An Outpost of Progress – The Narrative – Finding Gold in Small Veins

PROLOGUE: When you are working with original source material the veins of gold may be hard to see from time to time. This week’s entry is about the relatively pedestrian pursuits of an American worker in a foreign land on a brief leave from the oil fields. Judging from the last entry he may have had all of the excitement he could enjoy and may have needed a few days off. Our only illustration this week is a picture of a piece quartz with a little gold running through it which reinforces our original point. Bill sent the sample to the School of Mines just as he left his diary for me. I think I came out ahead and hope you enjoy my sharing his story with you.

The are various types of tales of travel. There is the travel of the immigrant who reaches a destination and builds a new life there. The stories of Maurice Coffey and John Young in post Civil War America that are related here may exemplify this type of journey. There are commercial expeditions that have an element of adventure to them as the traveller finds himself in unfamiliar and uncertain territory. The trip to China by Johnny Young in the early days of the twentieth century yet to be related here – is a tale of this sort. There is travel that was meant to complete a liberal education – more tour than adventure although in a time where travel was not accomplished by suspended animation, as it is today – there was certainly something of substance in the coming and going. The Grand Tour of Margaret Edythe Young that is the connecting thread of this blog gives us a glimpse of this.

Finally, we have the story of Bill Leach who travels to Venezuela and all of the strangeness of a foreign culture still half-submerged in a jungle but who did so for the purpose of work. He comes into contact with the native people, with the Hispanic elements that had superimposed themselves on the people and the environment for some four hundred years, with the environment itself that is still untamed after those four centuries but while he is in Venezuela he is not of Venezuela. He is surrounded by his fellow expatriates and the Standard Oil Villages that he lives in are as American – if probably a little tidier – than the towns he has lived in back home.

While there are stories of rebellion, oil well blowouts and men driven to self-destruction by the terror of having been very nearly crushed by a boa constrictor there are also stories of the gang going on holiday to the cities and doing the same things they would have done in Schenectady or Socorro. We sincerely doubt that a life where each page turned reveals some new hazard or accomplishment exists outside of fiction or political biography and while this entry proves our point it is none the less worthwhile  as a picture of the pedestrian events that make up the course of everyday life. Enjoy the rest, take comfort in the fact that your grandfather and great-grandfather was not Frank Buck and that you have no obligation – and should feel no compulsion – to be like him either.

The specimen is identified as coming from the Tumeremo Mine, Bolivar area, Venezuela. The specimen measures: 3.5 x 3 x 1.5 cm. Many thanks to Virgil W. Lueth, Ph.D., New Mexico Tech for the picture

The specimen is identified as coming from the Tumeremo Mine, Bolivar area, Venezuela. The specimen measures: 3.5 x 3 x 1.5 cm. Many thanks to Virgil W. Lueth, Ph.D., New Mexico Tech for the picture

Here it is the 2nd of July and nothing has happened to comment on. Today Harry Himlic, myself and a number of the follows are going to spend the holidays in Caripito.  We are planning to take the Caripiteno from the Boca then stop at Pedernales where we expect to pick some more who are planning to spend the holidays at Caripito. Left the camp at 9 o’clock by auto and then proceeded to the Port of Tabasca where we will take a company launch and proceed to the Boca.
Here we will get aboard the Caripiteno and will head for Pedernales via the Rio Manamo.  Left the Boca at 2 p.m. and got a rather early start.  Rode all day and arrived in Pedernales about 10 p.m. where everyone proceeded to have a good time.  Finally left Pedernales about midnight and arrived at the wharf at Caripito about 8:30 a.m. tired but still looking forward to a good time.
To make a long story short had a pretty good time in Caripito in the way of a dance, show, and a friendly meeting.  Started back for the camp on the 5th, went back to Pedernales and thence back to Temblador.  Had a good trip but must admit that I came back one tired hombre.  Who wouldn’t with such little rest as I had.  Sleeping accommodations were very limited and I had to sleep on a bench. Am now rested and will plan on looking forward to a return trip around the Xmas holidays – and then home,

Rains are coming down oftener and heavier.  The water at the Port of Tabasca is getting higher and higher each day, in fact practically all of our material is under water at that place.  We cannot get, by auto, within 5 miles of where we ordinarily go – and water is still coming up. The Orinoco River is coming up more and more each day and at present is about 37 to 40 feet above the level when I was there in June; it is still rising and can be expected to flood out Ciudad Bolivar.

