Seagoing Cowboy Floyd Schmoe remembered in Japanese documentary

I’m always interested to see what seagoing cowboys went on to do in their lives after their livestock delivery journeys. For many of the younger cowboys, the experience was a formative one. Especially during the UNRRA years of 1945-1947. After UNRRA disbanded, however, and the Heifer Project was on its own, the cowboys, now volunteers without pay, often used these trips as passage to Europe or elsewhere for further service work of some sort. One such cowboy was 52-year-old Floyd Schmoe.

Floyd Schmoe caring for goats aboard the S. S. Contest on his way to Japan in July 1948. Photo courtesy of Judy Rudolph, granddaughter of Floyd Schmoe.

Raised in a Quaker home on the Kansas prairies, Schmoe became a lifelong peace activist. As a young man, he studied forestry, but his studies were interrupted by World War I during which he built prefab homes for war refugees in France through the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). After returning home, he married Ruth Pickering and resumed his forestry studies. He spent the next two decades focused on natural history education in Washington State, serving as the first park naturalist for Mount Rainier National Park and then the first director of the Puget Sound Academy of Science.

With the outbreak of World War II, Floyd’s passion for peace and justice led him in new directions. Concerned for the welfare of Japanese Americans who were being forcibly interned, he tirelessly worked full time on their behalf through AFSC and his own efforts. After the war, appalled by the atomic bombings in Japan, Floyd set out to start a project of building homes in Hiroshima for bomb survivors. In the meantime, the Heifer Project had begun shipments of bulls, and then goats, to Japan. So Floyd took the opportunity to travel to Japan on the S. S. Contest with 227 goats and three other seagoing cowboys in July 1948.

Floyd Schmoe milking a goat on board the S. S. Contest, July 1948. Photo courtesy of Judy Rudolph.

Floyd stayed on in Japan to make contacts for setting up a volunteer home-building work camp the next year. Over the next four years, Floyd’s project “Houses for Hiroshima” built dwellings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki that provided homes for nearly 100 families.

Japan Public Television’s NHK World has created a documentary about Floyd Schmoe and his work in Japan. The English version will air here today August 10 at 18:10 (PST) and tomorrow August 11 at 00:10, 06:10 and 12:10 (PST). To find your local time for the airing, go to this website and scroll down to the NHK World Prime program. The documentary will continue to be available for an additional two weeks beginning August 13 at this site. A shorter 9-minute news clip of the documentary is available here.

You can also read an essay about Floyd Schmoe’s life here.

Floyd Schmoe lived to be 105, leaving a long legacy of service for a just and peaceful world.

With thanks and appreciation for this story to my contact at NHK World, Jun Yotsumoto.

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The S. S. Park Victory: Livestock trip #2, Poland, December 1945 – Part II

The next leg of the Park Victory‘s journey began to expose the seagoing cowboys to the realities of war. The ship left Downs, England, at noon January 7 (1946) for the Kiel Canal, “twenty hours away thru the minefields,” notes the ship’s radioman, Will Keller. Early the next morning, “in thick fog we missed a buoy,” he writes. “EMERGENCY STOP! Reversed engine, drug anchor.”

When the fog lifted around noon, the ship proceeded past the German town of Cuxhaven and took on an Elbe River pilot to guide the ship through the canal. “Nice shore line,” assistant cowboy supervisor Harold Hoffman says in his diary. “Buildings look like any American town.” Soon the locks of the canal came into sight.

Interacting with Germans in the Kiel Canal lock. Photo courtesy of Harold Hoffman.

“Saw masts of several sunken vessels,” Hoffman notes. Entering the lock “was exciting. No one worked, even ship’s crew. Except to tie up ship. Gate closed. There probably 1 hr. or longer. Most men typical German. Some weather beaten. Some English around.” Then the interactions began. Cowboys and crewmen threw gum and candy to the children. “Bartering was fun,” says Hoffman. “Had ships made in a bottle for 5 pks. cigarettes. I got a pin for 2 pks.”

“Soon we moved on. Light fading,” Hoffman says . “Moved slowly through gates and into canal. Did not use motors, let the current carry us for some distance.” Then it was back to work, with the unpleasant task of raising a dead mare to the top deck from which she would be buried at sea when the ship reached open waters.

Not all animals survived the trip. Removing them from the ship was not an easy task. Photo credit: Will Keller.

The next morning, “At arising found ourselves anchored in Kiel harbor,” says Hoffman, where the ship would stay all day. That night, seagoing cowboy Fred Ramseyer notes a contrast in his diary. “See sunken ships all around in the bay. It’s a nice eve out. The moon is shining on the bay, the stars etc. on the ripples.”

The Park Victory had to wait until 7 a.m. the next morning to leave, “because [through] the next twelve hours’ run the water is filled with 137 sunken ships,” notes Hoffman, “so we must have day light to dodge them.” Not to mention the mines that still littered the Baltic Sea.

Sunken ships were still evident the following summer. Photo credit: Charles Shenk, July 1946.

