Friday, January 19, 2018

Heading for Saudi Arabia on a warship

In Aug 2010, ebay listed an antique share certificate from the Saudi Arabian Mining Syndicate. The company was incorporated in the Bahama Islands, and the certificate looked as if it was printed in the USA. Thus, three nations were represented in one certificate, and that made me curious.

Some research revealed that the company mined the Mahd adh Dhabab area where, during the reign of King Solomon (961-922 B.C.), gold, silver and copper were digged. The area is located in the Al Madina province of the Hejaz region of Saudi Arabia. Mahd adh Dhabab means actually “Cradle of Gold”. Four months later, I wrote a small article for my blog about that fascinating operation.

Saudi Arabian Mining Syndicate Ltd
stock certificate for shares of 5 Shillings, 1948

Now, blogging often brings surprises. I say this to you because once you have described a share certificate online, that certificate starts to live online, and it develops an elephant’s memory on its own. It will always remember what you did for it. Let me explain. It happens that people contact you for telling that they have a certificate like the one you described online, or they tell you that they have worked for the featured company. 

In this case, the surprise came six years after I wrote that blog article. That Saudi Arabian Mining Syndicate (SAMS) share got me in contact with Ms. Laurel F. She sent me an email in which she explained that she was collecting info on her father’s background for genealogy purposes. Laurel also told me that her father, Joseph H. Schlobohm, was hired by the American Smelting and Refinery Company (ASRC) when he was 22 in 1938. He'd been the job foreman at the SAMS site when they were first going to go underground.

American Smelting and Refining Company
American Bank Note Co specimen 100 share preferred certificate
unknown issued,  allegedly due to a flood in the company's archives
courtesy Max Hensley, International Bond and Share Society 

Seven years earlier, back in 1931, King Abdul Aziz assigned the American geologist K.S. Twitchell the task to investigate the presence of oil and minerals in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Twitchell found oil in the Eastern Province, but also gold in the Hejaz Region in 1932. The Arabian government and the ASRC formed in 1935 the Saudi Arabian Mining Syndicate for the operation of the Mahd ad Dhahab gold mine. Activities began in 1936.

With her email, Laurel F also included a newspaper story about her father’s mission brought by the The Daily Argus, Mount Vernon, N.Y., Thursday, March 14, 1940. It goes like this.

Joseph H. Schlobohm leaves Saturday (March 16, 1940) aboard the SS Exochorda of the American Export Lines on the first lap of a 30-day trip. He will journey by boat, rail, automobile and camel to Hejaz, a small village 250 miles inland from the port of Jedda where the Saudi Arabian Mining Syndicate Ltd, operates the mine which once produced priceless gifts for Cleopatra. Up until the present, the gold mine in Arabia has been worked on the surface. Now the owners have decided to mine underground and Schlobohm will be a foreman on the shaft sinking crew. "They tell me that the Arabs don't like to work under the surface," he says. "I guess part of my job will be to persuade them that there's really nothing to working six or seven thousand feet under."
The SS Exochorda will sail for Genoa from Pier P at Jersey City Saturday afternoon. Schlobohm will remain aboard the ship until it docks at Alexandria, Egypt. From that point he'll travel by rail to Suez where he is scheduled to board another steamer to Jedda. The trip to Hejaz from Jedda will be made on camels and will take four days.

22-year-old Joseph H. Schlobohm packs his bag 
for a long journey that will take him to Saudi Arabia, 
and a job as quarry foreman in the world's oldest mine. 
The Daily Argus, Mount Vernon, N.Y., Thursday, March 14, 1940

Joseph’s ship, the SS Exochorda was built in 1931 by the New York Shipbuilding Co, Camden, New Jersey. American Export Lines placed the ship in service between the US and the Mediterranean offering cargo transports and passenger cruises of up to 40 days. With a length of 475 ft 4 in (144.88 m) the ship operated at a maximum speed of 16 knots (about 18.4 mph, 29.6 kph).  

Eight months after Joseph embarked for Alexandria, the ship was acquired by the Navy 30 October 1940. The SS Exochorda was then converted to the USS Harry Lee. The Harry Lee was to transport troops to hostile shores in order to execute amphibious invasions. The vessel played an active role during World War II and participated in the invasion of  Sicily  (July 1943), Tarawa (Pacific, Nov 1943), the Marshall Islands (Jan 1944) and the Philippines (Jan 1945). Armed with 2 x 6" guns and 4 x 40 mm guns the ship had to protect itselves and its cargo of troops from submarine threats and heavy fighter aircraft attacks, including suicide planes.

Harry Lee (AP-17) at anchor, date and location unknown. 
US Navy photo from "US Amphibious Ships and Craft," by Norman Friedman, Wikipedia

The pre-war SS Exochorda was a member of a quartet of ships referred to as the (original) "4 Aces" of American Export Lines. All four vessels were taken over by the U.S. Navy, but the Exochorda was the only one that survived World War II. As the Harry Lee it received seven battle stars for World War II service.

When Joseph H. Schlobohm entered the ship that took him to Saudi Arabia for the first time, he could not know about the fate that awaited his ship. According to his newspaper interview, the only thing that worried Joseph about the whole business, was the fact that he's a rotten golfer. He concludes : "They tell me that the locals at Hejaz have laid out an 18-hole sand course," he explains. "And I never could get out of a sand trap!"

American Export Lines, Inc.
1961 US Government Insured Merchant Marine Bond

76 years later, Joseph’s daughter Laurel ends her e-mail sentimentally: I grew up hearing my father’s incredible stories of the trip overseas to the port of Jedda and then a few days by camel to the mine itself where he worked for a couple of years I believe. That job lead him onto to a fantastic career in mining. He travelled all over the world, spoke fluent arabic as well as a few other languages and I myself was fortunate enough to live overseas until I was about ten.  

And me, well, I feel like a time traveller.

written with permission from Ms. Laurel F.

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