Loading a conventional (non-container) freighter usually took several days or longer. Each ship presented a different set of problems since different cargoes required different techniques.
Longshoremen, working in gangs, took pride in figuring out how best to pack tons of goods into a ships hold, resulting in a tight stow. While the work was often hard, dangerous, and dirty, it also required ingenuity, experience, brawn, and teamwork.
When unloading a conventional freighter, longshoremen put other skills to work. Some members of the gang loaded cargo into slings. Many operated winches to hoist the cargo. It was a matter of pride not to let the hook hangto work so effectively as a team that there was always a slingload of cargo in motion. Still, unloading often took more than a week.
Turnaround time in the shipping industry is the time between a ships arrival in port and its departure. The time it takes to load and unload a ship is often the largest factor in turnaround time. For shipowners, the less time in port the better. A ship in port is not making money; it is generating expenses. In the 1950s, shipowners were desperate for ways to reduce turnaround time.
A conventional freighter carries a variety of cargoes packed in boxes, bags, sacks, and other bulk units. This cutaway model of the freighter Lewis F. Luckenbach shows how different kinds of cargo-sacks of coffee, bales of cotton, cartons of merchandise, lumber-fit into the hold. The Lewis F. Luckenbach could carry as much cargo as 700 railroad cars, but it took gangs of longshoremen days to load and unload.
Cargo hooks were the indispensable tools of traditional longshoremen. The hook extended their reach and allowed them to snag a sack, bale, bundle, or box and lift it to a pallet or sling. Longshoremen used different styles of hooks for different kinds of cargo and even customized the handles to fit their hands.
A longshoreman used this style of hook for handling burlap sacks of cargo. The dull tips could grab a sack without tearing it.
Small cargo hook
Used for moving sacks of coffee, this small hooks handle has been whittled to fit the left hand. With the hook extending between the third and fourth fingers, the thumb rests comfortably over the sloping part of the handle.
"Japanese" cargo hook
Called a "Japanese" hook by West Coast longshoremen, this style of cargo hook was especially good for reaching boxes packed in the far corners of a ship's hold.
Cargo hook for lumber
This hook was used for handling general cargo in boxes, cartons, bales, and sacks.