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

The seagoing cowboys on the second livestock trip of the S. S. Park Victory faced a much bleaker experience than those who went to Trieste. It was a rougher ride in wintry weather, for one thing. And the destination more devastated.

S. S. Park Victory awaits departure in Baltimore, December 1945. Photo credit: Harold Hoffman.

Seagoing cowboy Daniel Hertzler says in an article for The Mennonite, “We were a diverse group of cattlemen…. Ten states and two Canadian provinces were represented. There were 16 Mennonites, 10 Brethren, one Methodist, one Baptist and one Presbyterian.” Of these men, the ship’s radio operator Will Keller notes, “Some younger, some older, some conscientious objectors to war, some adventurers, all well-behaved without exception.”

Seagoing cowboys of the S. S. Park Victory to Poland, Dec. 1945. Photo credit: Harold Hoffman.

More seagoing cowboys of the S. S. Park Victory to Poland, Dec. 1945. Photo credit: Harold Hoffman.

Cowboys started arriving December 18 and had plenty of time to get to know each other before the work began, as a snow storm and sickness of horses held 13 train car loads up in Kentucky. Keller notes that cattle were then substituted for the horses. Finally, on December 24, with all the cargo loaded, tug boats began pulling the Park Victory from the pier in Baltimore and moving down the Chesapeake Bay.

Photo credit: Harold Hoffman.

“Everyone was excited,” notes assistant cowboy supervisor Harold Hoffman in his diary. That is, until the ship anchored off Norfolk, Virginia, where it sat for three days waiting for a full ship’s crew. Radioman Keller explains, “Anchored midstream away from any access to land so as to not lose crew members or cowboys over Christmas holiday.”

On Christmas Eve, Hoffman notes the finding of a dead mare. “Some start,” he says. But “What a Christmas dinner,” he writes the next day. “Stewards dept. really put themselves in good with the cowboys.”

Christmas menu. From the papers of Harold Hoffman, Peggy Reiff Miller collection.

However, it wasn’t such a good Christmas Day up top. “Had messy time feeding top deck in rain tonight getting the canvas back on the feed that a hard wind blew off,” Hoffman says. An omen of the chilly, cloudy, rainy weather and choppy seas that plagued the ship all the way across the Atlantic.

The ship set sail December 27, and two days later Hoffman writes, “This morning we began to get a real touch of sea life. Two of the boys went to the rail after breakfast. Most every one was affected some.” Later, I was “standing in line at slop chest [ship’s store] when it seemed the ship went on her side. Passageway doors opened and six inches of water came in. Soon the fire alarm. A rush for life jackets. Everyone wondered if it was drill or real. The crew was serious. Another alarm, some thought it was to abandon ship…. I rushed for my life jacket. The First Mate came through, said the last alarm was the dismissal.”

Photo credit: Fred Ramseyer.

Radioman Keller notes, “Not all animal manure developed on board will be discarded overboard. Odor becomes overwhelming in some places. Horrible below deck.” Pity the poor cowboys who were assigned to those holds!

The distribution of heifers and horses on the S. S. Park Victory to Poland, Dec. 1945. Drawing by Harold Hoffman.

Arrangement of the livestock in the Park Victory holds, Dec. 1945. Drawing by Harold Hoffman.

On New Year’s Day, 1946, part way across the Atlantic, Keller notes, “wartime radio silence at sea no longer required. Radio airwaves congested with commercial traffic.”

Finally, on January 6, “Sighted land of Scilly Islands,” says Hoffman. “Much excitement about it.” The ship made its way up through the English Channel to the White Cliffs of Dover, where it anchored for the night. Of the cliffs, Hoffman says, “They are a chalky-Limestone rock. White indeed…. This trip is really swell. It is like a dream, such a thrill.”

If the White Cliffs of Dover were thrilling, the next leg of the Park Victory trip was chilling, in more ways than the weather.

to be continued . . .

Hanging Out in the Port City

What a logistical nightmare it must have been for Benjamin Bushong and his staff in the Seagoing Cowboy Office to man UNRRA’s livestock ships. For every one of the 360 livestock shipments, timing had to work out for a ship, the animals, and the seagoing cowboys to be at the port at the same time. Ships that were scheduled were often switched at the last minute creating delays. A wave of postwar strikes (including coal, railroad, and maritime) also played havoc with carefully laid plans, stranding some groups of cowboys, as well as livestock, in the port cities up to two months.

