1932 Sea Scout’s Diary Chronicling His Journey Around Cape Horn and His Life as a Busy Teen Upon His Return to Wisconsin

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​​On offer is a superb journal of a young Wisconsin man's 1932 adventure around Cape Horn as a Sea Scout, and his experience speaking about his trip upon his return. 

In 1932, diarist Harold Jack Milnes(1915-1995), who went by Jack, lived in the Lake View area of Menomonie, Wisconsin. He was a 16 year old Sea Scout at the time of his writing. The Sea Scouts is part of the international Scouting movement that focuses on boating and maritime skills. As part of their program, Milnes and some fellow Sea Scouts had an opportunity to travel from the midwest by train to San Francisco and board the steamer SS West Mahwah. They sailed with the West Mahwah south to Panama, traversed the Panama Canal and continued on a journey that took them completely around the South American continent via Cape Horn.

After high school, Milnes attended the University of Wisconsin (Stout Campus). Upon graduation he became a teacher, married Marjory Steiner Milnes, and served as a Sergeant in World War 2.  Upon his death, Milnes bequeathed $1.4 million to the University of Wisconsin-Stout in the form of The Steiner Milnes Scholarship.

Milnes keeps a very detailed record of his trip for a teen boy who was very busy experiencing the world for the first time. His first entry is on May 25, 1932, and it reads: 

“Omaha Made friends with the Conductor and Brakeman. Hit every bump in the road but will sleep better tonight”.

Two days later, he boards his ship, the SS West Mahwah, where he writes:

“Arrived San Francisco and went directly to the docks. Sail on the West Mahwah which weighs 3,586 tons empty and 9,000 tons loaded” [May 27].

They slipped May 31st  and his great adventure was underway. He was no mere passenger but worked, standing watches, polishing brass, washing and darning, etc. On their trip south to Panama, he experienced their first storms and sea-sickness. They traveled across the Caribbean and then south:

“Scott and I moved in together. We put a bunch of new shelves in and some new hangers. We have to live in suit cases partly for the rest of the voyage. Today we crossed a streak of muddy water in the ocean that extended as far as we could see. [ ] said it was the mud from the mouth of the Amazon” [July 1].

Soon he crossed the Equator and was initiated into the Kingdom of Neptune as sailors have been for centuries:

“Initiation today. We were led out to King Neptune blindfolded. He said a lot of hooey and then gave us to the doctor (their chaperone from context) He covered us with monochrome and then the barber shaved us. He painted our face with grease and for good measure covered the rest of us with it. Then we had the kiss the holy stone. They pushed us backwards into a tank of water and called it quits” [July 4].

They stopped at harbours such as Bahia, Rio de Janeiro, Montevideo and Buenos Aires, touring around and taking in what had to be exciting and exotic sights, sounds and smells:

“Doc Thompson, Mr. Peterson Jack & I went ashore we went through one of the open markets Then we took an elevator up about 500 ft to the town. We rode a street car to the end & back for a cent and a half. Doc bought a monkey two marmosets and two turtles. He gave then to me to take home” [July 9].

The voyage north up the west coast of South America was uneventful and they arrived in San Francisco on Sept 13th. He spent a couple of days there before beginning his trip west:

“...We saw the tallest man in the world. He was 8 feet 91/2 inches tall. ... Saw ... Bing Crosby in person at the Fox Theatre” [Sept 14].

He makes regular notations about weather and weather phenomena.

By late September he is back in school, recounting his great adventure. He also speaks to several other groups. The balance of the entries for October through December are full of the busy day-to-day events of a teenage boy's like school, girls, activities with friends. An example of a post-trip entry follows:

“I talked at the East School Mothers Club. Caucus for class officers. I’m Pres. Jeanette Vice Pres…I did a good job of engineering. Hope it works. Bud, Paul, Janet, Marlys, Red, Jeanette Hanson and Stewart were over. We sang till 9:30. Had a dandy time. Are going to form a singing group” [Oct 18].

A geographer or historian would find this a very interesting description of ports and routes, especially through the eyes of a 16 year old. It is great plot material for a short story Researchers looking for climate data and observations tied to specific periods and/or geographic regions would find this data to be very useful in looking at trend lines or making comparisons with weather patterns today. This is especially the case as Milnes traveled a long distance over a very large and diverse area.

This travel diary measures 5.5 inches by 4.5 inches and contains 83 pages plus memoranda. It is about 90% complete. The leather cover is in good condition and all pages are intact. The handwriting is clear and legible. Overall G.

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