Hometown News For Orange County, Texas

Scientific history started in Orange shipyard

On a chilly, windy March Saturday in 1968, scientists, engineers, business executives and dignitaries gathered on the island of the Sabine River curve around downtown Orange for a ship launching. The Stark High Band played as the Glomar Challenger slid into the river in a formal christening ceremony.

Levingston Shipbuilding designed and constructed the vessel that went on to make scientific history. In the 1960s, the "space race" to get to the moon and explore space made lots of headlines. The scientific study to reach the reach the core of the ocean didn't make the headlines, but was as important to scientists as the space exploration.

Basically, the Sputnik of the ocean was built in Orange by hundreds of blue-collar workers, along with the designers and engineers.

The information gathered by the Glomar's Ocean Drilling Project proved the tectonic plate and continental drift theories of geology. Core samples it gathered and preserved are still used today and are considered vital to climate change studies.

The testing and explorations of the Glomar also led to the discoveries of deep ocean salt domes that may contain oil, leading to some deep ocean oil drilling. The design of the Glomar helped in the creation of drilling rigs to reach the deep-sea oil.

The Encyclopedia Britannica online said the Glomar Challenger was active from 1968 through 1983. During those years, the ship investigated 624 sites in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans, plus the Mediterranean and Red seas.

The ship's drilling derrick was 140 feet tall and was capable of drilling 5,570 feet into the core of the ocean floor.

The Smithsonian Institution has the ship's dynamic position system, the engine telegraph and thruster console stored.

The collected 30-foot cores, that were 2.5 inches wide, were split in half lengthwise and are stored at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego and Columbia University. Half of the cores are still used by scientists and the other halves are archived for the future.

The Texas A&M University Ocean Drilling Project website says that on June 24, 1966, the National Science Foundation and the University of California Board of Regents approved the Deep Sea Drilling Project and its funding. The University of California oversaw the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego.

Paul Mattingly, whose father worked at Levingston, wrote a history of the shipyard and said the Scripps Institution was using a Levingston-built diesel tug from World War II and knew the quality of the shipyard's work. Levingston got the contract to build the unique ship designed to reach depths never recorded before.

The keel to the Glomar Challenger was laid on October 18, 1967. The name Glomar was taken from the words "global" and "marine." The second part of the name was a tribute to the oceanographic survey vessel the HMS Challenger.

After spending seven years exploring, the Glomar then moved into a second phase, Project IPOD, which stood for International Phase of Ocean Drilling. The New York Times in December 1975 reported on the Glomar's work and its future.

Great Britain, Japan, the Soviet Union, and West Germany were joining with the U.S. to use the Glomar Challenger for more explorations. The other countries were contributing to the expenses.

Levingston Shipbuilding closed in the early 1980s during the big oil recession that halted the need for offshore drilling rigs the company was making at time. The company's roots went all the way back to 1859.

In that year, three Irish immigrants, Brothers Samuel, David, and John Levingston bought an existing shipyard along the Sabine River in Orange. They specialized in wooden ships and boats for 30 years during a time when the river was likened to Interstate 10. e

"Captain" George Levingston, son of Samuel, started his own shipyard in 1919 along the river and expanded it in 1930 by buying five acres along Front Street at Mill Street.

Local industrialist and lumber mill owner Edgar Brown Jr. bought Levingston in the 1930s as Europe was on its way to war and defense shipbuilding was becoming a priority. In 1939, he hired Ed Malloy from General Motors to become general manager of Levingston.

Levingston during the war produced a number of sea-going tug boats and other vessels used by the U.S. Navy as the country joined World War II in December 1941.

Malloy served at the shipyard for 37 years and became its president when he bought controlling shares of the company when Brown sold it in 1945 when the war was ending.

 

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