“Departed Kiel with pilot thru maze of sunken vessels,” notes Keller, “big ones and little ones. Some with masts sticking out of water; others resting on the bottom with superstructures above water. Water sloshing in and out of open doorways and portholes. Six knife-edged minesweepers at work.”

After a cold, damp, and windy but safe passage through the Baltic Sea, on Friday afternoon, January 11, the Park Victory slowly moved towards the harbor at Danzig (Gdansk), Poland. Radioman Keller says, “Pilot sends word suggesting lock up all radio equipment and ‘disappear’ as we approach docking area, otherwise I might be impressed to serve as port’s radio station by local ‘authorities.’ As suggested, I locked up – and disappeared.

“As we proceeded up the channel into New Port (serving Danzig),” says Keller, “we saw ruins, and more ruins. And we heard gunfire, and more gunfire.” Hoffman elaborates in his diary: “Ships on banks taken out of harbor. German plane, large warehouse, steel structures damaged. All buildings of brick, some completely flat. Others just walls, others down in parts. Some with roofs out. Some looked as if hit directly. Railroads & tracks, cars, trucks crumbled & twisted. Passed Samuel Ingram [Liberty ship] docked with load of K rations. Plenty guards with rifles, machine guns & pistols. All seemed most curious. So was the boat personnel.”

A sample of the ruins that greeted the seagoing cowboys in Poland. Photo credit: Charles Shenk, July 1946.

Once docked, Hoffman notes, “Guys hanging all over ship. First on board Military and Customs. Can’t tell who is who or what. Poles, Germans or Russians. Notice posted to stay away from American Bar, as the day before one American seaman died, three critical as result of Vodka…. Time taken to make trip: 14 days, 3 hrs., 31 min.”

Everett Byer, in “A Cowboy Goes Abroad,” his unpublished report of this trip which he shared with his fellow cowboys, gives an account of the gravity of the situation the seagoing cowboys to Poland faced. He writes, “And so next morning we are permitted to go ashore, with final words of warning from our supervisor, handed down from the Captain:

This is a wide open city, without law. No permits or passes are needed but if you get in jail, you will probably stay here. We have no Counsul yet and cannot do much for you. Do not go ashore alone and the larger the group the better. Be sure to make it known that you are Americans, because a splendid feeling of good will is given toward Americans due to the tremendous aid in food and clothing that we have sent. Especially you ‘guys’ who talk a little German, be sure they know you are Americans, and don’t talk politics: they (Russians) have secret police and it may be just too bad.

“So, fifteen timid American farmers go ashore in a body,” writes Byer, ” to explore for the first time in a foreign land and in a town as wide open as any western town in our country’s early days.”

To be continued. . .

Time Off

Dear Readers,

I’ll be taking a break during the month of October, as my husband and I in the process of moving from Indiana to Ohio. Regular posts should resume sometime in November once my new office gets settled. I share with you here one of my favorite seagoing cowboy photos to tide you over.

Seagoing cowboys on the S. S. Plymouth Victory en route to China, April 1947. Heaven only knows what they were doing! Photo courtesy of Eli Beachy.

Speech to be live streamed

For those who might be interested, I will be a keynote speaker at the Church of the Brethren National Older Adult Conference at Lake Junaluska Conference Center in North Carolina Thursday, September 7. My illustrated talk will be live streamed at 10:30 a.m. at http://www.brethren.org/Inspiration2017 and can be accessed later, as well. My topic will be “Delivering Hope to the Next Generation.” The speech will give the back story of how I became the documenter of the seagoing cowboy history, the legacy of the seagoing cowboys and the Heifer Project, and the importance of continuing to deliver hope to the next generation. I’d be honored to have you join me.

In Memorium

It’s time for my regular Fifth Friday post to honor the seagoing cowboys who have passed away recently. These are the ones of whom I am aware:

Baker, John S. “Jack,” March 7, 2017. S. S. Mexican to Poland, November 8, 1945.

Barnhill, Gilbert E., Jr., November 28, 2016. S. S. Edwin D. Howard to August 17, 1946.

Coffman, H. McKinley, December 1, 2016. S. S. American Importer to Germany, August 11, 1953.

Godshall, Clyde M., June 13, 2015. S. S. Columbia Heights to Israel, May 4, 1953.

Libby, Paul, May 14, 2015. S. S. Pass Christian Victory to Poland, May 9, 1946.

Lord, Howard J., March 6, 2017. S. S. Rock Springs Victory to Greece and Ethiopia, May 12, 1947.

Miller, Levi M., November 6, 2016. S. S. Mount Whitney to Poland, July 29, 1946.

Miller, Norman S., December 7, 2016. S. S. John J. Crittenden to Poland, March 6, 1946.

Moyer, Howard E., February 22, 2017. S. S. Norwalk Victory to Poland, January 9, 1947.

Nentwig, Earl Jack, November 17, 2016. S. S. Beloit Victory to Czechoslovakia, June 8, 1946; S. S. Edward W. Burton to Poland, July 15, 1946.

