Rock Springs Victory to Ethiopia #4 – The Noah Theory

There’s a story connected with the March 1947 trip of the S. S. Rock Springs Victory to Ethiopia that I would put in the category of legend. The story was told some 35 years after the trip to seagoing cowboy Howard Lord and a hand full of other cowboys from that trip by one of their two foremen whom I will leave unnamed.

The foreman, Lord says, “started talking about the ‘Noah Theory,’ The officials were convinced that there would be a third world war, and since it was after 1945 it would be a nuclear, atomic war. Where would be the best place in the world to start over? And what would you need to start over? They sent some of the livestock on our ship to Greece as a cover up, a smoke screen. The rest of the cattle, and the sheep, and the mules, and the chickens went to Ethiopia to start over again. If there was a third world war, the last place they’d hit would be Ethiopia. If that was an actual theory that was part of our shipment, we never knew it. Nobody except our supervisor and two foremen knew it.”

A jack aboard the S. S. Rock Springs Victory, April 1947. Photo courtesy of Howard Lord.

Roosters on their way to Ethiopia on the S. S. Rock Springs Victory, April 1947. Photo courtesy of Howard Lord.

It’s a theory for which I’ve found no confirmation. I found nothing in the UNRRA files I researched in the United Nations archives, nor in any Heifer Project archives I’ve gone through, that would give even a hint of credence to this theory.

George Woodbridge’s history of UNRRA, volume two, tells of the devastation that took place in Ethiopia from six years of Italian occupation in World War II and of the needs and the difficulties in meeting those needs due to collapsed infrastructure and murder of the educated segment of the population. The Brethren Service Committee worked with UNRRA to provide cattle through the Heifer Project for regeneration of their herds and provided five men, as well, who stayed a year to teach the use of modern agricultural machinery and techniques.

Cattle stranded in the streets of Djibouti after unloading off the Rock Springs Victory. The railroad was out between Djibouti and Cairo, delaying passage on to Addis Ababa. April 1947. Photo courtesy of Howard Lord.

There were, to be sure, a variety of animals sent to Ethiopia on this, the one and only, UNRRA livestock trip to Ethiopia. After the first offloading of nearly half the Rock Springs Victory animals in Greece, UNRRA reports the following for Ethiopia: 323 cattle, both heifers and bulls of beef and dairy breeds (of which 248 were sent as gifts from the Heifer Project per their report); 3 jacks; 60 sheep; and 117 chickens. This variety of animals would fall far short of what would be needed for restarting a world’s agriculture.

Delivering UNRRA roosters and chickens in Ethiopia, 1947. Photo courtesy of Howard Lord.

Transporting cattle to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 1947. Photo courtesy of Howard Lord.

The origin of the “Noah Theory” remains a mystery. A story spun by one of the ship’s regular crew, perhaps, who wanted to have some fun with the seagoing cowboy leaders, swearing them to secrecy? We’ll likely never know.

Heifer Project and UNRRA cattle grazing outside Addis Ababa, Egypt, 1947. Photo courtesy of Howard Lord.

The hope for this shipment, scribbled in notes of then Executive Secretary of Heifer Project Benjamin Bushing, was that Ethiopia would become the “Bread Basket of the Middle East for years to come.”

Rock Springs Victory to Ethiopia #3 – Monkey business

The return trip of the S. S. Rock Springs Victory in April 1947 from Djibouti in Africa to New York City held a memorable experience for 18-year-old seagoing cowboy Charles Graham. I’ll let him tell the story:

The purser on our ship picked up a monkey down there in Djibouti. Comin’ home, he let the monkey run all over the ship, wherever he wanted to go.

Seagoing cowboy Dick Hoblin makes friends with purser’s monkey. Photo courtesy of Howard Lord.

So one afternoon the monkey was sitting on the rail as I was going to eat, and just outside the door of the mess hall, I picked up the monkey and held him over, like I was gonna throw him overboard, and he was screamin’ to high heaven. So I put him back. I went a couple of days thereafter to eat, and there was the monkey. I picked him up, and let me tell you, he got even with me! I put him on my shoulders, and you can imagine what he did – he let go all over my back and jumped off and ran. And if I could have caught that monkey then, he woulda went into the sea!

