(Todd Schaumloffel was one of your Editor's fellow passengers aboard Queen Elizabeth 2 last July. He is in the midst of writing a biography of his father, the late Carl Schaumloffel, and has consented to share some of his family's transatlantic travel tales with readers of the Gazette.)
Rough seas, on the other hand, were never a problem. All told, I'll bet he had a good 170,000 sea miles under him. Many a time on Nordeutscher Lloyd, Hamburg Atlantic Liner, Cunard and White Star, among others. Ships like the grand Bremen but earlier, and more often, on much smaller, slower passenger freighters like Albert Ballin. The French Line, occasionally, and once or twice with the Italians-anything, really, they were the ferries across the pond. If you needed to be on the other side and one was sailing that day, you got aboard.
A favorite story took place in a lounge aboard the westbound Ile de France. The seas had been rough but late in day four or five, Dad saw the crew come up, turn the piano over and lash it down. With preparations like that, he knew they were in for a blow. So he bought a bottle of scotch and found a big comfortable spot to "nest" for the duration. When the hurricane passed the next day, he had a chance to speak with the captain. Sometimes they came close to foundering, as the ship was taking so much rain and spray down her stacks that it started to douse the boiler fires.
And fun times, like getting off the ships with his buddies in New York, tanked to the gills. "All right, mister, where ya' hiding it?"
"Got it right in here, Ossifer," they'd say slapping their well-inebriated bellies. Only sometimes they would actually check for flasks under their coats and belts. Or in a flask concealed in a cane. Or going over and telling the German Customs that watermelons were "only American cucumbers."
Under way must have been glorious for a ship lover. Steam power pushing toward the other side at speeds of 15-20 knots, making for a not particularly smooth but comfortable 7-9 day crossing. All that varnished wood creaking inside those steel hulls. Gala parties with newly-met friends and whispers of intrigue. All lived to the sound of Strauss, Schubert, Oompa-bands and maybe a little ragtime or jazz.
On one such crossing, returning from Europe, Dad met a younger man coming home from his post-graduation tour of Europe. His name was Jimmy Albano, a very pleasant fellow of Italian ancestry. Only problem was Jimmy had spent all his money traveling around Europe and only had $18 left to his name. Dad, being the kind man he was, took Jimmy under his wing, loaning him the money needed to get his luggage and send him back home.
Upon landing in New York, to their surprise, they were greeted by the gregarious Albano family. All loans were repaid and a great friendship blossomed. In later years, Jimmy married, had kids of his own and founded a dry cleaning business in Norfolk, Virginia. He also managed to win the laundry contract for the Navy, allowing a very comfortable life. We would visit them in their beautiful modern home in the shores of the James River and for weekends at Virginia Beach. They would also visit us in Cincinnati; last time, visiting Mom and Robert in the early 70's.
Only a few deck plans were in the piles on the living room floor. The ships were the easy part. He knew them well or what was left of them. The great greyhounds of the North Atlantic that had survived the war were now starting to wane in popularity. The jet planes were "in;" elegant ships of state that had carried immigrants to America and ferried businessmen and well-to-do travelers back to their homelands or vacation lands were "out."
He selected the finest "new world" ship for the eastbound crossing. One with great power and speed, befitting her country of origin. Sleek black hull; sparkling white superstructure, topped by two huge red, white and blue funnels. All-American in that heady time of the mid-20th century. The fastest ship afloat, s/s United States.
Westbound, returning home, would be the flagship of the old world. Smaller and, of course, slower but with all the vestiges, grace and fond memories of another era-keeping the Grand Tour going as long as possible. The Bremen was a hand-me-down from the settlings of war. Originally the French Line's Pasteur, she was bought by Nordeutscher Lloyd and extensively refitted to become ship of state of new West Germany.
The next day, us "guys" took the car over to the pier, so it could be loaded aboard the ship. There she was! Her enormous finned stacks standing tall over the wharf buildings and neighboring ships. After arrangements were tended, we went back out to the street and took some bow photo's of "Big U." I was familiar with seeing big boats and ships in Port Everglades but the size of that ship was unimaginable for this 12-year-old. I was instantly in love.