Robert Ebey, a young pastor serving in Michigan, reports on October 10, 1946, “I received a telegram indicating that the maritime strike was ‘just over’ so I should leave at once.” He took the next train to Baltimore the following day, only to find that the strike continued. Despite daily news reports “expecting settlement within the next few hours,” the strike lasted until November 1. For whatever reason their delay, men like Ebey found themselves with time on their hands. If they had signed onto the ship’s articles before the delay, they received $2.50 per day in port. If they hadn’t gotten that far in the process, they were on their own dollar. Some went home.

Seagoing cowboys at Seaman's Branch of YMCA in Baltimore.

The crew of the William S. Halsted stayed at the Seaman’s Branch of the YMCA in Baltimore, November 1946. Photo credit: Robert Ebey.

Cowboys who reported to Baltimore could stay at the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Maryland. A former college campus, dormitories housed staff and volunteers who worked at the center. Cowboys would often help with the processing of used clothing sent to the Center to be shipped overseas for relief, helped at the Roger Roop farm where heifers were collected for the Heifer Project, or hired themselves out to local farmers.

Clothes processing at Brethren Service Center.

Used clothing sent to the Brethren Service Center, aka Church World Service Center, in New Windsor, Maryland, was sorted and baled for shipping overseas. Photo courtesy Robert Ebey. Source unknown.

The Center was a busy hub of activity with speakers such as Dan West and other religious leaders, games, music, folk dances, and side trips to Washington, D.C — and girls. While waiting at the Center for one of the first UNRRA ships to sail, Earl Holderman met a young volunteer with whom he had a whirlwind romance. They exchanged letters while he was overseas, reunited on his return, and later married.

Kate and company.

Female volunteers at the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Maryland, entertained waiting seagoing cowboys in June 1945. Photo courtesy of Kathryn Holderman.

Kate and Earl

Kate and Earl teamed up for life. Photo courtesy of Kathryn Holderman.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many of the cowboys hadn’t been far from home before. Imagine being ordered to report to New York City with all its hustle and bustle and exciting things to do and see: Broadway, the Empire State Building, ice skating at Rockefeller Center, Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall.

Rockefeller Center

Ice skating in Rockefeller Center, December 1945. Photo credit: Nelson Schumacher.

Some Midwestern cowboys got their first taste of city life and the Deep South in New Orleans.

New Orleans at night

Night life in New Orleans, August 1946. Photo credit: Dwight Farringer.

New Orleans drinking fountains.

Dual drinking fountains in New Orleans were a shocking sight to northern cowboys. Photo credit: Dwight Farringer.

In 1946, Newport News became the central port for UNRRA livestock shipments, and a Brethren Service Committee satellite office was established there to service the cowboys. They often stayed at the Catholic Maritime Club. Some groups of cowboys took advantage of nearby beaches and maritime museums. Many Mennonite cowboys enjoyed the hospitality of the nearby Warwick River Mennonite community where they would go to help at Yoder’s Dairy, or join the local young people for their wiener roasts, Bible studies, or singing. Women today still recall how eagerly they anticipated each new group of cowboys during that time.

Catholic Maritime Club

Seagoing Cowboys at the Catholic Maritime Club in Newport News. Photo credit: Ben Kaneda.

Swimming at Virginia Beach

J. Reeser Griffin and friend enjoy a moment at Virginia Beach while waiting for departure on the Creighton Victory to Poland, July 1946. Photo credit: Ben Kaneda.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whether it was Baltimore, New York, New Orleans, or Newport News, one experience common to most of the cowboys was watching the loading of the ships. The animals were most often hoisted up into the ship in large sturdy wooden crates called “flying stalls.”

Flying stalls

Heifers being loaded onto the S.S. Virginian to travel to Poland in June 1946. Photo credit: Charles Shenk.

After however many days in port, the anticipated day arrived when land legs were turned into sea legs and the real adventure began.

Departure notice

Notice is given for the departure of the Clarksville Victory in December 1945. Photo credit: Nelson Schumacher.

 

Next post: The Trials of the S.S. William S. Halsted