• U.S.

Business: One and Only

3 minute read

Six months ago a German torpedo blew the stern off the South America-bound freighter La Paz, 40 miles off the Florida coast. Last week the 10,000-ton La Paz was tied up in Jacksonville waiting for repairs that would send her back to war. It was all thanks to William Radford Lovett, a 51-year-old Jacksonville businessman who now says he wishes he had minded his own business in the first place—despite the fact that both he and the war effort will be the richer for his meddling.

Billy Lovett stopped minding his own business after one of his Suwanee Fruit & Steamship Co.’s three freighters (outmoded World War I destroyers which he converted into banana ships) happened upon the stricken La Paz, towed her toward shore. A mile and a half off Cocoa, Fla. she sank in the mud and Government engineers despaired of salvaging her. But Lovett, with a $500,000 salvage claim against her owner, decided to heed the call of “patriotism and profit.” At the U.S. marshal’s sale, he bought her (for $10,000), set out to float her again.

With makeshift equipment, a makeshift crew of fishermen and high-school boys (plus five professional divers at $75 a day) he started out with high hopes. That was last June. It took two and a half months to patch her under water, blow her free of water and mud. No sooner had she bobbed to the surface than an engine-room explosion settled her back into the ooze again. An explosion in the repair launch alongside her did not add to the efficiency of the salvage crew, which had been in a constant tizzy anyway for fear of being torpedoed themselves.

Finally, a lot more headaches and $250,000 later, the La Paz bobbed up again—and stayed afloat. Much of her juicy cargo turned out to be intact, including $50,000 worth of Johnnie Walker Black Label

Scotch and a lot of fine woolens, machinery and plumbing fixtures. The ship itself found a ready buyer in the War Shipping Administration, which in due course will pay Mr. Lovett some reasonable part of the $1,000,000 he thinks it is worth in the present state.

Nonetheless, white-haired W. R. Lovett —whose doctor once prescribed golf for his jitters—thinks his six-month saga was more of a strain than one man can afford to put on his nervous system. Whatever he gets out of it, the La Paz, he now says firmly, is his “one and only salvage operation.”

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