chairs could talk, they would tell you quite a Veteran story. This narration is told to us by Steve Taylor, son of First Army Lieutenant Phillip K. Taylor who served in the 5th Army Air Corps, Pacific theater. Born in 1916, Phillip was a native of Macy, (North Central) Indiana. Phillip was a man that believed in working with his hands and passed that work ethic onto his son, Steve. Those moral principles paid off in the service for Phillip. (Click on all photos for enlargement or other information)
Lieutenant Phillip Taylor was assigned to the SS Nieuw Amsterdam and began serving in the 26th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron during WWII in 1943. If you were assigned to a squadron like this, it meant your aircraft would be without artillery defense; no guns, no bombs, just room enough for photographic equipment.
You had to be fast to outrun the Japanese Fighter Zeros or face being caught. In addition to the recon assignments, Taylor was given two other responsibilities while serving. Here is the rest of the story as told by Steve Taylor.
“My dad had two main tasks assigned to him while in the Service. Storm the Philippine beaches and clear 3 to 4 acres of palm trees, some of which held Japanese snipers hiding in the branches. Dad also helped build landing strips to be used as military aircraft stop off points and creating communication points, wiring telephone polls.
He later (also in the Philippines) performed aerial photographic military intelligence work, flying out of some of the same airfields he had designed and built. Dad was mustered out in 1946.”
“In November of 2006, I went to the Pacific Auction Company in Longmont Colorado, just a short drive north of my home in Lafayette Colorado. Rummaging through the inventory set for auction that day, I discovered two broken teak deck chairs.
They were both structurally damaged but all of the parts were there.
One of them still had the brass plaque on it indicating they were for the upper deck paying passengers.”
“The auction process was moving slow that day and so I left a bid on file of $100.00. Apparently no one else at the auction seemed interested or perhaps did not know what they were. Later that afternoon, I received a call that my $100.00 bid had taken them. I returned home with the chairs, looking them over carefully and put them aside for the moment. A month later I called my dad on a Saturday morning as usual and casually mentioned my bonanaza find. I mentioned that they had come from the decks of Her Majesty Ship Nieuw Amsterdam of the British Royal Navy. At that point in the conversation, he gave the chairs even more meaning by saying, “Son, I shipped out on that very ship after shore leave from Sydney Australlia in 1943 on our way to the Philippines. “Yes sir son, me and the boys sat in those very deck chairs you’re talking about.”
“That got me excited and moved the chair restoration project back up to top of the priority list. I decided to start with the one that had the most damage. It had 3 or 4 primary slats missing and a badly damaged primary structural piece. Started by disassembling the entire chair; virtually every piece. I cataloged all the parts and made a few sketches to remind myself of what would need to go where. I then sanded down every square inch of all parts with 220 paper. Using slats that were present as model templates, I rough cut new teak parts on the band saw and by hand. The next step was to rasp and sand them into identical matches with the existing slats followed by tenoning the ends. Set those aside, I cleaned and fitted the larger structural member, bore and fit a pin though the broken area and glued it up. I then removed all the brass hardware, all screws, swivel point and the little brass placards identifying where the chairs came from including the “1st Class Only” placard. I polished up all that was salvageable and in a few cases, either replaced the part completely or had it re-brass plated. I sanded all parts to 320 and reassembled using a lot of acetone at 5o different glue up points followed by 3 coats of Teak Oil, ordered from Woodcraft. Always clean up teak joints first with acetone before applying the Titebond III waterproof glue. By the time I finished the refurbishment process on the first chair, my dads health had begun to fail rapidly, and going forth with the second chair rehab was and remains to this day, on hold.”
“Dad taught me how to use my hands and was responsible for my woodworking knowledge.”…Steve Taylor
“My dad had involved me in woodworking at the early age of 8 in 1955. More importantly he taught me safety first. He very carefully showed me how to push a board through with a simple cross cut using the miter gauge on his table saw, and perhaps that was the day I got “hooked”. Dad was a long time employee of Sears and Roebuck selling table saws. Our garage was obviously well equipped with power and hand tools and I remember being included in every woodworking project that came up around the house. When I entered middle school, I took every possible shop class available. In high school, I enrolled in machine shop where I designed and built many things. I developed my woodworking in my personal shop for a long time, although there were year long gaps when location and other things kept me from it. I’ve been back into constant woodworking the past 11 years and have floated from Teak rehab to entertainment centers to book shelves and this last couple of years have gotten back into hand carving and plan to stay in it this time to hopefully turn it into something reasonably profitable.”