August 16 and 17, at night, delivered us plenty of rain and everything is a mess in all directions.  Some parts of the road are under water; the savannahs are water-logged, and one is only safe from being stuck only by sticking to the established roads. Tonight the 17th lightning hit a power line and cut off all of the electricity at the new camp.


An Outpost of Progress – The Narrative – BLOWOUT!

Bill Leach near the New Mexico well blowout May 10, 1936

Bill Leach near the New Mexico well blowout May 10, 1936

Steve Leach graduated from the New Mexico School of Mines in 1935 as a geologist and promptly went to work in a mine. Within his first year in the mine the shaft started to flood and the miners had to evacuate via ladders – many of them with rotten rungs – through the escape tunnels. Steve Leach promptly parlayed his geology degree into a job at Humble Oil and never went back into another mine. When Bill Leach graduated from the School of Mines his degree was in mining engineering but other than a brief stint of prospecting along the Durango-Silverton rail line – probably just some friends having a post graduation lark that ended with the onset of the first snow – he spent almost his entire career in the petroleum industry.

Gulf Oil New Mexico Blowout, Eunice, New Mexico

Gulf Oil New Mexico Blowout, Eunice, New Mexico

There are those who are politically Green and actually, still in their salad days, very green of judgement who insist on referring to mining and petroleum exploration and production in a derisive manner as extraction industries. I suppose the phrase is supposed to bring the same twinge to the reader that a visit to the dentist to have a tooth pulled would and although listening to those who are Green – especially the green ones – is about as comfortable as a dental extraction the dentist, like the plumber, is a necessary evil. As for mining and drilling for coal or for oil those things are so necessary to the continuation of our civilization that the restrictions that the green Greens propose are tantamount to genocide in their net effect.

Three inch diameter drill pipe woven through the remains of the derrick by the force of the blowout.

Three inch diameter drill pipe woven through the remains of the derrick by the force of the blowout.

As both Steve and Bill Leach found out in long careers any job that requires real work has more than its fair share of physical danger involved for the workers. For the oil exploration and production business the biggest dangers came from blowouts. Coal and oil are both fuels and are volatile – oil more so than coal.  Mining has its share of disasters caused by gas explosions inside of mines that are relatively shallow compared to oil drilling. Drilling consists of going down thousands of feet through multiple formations any of which may contain gas or oil under greater pressure than the drilling equipment can suppress. When that happens you get a blowout with the ever-present danger of ignition of the released oil or gas which can do anything from burn out the immediate well to a whole production field.

The drillers hit a gas pocket at 2,410 feet and everything blew upward. Kelly, the driller pictured, was on the derrick floor and was lifted 50' above the top of what was a 122' derrick and survived - although deafened.

The drillers hit a gas pocket at 2,410 feet and everything blew upward. Kelly, the driller pictured, was on the derrick floor and was lifted 50′ above the top of what was a 122′ derrick and survived – although deafened.

Bill Leach had seen the results of a blowout while still in New Mexico and in this week’s entry  he will recount has first hand experience in Venezuela. Since the improvements in drilling technique and the introduction of blowout preventers in 1924 – and their constant improvement since – blowouts have become more and more the fault of operator error. Like traffic accidents they continue to decline but also like traffic accidents – which don’t stop the rest of us from driving – they do not stop the necessary business of fueling a world that would very quickly grind to a bankrupt halt if it were run on Green energy.

Blowout at Temblador number 12

Blowout at Temblador number 12

April 19th.  Had a rather exciting day and also a close shave at that. Went to Hato No.6 where they were running casing and had parked the car close to the casing rack and then went on the derrick floor just to see what was going on; remained there for a few minutes and then decided to go over to Hato Gathering Station No. 5 where I had originally planned to go to check upon material that was used in the construction of the station.


