Joseph John Carbo

The merchant ship engineer put his expertise to work as a longtime volunteer aboard the Liberty ship John W. Brown

March 19, 2010|By Frederick N. Rasmussen |

Joseph John Carbo, a retired merchant ship engineer who sailed around the world 14 times and later put his engine room expertise to work as a longtime volunteer aboard the Liberty ship John W. Brown, died Sunday at Gilchrist Hospice Care.

The longtime West Towson resident was 82.

Mr. Carbo, who was born and raised in South Philadelphia within sight of the Delaware River and the ships steaming in and out of port, was the son of a shipbuilder and a homemaker.

During World War I, his father worked at American International Shipbuilding's Hog Island shipyard, and after the war at the Philadelphia Navy Yard.

Mr. Carbo graduated from Bishop Neumann High School in 1945. He chose against enlisting in the Army, and an eye problem made him ineligible for naval service. One day, he saw a sign that said, "Merchant Marine Needs Men," and, at 18, he made the decision to go to sea.

After graduating from the U.S. Maritime Service Training Station at Sheepshead Bay, N.Y., at the end of 1945, Mr. Carbo went to work as a mess man aboard the A.H. Bull Steamship Co.'s SS Madawaska Victory, which transported American troops from England and France to New York.

Mr. Carbo advanced to working in ships' engine rooms, where he eventually became chief engineer and found his life's work.

"I like steam. My steamships: Liberty, Victory, C1, C2, C3. Steam plants in Baltimore. You boil water, you make steam. Good," he told former Baltimore Sun editor and John W. Brown volunteer Ernest F. Imhoff, whose book "Good Shipmates" chronicled the volunteer work that restored the John W. Brown, which had been built in and launched from Baltimore in 1942.

"I also sailed to see the world," Mr. Carbo told Mr. Imhoff.

"I'd always get off a ship to go looking around. The Netherlands? Hire a bike and take off. In Naples, see Pompeii. In Alexandria, see the Pyramids. In Antwerp, see Brussels. In LeHavre, go to Paris," he said.

It was while recuperating for three months from an infected cyst in 1949 at the old Marine Hospital, now Wyman Park Medical Center, that Mr. Carbo met Genevieve Mildred Jacobs, a registered nurse.

Eventually, Mr. Carbo returned to sea, but couldn't forget the young Baltimore nurse who cared for him for three months.

"We kept in touch and saw each other over the next few years," Mrs. Carbo said. "Joe went back to sea and would come home between ships."

The couple married in 1958 and settled into their Woodbine Avenue home, where they had lived for the past 52 years.

Mr. Carbo sailed for various steamship companies during his nearly two-decade career, but he especially enjoyed working in the engine rooms of Isbrandtsen Line ships.

"Good captains, good engine room crews," he told Mr. Imhoff.

During his years at sea, one of Mr. Carbo's hobbies was throwing from the ships letters he had written and placed in bottles.

A bottle containing one of his letters found its way to the west coast of Ireland, where an 8-year-old girl from County Mayo, walking the beach one day, found it lodged in the rocks. She wrote to Mr. Carbo, and the two remained correspondents until his death.

In 1964, Mr. Carbo left the sea and returned to Baltimore, where he became supervisor and later superintendent of heating plants for the Housing Authority of Baltimore City.

One day in 1988 while he was enjoying a drink in Duda's Tavern at Broad and Thames streets, Mr. Carbo looked up from his glass of beer and saw an advertisement asking for volunteers to come to work and help get the John W. Brown back in steam and sailing again.

Two years later, after retiring, Mr. Carbo went to the John W. Brown, where he became assistant chief for DeLacy L. "Cookie" Cook, a World War II mariner and retired United States Lines port captain who was in charge of the ship's engine room.

Mr. Carbo was eager to return to the cavernous engine room, which is deep down in the Brown and where stands the ship's huge reciprocating triple-expansion steam engine that is fed steam from two oil-fired boilers.

When the Brown was under way, he was reunited once again with a world whose smells are of hot oil and steam and where it's not uncommon for temperatures to soar into the 90s.

The sound of the throbbing engine that pushes along the vessel at 11 knots makes conversation below a shout nearly impossible.

When Mr. Carbo was on duty, he placed a St. Christopher's medal near the engine room telegraph.

"You only need three crewmen to run the engine room," he told The Baltimore Sun in a 1997 interview. "A wiper, fireman and chief. If you have a fourth, you can play bridge."

Mr. Carbo became a popular member of the Brown's crew and enjoyed engaging in friendly between-deck rivalry.

"I always tell deckhands, 'We replaced sails,' " Mr. Carbo told The Baltimore Sun in the 1997 interview.

Harry C. Gordon, a volunteer deck engineer on the Brown, was a longtime friend of Mr. Carbo's.

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