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Friday, January 27, 2017

History of ATTRANSCO

I recently read the NTSB transcript of the voice recorder from the sinking of the El Faro in Hurricane Joaquin in the fall of 2015. It runs over 500 pages, and for anyone who has gone to sea and understands the language, technology, and dynamics of the bridge of an oceangoing vessel, it is an absorbing and emotional thing to read. The duty done, to connect with the last hours of the 33 men and women who lost their lives, I was reminded that the history of my old employer, American Trading & Production, or later ATTRANSCO, should be posted somewhere once again because old postings I made years ago no longer exist. These blogger blogs seem to last forever, so this seems like a good place.
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.

History of American Trading and Production
Drafted by Frank J. Murphy

            In 1938 American Trading and Production Corporation (ATAPCORP), American Building, Baltimore, Maryland, purchased the S. S. Pennsylvania Sun, a U. S. flag tanker, built by Sun Shipbuilding in 1923, from Sun Oil Company, Chester, Pennsylvania. Vessel was renamed the S. S. American Trader and was operated by Atapcorp through its newly formed Marine Division with offices in the Graybar Building, 420 Lexington Avenue, New York City under the supervision of a Marine Manager, W. L. Mellon, an Annapolis graduate and a former master with Sun Oil Company.

            W. L. Mellon reported directly to M. J. Gately, Senior Vice President in Atapcorp’s Baltimore office, who, in turn, reported to Atapcorp’s founder and president, Jacob Blaustein. The Treasurer was J. Rothfield who supervised the Marine Division accounts.  House Counsel was Karl F. Steinmann whose office was in Baltimore’s Tower Building. F. J. Murphy joined the Marine Division in a secretarial capacity on October 4, 1939, and it was basically a two-person marine operation from then until the beginning of World War II.

            The Marine Division was charged with the operation of the American Trader which was purchased to serve the coastwise transportation requirements of Crown Central Petroleum Corporation (Crowncen) with headquarters in Baltimore and a branch in New York City, also located in the Graybar Building, under the supervision of Jesse Stickel who reported to Henry Rosenberg, Sr., President, Crowncen, Baltimore.  Crowncen is a public-held oil company in which Atapcorp holds substantial shares.  Crowncen has a refinery in Pasadena, Texas, and in those days shipped a variety of petroleum products, including multiple grades of lube oils, to their East Coast terminals situated at Norfolk, Baltimore and New York (Elizabeth, N. J.)

            Messrs. Rosenberg and Stickel had selected the Pennsylvania Sun since it was ideal in size and suitably ccmpartmented to carry Crowncen’s products. The American Trader had a cargo-carrying capacity of about 101,000 barrels - 81,000 barrels in the main cargo tanks and 20,000 barrels in summer tanks, the size and location of which were just about perfect for the carriage of lube oils. The American Trader was 480.5’ in length, had a molded breadth of 65’O” and a molded depth of 37’ and a deadweight of 13,910. She was an all-riveted ship and powered by 4200 HP  steam reciprocating engines with four Scotch boilers. Although I think her service speed was 12.5/13 knots, Captain McMullin, who served aboard her both with Sun Oil and Atapcorp, says she was known as the greyhound of the Atlantic Coast.
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.

Captain Hammer was succeeded by Captain T. Leerberg and Chief  Carter, by Rebel T. Layton. Captain Leeberg had a. chief mate by the name of  Ingvold Martinusen who acted as relieving master on two occasions while Leeberg went on vacation . Martinusen left Atapcorp in 1941 to accept command of another U. S. flag ship. On May 31, 1942 he was killed in an explosion aboard the S. S. Caiclilas while she lay at berth in Tampico, Mexico.