According to Steve Taylor, “My Dad lived long enough to see the one refurbished chair, but only by pictures that I sent him. During the last 5 years of my Dad’s life, he could not fly on any commercial airlines because the cardiologists did not want him to be at any high altitude, even in a pressurized cabin. Even if he had made it to Colorado where I live, Dad would have had to been on continuous oxygen. Dad passed away at the age of 92 in 2008.”
“I’m a tool and machine freak; freely admit it with no apologies. My present work area is our 430 square foot garage transitioned woodshop (which my significantly better half graciously gave over to me). It is stuffed with my Delta Unisaw, Delta Planer, Delta Drill Press, Jet Bandsaw, Jet Sander, and Rikon Belt Sander, DeWalt Miter Saw, Bessey Clamps, all from Woodcraft, leaving only 35 or 40 square feet dedicated to standing or walking. Tool boxes, machinery, hardware, and up to about 10 or 12 species of 800 board feet of wood at any given time, take up all but the standing space at my bench and a couple of deer trails through the rest.”
“Still employed as a maintenance supervisor with the city of Boulder, I woodwork my spare hours, building furniture, restoring antique teak furniture and have built various jigs like the one for picture framing. I also make expensive high end humidors, sheds, tri-level decks and home entertainment centers. My formal education is actually as a biologist, which strikes even me a bit weird. I‘ve worked for a number of years as an iron worker as well. They say variety is the spice of life!”
“During the last 4 years I have almost exclusively returned into the carving art. Most of my time in the shop these days is spent listening to classical music, working at the bench, doing my layout and carving work. I carve only spirituals or scriptures. The plaques I have been back carving these last years are generally made from American Cherry or number one Red Alder (poor man’s cherry).”
“I begin by jointing and planing 3 to 4 boards and then edge joining them using plate and bisquits primarily for alignment purposes. Layout for the script is a very critical, slow and time consuming process. I’m trying to space the actual script with regard to how the end product will look and feel. You need to take in the natural wood figure and blemishes (knots and rots) and also room for a symbol to be carved in. For example, crescent moon, crosses or Star of David. All script is carved using a chisel, gouge and mallet. I use a coping saw and router for the bordering. Hickory vertical stiffners are glued and screwed onto the back to help insure there will never be any horizontial cracking along the glue lines. Final sanding to 320 and then one to three coats of General Finishes gel stain followed by 3 coats of General Finishes wipe on Gel Coat. I’ve come to rely on both products for ease of application and durability. I epoxied two beefy eye hooks onto the vertical stiffners for eventual mounting which produces the final product.”
“A funny story about my carving, deck chairs, auctions and present day carving work. The same year I found the deck chairs at Pacific Auction, they had a huge carving tool auction and that’s when I started my collection of pfeil carving chisels and gouges. I bought about 40 brand new, never used chisels for what amounted to about 40 cents on the dollar. Since then I”ve purchased about 150+ more new pfeil chisels and gouges from Woodcraft and have decided to try and turn my ancient scripture carving into my retirement business that will allow me to get off the 7 to 4 hamster wheel, one I’ve been on for almost 49 years now. I guess my total chisel gouge collection is somewhere close to 600 pieces but the pfeil tools are what I’ve come to depend on. They arrive new, razor sharp and stay that way for longer than I thought possible. I need to do a lot of “stab cuts” and they have really held up under thousands of hard blows with the mallet.”
Steve had some final remarks about his dad. Steve said, “Dad taught me how to use my hands and was responsible for my woodworking knowledge. My dad was humble and didn’t talk much about the war, but he did say, “I was not a hero, just there to do my part, there were others that were true heroes. Many came home, but many did not.”
In talking with Steve, he wanted this blog to be a tribute to his Dad. So we dedicate this story to Steve’s dad, and all the Veterans out there in remembrance of what they stood for and what they did and continue to do for our country.
Thank you Steve for sharing this story with Woodcraft and for everyone who may read it.
For more information as to the present day SS Nieuw Amsterdam, please click HERE, or check out this video history of the SS Nieuw Amsterdam from original creation, through WWII to modern day cruise ship.
God Bless our Veterans, and God Bless America!…Frank