In Memorium

On this 5th Friday, it’s time to once again remember seagoing cowboys who have departed from us.

Bantz, Floyd Eugene, May 12, 2020, Lititz, Pennsylvania. S. S. F. J. Luckenbach to Greece, June 24, 1945.

Enns, Siegfried John, January 25, 2020, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. S. S. Norwalk Victory to Poland, January 9, 1947; S. S. Boulder Victory to China, February 22, 1947.

Gallup, Walter P., March 19, 2020, Rutland, Vermont. S. S. Gainesville Victory to Poland, July 24, 1946.

Groff, Harold K., March 31, 2020, Lititz, Pennsylvania. S. S. Henry Dearborn to Czechoslovakia (docking in Bremen, Germany), December 12, 1945.

Heatwole, Nelson Jacob, May 6, 2020, Aroda, West Virginia. S. S. John Barton Payne to Poland, May 4, 1946.

Kettering, Stanley R., March 7, 2020, McLean, Virginia. S. S. Joshua Hendy to Greece, June 28, 1945; S. S. Gainesville Victory to Poland, June 4, 1946.

Nisly, Fred, March 21, 2020, Hutchinson, Kansas. S. S. Norwalk Victory to Yugoslavia (docking in Trieste, Italy), February 13, 1946.

Ropp, Emil, January 2, 2020, Kalona, Iowa. S. S. Queens Victory to Poland, July 13, 1946.

Weaver, Irwin M., April 21, 2020, Ephrata, Pennsylvania. S. S. Norwalk Victory to Poland, January 9, 1947.

Wenger, Sheldon ‘Shelly’ L., May 15, 2020, Harrisonburg, Virginia. S. S. Clarksville Victory to Poland, August 11, 1946.

Zimmerman, Loren J., April 14, 2020, Ephrata, Pennsylvania. S. S. Stephen R. Mallory to Poland, June 20, 1946.

Rest in peace, dear seagoing friends.

Rock Springs Victory to Ethiopia #4 – The Noah Theory

There’s a story connected with the March 1947 trip of the S. S. Rock Springs Victory to Ethiopia that I would put in the category of legend. The story was told some 35 years after the trip to seagoing cowboy Howard Lord and a hand full of other cowboys from that trip by one of their two foremen whom I will leave unnamed.

The foreman, Lord says, “started talking about the ‘Noah Theory,’ The officials were convinced that there would be a third world war, and since it was after 1945 it would be a nuclear, atomic war. Where would be the best place in the world to start over? And what would you need to start over? They sent some of the livestock on our ship to Greece as a cover up, a smoke screen. The rest of the cattle, and the sheep, and the mules, and the chickens went to Ethiopia to start over again. If there was a third world war, the last place they’d hit would be Ethiopia. If that was an actual theory that was part of our shipment, we never knew it. Nobody except our supervisor and two foremen knew it.”

A jack aboard the S. S. Rock Springs Victory, April 1947. Photo courtesy of Howard Lord.

Roosters on their way to Ethiopia on the S. S. Rock Springs Victory, April 1947. Photo courtesy of Howard Lord.

It’s a theory for which I’ve found no confirmation. I found nothing in the UNRRA files I researched in the United Nations archives, nor in any Heifer Project archives I’ve gone through, that would give even a hint of credence to this theory.

George Woodbridge’s history of UNRRA, volume two, tells of the devastation that took place in Ethiopia from six years of Italian occupation in World War II and of the needs and the difficulties in meeting those needs due to collapsed infrastructure and murder of the educated segment of the population. The Brethren Service Committee worked with UNRRA to provide cattle through the Heifer Project for regeneration of their herds and provided five men, as well, who stayed a year to teach the use of modern agricultural machinery and techniques.

Cattle stranded in the streets of Djibouti after unloading off the Rock Springs Victory. The railroad was out between Djibouti and Cairo, delaying passage on to Addis Ababa. April 1947. Photo courtesy of Howard Lord.

There were, to be sure, a variety of animals sent to Ethiopia on this, the one and only, UNRRA livestock trip to Ethiopia. After the first offloading of nearly half the Rock Springs Victory animals in Greece, UNRRA reports the following for Ethiopia: 323 cattle, both heifers and bulls of beef and dairy breeds (of which 248 were sent as gifts from the Heifer Project per their report); 3 jacks; 60 sheep; and 117 chickens. This variety of animals would fall far short of what would be needed for restarting a world’s agriculture.

Delivering UNRRA roosters and chickens in Ethiopia, 1947. Photo courtesy of Howard Lord.

