Saturday, July 31, 2021

Tramp Steamers

(Howard) Pease was strongly critical of the 1930s world of children's literature (in which he worked) which he stated was a "wholly and solely a woman's world—a completely feminine world" subject to "tender-minded feminine control." Pease believed that this resulted in a paucity of male authors, depressed wages and a lack of realism in children's stories...modern critic took Pease to task for creating "traditional" male heroes who were "brave, clever and independent.   Wikipedia
I remember reading Tod Moran books as a young lad. Moran was the protagonist in many of Pease's novels. Moran sailed as a crew member of a tramp steamer to exotic locations.

The books have essentially vanished from commerce. They cannot be found on digital formats where expired copyrights can often be found. The rare copy that shows up in the secondary market command prices from $30-to-$300.

WWII Victory ships made fine tramp-steamers. They were about 450 feet long and rated at 4000 net tons. They could make 17 knots with a clean hull and with full bunkers had a range of 23,500 miles. They also were fitted with cranes so they could load and unload at primitive ports.

Tramp steamers used to be a staple of fiction written for young men. The term "tramp" refers to the fact that they do not have a regularly scheduled series of ports-of-call. The captain contracts out and hopes to pick up another load at the port where they unload. Or, sometimes they hop from port-to-port like a shuttle-bus and pick up copra, timber, ore as supply and prices dictate with the hope of turning a profit by unloading at commercial centers.

Obviously, higher profits were available when skating the edge of what was legal and what was not, or dipping in and out of war-zones.

As foreign nationals in ports, the protagonist could not count on help from the local law. Nor could he count on friends, family or people in high places. Rather, he found his help in his mates, the cooks, rickshaw drivers and waitresses of port cities.

US Merchant Marine activity was killed off by wage demands, an aging fleet and safety regs. Tramp steamers still exist but the crew, as a general rule, does not speak English.

It is a pity. There was no better test-bed to measure your manhood. We also lost an entire genre of fiction.


18 comments:

  1. When I was a kid, about 60 years ago , there was an old man that lived next to our farm who would tell me stories about when he crewed on tramp steamers in the '30s,'40s and early '50s. I don't know how true they were but I sure loved to hear him tell them. Gave me a world I would have never known about. Being his friend and neighbor those few years was a gift I still treasure.---ken

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  2. Never heard of Howard Pease before. It sounds like a travesty that his books have been ignored by latter-day publishers.
    I went from the Freddy the Pig books to science fiction around the 4th grade.

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    1. I don't have a clue regarding how to determine the copyright status of the books. If they have expired then I think it is possible to scan copies and upload to Gutenberg Project.

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    2. Everything post-1923 is still in copyright.

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    3. Oops, my info was out of date. It's now up to 1925, per the experts at Project Gutenberg:
      https://www.gutenberg.org/help/copyright.html

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  3. Would the story of 'King Kong' ever have been written without a tramp steamer to search for the Island? Would Fay Wray have become as famous?

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  4. Lamour wrote a number of such stories. His were centered immediately before WWII

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    1. Those Lamour stories were the best tramp steamer novels I have ever read. I wish he had written more of them.

      The way they were written made me think that he actually knew that life himself rather intimately. Did Lamour have real life experience as an able bodied seaman?

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    2. I just looked up Louis Lamour on Da Internet. Wikipedia says that prior to WWII he indeed traveled the world as a merchant seaman.

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  5. There is a British author named Richard Regan who has written two tramp steamer fiction novels entitled Oriental Vagabonds and Oriental Vengeance. They were only published in 2018 and 2020 respectively.

    They are the stories of skipper Bill Rowden and his crew of the steam ship Oriental Venture in the years just prior to WWII. Although available in paperback, I bought them on Amazon Kindle for $2.49 each, which in my opinion was a steal, considering these are full-length novels and the writing quality is superb.

    Like Louis Lamour, Regan himself was a merchant seaman as a young man, and as such his novels are written in a way that only someone who has experienced that life himself could write them.

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    1. Reading those right mow. Pretty good.
      Differ

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  6. That we did. Louis L'Amour wrote some tales of those tramps too!

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  7. Sorry. I saw your headline, and immediately thought of Gwyneth Paltrow, and "Goop".

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  8. In the late 90s there were still tramp cargo pilots in Africa blasting around in 707 cargo planes. The last one I know of was making bank running from Sharjah to Kuwait right after DS/DS. Saved $ by not carrying war risk insurance. One day he landed in Sharjah and just walked away from the plane,

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  9. My favorite was "Long Trains Roll," by Stephen Meader. Seventy years later and I'm still a railfan, still impressed by the maintenance-of-way crews who keep the trains rolling (and catch an occasional Nazi spy while they work).

    Robert Ruark wrote about his time on a tramp steamer in "The Old Man's Boy Grows Older" -- but you have to read "The Old Man and the Boy" first.

    Thanks guys. For a few minutes it wasn't 2021. . .

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  10. Not tramps steamers, but is anyone familiar with the "Radio Boys" series of books?

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  11. If you want Scottish Highland humour in a tramp steamer look for Para Handy. And no coarse language. Then move on to the author's other books.

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