Purser’s monkey wakes up seagoing cowboy Stan Wakeman who was sleeping on deck. Photo courtesy of Bob Heimberger.

But anyway (he says with a chuckle), it had taken us approximately eighteen days to make the trip across one way. On arrival back to the States, we were docked in Hoboken, New Jersey, and we thought that we were all going to be able to get off the ship and go home. But low and behold, due to the fact that that purser had picked up that monkey, we were quarantined until the health department cleared that monkey to come in, which if I recall, was about three days. You can imagine what a lot of cowboys was thinkin’ about that monkey at the time! None of us could go home because of it.

But my trip was quite an experience. My trip with the Heifer Project was wonderful.

Rock Springs Victory to Ethiopia #2 – Greece, Suez Canal, and Djibouti

Another unique experience of the S. S. Rock Springs Victory seagoing cowboy crew of March 1947 was delivering Heifer Project animals to Ethiopia. They were one of only two UNRRA livestock crews to travel through the Suez Canal and the only one to deliver animals to the African continent. The other UNRRA ship, the S. S. Carroll Victory, after unloading their initial live cargo in Greece, was sent down to South Africa to pick up a load of horses and deliver them back to Greece – twice.

Like the S. S. Carroll Victory, the Rock Springs Victory stopped in Greece on their way where they unloaded part of UNRRA’s cargo of horses, mules, and cattle in Piraeus, Athen’s port city. Howard Lord’s first impression in Greece was of the hunger. “It just floored me,” he says. “Then here came a little train all decorated up like Christmas. It was their Independence Day in Greece! And I thought, well, they’re able to celebrate.”

Celebrating Greece’s Independence Day, March 25, 1947. Photo courtesy of Bob Heimberger.

Like all cowboys to Piraeus, they also took in the Greek antiquities around Athens.

Touring the Acropolis, March 1947. Photo courtesy of Howard Lord.

The next leg of the journey took them through Suez Canal, into the Red Sea, and on down the coast of eastern Africa to Djibouti, the capital city of what was then French Somaliland and the port for land-locked Ethiopia.

“We saw lots of wrecked ships and old destroyed tanks from World War II in the Suez Canal,” notes cowboy Stanley Wakeman. Among other things.

Beach huts along the Suez Canal, March 1947. Photo courtesy of Bob Heimberger.

As they sailed on, it got hotter and hotter, from “Very hot” in Wakeman’s journal on March 28 in the Suez Canal, to “105° in the shade” the next day in the Red Sea, to “VERY VERY HOT – 120º” on April 2 in Djibouti. An exaggeration, perhaps? Lord recalls it being “98 degrees all day – every day [in Djibouti]!”

A whole new world awaited there. Because of the lack of an adequate dock, the Rock Springs Victory had to anchor itself offshore and unload the animals and feed into barges, maybe 30 to 40 feet long and 12 feet wide.

Unloading cattle and feed off the S. S. Rock Springs Victory off the shore of Djibouti. April 1947. Photo courtesy of Howard Lord.

“They’d load the barge full of cattle,” Lord says, “and a young man with a pole would stick it against the bottom of the water and poled that barge into the dock, barely able to move it. Just one single guy with one pole. He’d have to move from side to side. It was really somethin’.”

A sole laborer poling a load of cattle into Djibouti. April 1947. Photo courtesy of Howard Lord.

On shore, the cowboys must have been as much a curiosity to the Africans as the Africans were to them. These cowboys saw sights no other crew had seen.

Cowboys roaming the area around Djibouti encounter some camels. April 1947. Photo courtesy of Howard Lord.

With no common language, the Americans took raisins with them to barter for souvenirs. That’s how cowboy Bob Heimberger acquired the metal cup the crew used for their Easter Sunday Communion on their return voyage.

Trading raisins to Djibouti residents for souvenirs, April 1947. Photo courtesy of Bob Heimberger.

For six members of the crew, the voyage was just beginning in Djibouti.

Seagoing cowboys heading on to assignments in Ethiopia, April 1947. Photo courtesy of Howard Lord.

Five had been selected by the Brethren Service Committee for a special assignment to accompany the cattle to Ethiopia, where they were to stay for a year at the request of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie to train the Ethiopians how to breed and care for the livestock and teach the use of modern farm machinery and agricultural methods. The sixth, a Methodist missionary, would travel on to his project in the Belgian Congo. The remainder of the cowboy crew headed back with their ship to New York City.