That afternoon, "Big Lou" and I walked the few blocks from the hotel to F.A.O. Schwartz. It was terrific being a small boy in a great big toy store, accompanied by a huge man; we could play with ANYTHING! And did. This visit was when I bought the first in my collection of waterline ship models-an English-made Triang harbor set that included some docks, breakwaters, with a long-since-lost lighthouse; a warehouse, cranes, tanks, two tugboats, but best of all, a scale model of the United States. All for $5 and change that I paid for from my "cool" new money belt Mom and Dad had bought for me. It all went well with the other "practicalities of the era" that I wore, like sock garters and an ascot.
In the morning, the adults, moving a bit slowly after a big night officially celebrating Bon Voyage in the hotel's Rumpelmayer's Restaurant, and us boys, finally went to pier 86 along New York's Hudson River. It was so exciting, with taxicabs, people, stevedores and giant piles of baggage. Not nearly as stylish as Pier 90 today, more like a big warehouse with conveyer belts, gangways, noisy forklift trucks and shouting men loading all manner of stuff into gaping doors in the sides of her hull. Through the pier loading doors, we could see big pallets of cargo being hoisted up into her cargo holds.
"That's probably how they loaded the car," I thought. We moved through the lines in the boarding process and I helped Dad walk with his cane up the first class gangway. From there, a steward took us to our staterooms, numbers 57 and 59 on Sun Deck. Neighboring, comfortable rooms with two beds, a desk and a couple of chairs. Very 50's room, looking out under the lifeboats on the sunny starboard side for the eastbound crossing. Flowers and silver buckets of Champagne waited in my parent's room but Eric and I wanted to go and explore the ship. Mom didn't want us to leave her sight but Dad chuckled his approval. "Just don't get off the ship," he cautioned.
The United States was bustling with the activities of "making ready for sea." Stewards and crewmen were efficiently loading people, baggage and stores. There were parties going on in staterooms and in public rooms. The decks seemed filled with polite, happy passengers and friendly scurrying crew.
We sailed around noon, June 20, 1962, waving like crazy and throwing streamers to the Schotts, who were waving back from the pier. The ship's big steam whistle would vibrate the decks and echo off the buildings. Then the tugs would reply, not by VHF radio, but by tooting back with a high-pitched whistle, interrupting the sounds of a band playing and all the shouts of goodbyes and well wishes. Much fun and excitement as we backed slowly into the Hudson, turned, blew three long blasts and eased south past Manhattan.
We watched enthralled as, after dropping the tugs, another came racing up with a family and their luggage. The deckhands tossed their suitcases to waiting crew aboard, hanging out of a lower door, and the helped them haul the tardy passengers aboard. It looked like an exciting way of coming aboard but I was
sure glad I hadn't missed the ship. We then quickly began picking up speed and pointed our bows toward Europe five days away.
About an hour later, Dad pointed out the Ambrose Lightship, standing guard at the end of the ship channel. But by 3 p.m., after some of the excitement had calmed down, it hit me: Seasickness! The rest of the first day, and some of the second, I was full of ship's nurse-supplied Bonine and only semi-conscious. I do remember, as the grogginess wore off, and I got my sea legs, that the ship was a cool place, both in demeanor and decor.
The public rooms were of grand dimensions, like the Netherlands Plaza Hotel in Cincinnati or some such, but here they had velvet ropes strung across the most open areas to assist on the rolling floor. And much more Spartan decoration. A lot of polished linoleum floors, inlaid with aluminum, constantly being buffed. Etched and textured glass room dividers and wall panels. Tons of aluminum: aluminum chairs, aluminum railings, aluminum art. A game was to try and find any wood on board. (Another game for children was to find the lone mermaid etched into the glass panels setting off the bar- Editor) All very shiny and set off with bright, not quite primary colors. Very pleasing, really, and extremely 1950's in a conservative way.
Like a fancy hotel, also, were the people. Well-dressed, polite and refined, but promenading with nowhere in particular to go. I met Walter Cronkite on deck one day. His wife took a picture of the two of us with my Brownie camera, leaning against an aft rail on Promenade Deck. It's hopefully still in a box of old pictures somewhere.
During the gray, windy days as we smashed our way through the seas at 40 miles an hour, Eric and I would sometimes go forward on Sun Deck, where the turn of the superstructure, under the bridge, became the sides. The wind was strongest there, and we'd hold the edges of our London Fog raincoats like wings to see who could lean the most steeply into the wind. It was summer and that means there was a lot of fog on the North Atlantic.
