The Longest Ride – Part II: Life on board from the US to Greece

Today’s post picks up the story of the November 4, 1946, trip of the S. S. Carroll Victory to Greece and South Africa. I’m exceedingly grateful to Charlie Lord for sharing with me and granting me permission to use the letters he wrote to his wife while on this trip as well as his marvelous photo collection documenting this voyage. The following vignettes show in part what life on board was like for these seagoing cowboys apart from caring for their 785 horses.

Nov. 5 – “It has been unusually rough for the first day out they say. The ship is rolling sidewise a lot and rocking endwise, each end goes up and down 8 or 10 feet with each rock. . . . It’s very unhandy to be trying to re-arrange things in a locker, and find yourself sliding back and forth on the floor and the locker door banging back and forth against your leg with every roll. Dishes banged in the pantry and kitchen with that one.”

In the stormy Atlantic Ocean, November 1946. © Charles Lord

Nov. 6 – “The sea continues quite rough. The crew battened every thing down today after a flying box slid off into a passageway and almost hit a cattleman. . . . Down in lower two [hold where Lord worked], it sounds like thunder as hundreds of hooves go one or two steps forward then back on each roll. . . . Several cattlemen are feeling under the weather. I hope to get a picture of a man at the rail tomorrow.”

Nov. 7 – “Del just told about his getting caught in the cable, swinging on the end of the cable clear out over the stalls and the ocean and coming back to crash his shoulder into a bale of hay.”

Pulling up hay from the lower hold on a rocking ship was dangerous work. © Charles Lord

Nov. 11 – near the Azores. “A strong wind is blowing and the ship is pitching from end to end, lengthwise. It feels queer to be climbing a ladder and have to use most of your strength to get two or three rungs then float up the next two. Walking you climb a hill then are practically thrown through space. A few men are getting seasick again. . . . Tonight I saw sparks in the water behind the ship. It is a phosphorescent result of the propeller or something. It looks like diamonds in the sea.”

Cowboy supervisor Jesse Roth at the top of the hold 2 ladder. © Charles Lord

Nov. 12 – “There is a notice up about a Mail Buoy at the Rock of Gibraltar, but I hear it is a hoax. If it isn’t I hope to send this letter there.”

Charlie Lord at the Rock of Gibraltar. Looking for the mail buoy? November 1946. © Charles Lord

Nov. 13 – “The Mail Buoy is an old marine joke. I’ll send this in Greece. . . . I did my washing today. Main trouble is that soot from the smokestack leaves soot on them while drying. . . . I showed my pictures to the Chief Steward of the ship, a Negro, and asked him if I could take pictures of his department sometime. He has 14 men under him, about half colored & half white. I’ll bet Ebony would like pictures of an interracial crew at sea, without any mention of cattle-boating. I’ve never seen any article on the subject. He was enthusiastic, promised 100% cooperation. He said if I could get the story where all the people would see it, realize mixed races can get along when living close together in cramped quarters for weeks or months, it would help him & the whole Negro race.”

Nov. 15 – “We are supposed to go to Kavalla. But about a thousand guerrillas are loose with arms in that territory so we may not go there. . . . We got clean linen [today]. We get it once a week. 2 bath towels, 2 hand towels, 2 sheets, 1 pillow case, and clean bed spread every two weeks.”

Nov. 16 – “One of the things I dislike about this is the way most of the horses have colds or something, and have snotty noses. They often snort and cough & blow the mucous on a fellow when he is watering or feeding them. All in all, it’s a pretty easy job, though. The manure is beginning to smell now. It is getting warmer.”

Nov. 17 – nearing Kavalla. “We passed through a mine field and they sent all men up from the holds from 3:30 to 5:30 PM. We will pass through another in the morning and no one is to be in the holds below from 4 – 6 AM. We are due to reach Kavalla at about daybreak.”

Nov. 18 – “We arrived!”

