I am working on a novel about the Merchant Marines.
I want to write about a particular voyage in late summer of 1931. My father dropped out of high school and joined the Merchant Marines, and at 18, was an engineering cadet on the ss Exhibitor. I found letters from my dad to his parents describing the itinerary of the voyage, but not much else.
I am recently retired, and am a novice researcher at best, but little by little I have been getting there. The problem is, if this research could be compared to a bulls eye on a target, I am filling in the peripheral circles, with the actual bulls eye still eluding me. What sort of cargo did this ship carry? What were the duties of an engineering cadet at that time? What were his watches like? What exactly was he learning? What were his sleeping arrangements like? His eating arrangements? Was he able to interact with his deck crew mates? What would shore leave have been like? It’s the day to day life on this ship that is still hazy to me.
I know about the ship, when it was built, its size, the type of engine (steam turbine), who owned the ship in 1931, even its fate during WWII. I have a decent sense of the politics of the time, and I have read some fine books about merchant marine life at sea in the 1960s and 1980s (but not the 1930s).
If anyone has any leads or ideas or material to recommend, in regards to hitting that bulls eye, it would be greatly appreciated.