CLOSE
Original image

Red Adair, Global Firefighter

Original image

Red Adair put out fires for a living. Oh, not just any fires, but burning oil and gas wells, fires that could have been fueled for decades and were expected to take years to extinguish with the best methods available. He was called out to fires all over the world, including war zones, because of his company's experience and expertise.

Adair's company put out thousands of fires, but a few were particularly memorable. In late 1961, his crew was called to Algeria where a natural gas fire burned so hotly that the desert sand melted into glass. The fire had burned for six months before Adair arrived, and was nicknamed the Devil's Cigarette Lighter.

Red never met a fire he couldn't lick. He bombed many of them into submission with high explosives. It seems wildly counterintuitive, using dynamite to subdue an inferno, but the physics are quite simple: a properly shaped and sized explosion will momentarily suck all the oxygen from a given area, thus starving the flames long enough to get a cap on the well. (Of course, done wrong, it's also extremely dangerous.) Red didn't invent the idea -- it had been used since before he started wrestling wells -- but he perfected it, made it an intuitive art.

525devilsbody

The company had to dig their own wells for water in the Sahara, and construct reservoirs. Adair spent months preparing for the final explosion that extinguished the flames in May of 1962. Putting out the Devil's Cigarette Lighter brought Adair worldwide fame, but he was just getting started. Watch a video report of the Sahara fire.

550boy

Paul Neal Adair was born in 1915 in Houston, Texas, one of eight children. He dropped out of high school to help support the family. Adair held various jobs including seven years of work in the oil fields before he went into the army, where he served with the 139th Bomb Disposal Squadron during World War II. The nickname "Red" was a natural because of his red hair, and later he took to wearing red clothing, driving a red car, and using the color for his business equipment and literature.

5501952

After the war, Adair went to work for the MM Kinley Company. Founder Myron Kinley pioneered the technique of fighting oil well fires with dynamite, which deprived the fire of oxygen. In 1959, Adair founded his own company, Red Adair Company, Inc.

550_Hellfighters

Adair's life read like an adventure movie script. After the Devil's Cigarette Lighter fire brought him worldwide fame, Hollywood noticed and based a feature film on Adair's life. The 1968 film Hellfighters starred John Wayne as a globetrotting firefighter loosely based on Adair, who served as a consultant to the film along with his company colleagues. The movie received lousy reviews, but Adair and Wayne became lifelong friends.

550_IXTOC

In 1972, Adair founded the Red Adair Service and Marine Company to develop and market new firefighting equipment to be used on well and other massive fires. He rigged bulldozers with heat-resistant shields and developed a semi-submersible vehicle for fighting offshore fires. By then the company had accomplished some milestones, such as being the first to ever cap an American well while it was still on fire and putting out underwater well fires. Pictured is the IXTOC I blowout, an underwater fire in the Gulf of Mexico the Red Adair Company extinguished in 1980.

550_piper-alpha

On July 6, 1988, the Piper Alpha Rig Disaster killed 167 men in the North Sea. It was the deadliest oil rig disaster ever. Adair's company was the first to board the burning platform. They extinguished the last of the flames three weeks after the blowout, while dealing with 70-foot waves and 80 mph winds.

550kuwait

At the end of the Persian Gulf War in 1991, the retreating Iraqi forces set fire to the oil wells of Kuwait, around 700 fires total. Twenty-seven teams from sixteen countries fought the oil fires in Kuwait. The job of extinguishing those fires was estimated to take 3-5 years, but Adair, in his seventies at the time, put out the last of his company's 117 fires in November of 1991, just a few months after the operations began.

550retirement

Adair was 79 years old when he finally retired from firefighting in 1994 and sold Red Adair Company, but he still worked as a consultant with a new company named Adair Enterprises, Inc. He headed that company until his death at age 89 in 2004.

Original image
Wikipedia/Public Domain
arrow
History
Civilian Researchers Discover Wreckage of the USS Indianapolis
Original image
Wikipedia/Public Domain

On July 30, 1945, the cruiser USS Indianapolis sank in the Pacific Ocean after it was torpedoed by the Imperial Japanese Navy submarine I-58. More than 70 years after the historic naval tragedy— which claimed the lives of nearly 900 crew—The New York Times reports that the ship’s mysterious final resting place has been found.

The discovery came courtesy of a team of civilian researchers, led by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. His state-of-the-art research vessel, Petrel, located the wreck 18,000 feet below the Pacific’s surface, the team announced on Saturday, August 19.

"To be able to honor the brave men of the USS Indianapolis and their families through the discovery of a ship that played such a significant role in ending World War II is truly humbling,” Allen said in a statement. “As Americans, we all owe a debt of gratitude to the crew for their courage, persistence, and sacrifice in the face of horrendous circumstances."

Before it sank, the USS Indianapolis had just completed a top-secret mission to a naval base on the Northern Mariana island of Tinian. After delivering enriched uranium and components for Little Boy— the atomic bomb that the U.S. would drop on the Japanese city of Hiroshima about a week later—the cruiser forged ahead to Guam, and then to the Philippines. It was supposed to meet the battleship USS Idaho at Leyte Gulf in the Philippines to prepare to attack Japan.

The USS Indianapolis never made it to Leyte Gulf. Shortly after midnight on July 30, the Japanese submarine I-58 spotted the cruiser and fired six torpedoes. The USS Indianapolis—which was hit twice—sank within 12 minutes. Around 300 to 400 sailors and Marines were killed in the attack; the rest were stranded in the Pacific Ocean for several days.

