March 3, 2016, marks the 70th anniversary of the first trip of the S. S. Woodstock Victory as a livestock carrier. The Woodstock Victory is the ship featured in my children’s picture book to be released March 31, so I wanted to celebrate this day with a special post about the ship.
On March 3, 1946, 762 bawling heifers, 8 bulls, and 89 mares left Newport News, Virginia, on the Woodstock Victory bound for Poland. Of those heifers, 230 were sent by the Heifer Project as gifts to the most needy of Poland’s farmers. The rest of the animals were sent by UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration). UNRRA’s recipients were required to pay in some form for their animals.
“Floating barns” is what one Amish seagoing cowboy called the livestock ships. The seagoing cowboy supervisor for this trip, Don Bortner, reported, “We loaded 8485 bales of hay, 1831 bales of straw, 1595 bags of dairy feed and 100 bags of oats.” And, like the cycle of life in any barn on land, the “floating barns” had their ups and downs for the animals. Two of the gift heifers died on the way, one of toxema from a calf not being born and one of pneumonia. Another, “Heifer bsc 3131,” writes Bortner, “was admitted to the Hospital in Hatch four on the nite of Mar. 7, the roughest nite on the trip. After sticking her all over with needles and shaving her side she finally give in and lay on her left side. Dr. Quartrup and Dr. Freidman with the assistance of many cowboys performed a Ceasarian Operation. Had this not been done the heifer would have died. . . . I think the vets did a wonderful job under many handicaps.”
Amish cowboy Melvin R. Yoder was on this trip. His story was reported by Elmer S. Yoder in the October 2002 issue of Stark County Mennonite & Amish Historical Society’s Heritage newsletter:
Melvin and three others were assigned 100 heifers on the second deck down. The 100 heifers were in a large section or “pen” on the floor.
The trip to Poland took about two weeks. He remembers the excitement among the sailors when Bishop’s Rock was sighted on the south coast of England and at the head of the English Channel. They observed the white cliffs of Dover and headed into the North Sea, which Melvin said was described to them as the graveyard of the ocean.
They sailed through the Kiel Canal and into the Baltic. Due to the danger of mines, the ship anchored at night and sailed only during daylight hours, with two minesweepers preceding it.
. . . . After the heifers and horses were unloaded the cattlemen were free to do some sightseeing. But the main sights he remembers and has photographs of are the destruction and devastation of the war. The ship was not carrying any cargo on the return trip. . . .they had very few, if any, chores. . . .
They used their non-sleeping time mainly to play cards. Melvin took with him a barbering outfit, even though he was a novice, and gave haircuts to cattlemen. He did not say how many or how much he charged.
Over the course of a year, the Woodstock Victory made a total of six livestock trips, five to Poland and the final trip in January 1947 to Greece. She transported a total of 2,447 mares, 1,583 heifers, and 15,000 chicks to Poland and 790 mules to Greece.
my dad was the Chief Enginer on the woodstock victory
That’s great to hear, Carl! I haven’t met many of the regular ship’s crew members. Was your father Chief Engineer during the 1945-1947 period of the livestock shipments? Did your father ever talk about the livestock trips? Might he have had a diary?
Great story! That reminds me of a trip in the 70ies from Bremen/Germany to Durban/South Africa on a german vessel (don’t remember the name, it might have been “Wadai”) with a load of zoo animals. These mostly camels and some bovines were kept in a kennel on the main deck. Most suffering were the camels from sea-sickness when we had to weather a storm in the biscay. We also had a “cowboy” onboard who took care of the animals.
Thanks so much for this additional piece of history, Zyriacus! Those poor camels!
My dad was Donald Bortner. He died in 1967 in a farming accident, but had he lived he would have turned 96 on February 26th. He was a wonderful man and father. He was loved by many. I thank you for mentioning him in your article.
Great to hear from you, Nancy! And thanks for adding this personal note about your father. It makes the story come all the more alive.
Will these special factual articles be included with the book? I’d pay extra money for these#
Many of them will be. I also put the blog posts into newsletter form twice a year for the seagoing cowboys and others who are not on the internet. For those I ask a contribution on a sliding scale from cost (around $3.50) to patron level. I have three issues out so far. If you’d like to receive those, email me your mailing address.