Monday, June 13, 2011

Matson memories

A sign advertising Matson's terminal at the Port of Los Angeles (Photo courtesy of Matson)

Reader Tom Kennedy wrote us to share some reminiscences of working at Matson back in the 1950s and 1960s when they were at the Port of Los Angeles. His duties, as he explains, took him to the Port of Long Beach often, and he tells the story of what it was like dealing with bulk cargo in the days before containerization:

During the 1950s and ’60s Matson Navigation Co. was located at Berths 195-200A in Wilmington L.A. Harbor. Matson’s main business was to serve the Hawaiian Islands. The main eastbound — Hawaii to mainland — was agricultural in the form of pineapples and sugar. Hawaii was not yet a state in the earlier period of this span. A big requirement for Hawaii was large quantities of fertilizer: potash, urea, etc. This product was shipped into the bulk terminal at Long Beach in rail cars – gondolas/hopper cars etc. mainly from Trona, Calif., and other points – trains sometimes from a quarter- to a half-mile long.

Dealing with sand or a similar bulk cargo at the Port of
Long Beach, 1955 (Port of Long Beach photo)
My position with Matson at that time was to arrange for our vessels to load this cargo at the Long Beach bulk loading terminal. My contact at the time was Mr. Chuck Murray of Metropolitan Stevedoring. He was a great guy to work with. We had excellent rapport and enjoyed our association.

The vessels we used at that time were C3s and possibly an odd Victory or Liberty. Matson subsidiary Oceanic SS Co., with trade routes in the Southern Pacific, also used the Long Beach loading facility. They carried large cargoes of sand – yes, sand from Australia. It was a special kind of sand – zircon and rutile and was used in the production of titanium metal. When the bulk sand was unloaded from the vessel it was transferred to rail cars and dispatched to the Titanium Metal Corp. in Henderson, Nev.

Matson also handled a large volume of military cargo for M.S.T.S. (Military Sea Transport Service), whose distribution center was in Long Beach Harbor. I dealt with a Mr. A.D. Cole, manager, there (now deceased). It required routing the vessel to the Long Beach facility for loading, mostly foodstuffs and autos, to and from Pearl Harbor plus a myriad of other commodities.

Matson's Port of LA terminal during the early days of
containerization (Photo courtesy of Matson)
Time marches on and with the advent of containerization in the mid- to late ’60s American Potash and Chemical Co. etc. were forced to pack the fertilizer in 100-pound paper sacks and ship in rail cars to the LB/LA area to be transferred to ocean containers for shipment to Hawaii. They may now load containers at origin and ship direct to the line, of that I’m not sure, but it would seem to be logical.

I don’t know what happened to the sand. The Oceanic SS Co. ceased to do business.

Matson is now a tenant of the Port of Long Beach, using SSA for their stevedoring. 

Matson at Pier C in the Port of Long Beach in 2007. (Port of Long Beach photo)

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