Marmaduke is a marine engineer with vast knowledge of machinery. He works out of an office over O’Houlihan’s Machine Shop in the Hells Kitchen area of New York City. His imposing 6 ft 4 in stature is described in every story along with his steelbrush moustache and size 16 “canal boat” shoes. Surfaceblow smokes Ringelmann #5 cigars[SUP][/SUP] that produce acrid clouds leaving others teary-eyed.
The stories often start with Marmaduke gathered with other engineers. One will relate an interesting anecdote, say about a hard starting diesel engine. Marmduke will impatiently “foghorn ‘Bilgewater on balky diesels! I’ll tell you about the time I ran a boat engine on water!’ '” The story continues with “that did it. Everyone turned to Marmaduke as he revved up his induced draft fan and filled the room with Ringelman #5 smoke”. The real story then begins relating his exploit. His adventures often place him in a foreign port with poor repair facilities requiring brilliantly simple solutions to problems that have stumped others.
Other times Marmaduke will be “on the beach without a berth” and need money. Another engineer will present a difficult technical problem that has eluded resolution. Marmaduke then proposes to fix the problem for a sizable consulting fee, which may be money and/or his favorite drink of Sandpaper Gin. After successfully resolving the problem Marmaduke will "ballast his double-bottoms with Sandpaper Gin."
Marmaduke’s knowledge comes from hands-on experience operating steam power plants and all manner of machinery. Later in the series a son, Guy Newcomen Surfaceblow, was introduced. He is a university-trained engineer who also has field experience that gives him credibility when working with hard-boiled characters in the boonies.
The character’s name was coined from Marmaduke, a Scottish name, and Surfaceblow, which is the action of removing impurities from a steam boiler. Marmaduke Surfaceblow predates Star Trek’s Scotty by 17 years. James Doohan explained he proposed a Scottish accent for the character of [I]Enterprise[/I] chief engineer because they were the best engineers.
While not stated it is apparent many of the stories were inspired by actual events.
Surfaceblow’s adventures were consolidated by Elonka into a single volume “Marmaduke Surfaceblow’s Salty Technical Romances”, R. E. Krieger Pub. Co, 1979. Copies are rare and highly sought.