Transporting cattle to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 1947. Photo courtesy of Howard Lord.

The origin of the “Noah Theory” remains a mystery. A story spun by one of the ship’s regular crew, perhaps, who wanted to have some fun with the seagoing cowboy leaders, swearing them to secrecy? We’ll likely never know.

Heifer Project and UNRRA cattle grazing outside Addis Ababa, Egypt, 1947. Photo courtesy of Howard Lord.

The hope for this shipment, scribbled in notes of then Executive Secretary of Heifer Project Benjamin Bushing, was that Ethiopia would become the “Bread Basket of the Middle East for years to come.”

Special post: Celebrating the 75th anniversary of Heifer International’s first shipment to Europe

May 14, 1945, is a special day in Heifer International history. It marks a dream finally realized.

The Heifer Project, Dan West’s dream of sending cows to Europe to help starving war victims, came to life in April 1942. The Church of the Brethren Northern Indiana District Men’s Work organization adopted West’s idea and named a committee to get it going. The idea caught on, and by January 1943 it became a national program of the Brethren Service Committee. However – and this is a BIG however – with World War II raging, shipping live cargo across the Atlantic was simply out of the question. And not for the lack of trying on the part of the Heifer Project Committee to get heifers to Belgium and Spain. In 1944, with plenty of heifers ready to go, the committee sent a small pilot shipment instead to Puerto Rico.

Concurrently, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration was in the planning stages of how they would operate when hostilities ceased. Despite West’s attempts to get UNRRA to agree to ship Heifer Project animals, UNRRA did not intend to ship live cargo. But when the Near East Foundation requested bulls for Greece to help the country’s devastated dairy industry rebuild, UNRRA approached the Heifer Project for assistance with a pilot project of their own. Brethren Pennsylvania diary farmer and Guernsey breeder Benjamin Bushong was drafted to obtain the bulls for the Heifer Project and see them to the ship. May 14, 1945, just six days after V-E day in Europe, six purebred bulls sailed for Greece. Bushong became Executive Secretary of the Heifer Project later that year and often joked that the first “heifers” to Europe were “six bulls.”

Brown Swiss bulls donated by the Heifer Project after arrival in Greece, May 1945. Credit: UNRRA photo.

Read the story of that first European livestock shipment for both UNRRA and the Heifer Project in two parts here and here.

Congratulations Heifer International on another live-saving milestone!

Rock Springs Victory to Ethiopia #3 – Monkey business

The return trip of the S. S. Rock Springs Victory in April 1947 from Djibouti in Africa to New York City held a memorable experience for 18-year-old seagoing cowboy Charles Graham. I’ll let him tell the story:

The purser on our ship picked up a monkey down there in Djibouti. Comin’ home, he let the monkey run all over the ship, wherever he wanted to go.

Seagoing cowboy Dick Hoblin makes friends with purser’s monkey. Photo courtesy of Howard Lord.

So one afternoon the monkey was sitting on the rail as I was going to eat, and just outside the door of the mess hall, I picked up the monkey and held him over, like I was gonna throw him overboard, and he was screamin’ to high heaven. So I put him back. I went a couple of days thereafter to eat, and there was the monkey. I picked him up, and let me tell you, he got even with me! I put him on my shoulders, and you can imagine what he did – he let go all over my back and jumped off and ran. And if I could have caught that monkey then, he woulda went into the sea!

Purser’s monkey wakes up seagoing cowboy Stan Wakeman who was sleeping on deck. Photo courtesy of Bob Heimberger.

But anyway (he says with a chuckle), it had taken us approximately eighteen days to make the trip across one way. On arrival back to the States, we were docked in Hoboken, New Jersey, and we thought that we were all going to be able to get off the ship and go home. But low and behold, due to the fact that that purser had picked up that monkey, we were quarantined until the health department cleared that monkey to come in, which if I recall, was about three days. You can imagine what a lot of cowboys was thinkin’ about that monkey at the time! None of us could go home because of it.

But my trip was quite an experience. My trip with the Heifer Project was wonderful.

Rock Springs Victory to Ethiopia #2 – Greece, Suez Canal, and Djibouti

Another unique experience of the S. S. Rock Springs Victory seagoing cowboy crew of March 1947 was delivering Heifer Project animals to Ethiopia. They were one of only two UNRRA livestock crews to travel through the Suez Canal and the only one to deliver animals to the African continent. The other UNRRA ship, the S. S. Carroll Victory, after unloading their initial live cargo in Greece, was sent down to South Africa to pick up a load of horses and deliver them back to Greece – twice.

