Early on in my career I shipped out of New Orleans and sailed on a few of their ships as 3rd, 2nd, and 1st. Going through my old discharges I sailed on the Shirley Lykes, Ruth Lykes, Margaret Lykes, Marjorie Lykes, Stella Lykes, and lastly the Letitia Lykes. They were all steamships. When they got into diesels they reused some of the aforementioned names.
They were standard contract ships but definitely not known for giving out OT. Dayworkers were not guaranteed weekends. Their runs were worldwide. I made trips the Med, Northern Europe & Russia (USSR back then), West Coast of South America, and to the Far East. Being predominately breakbulk there was time in port. Being young and single I made use of that time.
With the exception of the Seabees, I doubt if those who worked on their ships considered them (the company) progressive or revolutionary. The GSA ships, Prides, Pacers (stretched Prides) and Clippers were nice steam ships. Their plant layouts were similar, meaning you could go from one to the other and easily find your way. The Clippers were considered very automated for their time.
Progressive? None of the ships I sailed on had a welding machine, they weren’t even supposed to have a cutting torch (most had one squirreled away). That quickly changed when they ran the ex-States Lines Ro-Ros.
Several factors hastened the demise of the company. They knew all the ins and outs of the subsidy contract. Once a ship made the minimum required sailings for the subsidy there was a chance it would get laid up for a few months and another ship broken out to service the run. When Reagen ended ODS, it forced Lykes to actually make money on their own and they didn’t have the tools or means to do so.
In the 70’s when I started sailing, they had 40+ ships. All were breakbulk (Yes, they could carry some containers, but they weren’t container ships) and they were all steamships. The days of breakbulk ship were coming to a close and the price of fuel put steamships at a big disadvantage. US Lines, APL, Sea-Land, to name a few, had already transitioned to containerships and Lykes was forced to play a game of catch-up.
Their decision to build Seabees was nothing but a money sucking disaster. I would give them credit for building a class of ship that was revolutionary in design and “militarily” useful but commercially, they were a money loser from the get-go. Similar to the LASH concept in that they stood half a chance to make the concept work IF they ran them to parts of the world with unimproved or poor port infrastructure, but that isn’t where they ran them.
They were an old school company. When I sailed with them, we often had passengers. The mates were expected to wear khakis on watch.