Blowout at Temblador number 31

Well, it is only a stone’s throw south of the well and takes only about a minute to get there.  I had just parked the car and had done about 50 feet and started checking up on the material and had written down only four items and was looking up to see what was to be the next item and as my line of vision was in the direction of the well that I had just left, my eye caught a movement in the derrick; in a split second I heard a sort of a rolling noise, and before one could even think the derrick and all of the drill pipe in the derrick started coming down.  It was funny to see about twenty men running off the derrick floor in the direction of the boilers. Luckily no one was hurt; they were more scared than hurt.  When that derrick came down it came down with a bang. Before long the whole camp was there.

Maturin number 1 well after blowout and fire. Glare of fire visible over 60 miles away. Well cratered about 225' across and 30 feet deep.

Maturin number 1 well after blowout and fire. Glare of fire visible over 60 miles away. Well cratered about 225′ across and 30 feet deep.

I went over to see the damage and you could imagine my feelings when I saw where that derrick fell.  It fell just where I had the car parked. It scraped the back end of a Ford truck that was also parked there. It was a good think that I did not sit in the car where I had it parked.  Such things happen so quickly that one does not have time to collect his senses and react fast enough to get out of the way.

Quiriquire number 128. Remains of derrick aftet well blowout.

Quiriquire number 128. Remains of derrick after well blowout.

In falling almost everything was practically pushed into the ground. The Crown Block dug itself about two feet into the ground and would have gone deeper if the pipe rack had not acted as sort of a cushion. All of the 3000 feet of drill pipe was ruined as was the derrick and the remainder of the equipment.  For me the excitement was a little too close for comfort and after this when I make up my mind to go anywhere I’ll always do so without any hesitation at all.

… me if I had lingered in my car even for a few minutes.  The crown block dug a hole almost 3 feet into the ground. This excitement was a little too close for comfort so I just remained in camp the rest of the day. Had a rather busy and exciting day on August 2.  Got up at 1:30 a.m. to go to H.G. Sta 5 where we had a fire. An oil and gas separator diaphragm stem was broken in a secondary valve and by-passed all the oil but to the vent line where oil was burning and spraying in all directions. Keep pretty busy closing in all wells flowing into the station until early morning. After the fire was out we started flowing the wells again but had to blow all the oil out of the vent line.  The station with all its equipment certainly was a mess.  Continued working 22 hours this day and was glad when I finally went to bed.

An Outpost of Progress – The Narrative – Celebrating at the Backside of Beyond

PROLOGUE: In my travels chasing after the big iron boats I have celebrated Christmas at a Waffle House in the Carolinas, on board an Italian tanker lightering crude oil off Sabine Pass and with an old classmate, his bride, their infant and a Chilean naval officer at a Chinese restaurant in Baltimore. Birthdays have been spent at a Hooters in Savannah, on an asphalt tanker in the Great Lakes and on chemical tankers in Texas City. I mention only the occasions that come readily to mind – there have been dozens of others including family occasions of every description. It was something I learned from my father that came with the territory – the old joke about HESS OIL used to be that the name was an acronym for holidays, evenings, Saturdays and Sundays – and although you counted it a victory when you were home for anything the other events you wrote off as part of making a living.


Not every missed occasion was a time for gloom and doom and quite often the people you are with – who may well be far from home also – join in making the time good fun for all. I get this impression from Bill Leach’s account of what must have been his 31st birthday. There may not have been cake and party hats, there probably weren’t any presents – these things are of dwindling importance as the years go by – but there was comradeship and well-wishing from friends happy to mark the day. Enjoy his birthday – I am sure he did!


April 3rd and here it is my birthday again.  Mr. and Mrs. Gray, Mr. and Mrs. Pinkerton, Don Bancroft, George Johnson, C. Mireau, and myself rode to the Port of Tabasca from where we took the motor launch and rode down the Rio Uracoa and thence toward the Rio Manamo.  Most of the ride found us under a consistent light shower and after riding downstream for a number of miles we decided to return. After finding a decent place to stop the launch we partook in some of the groceries that we brought along with us. motorcurrialHad a great time feeding the scraps of our meal to the fish that abound by the thousands.   Some of them may have been the “Caripi” which is the flesh-eating type but no one had a piece of his or her hand chewed at.

