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.

Waste not? or Want not?

Captains and/or seagoing cowboy supervisors had a decision to make: what to do with all that manure their four-legged charges produced! Do we not waste it? Or do we not want it? If a Captain was altruistic, he might let the manure accumulate on the voyage and be offloaded at the destination for use as fertilizer. Many a cowboy with such a Captain said that by the time they reached their destination, the back ends of their animals were higher than their front ends.

Manure offloaded from the S. S. Bucknell Victory in Nowy Port, Poland, February 1946. Rich cargo for the Polish farmers. Photo: Harold Thut.

If the Captain liked his vessel “shipshape,” however, he may give the order to “Keep those stalls clean!” – in whatever way the cowboys could manage.

Cowboys Guhr and Brenneman pull up manure on the S. S. John J. Crittenden, November 1945. Photo: Ernest Bachman.

Luke Bomberger pitches manure overboard en route to China on the S. S. Boulder Victory, February 1947. Photo: Eugene Souder.

The very first UNRRA livestock trip, on the S. S. F. J. Luckenbach, was one on which the cowboys cleaned their stalls. College students Gordon Bucher and Ken Frantz worked on the top deck. They recalled an incident when they had thrown manure over the rail just as an older cowboy (whom I will not name) had stuck his head out a porthole right below. The joke of the trip became, “My name is (unnamed cowboy). What did YOU see when you looked out the porthole?”

Manure overboard! It didn’t all make it to Poland. Bucknell Victory, February 1946. Photo: Harold Thut.

Seagoing cowboy Ernest Williams, who in 1954 accompanied the 36th load of heifers sent to Germany for the Heifer Project, relates this story:

We tended the cattle twice a day, a pretty easy job. After a couple of days out, we made an effort to clean out the cages, which was considerable work in itself. Our method was to take the steel tubs used to wash clothes, which were about two to two-and-a-half feet in diameter with handles. We put as much weight in each one as we could handle and two of us would carry the tub and throw the waste overboard. We could see brown patches on the ocean behind the ship on both sides, dotting the trail of the ship. BIG MISTAKE. The trip was two weeks over. When we got to Europe, they said, “Where is the manure?” It was considered important fertilizer for the fields. We saw the “honey wagons” there hauling manure. We had wasted ours feeding the fish.

The ship used for Williams’ trip was not one of the regular livestock carriers that went to Germany, so the Captain would not have known the waste was expected along with the animals.