It also meant a white dinner jacket. Evenings were so elegant. The scene of well-dressed men and their colorfully-drressed ladies set against the modern surroundings were like "Hollywood" to this boy's eyes. There was dancing in the ballroom after dinner and first-run movies in the theater. But mostly, it was nice conversation with shipmates, exploring that marvelous, mechanical creation carrying us to Europe, and the thrill of being at sea.
One day, Dad introduced us to a fellow passenger they had met, a midget named Jake. In his mid-thirties, I'd guess, from Caracas and a nuclear physicist or something. A very nice, interesting man traveling by himself. It was curious to see him get around, and especially to watch him climb up on a bar stool. I guess it was Dad's obvious affliction (Carl Schaumloffel had been partially crippled by polio as a child.) that allowed us to so easily meet similarly "disadvantaged" characters. They somehow seemed that much more advantaged because of it.
In that same red, white, maroon and glass lounge, just when everything was so lovely, someone goes and spoils it. One night, while Eric and I were asleep, a U.S. Army major, in uniform, got so drunk and obstinate that he urinated on the 1st class bar. We were told later that ship's security threw him in the brig overnight, notified his commanding officer and then confined him to his cabin for the duration.
Dad was, of course, disgusted but more embarrassed for his country. "At least it happened on an American-flagged ship. Hopefully, word won't spread that our men do that sort of thing." In those days, they didn't exclude "pre-existing conditions." During our voyage, three people died and one was born.
Before we knew it, we were in Le Havre. It was night in a foreign seaport and wonderfully mysterious. Even from high up in the warm safety of the ship, the sense of foreign and unknown was overwhelming. It was a thick, balmy, black night scented with salt air, fuel oil, hot steel, wet wood and sweaty Frenchmen.
All us "guys," including Jake, were out on the Sun Deck, under the lifeboats, some time after midnight. We were watching the unloading of cargo into the glaring spotty lights of the quay. Dad, Jake and probably Eric were all "aglow" from the evening's libations. Great discussions of politics, economics and philosophies had been rendered. Here, in a country that night in the early sixties, that was losing its remaining colonies in rebellious North Africa...
Later that same day we would be in Southampton, the time to leave this great ship and start the land travels would be upon us.
We arrived in the city of Bremen, where we promptly got lost. I guess Dad's memory of the town, from which he had begun some many voyages home years ago, was not as sharp as he wished that day. He kept driving around the old, war-scarred town but we always found ourselves back at the city square. Finally, we found the hotel which I remember was a new, small tidy place with a comfortable little bar/sitting area off the foyer.
Next morning, I joined Dad in going to the Nordeutscher Lloyd Home Office to confirm our tickets and leave the car for loading aboard ship. Home office for the historic, immigrant-carrying steamship line was a great, wood-paneled place, almost like a cathedral, with coffered ceilings and marble floors. Enormous builder's models of past and present ships were placed about the room and interspersed between long pew-like wooden benches against the walls. At one end of the Halle was a big counter like a bank's, where the old guys working behind it recognized Dad's name and past travels with them. They treated him like an old lost friend. The fare for this voyage was $448 per person for our cabin and $510 per person for my parent's cabin.
That afternoon, I walked to a nearby department store where I found a whole display bin of waterline ship models of all types. I purchased some favorites, including both Bremen and Berlin, both Queens and a couple of ferries, freighters and a really neat lightship. In all the years since, I've never found a more tantalizing display. We all met later that afternoon in the hotel bar for "show and tell" and to rendezvous with our cousin Norbert who had flown in from Berlin to see us sail.
On the morning of July 30, we all piled into taxicabs for the thirty or so mile drive to Bremerhaven where we would board TS Bremen, flagship of the line and ship of state of West Germany; she waited for us alongside the mole on the Weber river. Those big rolling cranes, so typical of European seaports, were hoisting cargo aboard as smoke drifted from her single, big mustard-colored stack.
From the wharf building, we walked again outside, past those cranes and up the first class gangway. There was not the same the excited throng of people I remembered in New York, fewer people boarding this small German ship on that overcast day. In retrospect, I suppose it was a glimpse of the end for transatlantic liners. But nonetheless, it was still an exciting time of sights, smells and the emotions of making a small city ready for sea.
