Former workers to celebrate Levingston history
Tommy Simar will share countless photographs that visually tell the history of Levingston Shipbuilding Company, Saturday, Oct. 18, at Robert’s Steakhouse. Former employees will be gathering to reminisce and visit with old friends at the yearly gathering of one of Orange’s largest employers of yesteryear. From 1 to 4 p.m. they will enjoy Robert’s cooking and swap tales of the glory days in Orange.
Simar, who started in Levingston in 1965 as a welder and later became a yard supervisor, rescued some of the photos for safekeeping when the yard shut down in 1983.
A large part of local and national history was made on those docks … from the ground up.
Born in Ireland, Samuel L. Levingston came to the United States in 1846 working as a ship carpenter in Florida. Moving to the Orange area in the 1850s, Levingston started a shipyard on the Sabine River.
Serving as a ship carpenter and blockade runner for the Confederacy during the Civil War, Levingston began building wooden paddle boats at its conclusion. The company started building other types of vessels also.
After Samuel retired, his son, “Capt. George” Levingston took over.
With the depression came difficult times for the small shipbuilding company. Edgar Brown Jr., prominent businessman and banker, became the principal owner in 1933.
World War II brought a boom to the Orange Company, building vessels for the military. Levingston was the leading builder of tug boats and tankers during the war. For the Navy, they built 61 oceangoing tugs. The Army ordered 38 tugs, 10 inshore tankers and 10 self-propelled barges.
After the war, Levingston expanded its operations across the Sabine so that it could build larger vessels. They incorporated a “mini” ferry nicknamed “the mule” to carry workers back and forth across the Sabine River.
Ed T. Malloy, who later came to own the company, served as general manager then vice president from 1940 to 1945. He then served Levingston as president for 18 years, followed by W.E. Pennington and Otho Haunscheld.
Malloy was known for his love of cats at the shipyard according to Simar. “He caught a worker throwing welding rods at a cat one time,” he said. Malloy didn’t fire the worker, but threatened him with losing his job if he was ever caught again, “damaging and wasting my property.” Simar said, “There weren’t any rats in the shipyard.”
The launching of a ship was always a big event. “The ladies all wore hats back then,” said Simar as he looked over photos that were taken by the Levingston photographers.
“That ship was built for the Shah of Iran,” said Simar of a boat launch photo.
It’s evident in the pictures how things changed from the 1940s, through the ‘70s by the clothes, cars, equipment, and boats.
Orange prospered and bloomed during those years.
Levingston became known the world over for building tug boats, barges, drilling rigs, ferries, cargo ships, tankers and more.
Levingston’s ships have been sold to Hong Kong, the Philippines, Argentina, Taiwan, Great Britain, Chile, Peru and the Iranian Navy among others.
Innovators in drilling barges and platforms, Levingston was the only U S. builder of all five types of drilling rigs. The shipbuilding company was at the forefront of early design when the off shore drilling industry started booming in the 1950s.
They also continued building tug boats and other vessels. In 1965, they constructed the Staten Island ferries, one of which was the John F. Kennedy.
There were no trade schools back then as there are today. Levingston held its own classes in welding and blueprinting. It was on the job training.
The Orange Shipyard was privately owned until 1977, when it was sold to Ashland Oil. It was then bought by Ed Paden, president of the company in 1982. Levingston closed in Orange in 1985. Now there are only memories and pictures to be celebrated … once a year.