Next post: Monkey business on the Rock Springs Victory

Rock Springs Victory to Ethiopia #1 – “Shear” madness

The cowboys on the S. S. Rock Springs Victory, tending a shipment of animals for Ethiopia in March 1947, had many unique experiences. One of those bearing note this Easter weekend I’ve already posted, about their Easter Sunday communion service on the Red Sea. Today, I’ll share a story from my interview of July 2006 with cowboy Howard Lord, 22-year-old farmer from Iowa who later went into the ministry. I had asked Howard what he remembered about life on the ship.

“I remember so vividly,” he says and laughs. “Because we had 30 head of wool sheep, and 30 head of Karakul. They’re a sheep that they kill and skin. And they have alpaca-type fur, real kinky fur. It’s not wooly, it’s kinky.

“The first day out, [our supervisor] said, ‘We gotta shear these sheep. It’ll be summer when they get to Ethiopia.’ They started asking, ‘Who shears sheep?’ Course nobody!

“We had two foremen, Norman Barthell and Carl Geisler. They were both older than I, so they said, ‘We have to shear these sheep.’ So they started. Then they said, ‘We, we have to be on our jobs as foremen for these cattle we have on the ship. Lord, you grew up on a farm.’ ‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘You shear sheep.’ I said, ‘No. I’ve seen ’em sheared, but I’ve never sheared them.’ ‘Well, would you care to try?’ I hesitated and said, ‘I’ll try it. And they handed me a pair of hand clippers. Hand clippers!

“So I crawled in the sheep pen and I got the big old ram. ‘No, no, no,’ they said, ‘you can’t do that!’ And I said, ‘Well, I’ve gotta be able to sheer him sometime. I just as well try it now.’ So I sheared him – in spite of a few nicks here and there. Well, a lot of nicks here and there.” We laugh.

Howard Lord with a sheared wool sheep. Photo courtesy of Howard Lord.

“They finally talked the young kid from Ohio, Bob Heimberger, into helping me. He did very well. We got [the wool sheep] sheared by the time we got to [our first stop in] Greece. And then they said, ‘We gotta shear the Karakuls.’ And I said, ‘You don’t shear Karakuls. They skin Karakuls! They use the hides.’ ‘Well, you have to shear them. They’ll never stand it in Ethiopia.’

Howard Lord with a sheared Karakul. A high percentage of Karakul sheep are born black. Photo courtesy of Howard Lord.

“As soon as you take the shears to the Karakul, you could hear the sand grit. So we would sharpen the shears three, or four, or five times every time we sheared a sheep. And they were small sheep. They were just full of grit. It was that kind of kinky skin….We got them sheared by the time we got to Ethiopia.”

Shear madness? Perhaps not. Research shows that an adult Karakul‘s wool, as well as its younger wooly hide, was highly prized. A courser wool, it was “felted or spun into fabric for garments, footwear, carpets, and yurts, among other uses.”

Next post: more tales from the Rock Springs Victory trip to Ethiopia

In Memorium

On this 5th Friday, it’s time to once again remember seagoing cowboys who have departed from us.

Bender, Byron W., January 4, 2020, Honolulu, Hawaii. S. S. Stephen R. Mallory to Poland, June 20, 1946.

Graham, Charles R., October 2019, Aurora, Colorado. S. S. Rock Springs Victory to Ethiopia, March 12, 1947.

Longenecker, William W. “Bill”, December 9, 2019, Mount Joy, Pennsylvania. S. S. South Bend Victory to Greece, December 4, 1946.

Rhodes, Luke C., May 23, 2016, Dalton, Ohio. S. S. Carroll Victory to Greece, November 5, 1946.

Rumble, Paul, September 28, 2019, Modesto, California. S. S. Michael James Monohan to Czechoslovakia (docking in Bremen, Germany), January 4, 1946.

Smucker, Leonard Leroy, November 28, 2019, Ashland, Oregon. S. S. Stephen R. Mallory to Poland, June 20, 1946.

Zimmerman, William A., July 16, 2017, Sunbury, Pennsylvania. S. S. Virginian to Poland, June 27, 1946.

Rest in peace, dear seagoing friends.