My experiences with American Trading began in 1968, just out of Kings Point, the U S Merchant Marine Academy, when I joined the American Trader headed for the Far East as a third engineer under chief engineer Joe Tierno, and sailed with many old timers who went way back in the history of the company. I left the business in 1992.
The American Trader was chartered to Crowncen under a consecutive voyage charter party which was initially renegotiated and renewed from year to year. The American Trader was later succeeded by the Crown Trader, Virginia Trader and other Atapcorp owned tankers. Subsequently, a 5 year consecutive voyage charter was negotiated and signed. The original year-to-year charters were negotiated by Messrs. Mellon and Stickel and as I recall there was some very tough bargaining on both sides. Crowncen was a very demanding charterer and the relationship between the two companies placed an unusual burden on Atapcrop to satisfy the charterer’s requirements at reasonable rates. Unlike today’s charter parties which express the freight rate in terms of dollars per ton, tanker charters prior to World War II stated the rate in cents per barrel. At times, the list of products appended to a charter could be quite long, with each separate product taking a different barrel rate depending upon its gravity. In addition to transporting liquid bulk cargoes, the American Trader and eventually other Atapcorp tankers under charter to Crowncen, carried package cargo between the Pasadena terminal and Crowncen’s East Coast terminals, such as drums and cases of canned lube oils for the retail market.
The crew for the first American Trader, licensed and unlicensed, was personally recruited by Mellon and Murphy from various sources such as the Seamen’s Church Institute, employment agencies, boarding houses, local bars around Elizabeth, N.J. (particularly one called “Anchor Inn”) , and even an orphanage in New Jersey which released teenage boys and young men to Atapcorp’s legal guardianship, for the purpose of obtaining for them Coast Guard documents to permit them to sail in the entry ratings of Ordinary Seaman, Messman and Wiper. A number of these orphans eventually worked their way up to the ranks of licensed officers. Since the American Trader and subsequent Atapcorp vessels under charter to Crowncen frequently called at the Elizabeth (N.J.) terminal, Atapcorp used members of the local police force to act as gangway guards during their off-hours. These mutually convenient arrangements were made with a Captain Coughlin and it was not unusual for the Elizabeth police to assemble wayward crew members in the local pokey until sailing time. Crowncen’s terminal superintendent was a Tom Jeffries who was always most pleasant and cooperative.
The first master of the American Trader was Captain Hammer and the first Chief Engineer, a Mr. Carter. I believe both were on loan from Sun Oil Company as part of the ship purchase agreement and both returned to Sun Oil after the first year As a matter of fact, Chief Carter died about one year later aboard the S. S. J. N. Pew while the vessel was en-route north under the command of Captain William McMullin who was to join Atapcorp in 1941 and serve with distinction aboard Atapcorp vessels through Wor1d War II including the American Trader until retired in 1955 for reasons of health. Captain McMullin, in a recent letter, relates that he put Chief Carter ashore in Key West where Captain Snyder, another Sun Oil Company officer, escorted him home.
Rebel T. Layton, the second Chief Engineer to be aboard the American Trader, subsequently retired to his home in Tyler, Texas. He was eventually succeeded by Charlie Hagelberg, known as “Scrap Iron”. Charlie presently lives in retirement with his wife on the Jersey shore. He recently sent me a photograph of one of the first American Trader crews and his accompanying note, in part, read, “All these men have neat haircuts - no beards - and all have ties on.” Today, Charlie would be labeled a “hardhat”. The photograph accompanies other papers attached as enclosed with this chronicle. [?]
Another illustrious Sun Oil officer who served Atapcorp long and well was Captain James A. Perry who operated in Crowncen‘s coastwise run for many years. Capt. Perry is presently in retirement at his home in Maryland.
Although Atapcorp had no labor contracts in the early years for its seagoing personnel, the radio officer, Charles W. Harvey, was a charter member of the Radio Officers Union (R O U ) Harvey served at poker - so much so that at time of crew payoff aboard ship, Charles Harvey had more than his share of crew members lined up at his desk each voyage turning over their hard earned wages for his I.O.U.’s. Harvey is in the crew photograph as are a number of others mentioned above.
In 1955 Atapcorp moved its N Y C offices from the Graybar Building, 420 Lexington Avenue, to the 17th floor of 555 Fifth Avenue, then known as the American Oil Building. At one stage Atapcorp enlarged its offices to include a part of the 16th floor which was connected to the 17th floor spaces via an inner stairway. The 16th floor spaces were later given up and the inner stairway dismantled. The building was officially opened in 1955 and the prime tenant, American Oil, moved their offices from The Chanin Bldg. on 42nd Street and Lexington Avenue. Atapcorp’s move from the Graybar, Building to the American Oil Building was handled by W. L. Mellon and Louis Thalheimer and was made particularly difficult because the Ford Foundation had initially opted for the space and a sum of money ($50,000) was necessary to get the Foundation to release the 17th floor space.
1957 due to a poor market and a penalty of $100,000 (?) paid the shipyard for such cancellation.
In 1957 the Lord Calvert and Lord Howard were laid up at Mobile, Alabama, for lack of business. Enroute to lay-up site at Mobile the Lord Howard sustained serious bottom damage on coral reefs while navigating the Florida straits. Damage was never repaired although underwriters reimbursed Calvcrt for the unrepaired damage. After having been transferred to Liberian registry in 1956 both vessels underwent extensive repairs and rehabilitation at Genoa, Italy, at a total cost of about $1,200,000 (?) . The Lord Howard and Lord Calvcrt, which had a relatively high book value, never traded again and were subsequently sold in 1963 “as is where is” for an insignificant sum after having been maintained in layup status for more than five years.
In 1965 the jumboized Maryland Trader (ex Crown Trader) was coiled and coated at Norfolk Shipyard for a cost of less than $500,000.
the Mission ships and the two old midbodies, which were in excellent condition, became the property of General Dynamics. Atapcorp had General Dynamics insert the Mission midbodies into the Washington Trader (ex Monitor) and Virginia Trader (ex Seven Seas) to replace their worn-out World War II midbodies. Conversion was done at General Dynamics at Quincy, Mass, in late 1965 and finished in January 1966 when the Virginia Trader was delivered. Vessels actually retained their T-2 conformation and size and cost about $500/600,000 each. The work was performed under the most brutal weather conditions with temperatures constantly hovering around 0, and, to my mind, epitomized the character of the personnel that has been Atapcorp’s good fortune to associate itself with over the years. Under Dick Palk’s guidance a team of Atapcorp‘s shipside and shoreside employees supervised the midbody replacements. Although there were others, I particularly visualize Charlie Hagelberg and Bert Puddifoot suffering through unbelievable conditions without complaint. Dollar for dollar, I think of these two mibbody jobs as one of the best investments ever made by Atapcorp. To emphasize the real worth of the Mission midbodies, I recall that Dick Palk offered to personally raise the funds necessary for their purchase should Atapcorp have any qualms about making the investment. I have long recognized Dick ‘s uncanny sense of value.
In 1966 Atapcorp’s signed the American Trader forebody contract with Newport News. The same year the Washington Trader was coated in Japan for about $350,000.