The S. S. Park Victory: Livestock trip #1, Trieste, October 1945

The S. S. Park Victory is one of 531 Victory ships built for transporting troops and materials during the latter years of World War II. Named after Park College (now Park University), the ship was launched April 21, 1945. On her maiden voyage, she carried U. S. Navy cargo around the Pacific, departing May 26 from southern California and ending September 14 in New York City. There, in the Todd Shipyard, she was transformed into a livestock carrier.¹ According to the notes of seagoing cowboy Norman Brumbaugh, this conversion cost $100,000.

A sister ship undergoes transformation from merchant ship to livestock carrier, November 1945. Photo credit: Paul Springer.

Newly outfitted with stalls on three levels and new ventilation and watering systems, the Park Victory headed on down to Baltimore, Maryland. She departed October 26, 1945, for Trieste, Italy, with her full quota of 32 seagoing cowboys and 336 mares, 149 mules, 310 heifers, and 12 bulls. Brumbaugh notes additional cargo of:
640 tons of water for the stock alone
35 tons of hay
30 tons of straw
36 tons of dairy feed
75 tons of oats
3,000 feet of rope
878 buckets.

Seagoing cowboys of the S. S. Park Victory to Trieste, October 1945. Photo courtesy of Paul Weaver.

Except for some rough seas, this first livestock trip of the Park Victory was relatively routine and easy. A week into the trip, Brumbaugh recorded in his diary, “Getting up too early these mornings and losing sleep because we keep moving time up each night for the last while….Been hungry nearly every night for last week, though we get plenty at meals.”

The trip became more exciting when land was spotted on the tenth day. Brumbaugh notes, “We did our best to hurry through our work and take in everything. There it was, Spain to our left, Africa to our right, the Rock of Gibraltar, an immense thing about dead ahead. Further in the Mediterranean we saw the mountains on the left were all snow capped, weather warm. Watching porpoise trying to race our ship was lots of fun. Spirits extra high.”

The ship arrived in Trieste with more livestock than at the start, as twenty calves were born en route and only one horse, one mule, and one heifer lost. The heifer choked to death and was butchered and put in the freezer.

War ruins in Trieste, November 1945. Photo credit: Paul Weaver.

Of Trieste, cowboy Paul Weaver says, “the harbor is pretty well destroyed and buildings near it, but the rest of the town isn’t hit. It is a very nice town but no cars, mostly military trucks and jeeps. Lots of bicycles, mules, donkeys, ox teams, horses, three-wheel motorcycles, half-ton trucks. The British and American Armies are both here. You get mobbed every time you go to town for cigarettes, soap and gum.” Weaver also notes, “This section of Italy is quite a disputed area between Yugo and Italy. General Tito comes down pretty often to try to take it back, but the Americans and British scare him out. There was some rumor of him coming yesterday, but he didn’t.”

Some of the cowboys took a side trip to Venice, November 1945. Photo credit: Paul Weaver.

As with all trips that ended at Trieste, the animals were shipped by rail just across the border to Yugoslavia. Members of this cowboy crew had the opportunity to go to there to see where the animals were taken. Cowboy LaVerne Elliott writes, “We kept winding and going up and finally got to top and we could look down on Trieste. Sure was beautiful with Adriatic Sea as background.” Brumbaugh adds, “I never saw such beautiful Christmas or snow scenery as this.”

To get into Yugoslavia, the cowboys’ were stopped at two guarded barricades, not sure if they would get through. First were the British guards, “of which we gave matches,” Brumbaugh notes. Then, after about a mile and a half across no man’s land, “after persuasion of Yugo soldiers, we gave gum, soap, and matches.”

At a Yugoslavian home, November 1945. Photo credit: Paul Weaver.

Brumbaugh writes, “People very poor up in Mts. with acres of stones. We saw our mules and horses being well taken care of by prisoners in bad need of clothing.” The cowboys stopped at a farm that had received a horse earlier, and Brumbaugh says, “Horse is well off. But people are without fuel and shoes. Came back and missed supper on this cold night, but were much better off than many.”

