As the Wrench Turns: How Blue Beard Got His Name, Lessons Learned from John Goglia

Hold your letters and emails! I am well aware of the mechanic’s code of silence. What happens on the ramp, stays on the ramp. But is twenty years of silence long enough?   Aren’t AskBob readers part of one big ramp fraternity (and sorority)? If it’s funny, is it ok to tell?

So, with your anticipated forbearance, I begin my tale: Imagine that rare day at Boston’s Logan with almost nothing to do. The Maytag repairman couldn’t have asked for better. Sixty-five airplanes on the shift and no pilot write ups. No flight attendant issues. No mechanicals to speak of. Even refueling was going smoothly. And the weather was a perfect summer day. Clear blue skies and mild temperatures. A fantastic day to be an airline ramp worker. 

Enjoying the rare slow day, we were shooting the breeze, waiting for the next aircraft to roll in and meet the crew. But even on a slow day, some routine jobs still need to get done. And dumping the aircraft is one of them – that’s ramp vernacular, as you all know, for servicing the aircraft lavatories. Out with the old, in with the blue, some used to say.

 Today it was “Jim’s” turn. No, that’s not his real name. There’s no statute of limitations on embarrassing a fellow ramp worker even after two decades! Jim was five foot eight, heavy set. Dark bushy hair with a beard to match. He was what we called a utility man. The boy Friday of the ramp. Any job the mechanics didn’t do, he did. So on this day, Jim was tasked with dumping the aircraft. Even on a perfect day, some routine jobs are still just dirty jobs. There’s no avoiding them; they need to get done and someone’s got to do them. And on this shift, servicing the lavs was Jim’s job. Alas, this was not going to be Jim’s day.

Any mechanic who’s worked the line long enough has gotten stuck with this job. And I certainly worked the line long enough myself to have gotten stuck doing this a time or two. It’s not a difficult job; but it does have to be done correctly.

Poor Jim did not do the job correctly on this day. I’m not sure if I smelled him first or heard his screams first. But soon enough, Jim came huffing past us heading for the showers. A streak of blue. Sopping wet from head-to-toe with bits of blue paper caught in his beard. Yes, my dear readers, a quick glance at the lav truck said it all.

Blue fluid and human waste covered the lav truck and the tarmac. The truck’s hose dangled on the ground. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that the coupling from the truck to the airplane had detached, spewing blue-tinged excrement all over Jim. And that’s how Jim came to be called Blue Beard on the ramp.

Moral of the Story: Complacency – and forgetting to check the security of the coupling on a lav truck – can get you in a world of sh*t!