After finishing the meal we proceeded up the rio and then branched off into one of the canos and with our trusty guns started to take pot shots at the alligators and birds that came in our path.  By this time the skies had cleared considerably and the rest of the day was fine.  I acquired a mighty fine sunburn since I did not wear any hat. The banks of the canos were covered with sunning alligators, and the trees and the savannahs were decked with monkeys and birds respectively.

Peon huts were spread here and there along the shores of the canos and the naked kids were romping around and not paying much attention to the fool Americanos who were riding in the boat. The guns we brought along were constantly used at the alligators and it was fun to see them waddle into the waters after a shot had struck home or close to home.

On the long grassy savannahs were thousands upon thousands of galzas, flamingoes, guacharacas, and a variety of kingfishers, countless of other birds, horses, cattle, goats and hogs.  It reminded me of the usual scene around Times Square when some important event comes along.

After riding some distance upstream we returned to the wharf at the loading platform and proceeded to have our native coffee.  We were then invited to visit the Frank Seamans a Norwegian Tanker which had come for a load of oil for Aruba.  Had a bottle of Amsterdam beer which tasted mighty fine after the long boat ride. After visiting a short while we decided to return to Temblador for we had a long ride before us.

The week of April 13 through 19 was what one in this country would call a “PAN GRANDE” or a “JUAN BIMBA”, in other words it was a snap as far as work is concerned. We had holidays on the 14, 15, and the 19th. Did plenty of riding around just to get away from the camp; rode over the vast savannahs down to the old port, to the new camp, and in the general direction of EL SALTO.  Some of the fellows went southward to the Orinoco, across the river to San Felice and thence to the Caroni Falls.  I did not plan on taking the trip until I received my camera and there is no telling just when it will arrive.


An Outpost of Progress – The Narrative – Traveling the River to the New Camp

Bill Leach posing with part of sword from swordfish caught of the coast of Guiria, Venezuela

Bill Leach posing with part of sword from swordfish caught of the coast of Guiria, Venezuela

PROLOGUE: Venezuela did not have much of a highway system in the 1930’s – the only city that really needed one was Caracas which had been built inland to protect it from marauders – and was dependent on its rivers and coasting boats for the movement of goods and people. Almost everything that Creole needed that could not be flown in came in by boats that penetrated the jungles, the swamps and the savannahs where no road could go. This post will feature quite a few pictures of the boats and the rivers to supplement the narrative. With few exceptions the pictures were all taken by Bill Leach during 1937-1938.

Shore of the Gulf of Paria which is between Venezuela and Trinidad

Shore of the Gulf of Paria which is between Venezuela and Trinidad

Shark caught off Pedernales in the Gulf of Bahia

Shark caught off Pedernales in the Gulf of Bahia


Beachfront huts for the fishing village

Beachfront huts for the fishing village

March 1st – Finished with my work here in Caripito temporarily and am leaving tonight for Temblador via the company boat the Caripiteno. Here it is about midnight and the boat is ready to take off for Guiria, Pedernales, the mouth of the Orinoco, Boca de Uracoa, Port of Tabasca. The night ride down the San Juan River from the Caripito terminal is uninteresting since nothing can be seen.  One only has the dark sky to gaze at and sometimes one catches a glimpse of a shooting star. The remainder of the night was comfortably cool and had a good night’s rest. At times I would wake up hearing the whistles blowing as the boat was approaching river bends and warning tankers coming upstream.

One of the Standard Oil supply boats being unloaded

One of the Standard Oil supply boats being unloaded

During the early hours of the morning the going was a bit rough as we entered the Gulf of Paria for this gulf is really a large expanse of water being fed from the southeast by the Atlantic Ocean through a narrow channel between the Island of Trinidad and the Venezuelan mainland. The outlet of the Gulf of Paria at the northwest is the Boca Grande which empties into the Caribbean Ocean. Had a light breakfast on board the boat and from my chair I could see Soldier’s Rock, the place where Zane Grey caught the largest known Tarpon in the world.  Finally arrived at Pedernales, landed and wandered about the camp.  Not much to the place but I can say that the breezes get pretty strong and cool at times. While approaching Pedernales I obtained a good view of the lateral damage incurred in this immediate vicinity by the disastrous hurricane which swept this section early in 1933.  Thousands of trees which were stripped of their leaves and bark still remain like sentinels above the dark green jungle growth.

