Luke Bomberger, the likely holder of the record for most trips by a seagoing cowboy, sailed on the S.S. Mount Whitney on two of his nine trips – the Mount Whitney‘s first trip written about in my last three posts, and her second trip that immediately followed on September 1, 1946. This time, Luke’s father took a leave from his banking job and joined him.
Elam Bomberger expected a short trip over and back, like the Mount Whitney‘s first trip. UNRRA, however, had different plans. After unloading their horses in Poland, UNRRA sent the Mount Whitney to Iceland to pick up ponies to take back to Poland, adding two-and-half weeks to the trip and an extended leave for Bomberger from his bank.
“This place is quite a contrast from Poland,” Elam says in a letter home. “The people are mostly blond, blue-eyed and look clean and very well dressed. There are no officers about the ship. One need not fear to be out after dark.”
“Before the war people here were poor but the war changed things completely,” Bomberger says. “Today everybody has work at a high wage and everything you wish to buy is extremely high in price. . . . The business section of [Reykjavík] is old and the streets are narrow. They are filled with automobiles and drive on the left side of the street with much speed. . . . The newer section of the town has nice homes with lawns and flowers but no trees grow here. Can you imagine a country with high mountains and no trees?”
Shipmate Harold Jennings notes in his diary on September 22, “We hit rather a dangerous time here.” The United States had occupied Iceland during World War II, and the Mount Whitney happened to be there while negotiations were underway between the United States and Iceland over the US desire to continue having a military base there. Elam Bomberger says, “The Communistic element is much opposed to it and they made an effort to break up the meetings.”
Jennings notes, “The Communists tore loose and want to chase the Americans out of Iceland. Boys that went to Red Cross were brought back in bus and told to stay on boat.” The US Army issued an order that “no one was allowed off ship,” in Bomberger’s words. On a brighter note, the Northern lights which he saw almost every night thrilled Harold Jennings.
Once the Icelandic ponies – which the Icelanders preferred to call horses – were loaded, the ship made its way back to Poland. Jennings says the ponies are “really gentle little animals.” Unfortunately, those gentle creatures would not see the light of day the rest of their lives after being put to work in Polish underground mines.
The Mount Whitney‘s return to the US experienced another short delay leaving port in Poland. “Tugs pulled us out of dock at 2:00,” Jennings notes, “but some fifty feet of rope got tangled up in screw. Also we run aground trying to get that out. We’re now waiting for a diver to see what the damage is.”
All must have been okay, as the ship pulled out bright and early the next morning, and Elam Bomberger was finally on his way home.
All photos are still shots from Luke Bomberger’s movie footage of this voyage.