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.
As all know, the United States became directly involved in World War II with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1911. Atapcorp’s only vessel, the American Trader, was requisitioned by the U. S. Government in the first half of  1942 under a time charter arrangement which designated Atapcorp as the Time Charter Agent for the vessel. Atapcorp was appointed General Agent by the U. S. Government’s War Shipping Administration (WSA) in 1943 and over the ensuing months took delivery of a fleet of T-2 tankers and one Liberty tanker. The General Agency arrangement lasted until about 1948. As General Agents, Atapcorp operated about 14 (?) ships for W.S.A. including its own American Trader. The attached list, prepared from memory totals only 13, including the American Trader. The “Buena Vista Hills also appears on the list and it is questionable if she were operated under a General Agency Agreement by Atapcorp although eventually purchased outright. Baltimore office files should be able to reflect the correct names.
Sappa Creek
Rogue River
Harpers Ferry
Albert G. Brown (Liberty)
Elk Hills
Apache Canyon
Dominguez Hills
Castle Pinckney
Quaker Hill
American Trader (T/C/A)
Buena Vista Hills (?)
Stony Creek (?)
The original American Trader under the command of Captain McMullin operated in some of the most dangerous war zones during World War II carrying cargoes for the military through submarine infested waters off the Atlantic and Gulf coasts as well as making trans-Atlantic voyages in convoy to serve the Allied fleets in the Mediterranean off the north coast of Africa and southern Europe, particularly Italy, surviving air raids during which some of her crow sustained shrapnel wounds.
WSA General Agents had to coordinate ship departures with the military and were obligated to have vessels under their jurisdiction arrive at a pre-arranged rendezvous point at a precise time. Convoys were thus formed and sealed sailing orders delivered to the master at that time. In addition to carrying liquid petroleum cargoes, tankers were outfitted on deck to transport war planes. In the Port of New York, the loaded tankers docked at Manhattans Hudson River piers, formerly used by passenger lines and dry cargo ships, to take aboard a number of, say, P-38s. I recall visiting Captain McMullin during the course of these operations when New York City was blacked out (more probably browned out) and discussing problems with the Master behind blacked out port holes and in dimly lit quarters.
Captain NcMullin, as noted, is in retirement in Bacliff, Texas and is approaching 80. Over the past year or so he has sent letters, some of which are enclosed, describing how American Trading’s first ship participated in the war effort. Atapcorp received certificates of merit from the War Shipping Administration in recognition of its outstanding performance as a General Agent. The certificates were framed and hung in Atapcorp s N. Y. office when received, but their whereabouts at. the present time, are not known to the writer. They may be in Atapcorp’s N.Y.C. warehouse.
After cessation of World War II in 1945, Atapcorp continued as General Agent for W.S.A. until about 1948, gradually redelivering the G.A. vessels to the Government which sold most of the W.S.A. vessels to commercial interests.
In 1947, after taking redelivery of the American Trader from W S A., Atapcorp (year?) sold the vessel to Italian Nationals for operation under the Panamanian flag.  I believe the American Trader operated about one more year before coming to the end of her useful life when she went aground off Tampico, Mexico (seems to be a place of doom for ex-Atapcorp connections).
Also in 1947, Atapcorp purchased T-2 tankers from the U.S. Government - the S.S. Marne, renamed the American Trader; the Port Republic, renamed Baltimore Trader; and the Carnifax Ferry, renamed Crown Trader. Interestingly enough, the United States Lines owned a dry cargo-passenger vessel also named American Trader (the U .S. L. fleet also had such names as American Banker, American Lawyer, American Merchant, etc.). The U. S. Lines American Trader was a World War I prize of war whose original name also, by sheer coincidence, was Marne. For a number of years Atapcorp received requests from immigrants seeking American citizenship papers for verification of their arrival in the United States as passengers aboard the American Trader. Such inquiries were, of course, referred to the U. S. Lines.
In 1948 Atapcorp purchased the Buena Vista Hills from the government, renamed it Texas Trader and bareboat chartered her to Amoco for five years. In 1951 a young Third Asst. Engineer, Richard Palk, joined Atapcorp’s fleet directly from Kings Point. After moving up to Chief Engineer, he joined Atapcorp’s shore-side staff as Asst. Port Engineer and after progressing through various other managerial and executive positions, he was elected president of Attransco (Atapcorp’s Marine Division successor) on July 1, 1981.
