Updated: May 4, 2021
As part owner of the Nation’s Attic, I am extremely fortunate to see these historic diving helmets on a regular basis. My mind always wonders, and I begin thinking about how and where the hard hat was used and who used the helmet and for what purpose. Sometimes I get carried away with tales depending on the dents and usage that is visible on the diving helmet. I have said it numerous times, that I truly wish the diving helmets could speak and tell us the stories as to what they have seen and heard over time. Kinda fun to dream!
However, it is also a wonderful way to continue learning. We have seen adjustments or modifications to the brass and copper hats over the years. We have seen repairs fixed with the quick weld using a copper penny. We have seen changes to the bastard stud. We have seen changes to the lights and the guards. Changes to the communications and air fittings. Big dents, little dents, dings, scratches, broken glass, parts missing, and parts added and so forth.
It makes you remember that these diving helmets were tools and that is how they were used. Modified if necessary, to make the job easier for the diver. This goes for the Commercial or Mark V deep sea copper and brass diving helmets. It is always a treat to speak with the men who dove these hats for a living. Whether it was for the military or for commercial purposes. The stories are incredible, and I just love to hear about the dives and the work accomplished underwater all while being in one of these hats.
Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would have the opportunity to dive one of these incredible diving helmets. Of course, I thought it would be fun and a bit scary, but never thought it would happen. All of that changed when DESCO decided to host the Milwaukee Dive Rally in 2018. I was invited to participate in a class about how to dive the Mark V safely, taught by Bill Pfeiffer. This class was held before the weekend dive rally.
However, before we get to that point in the story, I better tell you about the hat we dove!
My husband and I decided to dive our A.Schrader’s Son World War 2 deep sea diving helmet. The date of the helmet is January 1944 with serial number 1400B and we had no idea when the last time it was used in the water. We decided to send the hard hat to DESCO to have it inspected and to make it dive ready. It is never safe to just put on the diving helmet and jump in for a dive. Just DON’T do it – EVER! Have a qualified and certified company like DESCO inspect it first.
Months before the class I started working out and lifting weights. No way was I going to be a ‘girl’ that could not carry the weight of the gear. So, I worked out and lifted and really became super strong. My complete and total motivation was to be able to stand up and walk around with the entire gear with no problems. Also, to be able to get up and down the ladder with ease. All those lunges and squats are about to be put to the test!
In class, we did test runs of getting suited up and getting a diver ‘dive’ ready. This was a lot of fun, because we learned just how challenging and time consuming it can be getting into the gear. On July 12th, 2018 was the first time ever that I put on the Mark V diving helmet and related diving gear. It was in the classroom, but it was a test to see if I could walk around with the gear. And I could do it with no problem and goodness I was so elated I cannot even tell you my delight and excitement level! In my head I was like, yep, that is right, this midwestern woman can carry around the diving gear and Mark V with no problem – whoop whoop – get it girl! HA HA…
Now one especially important point is that DESCO provided all the gear we needed to do the dive for the class and then for the weekend dive rally. A huge thank you to the DESCO team! Everything was provided and it was an enormous task for them to plan and host the event. I am so appreciative and grateful for the DESCO team and the effort they put forth to have the Lake Michigan Dive Rally. Again, thank you DESCO friends!
You can read about the diving helmets and look at photos and watch movies, but we all know that experience is the best teacher. So let us get back to the classroom on July 12th. I was wearing my t-shirt and shorts and it was only normal summer clothes. Nothing fancy because I knew we were getting suited up and could get dirty. I have seen lots of diving boots over the years, and I knew just how big they were. Man sized! Keeping this in mind, I brought along my scuba shoes and was hoping it would help fill up the boot space some and it did.
My turn to suit up! With my team members or diving tenders, we began the suiting up process. I easily stepped inside the Mark V canvas suit, now remember I have on my t-shirt, shorts and scuba shoes. I quietly chuckled to myself inside the canvas suit, because it went clean over my head and there was gobs and gobs of room inside. My helpers continued to suit me up. It was in the classroom that I realized just how tough it can be to put a breast plate inside the canvas suit with the rubber necking or collar. That rubber is thick and durable for a reason. To keep out water and leaks and to keep the air inside and to keep the breast plate in place. In class is when I realized how strong your hands and fingers needed to be to get the thick rubber over the studs of the breast plate. Ladies, here is a tip, cut your fingernails short because long nails just get in the way and can bend when wrestling with that rubber collar. Once the breast plate is in position and feels ok, my team members put on the brails and tighten down the wingnuts. Do not forget we still have the harness with the jock strap and the weight belt to put on. The diving boots are on and finally the bonnet. YES, it is totally AWESOME, and I am ready for the next day. Dive day!!
To Be Continued…….