By 1958, the Tropicana delivered about 1.5 million gallons of juice each week to a cartoning facility at Whitestone, N.Y. Another facility at Merritt Island, Fla., squeezed the juice from oranges. The load port for the juice was initially at Cocoa, Fla., but later moved to Port Canaveral.
The ship was built in 1945 at Wilmington, Del., for the U.S. Maritime Commission and named the Cape Avinoff. The Munargo Line, a subsidiary of the United Fruit Co., acquired the ship in 1947 and sold it to the newly formed Fruit Industries of Bradenton, Fla. in 1955.
Outwardly, the C1-A type, 413-foot-long ship resembled a conventional dry cargo ship of its class, even retaining the cargo gear after its conversion. However, it was its internal arrangements that qualified the ship to be designated as an orange juice tanker.
Stainless steel tanks, which were fabricated on shore and then welded on board due to their size, were installed in the tween decks and lower holds. The tanks were then insulated with 6.5 inches of foam and fiber glass to maintain the temperature of the juice between 28 degrees and 30 degrees Fahrenheit during the voyage. This feature eliminated the need for shipboard refrigeration to maintain product flavor and purity.
The capacities of the juice tanks varied between 30,000 and 90,000 gallons. Initially, the ship’s capacity was 650,000 gallons; however, it was the intention to double that capacity.
During the 56-hour trip to the cartoning facility at Whitestone, the product temperature never rose more than 1.5 degrees. To help protect product flavor during transport, the Tropicana’s tanks were maintained under vacuum.
Loading and discharge of the juice from the ship was accomplished through a network of stainless-steel piping.
Each round trip for the 15-knot ship took nine days, which in essence removed 217 refrigerated truckloads from the highways.
As the appeal for the company’s orange juice increased, Fruit Industries changed its name to Tropicana in 1958. To supply middle America with juice, the company began to use specially built rail tank cars for its bulk deliveries. This operation originated the country’s first unit trains of the growing processed foods industry and, by 2004, 514 Tropicana railcars were employed to carry Tropicana products.
In July 1962, the Tropicana, which had been successfully operated by Marine Transport Lines for the company, was no longer required and sold to Greek owners.
This was also the period during which the U.S. coastwise and intercoastal merchant fleet was enjoying its last profitable years.
Left to right: The sparkling white Angelo Petri departing San Francisco on a trial voyage; the C-4 ship Calmar Bethlehem modified for the intercoastal service; and the F. E. Weyerhaeuser leaving the Columbia River with a cargo of lumber.The tanker Angelo Petri carried wine from Stockton, Calif. to Port Newark, N.J. Bethlehem Steel maintained its Calmar fleet, as did Weyerhaeuser, Pope and Talbot, and Hammond Lumber. The oil companies all had large fleets of tankers with a dry cargo hatch to carry cased and drummed cargoes. By the end of the 1960s, these trades were mostly gone. The impact of the interstate highway system, trailer on flatcar, unit trains and containerization had decimated a large portion of the U.S. merchant fleet.
As congestion now worsens on our nation’s highways, the underutilized waterways remain a viable alternative, which had been efficiently demonstrated by the good ship Tropicana.
Capt. James McNamara, who retired as president of the National Cargo Bureau, currently serves as chairman of the Maritime Industry Museum at Fort Schuyler, N.Y., and remains active in the U.S. maritime industry.