In 1953 Atapcorp purchased two 13,000 dwt tankers from Esso, the Esso Bayway (renamed the Maryland Trader) and the Esso Bayonne (renamed New York Trader).
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.
At the end of 1955 Atapcorp was operating U. S. flag tankers American Trader (ex Marne) , Baltimore Trader (ex Port Republic) Crown Trader (ex Carnifax Ferry) , Maryland Trader (ex Esso Bayway) and the New York Trader (ex Esso Bayonne) and owned the Texas Trader (ex Buena Vista Hills) under bareboat charter to Amoco. (This latter must be checked since originally the Texas Trader was chartered for five years to Amoco in 1948.)
In 1956 Atapcorp pioneered the carriage of grain in self-discharging tankers to India under the U. S. Government’s P. L. 480 Program. Up to this time there had been relatively few tankers employed in the bulk grain trades because they were difficult to discharge with shore-based grain discharging equipment due to their cargo tank structure and their restrictive tank top openings. In the early years tank coatings had not been developed and in general use as they are today and, consequently, cleaning was often a major problem, especially dirty cargoes such as Bunker “C”. For these and other reasons under Mr. Mellon’s supervision Atapcorp carried out a survey of equipment used by American farmers in handling grain to and from silos, barges, warehouses, trucks, etc. Captain Strohm was dispatched to visit various farm areas on the east and west coasts as well as in the mid-west. After considering a number of machines such as one manufactured by the Ford Motor Company (Fordomatic?) Atapcorp, one memorable Saturday morning from its 555 offices telephoned one Mr. Wallace in Batavia, Illinois, and asked that he come to our New York offices to demonstrate the capabilities of the Vacuvator, a gain machine manufactured by his company, Dunbar Kapple. As a result of that visit, Atapcorp purchased a number of gasoline generated Vacuvators. I believe the original order was for four and Atapcorp proceeded to negotiate a charter with the India Supply Mission, Washington, D. C., through N. Y. charter brokers, to load, transport and discharge a cargo of wheat from the United States to Bombay, India. Because of the self-discharging feature and the nature of the equipment, new clauses had to be drawn and agreed upon, underwriters had to be consulted, etc. In later years Atapcorp purchased many more Vacuvators and gradually switched from gasoline to diesel and, finally, electrically driven motors, using ships’ power. Other ship-owners followed suit and Dunbar Kapple did an enormous business selling equipment to owners and operators of ocean-going tankers, a business that was handed to them on a platter as a result of Atapcorp’s research and a Saturday telephone call in 1956.
In addition to grain to India, Atapcorp’s vessels have transported cargoes of wheat, milo, sorghum, barley and corn to many other P L 480 recipient nations such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, Brazil, Korea, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Colombia, and Russia
In 1956 Atapcorp conractcd for two vessels to be jumboizcd at Maryland Shipbuilding & Drydock Company, Baltimore, Maryland - the Crown Trader (ex Carnifax Ferry) which was converted to a jumbo in 1958 and renamed Maryland Trader and the Baltimore Trader (ex Port Republic) . The latter jumbo contract was subsequently cancelled in
1957 due to a poor market and a penalty of $100,000 (?) paid the shipyard for such cancellation.
In 1956 the Maryland Trader (ex Esso Bayway) and New York Trader (ex Esso Bayonne) were sold to newl.y formed Calvert Tankers, a Liberian corporate subsidy of Atapcorp for foreign flag operation. Marsano Brothers, Genoa, Italy, were appointed managing agents charged with manning and victualling. Italian crews were employed on both vessels which were renamed Lord Calvert (ex Maryland Trader) and Lord Howard (ex New York Trader) after counties in Maryland.
In December 1956/January 1957 the Monitor (renamed Washington Trader) and the Seven Seas (renamed Virginia Trader) were purchased from the U. S. Government.
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.
As referred to above, the Maryland Trader was delivered to Atacorp by Maryland Drydock and Shipyard, Baltimore, Maryland, in 1958 as a jumboized T-2 of 21,253 DWT.
In 1960, the Esso Annapolis, a T-3, was purchased from Esso and renamed the Crown Trader. Price: $450,000 (?)
The Baltimore Trader (ex Port Republic) was sold in 1961 to Sealand for $340,000 to be converted for container service at Alabama Shipyard & Drydock Co., Mobile.
In 1962, the Anerican Trader (ex Marne) was scrapped in Taiwan as well as the Texas Trader (ex Buena Vista hills)
In 1964, the Neches was purchased from Sabine Towing & Transportation Company for approximately $600,000. This vessel was renamed American Trader and was subsequently jumboized to its present 27,600 dwt size at Newport News in 1967.
In 1965 the jumboized Maryland Trader (ex Crown Trader) was coiled and coated at Norfolk Shipyard for a cost of less than $500,000.