Arriving in Kavalla, Greece, safe and sound November 18, 1946. © Charles Lord

Next post: Greek odyssey #1

The S. S. Park Victory Livestock trip #3, Greece, March 1946 – Part II

“April 30, 1946 approaching Patras. Almost 7 o’clock in the morning. I’m just getting up. Still sleepy. BOOM!” So begins radioman Will Keller’s account of the S. S. Park Victory accident off the coast of Greece. He continues:

“The ship gives a terrible lurch. ‘S____! We’ve been torpedoed. The war’s been over almost a year and we’ve been torpedoed,’ so I thought. Then I came to…we had struck a mine…15-20 miles outside Patras.

Mine damage viewed from under the S. S. Park Victory, May 1946. Photo credit: Will Keller.

“We were in a ‘tethered’ mine field. The black gang had heard the mine scrape under the engine room. They raced for the ladders. Someone slammed shut the watertight door to the Shaft Alley. Mine explodes under the Shaft Alley. Alarms, alarms, alarms! Broken glass. All electrical power lost. No lights. Emergency generator starts then shuts down. Battery-powered emergency lights are on. Look out porthole. Ship slewing trailing oil. Down by stern but not sinking.

“Radio’s dead. Turn on battery backup. Radio’s still dead. Open receiver drawer and find all tubes had jumped out of sockets. Jammed tubes back into sockets, push receiver back into drawer, turn on, and…it’s working! Examine transmitter carefully. Everything looks OK. But, it won’t work.

“Go out on bridge wing to take a look at antenna wires normally strung high between the masts. Now they’re lying on the deck and across the animals’ stalls.

“Bosun climbing ladder to the Bridge. I yell to him and point to antenna wires. He nods and directs two seamen to climb masts and raise wires off the deck. Cowboy livestock handlers gathering on main deck putting on life jackets. Now’s the time for quick whizz. Back on wing bridge and note antenna is off the deck. Seamen climbing down mast.

“Back to radio room. Turn on receiver. Turn on transmitter. Wonderful! Wait for dead internal on 500 Kcs, then ask Malta if they can read. OK! Malta says sounds OK. I tell him, casually, that we’ve struck a mine and that I’ll ‘CUL’ (see you later). The Mediterranean radio chatter dies down. A North African station, with French call letter whispers, ‘Anybody killed?’ I respond, ‘Don’t know.’

“Turn off radio equipment. Go to bridge and tell Captain and First Mate that I have radio working. They nod. ‘Thanks, Sparks. Standby.’ They continue to discuss with Engineers whether we can or should run the engine slowly and creep into Patras under our own power.

“I go back to the Radio Room.

“Fishermen in small boats come near Park Victory. Point to other tethered mines in the water nearby. Dumb thing to do is look over side to see mine 15-20 feet from side of ship. I looked.

“We are slowly drifting, trailing oil.

“I go back to the Radio Room…. Patras advised that an ‘Army’ tug was on the way.

“Sent off message to New York offices of Seas Shipping advising them of events.

“Towed in to Patras and docked. Unloaded donkeys. Donkeys reluctant to be driven off dock; seemed to prefer immediate relationships with opposite sex. Dock workers pound on them to clear the area so that more donkeys can be unloaded. This scene was repeated and repeated until all the donkeys had been unloaded and relationships satisfied. Townspeople, dockworkers and crew members fascinated onlookers.

The wounded Park Victory rests in the harbor at Patras, Greece, May 1946. Photo credit: Will Keller.

“May 1-8, 1946 With Park Victory wounded the cowboys are no longer needed. Cowboy livestock caretakers, Foreman, and two Vets leave ship for Athens. Captain Fairbairn replaced by W. F. O’Toole.

The seagoing cowboy crew of the S. S. Park Victory, April 1946. Photo courtesy of Robert Frantz.

“Helmeted diver goes under ship and explores damage caused by mine. He reports it looks OK to proceed to Taranto, Italy, for temporary repairs.”

The S. S. Park Victory in dry dock in Taranto, Italy. May 1946. Photo credit: Will Keller.

By May 26, the Park Victory was on her way home to the Baltimore shipyards for full repair. Fortunately, no lives were lost in this accident.

The vessel made three more livestock trips that year before UNRRA disbanded. To Poland in August, to Germany with livestock for Czechoslovakia in October, and to Greece in December. Another accident while carrying coal to Finland the end of 1947 was to be her demise, however; but her memory lives on in Finland, where I’ll be going in July. More on that in a later post.