Ciudad Bolivar across the Orinoco from La Pena. Ciudad Bolivar was originnaly named Angostura [the narrows] because the Orinoco is only about 1,000 feet wide at that point.

Ciudad Bolivar across the Orinoco from La Pena. Ciudad Bolivar was originally named Angostura [the narrows] because the Orinoco is only about 1,000 feet wide at that point.

Orinoco River at high stage at Ciudad Bolivar when the level climbed about 35 feet above normal. The wall of the Paseo is visible at the right - normally the width of extensive wharves away from the river.

Orinoco River at high stage at Ciudad Bolivar when the level climbed about 35 feet above normal. The wall of the Paseo is visible at the right – normally the width of extensive wharves away from the river.

At luncheon at the Pedernales mess hall I met some of my former acquaintances.  Remained at the clubroom most of the afternoon reading playing pool, and also playing the latest Victrola pieces. At 3:30 p.m. took the launch and boarded the Caripiteno and left the terminal by 4:30 p.m. Started up the Rio Manamo one of the many streams that branch from the Orinoco River at the delta. The jungle growth certainly is very dense on the mainland and the islands. 

Location of the Pedernales camp on the headland.

Location of the Pedernales camp on the headland.

Slightly better detail of the camp.

Slightly better detail of the camp.

Building a rig on the lee side of the camp headland

Building a rig on the lee side of the camp headland

Most of the rigs associated with this camp had to be serviced by motorboat.

Most of the rigs associated with this camp had to be serviced by motorboat.

Looking up the Manamo river from the Pedernales Camp.

Looking up the Manamo river from the Pedernales Camp.

Birds of all descriptions and colors are seen in the trees and flying overhead. The bird that appealed to me the most to me was the Scarlet Ibis which has a flaming scarlet color and which is a little larger than our pigeons. Parakeets, herons, galzas, pelicans, and a host of other birds are seen by the hundreds.  Saw one porpoise gently taking its time going down the river towards the mouth of the Manamo apparently unconcerned as to whether or not it would ever get there.

Along the river.

Along the river.

Night falls fast in the tropics and in no time at all we are traveling past the continuous jungle at 12 knots an hour.  All that I could see was the inky darkness and an occasional indian village whose lights punctured the darkness.  These indian villages are few and far between and are quite a way from civilization. Their monotony is occasionally broken up by a passing company boat or a tanker.


Arose early on the morning of the third and found that the Caripiteno was anchored at the junction of the Rio Manamo and the Rio Uracoa.  The village of Boca de Uracoa is located at this juncture. Took a company launch up the Rio Uracoa towards the Port of Tabasca.  On the way up saw plenty of alligators and birds.  The day was spotted with periodic showers so did not really see what could be seen on a real fine day. The flamingoes and the galzas and the host of other birds could be seen actually by the thousands.

Indian hut along riverbank

Indian hut along riverbank

At the terminal of the Port of Tabasca we took a company auto and drove towards Temblador.  First stopped at the site of the proposed new camp and was surprised at the amount of work that was already done.  The site of the new camp is mighty fine and it will be a really fine place when the whole place is completed which should be in about a year and a half.

Temblador rigs at sunrise

Temblador rigs at sunrise

The old camp has changed considerably since I was here during the early part of 1937.  There are derricks strung out in all directions about the camp.  I can recall when I was here last year the wells were often better than ten miles apart. The most eastern well was the Uracoa and the most western well was Temblador 4; the camp being between the two wells, and the extreme distance between the farthest above mentioned wells were about 55 to 60 kilometers apart. The work is all concentrated around the camp and the production of the field is in the minds of the superiors.