Like the S. S. Carroll Victory, the Rock Springs Victory stopped in Greece on their way where they unloaded part of UNRRA’s cargo of horses, mules, and cattle in Piraeus, Athen’s port city. Howard Lord’s first impression in Greece was of the hunger. “It just floored me,” he says. “Then here came a little train all decorated up like Christmas. It was their Independence Day in Greece! And I thought, well, they’re able to celebrate.”

Celebrating Greece’s Independence Day, March 25, 1947. Photo courtesy of Bob Heimberger.

Like all cowboys to Piraeus, they also took in the Greek antiquities around Athens.

Touring the Acropolis, March 1947. Photo courtesy of Howard Lord.

The next leg of the journey took them through Suez Canal, into the Red Sea, and on down the coast of eastern Africa to Djibouti, the capital city of what was then French Somaliland and the port for land-locked Ethiopia.

“We saw lots of wrecked ships and old destroyed tanks from World War II in the Suez Canal,” notes cowboy Stanley Wakeman. Among other things.

Beach huts along the Suez Canal, March 1947. Photo courtesy of Bob Heimberger.

As they sailed on, it got hotter and hotter, from “Very hot” in Wakeman’s journal on March 28 in the Suez Canal, to “105° in the shade” the next day in the Red Sea, to “VERY VERY HOT – 120º” on April 2 in Djibouti. An exaggeration, perhaps? Lord recalls it being “98 degrees all day – every day [in Djibouti]!”

A whole new world awaited there. Because of the lack of an adequate dock, the Rock Springs Victory had to anchor itself offshore and unload the animals and feed into barges, maybe 30 to 40 feet long and 12 feet wide.

Unloading cattle and feed off the S. S. Rock Springs Victory off the shore of Djibouti. April 1947. Photo courtesy of Howard Lord.

“They’d load the barge full of cattle,” Lord says, “and a young man with a pole would stick it against the bottom of the water and poled that barge into the dock, barely able to move it. Just one single guy with one pole. He’d have to move from side to side. It was really somethin’.”

A sole laborer poling a load of cattle into Djibouti. April 1947. Photo courtesy of Howard Lord.

On shore, the cowboys must have been as much a curiosity to the Africans as the Africans were to them. These cowboys saw sights no other crew had seen.

Cowboys roaming the area around Djibouti encounter some camels. April 1947. Photo courtesy of Howard Lord.

With no common language, the Americans took raisins with them to barter for souvenirs. That’s how cowboy Bob Heimberger acquired the metal cup the crew used for their Easter Sunday Communion on their return voyage.

Trading raisins to Djibouti residents for souvenirs, April 1947. Photo courtesy of Bob Heimberger.

For six members of the crew, the voyage was just beginning in Djibouti.

Seagoing cowboys heading on to assignments in Ethiopia, April 1947. Photo courtesy of Howard Lord.

Five had been selected by the Brethren Service Committee for a special assignment to accompany the cattle to Ethiopia, where they were to stay for a year at the request of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie to train the Ethiopians how to breed and care for the livestock and teach the use of modern farm machinery and agricultural methods. The sixth, a Methodist missionary, would travel on to his project in the Belgian Congo. The remainder of the cowboy crew headed back with their ship to New York City.

Next post: Monkey business on the Rock Springs Victory

Rock Springs Victory to Ethiopia #1 – “Shear” madness

The cowboys on the S. S. Rock Springs Victory, tending a shipment of animals for Ethiopia in March 1947, had many unique experiences. One of those bearing note this Easter weekend I’ve already posted, about their Easter Sunday communion service on the Red Sea. Today, I’ll share a story from my interview of July 2006 with cowboy Howard Lord, 22-year-old farmer from Iowa who later went into the ministry. I had asked Howard what he remembered about life on the ship.

“I remember so vividly,” he says and laughs. “Because we had 30 head of wool sheep, and 30 head of Karakul. They’re a sheep that they kill and skin. And they have alpaca-type fur, real kinky fur. It’s not wooly, it’s kinky.

“The first day out, [our supervisor] said, ‘We gotta shear these sheep. It’ll be summer when they get to Ethiopia.’ They started asking, ‘Who shears sheep?’ Course nobody!

“We had two foremen, Norman Barthell and Carl Geisler. They were both older than I, so they said, ‘We have to shear these sheep.’ So they started. Then they said, ‘We, we have to be on our jobs as foremen for these cattle we have on the ship. Lord, you grew up on a farm.’ ‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘You shear sheep.’ I said, ‘No. I’ve seen ’em sheared, but I’ve never sheared them.’ ‘Well, would you care to try?’ I hesitated and said, ‘I’ll try it. And they handed me a pair of hand clippers. Hand clippers!