Many of these survivors would ultimately lose their lives to sharks, a grisly scene that would be famously (albeit semi-accurately) recounted in the 1975 movie Jaws. Others died from drowning, heat stroke, thirst, burns and injuries, swallowing salt water or fuel oil, and suicide. More than 300 crew members were rescued after a bomber pilot accidently sighted the imperiled men while on a routine antisubmarine patrol.

The mass tragedy—which wouldn’t be announced to the public until August 15, 1945—sparked controversy: Charles B. McVay III, captain of the USS Indianapolis, was found guilty in a court martial of failing to steer the ship on a “zigzag” course to elude Japanese submarines. A Japanese submarine captain testified that this precautionary measure wouldn’t have thwarted the enemy, but McVay was charged nonetheless. The captain died by suicide in 1968, and wouldn’t be officially exonerated by the Navy until 2001.

For decades, the remains of the USS Indianapolis were lost to the ravages of time and nature. But in 2016, naval historian Richard Hulver found a historic ship log that mentioned a sighting of the USS Indianapolis. Allen’s search team used this information to locate the ship, which was west of where experts assumed it had gone down.

Allen’s crew took pictures of the wreckage, including a piece of its hull, and will search for more of the ship. They plan to keep the exact location of the USS Indianapolis a secret, however, to honor the sunken ship as a war grave.

"While our search for the rest of the wreckage will continue, I hope everyone connected to this historic ship will feel some measure of closure at this discovery so long in coming,” Allen said.

[h/t The New York Times]

Original image
Getty Images
arrow
entertainment
The Time That Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis Opened Competing Restaurants on the Sunset Strip
Original image
Getty Images

From 1946 to 1956, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis were show business supernovas. With an act that combined singing, slapstick, and spontaneous hijinks, the duo sold out nightclubs coast to coast, then went on to conquer radio, television, and film. Long before Elvis and The Beatles came along, Dean and Jerry  were rock stars of comedy.

Offstage, there was a cordial but cool friendship between the laidback Martin and the more neurotic Lewis. But as the pressures of their success increased, so did the tensions between them. Martin grew tired of playing the bland romantic straight man to Lewis’s manic monkey boy. And when Lewis started to grab more headlines and write himself bigger parts in their movies, Martin decided to quit the act. In an angry moment, he told Lewis that he was “nothing to me but a f**king dollar sign.”

After the split, both men went on with their individual careers, though it took Martin a few years before he regained his footing. One of his ventures during that transitional period was a Hollywood eatery called Dino’s Lodge.

DINO'S LODGE

In the summer of 1958, Martin and his business partner, Maury Samuels, bought a controlling interest in a restaurant called The Alpine Lodge, at 8524 Sunset Boulevard. They hired Dean’s brother Bill to manage the place, and renamed it Dino’s Lodge.

Outside they put up a large neon sign, a likeness of Dean’s face. The sign turned into a national symbol of hip and cool, thanks to appearances on TV shows like Dragnet, The Andy Griffith Show, and most prominently, in the opening credits of 77 Sunset Strip.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Dino’s Lodge was popular from the get-go, serving home-style Italian food and steaks in an intimate, candlelit, wood-paneled room meant to replicate Martin’s own den. In the first year, Dean himself frequented the place, signing autographs and posing for photos with starstruck diners. He also occasionally brought along famous friends like Frank Sinatra and Shirley MacLaine. To promote the idea of the swingin’ lifestyle that Martin often sang about, Dino’s served “an early morning breakfast from 1 to 5 a.m.” The restaurant also had a lounge that featured singers, though only females. Dean apparently didn’t want any male vocalists encroaching on his turf.

But as with many a celebrity venture into the food business, this one soon turned sour. And most of that was due to the jealousy of Jerry Lewis.

JERRY'S

In late 1961, Lewis wooed Martin’s business partner Maury Samuels away, ponied up some $350,000, and opened his own copycat restaurant three blocks down Sunset. It was called Jerry’s. To make it clear he was out for top billing, Lewis had his own likeness rendered in neon, then mounted it on a revolving pole 100 feet above his restaurant. In contrast to Dino’s Italian-based menu, Jerry’s would serve “American and Hebrew viands.” Lewis didn’t stop there. Within a few months, he’d hired away Dino’s top two chefs, his maître d', and half his waitstaff.

Wire Photo, eBay, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

When Lewis was in Los Angeles, he made of point of table-hopping and schmoozing with his guests at his restaurant, and he occasionally brought in a few of his celebrity friends, like Peggy Lee and Steve McQueen.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

By the following year, a disgusted Dean Martin was fed up with the restaurant business and cut ties with Dino’s Lodge. Much to his aggravation, he lost a motion in court to have his likeness and name removed from the sign. So the new owners carried on as Dino’s Lodge, with the big neon head staring down on Sunset for another decade before the place finally went bust.

Jerry’s lost steam long before that, folding in the mid-1960s.

For the rest of the 1960s and the early 1970s, Martin and Lewis avoided each other. “Jerry’s trying hard to be a director,” Dean once told a reporter. “He couldn’t even direct traffic.”

In 1976, Frank Sinatra famously engineered an onstage reunion of the pair during The Jerry Lewis Telethon. While the audience roared their approval, Sinatra said, “I think it’s about time, don’t you?” And to Sinatra, Lewis said under his breath, “You son of a bitch.”

What followed was an awkward few moments of shtick between the former partners. Reportedly, Martin was drunk and Lewis was doped up on painkillers. There was a quick embrace, Martin sang with Sinatra, then blew Lewis a kiss and disappeared from his life for good. Martin died in 1995. Lewis passed away today, at the age of 91.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios