S. S. Humanitas vignettes from a report by Milford Lady, Part I: Surviving the storm

Seagoing cowboy Milford Lady wrote a detailed day-by-day report for the Heifer Project office of his December 1947 trip on the Italian ship S. S. Humanitas. His account illustrates one of the dangers cowboys faced on the high seas, adding to a previous post about the storm the Humanitas encountered on its third day out:

5:00 A.M. – Dec. 6
Our hopes for a trip with no loss are now shattered. . . . [B]etween 3:00 and 3:30 A.M., a sea came over the starboard side forward with such force, that the stalls went crashing to the deck, trapping the cattle underneath. We all dressed and ran up on the bridge. We talked to the Captain, then he slowed the speed of the ship, changed her course, so the seas would not break so high and turned on the cargo lights, so we could work on deck. We tryed [sic] to cut some of the cattle loose. We released only three heifers when the wind got so strong that when Tassel raised up from working with one of the heifers, the wind hit him and knocked him back about 10 ft. We were all wet through and through and trying desperately to hang on to something, and keep clear of the long seas. Then the captain ordered us back inside. I was the last one. . .with Tassel just ahead of me. We took it slow, staying in the shelter of the stalls, but we had a short distance to go to the ladder with no protection from the wind. Tassel walked around the corner of the stalls, and the wind hit him with such force that it blew him back against me so hard that both of us were blown back against the bulkhead. I was hanging on to a cable for all I was worth trying to hold a light on the ladder. It was all we could do to get up the ladder with me pushing him and he pulling up. . . . [Lady later learned the storm they were in had winds of 75-80 miles per hour.]

At present time I am in bed writing this letter with a heavy heart. The cattle are on deck with a pile of lumber on them. . . . We can do nothing until it gets light enough to protect ourselves. The heifers we cut loose are out on deck sliding back and forth trying to stay on their feet. They are not seriously injured. Perhaps we can save a number of them. . .

8:30 p.m.
My thoughts were the thoughts of 5 other cowboys when we looked at the cattle trapped and bleeding under a mass of wreckage this morning. We thought that at least half of them would be dead, but by some miracle, there is only one dead now. . . . Many of the cattle have deep cuts and bruises. They will require a lot of attention to keep them alive.

Sunday – Dec. 7
Last night it was too dangerous to make our rounds on deck. Yesterday a big sea broke over the side and swept the first officer over against the hatch, and injured his leg. He is still in bed. His leg is not broken. The second officer also has a badly sprained ankle as a result of the rough sea.

Today . . . we are trying to shift the heifers around so as to give them the best available shelter. . . . Sometime when you are bored and want some excitement, try leading a milk Holstein heifer from bow to stern of a liberty ship with the seas breaking over both sides, ducking around cables, chocks, cleats, and numerous other things found on ships’ decks, the deck very slippery and ship rolling about 30%, with the heifer falling down about every 20 ft. pulling you down with her. It’s a toss-up to see who gets up first, you or the heifer.

Next post: Beware the bull!

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