UNRRA’s and Heifer Project’s first shipment of cattle to China–Part I

Today’s post begins the story of the memorable trip of the S. S. Lindenwood Victory to China, the shipment of Heifer Project cattle highlighted by UNRRA Director General F. H. La Guardia in his letter posted January 13.

Seagoing Cowboy foreman George Weybright shows his children the S. S. Lindenwood Victory where he'll be spending the next three months.

Seagoing Cowboy foreman George Weybright shows his children the S. S. Lindenwood Victory where he’ll be spending the next three months. Photo courtesy of George Weybright family.

For young Iowa farmer Les Messamer, the trip began in a hurry. He writes,

A letter had been received informing me that the crew had been selected before my application was received. Then a phone call one morning stated that someone who had planned to be on the crew was not able to go. If I could be in New Orleans by a certain time, I could go. A check of train schedules from the central part of Iowa indicated that there were three and a half hours to get ready for a trip that turned out to be three and a half months from start to finish. Clothes were washed and packed, money secured from a bank, arrangements were made to take care of my farm work, the trip made to the train depot several miles away, the ticket purchased as the train pulled into the station, and suddenly I was on the way. To the great amusement of the porter, as I stepped on board, I turned to my mother and said, “I’ll call you from Chicago to find out where I’m going.” There had not been time to get the address where I was to report in New Orleans.

The ship left New Orleans December 19, 1946, with 713 cattle and 32 cattlemen, one supervisor, and two veterinarians aboard.

A second ship to China, the S. S. Boulder Victory, going through the Panama Canal in February 1947. Photo credit: Eugene Souder

A second ship to China, the S. S. Boulder Victory, is pulled through the Panama Canal in February 1947. Photo credit: Eugene Souder

“The next wonder to this farmer’s eyes,” says Messamer, “was the Panama Canal.” The seagoing cowboys were fascinated with the method of transporting the ship through the canal with the mechanical “mules.”

As the ship approached the Canal, heat became an issue, with the temperature rising to 95° on December 23. The next day, going up the Pacific coast, cowboy Harold Hersch of Virginia noted in his diary, “Extremely hot – around 105° inside building. Sun scorching hot.” On December 26 he says, “Days continuing hot to the extreme – suffering from sunburn. Cows dying occassionally [sic] from extreme heat – lots of premature births from the heat.”

Messamer notes, “In addition to the regular feeding and cleaning chores, we toiled long and hard trying to keep the animals as cool as possible and we were often called upon to pull the chains which a veterinarian had attached to an unborn calf. Five such assisted births came on Christmas Day, and my hands were sore and bleeding from the effort by the time a welcome bunk was available. Dead animals were hoisted to the main deck and dumped overboard where they no doubt were consumed by creatures of the sea. We began to wonder if this very first carrying of cattle from the United States to China would be successful.”

As the ship moved northward along the Pacific Central American coast, the weather cooled and cattle and cowboys alike adjusted to the routine. Nearly two weeks after leaving New Orleans, the ship’s first stop was in San Pedro, California, for refueling and restocking of supplies — just in time for New Year’s.

Next post: A California holiday!

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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