 

Cracking nuts for Thanksgiving dinner on the trip home. Photo credit: Paul Weaver.

¹ Jouko Moisala, S/S Park Victoryn Tarina, Fandonia Oy, Finland, 2017.

Next post: Park Victory trip #2 – Poland

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Special Crew #4: Second All-Mennonite Crew

Several months after the Mennonite student crew of the S. S. Stephen R. Mallory made their trip to Poland, a second all-Mennonite crew departed from Newport News, Virginia, on the S. S. Frederic C. Howe November 15, 1946. Bound for Trieste, Italy, they cared for over 700 horses that would be transported on to Yugoslavia.

Courtesy: Henry Weaver, Jr.

Courtesy: Henry Weaver, Jr.

This post will be told through the slides of Henry “Hank” Weaver, Jr., an eighteen-year-old student at Eastern Mennonite College who was taking a year off between his freshman and sophomore years when he made his trip.

 

 

 

 

Photo credit: Henry Weaver, Jr.

Photo credit: Henry Weaver, Jr.

 

 

“All but four cowboys got seasick,” Hank said. He was among the lucky four who didn’t.

 

 

 

Photo credit: Henry Weaver, Jr.

Photo credit: Henry Weaver, Jr.

 

 

 

The “bosses,” Chris, Trimmer, Art, and Walt.

 

 

 

Photo credit: Henry Weaver, Jr.

Photo credit: Henry Weaver, Jr.

 

 

Like the Mennoite crew that went to Poland, these cowboys were greeted in Trieste by the devastation of war.

 

 

 

Photo credit: Henry Weaver, Jr.

Photo credit: Henry Weaver, Jr.

 

 

Hank and his friends take a “taxi” to see Trieste.

Photo credit: Henry Weaver, Jr.

Photo credit: Henry Weaver, Jr.

 

 

 

 

 

An old Roman amphitheater was one of their stops.

 

 

 

Photo credit: Henry Weaver, Jr.

Photo credit: Henry Weaver, Jr.

 

 

They took a bus to Venice, a bit uneasy about whether they’d make it back in time to catch the ship, but relaxed when they saw the Captain was on the bus, too.

 

 

 

 

Photo credit: Henry Weaver, Jr.

Photo credit: Henry Weaver, Jr.

 

The ship was met by “bum boats” off the coast of Spain on the way home, with merchants wanting to sell bedspreads and table cloths. The basket goes up with the merchandise and down with the pay.

 

 

The Frederic C. Howe completed its trip on December 31, 1946, docking in New York City.

As I do with all seagoing cowboys I interview, I asked Hank if this trip had influenced his later life. He said it stoked his interest in other countries and led him to a career administering college study abroad programs. He started Goshen College’s program in Indiana and served as Deputy Director for Education Abroad in the University of California system. His work has taken him to over half the countries of the world.

Next post: the seagoing cowboy who made the most trips

Extra post: Passing of the cowboys

One of the most difficult parts of my work is receiving obituaries of the seagoing cowboys whom I have interviewed. To sit in their homes and have them share so intimately with me about their experiences at such a formative time in their lives is an honor that I will always cherish. These men become like family to me; so when I lose another one, I grieve.

Today’s notice was the passing of Donald W. Rummel, formerly of Manheim, Pennsylvania, on July 24, 2014. When he was a junior in high school, Don was on the SS Park Victory that left Baltimore October 25, 1945, with 485 horses and 322 heifers on board. The ship docked in Trieste, Italy, where the livestock were transported over ground to Yugoslavia.

Don went on to college and seminary and served as a pastor in the Church of the Brethren for many years. I interviewed Don together with his shipmate Quentin “Queenie” Buckwalter several years ago and was treated to a lovely meal at a local restaurant with their spouses afterwards. Don sent me many cheerful notes through the years I’ve known him. Don, I’ll miss you. Rest in peace.

What do Olympic pole-vault champion Bob Richards, author of Sophie’s Choice William Styron, and Harvard theologian Harvey Cox have in common?