“So I crawled in the sheep pen and I got the big old ram. ‘No, no, no,’ they said, ‘you can’t do that!’ And I said, ‘Well, I’ve gotta be able to sheer him sometime. I just as well try it now.’ So I sheared him – in spite of a few nicks here and there. Well, a lot of nicks here and there.” We laugh.

Howard Lord with a sheared wool sheep. Photo courtesy of Howard Lord.

“They finally talked the young kid from Ohio, Bob Heimberger, into helping me. He did very well. We got [the wool sheep] sheared by the time we got to [our first stop in] Greece. And then they said, ‘We gotta shear the Karakuls.’ And I said, ‘You don’t shear Karakuls. They skin Karakuls! They use the hides.’ ‘Well, you have to shear them. They’ll never stand it in Ethiopia.’

Howard Lord with a sheared Karakul. A high percentage of Karakul sheep are born black. Photo courtesy of Howard Lord.

“As soon as you take the shears to the Karakul, you could hear the sand grit. So we would sharpen the shears three, or four, or five times every time we sheared a sheep. And they were small sheep. They were just full of grit. It was that kind of kinky skin….We got them sheared by the time we got to Ethiopia.”

Shear madness? Perhaps not. Research shows that an adult Karakul‘s wool, as well as its younger wooly hide, was highly prized. A courser wool, it was “felted or spun into fabric for garments, footwear, carpets, and yurts, among other uses.”

Next post: more tales from the Rock Springs Victory trip to Ethiopia

The seagoing cowboy story continues to captivate today’s students

I’m sneaking in an extra post this month. During this crazy time of pandemic, it’s always nice to hear positive stories. This story is about a school history project undertaken by 13-year-old Alicia Zimmerman. Her great-grandfather, John E. Hollinger, was a seagoing cowboy.

John Hollinger’s record card from the seagoing cowboy card file. Courtesy of Heifer International.

Alicia is a home schooler in the Harmony Homeschool group at Pleasant Valley Mennonite School in Ephrata, Pennsylvania. For her project, Alicia decided to tell her great-grandfather’s story. She reached out to me for photos for her display board, which I was happy to share with her. John sailed to Poland with a load of 200 horses and 458 cattle on the S. S. Mexican in November 1945.

John Hollinger’s ship, the S. S. Mexican, in harbor at Baltimore, MD. Photo courtesy of Clarence Reeser.

John Hollinger’s crew on the S. S. Mexican, November 1945. Photo courtesy of Clarence Reeser.

Alicia’s results were on display March 13, 2020.

Alicia’s history project. Photo courtesy of Alicia Zimmerman.

Alicia’s mother, Lynette Zimmerman, recalls hearing her grandfather tell stories about the grand welcome his seagoing cowboy crew received in Poland. That welcome ceremony is told in my post of March 11, 2016. John’s story adds a new element to it.

“He was engaged when he went,” Lynette says, “and one of the Polish families was serving him. They found out about his engagement and after they were done eating washed all the glassware they were using, packed the whole set up, plus the tablecloth, and sent it along home with him for their wedding gift, because they were so grateful for the livestock these men were bringing over to them. My mother has the last salad bowl with tongs in her cupboard [see photo on Alicia’s display board].”

“He also recounted the devastation of what he saw and I know it impacted him for life,” Lynette says. “War destroys a lot and hurts many.” One of the realities Alicia captured in her display.

Well done, Alicia! Thanks for sharing your project with us and for helping to share the seagoing cowboy story – a story of delivering hope to a war-torn world.

In this Lenten season, may we look for the positive and grasp on to hope in this pandemic-stricken world.

Fire and life boat drills for seagoing cowboys

If seagoing cowboys hadn’t thought about the possible dangers of their trips before they signed up, the required life boat drills once they were at sea may have drilled it into them. With all that hay on board, fire was a real threat. And with mines in European waters, explosions were, too. Not to mention storms pushing ships into rocks.

Cowboys on the F. J. Luckenbach are called to a fire and life boat drill, March 1946. Photo by James Martin.

Each cowboy was issued a fire and life boat station card at the beginning of their journey, with instructions for their particular task.

Fire and life boat station for seagoing cowboy Richard Musselman who made three trips in 1946 and 1947. Courtesy of Musselman family.

The cards were different for each shipping line.

The Grace Line station card for Santiago Iglesias seagoing cowboy Milt Lohr. Courtesy of Don Lohr.