Voth, Alden Harry, December 22, 2016. S. S. John J. Crittenden to Yugoslavia, November 23, 1945.

Wine, Jacob C., Jr., March 12, 2017. S. S. Cedar Rapids Victory to Czechoslovakia, May 17, 1946.

Many thanks to Martha Neri for her gift to my Seagoing Cowboy Storytelling Project in honor of her father Andrew Yanik, S. S. Cedar Rapids Victory to Greece, November 13, 1946.

Rest in peace, dear friends.

The Seagoing Cowboy Storytelling Project

My work of fifteen years now has a name: The Seagoing Cowboy Storytelling Project, with thanks to the family of seagoing cowboy Alvin Zook for coming up with this title. The start of a new year is always a good time to look back and ahead; I’m adding a first Friday post this month to do just that.

Seagoing Cowboy Al Guyer and Peggy Reiff Miller

Seagoing Cowboy Al Guyer and I reunite, October 25, 2014. Photo credit: Rex Miller.

It was fifteen years ago this month that I made my first seagoing cowboy interview with a former pastor of mine, Albert Guyer. I knew he had gone to Poland with livestock, and I wanted to know what my Grandpa Abe’s trip might have been like. Al’s story hooked me in and got me started on a journey that culminated this past year with the publication of my first book, the children’s picture book The Seagoing CowboyThat event pretty well defined my professional year, first planning for its release the end of March and then promoting it throughout the remainder of the year.

A highlight of my year was a 3-day visit to the Maple Ridge Bruderhof community in Ulster Park, New York. Many older members have long ties to Church of the Brethren, Heifer Project, and seagoing cowboy history. Vonnie Burleson's (left) father and Marlys Blough Swinger's (right) brother were seagoing cowboys. Martin Johnson (top right) was my delightful host. Photo by Reuben Mow (grandson of Anna and Baxter Mow.

A highlight of my year was a 3-day visit to the Maple Ridge Bruderhof community in Ulster Park, New York. Many older members have long ties to the Church of the Brethren and its Heifer Project and seagoing cowboy history. Vonnie Burleson’s (left) father and Marlys Blough Swinger’s (right) brother were seagoing cowboys. Martin Johnson (top right) was my delightful host. Photo by Reuben Mow (grandson of Brethren icons Anna and Baxter Mow).

 

A local book signing and release party was followed by speaking events and signings for all ages that have taken me from coast to coast, with stops in Indiana and Iowa, Arkansas, California, North Carolina, New York state, Maryland, Virginia, back to California, on to Arizona, and Texas, often connecting with seagoing cowboys. I’m grateful to my many readers for the warm and enthusiastic reception of my book and the seagoing cowboy story. It’s been a whirlwind of a year, and I’m looking forward to a different pace and focus for 2017.

Sharing the story with Maple Ridge Bruderhof upper elementary students. Photo by Reuben Mow.

Sharing the story with Maple Ridge Bruderhof upper elementary students. Photo by Reuben Mow.

I’m excited about the year to come. It will start with a trip next week to Germany, where I will be able to visit the seagoing cowboy exhibit at the Upper Silesian Museum in Ratingen. Then my focus turns to the writing of a book about the first decade of the Heifer Project, including the seagoing cowboy story as it relates to Heifer. I plan to sequester myself for six months during the year at the Heifer Ranch in Perryville, Arkansas, to that end. Three months in the middle of that will be spent in “Oma and Opa time” assisting our daughter in Ohio with child care while she tests the waters of running a friend’s market garden for the summer.

If all works as planned, the year will end with another trip abroad — this time to Finland for the 70th anniversary commemoration of the S. S. Park Victory and the ten sailors who lost their lives in the sinking of the ship off the coast of Finland in December, 1947. The Park Victory had been one of UNRRA’s livestock ships, making six trips prior to its demise while shipping coal. It’s a famous ship wreck in Finland, but the livestock portion of the ship’s history was unknown there until one of the men working on the commemoration found my website.

I will only be taking a limited number of speaking engagements this year. I’m looking forward to being the speaker for a Heifer International event in Michigan April 8, in being the featured author to kick off the children’s summer reading program at the Goshen, Indiana, public library in June with the theme of “Build a Better World,” and in being a keynote speaker at the Church of the Brethren National Older Adult Conference (NOAC) in North Carolina in September. Aside from that, my plan is to write, write, write!

Many wonderful pieces of seagoing cowboy and Heifer Project history happened in 1947, so look for lots of 70-year commemorations in my blog posts throughout the year. I’m looking forward to a great year, and I wish you one, as well!

Seagoing Cowboy Supervisor Herb Pownall tells his story

I recently came across a delightful 20-minute interview with Herb Pownall by Caroline Ballard on the HumaNature podcast of Wyoming Public Media. Herb served as an UNRRA seagoing cowboy supervisor on the S. S. Edwin D. Howard to Germany that left Newport News, Virginia, April 29, 1946, with a load of 833 bred heifers for Czechoslovakia. Herb has some great photos that also appear on the HumaNature website. Click here for the podcast and photos. Enjoy!