If you guessed they were all seagoing cowboys, you are right! They were three of the nearly 7,000 adventurous souls who took time out of their lives to tend livestock sent on ships to Europe after World War II for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) and the Heifer Project.

Bob Richards was 19 and a pre-ministerial student at Bridgewater College when he responded to the first round of calls for men to serve as cattle attendants for UNRRA. He sailed on the second UNRRA livestock ship to depart – the SS Virginian, leaving Baltimore for Greece on June 26, 1945.

Seagoing cowboy crew of the SS Virginian

The seagoing cowboy crew of the SS Virginian gathered at the Baltimore Church of the Brethren. Photo courtesy of Jerry Lefever.

Richards served as assistant editor for a report made by the cattlemen of this trip titled “Relief for Greece.” The report says that he gave the message at the cowboy crew’s second Sunday worship service on board. His topic: “You are the Light of the World.” Richards went on to become a minister in the Church of the Brethren for a time and taught religion classes at LaVerne College in California, while at the same time keeping up his pole-vault training and winning gold medals in the 1952 and 1956 Olympics.

William Styron signed up as a seagoing cowboy on an impulse the summer of 1946, according to his biographer James L. W. West III in William Styron, A Life. After three years of college and a short U.S. Marine Corps stint at the end of World War II, Styron wanted a summer break. He was staying with his parents in Newport News, Virginia, and was looking for a way to pass the time while waiting to participate in the prestigious two-week Bread Loaf writer’s conference that August. “Perhaps, he thought, he might do some seafaring,” West writes. And seafaring he did! Aboard the SS Cedar Rapids Victory that left Newport News July 10, 1946, bound for Trieste, Italy.

William Styron's card from the seagoing cowboy card file.

William Styron’s card from the seagoing cowboy card file. Photo courtesy of Heifer International.

A dock worker strike in Trieste gave Styron the gift of added time abroad. He later drew on his time there to write “A Moment in Trieste,” a sketch that was published in 1948 in American Vanguard, a collection of pieces by “young American authors on the verge of professional recognition” edited by Don M. Wolfe. Biographer West tells me in an email that “late in his career, William Styron thought about basing a novel on his Cedar Rapids voyage. It was to be a coming-of-age story in which the protagonist, with experience as a Marine in WWII, encountered new experiences….” Sadly for us, that novel never got written. Styron died in 2006.

That same summer, 17-year-old Harvey Cox of Malvern, Pennsylvania, was looking for adventure between his junior and senior years of high school. He found it on the SS Robert W. Hart. Cox devotes an entire chapter to this voyage in Just As I Am, his book about his faith journey. The Hart left Baltimore June 28, 1946, headed for Gdansk, Poland.

Harvey Cox is second from the right in the front row of this seagoing cowboy crew photo on the SS Robert W. Hart. Photo courtesy of Richard Musselman family.

Harvey Cox is second from the right in the front row of this seagoing cowboy crew photo on the SS Robert W. Hart. Photo courtesy of Richard Musselman family.

A harrowing experience with a supervisor and a lacerating horse bite didn’t dampen Cox’s enthusiasm. He writes, “Everyday at sea I leaped out of bed when the bell rang at five; I was thousands of miles from Malvern; I was doing something important; I was becoming an adult.” Witnessing the vast devastation in Poland with its lingering acrid smells and seeing the war’s effects on the people, especially the children, made Cox more introspective on the way back across the Atlantic.

Cleaning up Gdansk, Poland, summer 1946.

Women at work cleaning up the rubble in Gdansk, Poland, July 1946. Photo credit: Richard Musselman, crew mate of Harvey Cox.

He writes, “As the long, empty days passed, I became aware of a conviction growing inside me that there could not be another war. It just was not worth it.” And he concludes, “A youthful adventure…had unexpectedly become a faith journey.” Cox went on to become a professor of theology at Harvard University and a peace activist.

Next post: Heifer Project’s first seagoing cowboy