From the on-board Halle, we were escorted to our staterooms, numbers 127 and 129 on Upper Deck by our steward Heinrich. The rooms were adjoining this time, with Mom and Dad in a mini-suite and Eric and I having bunk beds in a smaller room aft of theirs on the starboard side. There were nice big windows looking out directly through the hull. There were also flowers and Champagne from well-wishers and what pleased Dad greatly, some from both Nordeutscher Lloyd and the ship's captain, Herr Komador Gunther Reising.
We had a little Champagne in the room with Norbert, then the three of us boys took a look around the public rooms before we all wished Norbert a safe trip home from the gangway. He so much wanted to join us and go to America, it was sad to leave him.
From the opened windows of the enclosed promenade on Veranda Deck, we waved to him in the crowd at the wharf building. It was very exciting, of course, with streamers flowing to shore and back and the band playing Musik Dein and other German sailing tunes. Three or four German fighter planes roared overhead in formation, also saluting the sailing of their finest passenger liner, or so we first thought. We didn't know it at the time but their fly-by was a salute to a dignitary, the German Secretary of State Joachim von Merkatz, who was aboard on his way to the Jamaican Independence Ceremony in Kingston.
As always, there is nothing quite as wonderful as being aboard a ship sailing; in the old days, they really knew how to do it. Bremen was much smaller and warmer than Big U, much more wood, and softer, plusher fabrics. The staff was more attentive, also, and had that great old world way about them, friendly and gracious but wonderfully formal, a mannerism I have come to love.
The dining room was down on A-Deck and small, seating 200 or so. But bright and airy with a big, modern tapestry at the rear of the irregularly-shaped room. It was only half full on this crossing. One deck up from our cabins on Veranda Deck, was the bar, a warmly decorated room with a trio of musicians. Across the lobby and forward, the library was on one side and the card room (pre-casino) was on the other. Forward still was the first class Lounge and Ballroom.
We made a stop late that first night in Southampton. There, in the gray morning, we passed Queen Elizabeth moored alongside the Ocean Terminal. The next night, we called at Cherbourg. We were leaving the Channel and Europe for the open sea and home. An exciting, yet melancholy realization.
By now, Mom and Dad had re-established themselves in the elite world of their fellow, well-traveled passengers and officers. As a matter of fact, they were already friends with the captain, having been invited to his cabin early on for cocktails and to meet some of the other important people on board. Eric and I had also met some people of our age. For Eric, it was Frederick Korten, traveling with his father, the owner of the restaurant chain in Germany's railroad stations. For me, it was a rowdy bunch of American kids in their early teens. I don't remember a single name but the brunette girl, who was oldest in the group, was very cute. We went to the movies together-Carousel, I think. Of course, the rest of the boys felt they had to come along too...
Dad had found a special spot in the Erster Klasse lounge, a long banquette against the after-end of the cream-colored, round room. It overlooked the dance floor, with its inlaid wooden dolphins frolicking around the edges, and compact crystal chandeliers overhead. During the day, when the curtains were opened, you could look out the windows to the sea before us and alongside, through the Promenade. The spot was also close to an entry, which made it convenient for the officers when they had a message for Captain Reising, who seemed to enjoy Herr und Frau Schaumloffel's company more and more. Secretary von Merkatz, whom the captain had introduced, was traveling by himself (unheard of in the 90's) and would also join them.
It was just such an after-dinner evening, the first formal night. I had gotten bored with the grown-up talk and the classical music being played and went outside. It was a very pretty mid-summer sunset and glass calm on that spot of the North Atlantic, several hundred miles west of Bishop Light.
Eric had been exploring in Tourist Class with his new friend Freddy, trying to meet cute girls, when I ran into him. He had just whispered to Dad that he thought he'd seen smoke blowing off, aft on the ship, and that we were flying distress signals. We both hurried out again to see; indeed, we were flying November/Charlie from the port yardarm and there was an airplane flying low. It must have been at only 200 feet when it crossed out bow, circled around and did it again. It was a Canadian radar plane. This was wild!
I ran in to whisper a status report to Dad and noticed the captain was gone. Dad told me an officer had snatched him away shortly after I'd left. "Don't tell your mother," he whispered back.
Eric and I walked around a bit more to see but didn't see much. Just then, the lights dimmed, went out, then came on, but differently, dimmer. Emergency lights!
