ss balao crew cabin

This is a faithful reconstruction of a crewman’s cabin aboard a Norwegian merchant vessel called the SS Balao. The cabin belonged to the junior ship mechanic’s apprentice. The calendar on the wall is open to a page showing September, October and November 1972. I suspect the framed photograph underneath the calendar is an exterior view of the Balao. This reconstruction is on display at the Norsk Sjøfartsmuseum (Norwegian Maritime Museum) in Oslo, Norway.

What can we tell about maritime life in Norway from this photo? Quite a bit, actually. Seafaring has been an important part of Norwegian history since its beginning (I’ve written about this before). In the late 1960s Norway, which was previously one of the poorest countries in Europe, suddenly became quite wealthy as a result of discovering oil reserves. Norway’s socialist-leaning government immediately sought to parlay this wealth into infrastructure and material benefits for Norway’s citizens, whose standard of living rose sharply in these years. This cabin of a workman is very posh by nautical standards–the equivalent of a captain’s cabin on ships of an earlier era. Yet this guy has a private bathroom with shower, a comfortable bed and all the comforts of home. I love the knickknacks on the shelves at the right, which include a ship model and a pair of old-style wooden Japanese shoes, perhaps collected on a voyage to Japan. The owner of this room has obviously traveled the world–or wants people to think he has–with souvenirs from the Bahamas, Puerto Rico and Mauritius. But there’s also a set of oily coveralls and a hard hat hanging on the wall, reminding us that he is still a working man.

Unfortunately I was unable to find anything substantive on the SS Balao, what its mission was or what happened to it. I presume it was a cargo vessel.

This Interiors series is rapidly becoming one of my favorites to do on this blog, precisely because of photos like this which have a lot of interesting things to tell us about history…if you look closely enough!

This photo has been released into the public domain.