Homer Kopke’s card for the S. S. William S. Halsted of the Moore-McCormack Lines. Courtesy of Kopke family.

Usually, on the reverse side were the signal instructions. More than one cowboy crew was summoned by these signals for real.

Signal instructions for fire and life boat drills. Courtesy of Musselman family.

Wise was the cowboy who took the drills seriously and prayed he’d never have to put them to use.

Seagoing cowboys on the S. S. Creighton Victory, July 1946. Photo by Ben Kaneda.

Seagoing Cowboy wives carry the load at home

Women’s History Month is the perfect time to recognize seagoing cowboy wives and families left at home while their men took their journeys. For three Midwestern farm wives, winter weather presented challenges on the home front.

Evelyn Grisso Smith recalls the winter of 1945-1946 when her father, Harvey Grisso, left their home in New Carlisle, Ohio, to travel to Poland on the S. S. Park Victory. “Mother and I were alone on the farm,” she says. “That winter a terrific storm came through followed by a blizzard that not only closed all the roads, but also the long lane to our house.” Ordinarily, her father would plow open the lane with a bulldozer blade on his tractor. “But this winter we were stuck,” Evelyn says.

“Well, almost. Mother had the presence of mind to park the car across the field at a neighbor’s house near the highway. If we then had to go someplace, we’d put on boots, head scarves, gloves, several layers of clothing, and stomp across the field through the snow to the car. Upon return, it was a repeat performance, only this time carrying bags of groceries.”

After some days, her Uncle Orville came by to plow them out. “Mother and I walked out to watch.” When he got to the curve in the lane that dropped off down to a creek, “the tractor began sliding sideways down the cliff. I recall feeling very frightened that the tractor was going to roll over and kill Uncle Orville,” Evelyn says. “I started to cry and called for my Daddy. The tractor didn’t roll, and somehow Uncle Orville got the tractor out of there.”

The Grisso farm in New Carlisle, Ohio, in a lighter snowfall in a later year. Photo courtesy of Evelyn Grisso Smith.

Evelyn’s snowperson. Photo courtesy of Evelyn Grisso Smith.

The following winter, the George Weybright family accompanied him at Thanksgiving time on a car trip from their farm near Goshen, Indiana, to his ship in New Orleans. He was to be the cowboy supervisor for a Heifer Project shipment to China. “That was a big step in our lives,” his wife Rachel says.

Loren, twins Mike & Muriel, and Garry Weybright on the dock in New Orleans, November 1946. Photo courtesy of Garry Weybright.

Rachel Weybright, with her four children ages 2-1/2 to 9, took the long way driving home to visit friends in Iowa. Arriving on Friday evening, they intended to stay the weekend. “However, on Saturday morning,” Rachel says, “the weather forecast predicted a heavy snowstorm.” She changed plans and started home. “The storm kept chasing us, we kept going with just a skiff of snow in our path, and reached home about midnight. There was less than an inch of snow covering the ground when we got home, but by morning, we had about eight inches of it. To say I was glad to be home safely was a gross understatement!”

Problems arose at home when the hired man developed medical problems. A new hired man had to be sought in a hurry. Cows don’t wait to be milked. “[The new man’s] inabilities became more visible in February when we had an ice storm that covered electric wires with ice two inches thick,” Rachel says. “We were without power from Tuesday until Saturday evening, so we milked more than 20 cows by hand twice a day; carried water from a neighbor’s hand pump to water the cows, hogs, chickens, and people; ate cold meals or fireplace offerings….There was great rejoicing when the power came on!”

The Weybright family shortly after George’s return, May 17, 1947. Photo courtesy of Garry Weybright.

Ruth Wicks found herself snowed in that same winter in Adel, Iowa, while her husband, Dale Wicks, was on his trip to Italy. With two small children in tow, she had to walk out her gravel road to the main road where her parents picked them up to go to town or to church. Then notice came from the Red Cross of Dale’s accident in Sicily. “I knew he was thrown out on the lava, and I had horrors that his face had slid on the rocks and what his head would be like. After I saw the picture in the Des Moines paper, I was just so relieved.”

With his extended stay in Italy, planting season arrived before Dale did. “Family members helped out,” Ruth says, “so when Dale got home, they had the first crops already planted.

“Dale had been gone so long,” she says, “that our two-year-old daughter didn’t even recognize him. When he put his arms around me and kissed me, she didn’t like that strange man! After that, she did, though.”

Dale and Ruth Wicks, July 1, 2006. Photo: Peggy Reiff Miller

Credit goes to all the seagoing cowboy wives for helping their men deliver hope to a war-torn world!