"We'd better get back!" we said to each other, slightly wild-eyed.
Back in the lounge, the captain, holding the ship's public address microphone in his hand, began a comforting and precise announcement to "all souls." Seems the Bremen had blown a main bearing on her steam turbine and we were stuck until it could be fixed which would be about four or five hours. There was no reason for alarm; we were in no danger of sinking and the seas were cooperatively calm. However, if this was of too much concern to anyone, the Queen Elizabeth was steaming behind us by five hours; if anyone wished to transfer to that ship, they should please speak to the Purser. And the musicians began anew, as all was (mostly) right with the world. Secretary von Merkatz had gone directly to the bridge shortly after the first whispers but returned his subdued, jovial self.
Some hours later, we were back at speed and no one had indicated a desire to transfer. Eric and Freddy reported the next day that the elevators had been stuck with people in them when the power went out. And there had been some very nervous passengers in Tourist Class wearing life jackets. I slept soundly as the much faster Queen Elizabeth passed us without incident in the night.
The rest of the trip was packed with the fun of new friends. I was in the pack of well-mannered but still crazy teen-agers roaming the relatively sparsely populated ship. We went everywhere that wasn't locked. Even though Dad had been invited to the bridge and engine room. we had already managed a much more thrilling peek from passageways marked "Crew Only."
One of our jaunts down to the Schwimmbad on F Deck, however, caused my mother great fret. We kids were horsing around in the elevator and when the doors opened, my hand went back in the door slot. In was easy, out was not-skinning the back of my hand and tearing off a fingernail. It looked horrid and didn't feel too great. But believe me, that was nothing compared to the sting of iodine that the ship's nurse used to disinfect it! And believe me, I felt like a real dork walking around the next couple of days with an immensely bandaged hand, sling and all. Probably for the better, the incident put a damper on the "hooliganizums."
Accidents aside, we all commented on how nice and cozy we found the ship. Part of that was her size, layout and decor but a lot had to do with her lack of passengers. Out of her capacity for 216 first class and 906 tourist class, we seemed to be sailing with less than half that many. What a loss for the line was a boon for us, however, allowing for an exceptionally personal, yacht-like experience.
A much happier day was Mom and Dad's 23d anniversary celebration. They threw a cocktail party in their cabin with all their shipboard friends, including Secretary von Merkats, Herr Korten and Captain Reising. It was quite nice and continued on to a lovely evening of dinner and dancing. I especially enjoyed Captain Reising, the character of a shaved, maritime version of Santa Claus. He showed great interest in my model ships, especially, the lightship. He chuckled when I eagerly explained where he could get his own, at the shop in Bremen.
As usual, the voyage was over too soon. The morning was hazy as we entered New York and glided up the Hudson towards our pier. I was up on the Sun Deck, just atop her superstructure, looking down on the starboard bridge wing. I took a picture of Captain Reising and the harbor pilot waving up to me.
No matter how you slice it, leaving a ship after a major sailing is a major let-down. This debarkation was no different, in fact, it was made worse by the fact that our month-long trip to Europe was now history. Once the car was off-loaded, all that was left was the comparatively unpicturesque drive back home to Cincinnati. It was happily uneventful, but a quiet, reflective two-day drive. The house on Werk Road, almost surprisingly, looked the same as we had left it, but the old dog Rex was sure glad to see us. And, boy, did I have some neat stories to tell!
As the years passed, after that morning entering New York, Dad and Captain Reising would occasionally send greetings. Until we read a story in the newspaper.
Bremen had been westbound when she received a distress call and went to the aid of a freighter. The seas were not as calm as our night adrift, and with her rescue boats in the water, Bremen took a nasty roll. A baby was thrown from its berth, broke its neck and died. With the survivors rescued, Bremen steamed on with her casualty. Captain Reising knew there would be an inquiry upon arrival in New York and I guess the stress was too much for that kind, roly-poly old seaman. For he checked his position with his staff captain as they crossed the western edge of the Grand Banks, then went to his cabin where, shortly afterwards, he died of a heart attack.
In a letter to Dad sometime later, the captain's wife described Bremen entering New York at the end of that crossing, "coming in slowly, smoke wafting straight up, black bunting draped below the bridge windows and all flags at half mast..."
(Our thanks to Todd for a splendid memoir)