In 1965 Mission midbodies were purchased from General Dynamics and Henry Dowd of Marine Carriers, the latter a competing shipowner who managed to gain title to one of two midbodies with the aid of an unscrupulous ship broker. Two Mission tankers had been withdrawn from the Reserve Fleet by the Navy for conversion to missile tracking ships. New, sophisticatedly equipped midbodies were inserted in
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 1965 Atapcorp purchased the Alaskan from the Joshua Hendy Corp. Capt. Ted Anderson, who operated Hendy’s fleet was a close friend and one day Bill Torelle of Dietze, Inc., N.Y.C. brokers, phoned and said Ted Anderson wanted to give us an opportunity to purchase his T-2 Alaskan as repayment for past business favors. If we were interested Hendy would not put the ship on the market and the price to Atapcorp would be either $350,000 or $375,000 - our option! Dick Palk inspected the ship along with a professional surveyor named Ganly. Dick recommended the ship be purchased while Ganly submitted an adverse verbal report because of boiler problems that he foresaw. Based on Dick’s recommendation, I recommended the Alaskan to Lem Dunbar for purchase - at $375,000 and Ganly was asked to submit his fee but no written report. The Alaskan was purchased, renamed the Baltimore Trader and went on to produce substantial profits until sold for scrap in 1969 for $297,000. The Ganly example is one of many encountered over the life of the Marine Division - principals are inclined to favor reports from those who represent themselves as experts and hang out a shingle as opposed to in - house talent.
In 1965 the Crown Trader (ex Esso Annapolis) was scrapped in Japan for $260,000. 
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.
1967 saw the delivery of the jumboized American Trader (ex Neches) from Newport News and vessel immediately entered into a long term charter with NSC. The forebody job cost about $4.7 M.
In 1968 the Virginia Trader (ex Seven Seas) was coiled end coated at Maryland Drydock & Shipbuilding Company, Baltimore, Maryland, for approximately $600,900.
The Texaco South Carolina was purchased from Texaco in 1969 for $300,000. She operated as an asphalt carrier for Texaco, but Atapcorp‘s inspection indicated she had a good stern and engine and a better candidate for jumboizing than any vessel we owned. She was jumboized to the present 27,600 dwt Texas Trader and delivered by Newport News in 1969 when. she immediately entered upon a long term MSC charter. She cost about $5M.
Atapcorp then sold the Baltimore Trader (ex Alaskan) in 1969 for ‘scrap in Taiwan for $297,000, as noted earlier.
In December of that same year (1969) Atapcorp purchased the P. W. Thirtle from Capt Lynch of Arco for the sun of $1,500,000. This was a former Sinclair Oil Co. ship of over 26,000 dwt which was originally contemplated jumboizing to a 30,000 dwt tanker at Newport News. Subsequently we signed a 10 year consecutive voyage charter (later converted to a time charter and extended to 15 years) with Texaco. The jumbo contract was then revised from a 30,000 dwt vessel to 58,000 dwt - the present Baltimore Trader which was delivered by Newport News in 1971 and immediately entered the Texaco charter. The approximate cost of the Baltimore Trader jumboization was $14M (including $1.5M cost of the Thirtle).
In January 1972 the marine interests of American Trading and Production Corporation were transferred to a newly formed subsidiary American Trading Transportation Co., Inc.
In January 1973 the Washington Trader (ex Monitor) was scrapped in Taiwan for $397,000.
In September 1975 the Thetis, renamed Washington Trader, was purchased for $4,880,000.
In November 1975 the Virginia Trader (ex Seven Seas) was sold for scrap in Spain for$336,064.
The Maryland Trader (ex Crown Trader/Carnifax Ferry) was scrapped in Spain for $400,556 in February of 1976.
On May 7, 1980, Attransco contracted to build three 50,000 dwt product carriers with options to build three more at Nassco, San Diego, with the first two vessels scheduled for delivery the latter part: of 1982 and the third in the first half of 1983. In October 1981, Atapcorp purchased the Arco Prestige (renamed Pennsylvania Trader) from Arco for $12M for General Agency operation by Attransco.
The foregoing is simply a skeleton narrative of Atapcorp/Attransco from 1938 to 1982. A fuller version should include more detail about World War II operations including not only the workings of N.S.A. but the Maritime War Emergency Board, War Shipping Panel and the way the crews of merchant ships were integrated with the military operation while still retaining their identity as private employees of the shipping industry. Also the labor history of Atapcorp’s Marine Division should be enlarged upon, such as the formation of ATOA in 1952 and the entry of the N.M.U. into the picture.
Additionally, there are many more than those mentioned herein who made major contributions to the success and viability of Atapcorp/Attransco and the story cannot be complete without them.
Frank J. Murphy


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