The roads are much improved over the sandy ones that I had to ride over the previous year. There are over 1500 men working here at the present time and there will be many more when work gets well under way. I wonder what the place will be like in a year from now.  No doubt there will be plenty of changes. Decided to have all of my hair cut off and when the barber did get through with me I looked more like a billiard ball than anything else, but however, it certainly feels even though it does not look good.

ss venezuela
March 27th. Five of us namely, Crawford, Todd, Mills, Himlic, and myself took a ride toward the new camp, Mata Venada, and then branched off northerly towards our latest wildcat well, Aceital No. 1 and then continued on to Laguna Cocopariti (Indian name for “Shallow Waters”).  On the way over we decided to stop at a Venezuelan Rancho and were indeed surprised at the hospitality offered us by these humble people. They evidently appreciated our stopping there even though it was for only a short time. These people certainly kept their place well, that is clean, orderly, and beautifully flowered.  At the moment I have forgotten the number and the various names of the flowers and plants but there certainly was a great variety of them.  There were plenty of fruit trees in the garden and I tried eating a few species of the native fruit and the taste was not bad at all.

We then proceeded towards the laguna but were not able to find a native currial.  I imagine that the ride around the laguna would be well worth while for there are plenty of things to see in the form of flowers, trees, and other plant life. This laguna feeds into the Rio Manamo and no doubt there are plenty of fish, alligators and culebras in these waters. On our return trip back to camp decided to stop again at the rancho and visit some more.

An Outpost of Progress – The Narrative – We and They in the Jungle

PROLOGUE: Everyone who travels encounters something different than what they left behind. New languages, new people, new topography greet the traveller at every turn and while Margaret Edythe Young may have experienced in turn British insularity, Gallican indifference and Latin indolence she did so in a world that was familiar to her, shared the same modern conveniences she was used to and she was insulated by guides and chaperones who prevented anything that may have given the least intimation of adventure. The travel that was thought to complete a liberal education was the ideal tool to confirm and reinforce it prejudices and while she may have been exposed to a wealth of cultural antecedents she saw nothing new or unexpected.


Her future son-in-law, Bill Leach, enjoyed travels of a far different sort. He went where, as Kipling would have it, all the people like us are We, and everyone else is They – and to complete the thought everything We brought with us or built is Ours and anything left is Theirs. The most imposing obstacle to either party was the jungle. They had centuries of experience of living in it, passing through it and living with it. We were new to it. We had tamed a continent and were harnessing everything from rivers, to coal to oil to drive the dynamo of progress. We would learn that maybe They were right.


Here it is February 5th and all is well.  Met a fellow named Beecher at the Quiriquire Camp who is on a seismograph party, and who has just returned from working in the delta and he had some interesting things to tell.  Of course I had to take some of the things with a grain of salt for I am unable to vouch for the authenticity of his talks since I have seen nothing of what he talks about.  Sometime in the near future I may have the opportunity to vouch for what he states, but since things are so far out of reason down here one can expect to see or hear and believe anything.

He informs me that prior to RIDDELL’s committing suicide (I mentioned this case earlier in the story) that while he was out alone in the savannahs near the swampy lowlands in the eastern part of the Orinoco Delta, that he was encircled by a “Culebra,” which is known to us northerners as an anaconda, or water boa. This snake had wrapped itself partly around him and started to constrict him with lightning-like rapidity. Riddell’s hands were free and he made a grab at the snake’s head and held with a vicelike grip and in the meantime snapping the head in all directions and literally snapping the head with unimaginable strength.  This sudden counter attack evidently took the snake by surprise and released its hold on him.


The fellow was so scared that he ran wildly to the camp and related his story.  I don’t know for certain whether or not the fellows believed him or not, but a number of times during the night he would wake up screaming about the incident.  A number of times the fellows would find Riddell wandering about the camp in sort of a daze so that the rest of the party made arrangements to have one fellow near him all the time.


At times his actions were decidedly peculiar to his normal self that the fellows were afraid of what would possibly result with sort of a warped state of mind.  One day when the guard was rather lax he managed to sneak off by himself , went to his tent, took a shotgun and blew the whole charge into his stomach. Death of course was instantaneous. Louis Molnar who was in his party later vouched in almost the same words of the incident.

At another time Molnar and Beecher were doing some surveying out in the savannah only a few months ago and had another odd experience. The two were walking across the savannah with some of the natives who were in the party when one of the natives yelled for them to jump.  Both men jumped sideways and between the two something flew between them about stomach high.  The natives familiar with the region claim that it was one of the flying snakes that inhabit the swampy lowland delta region.  It is commonly or locally known as the “Flying Viper” and is of the poisonous variety.


Beecher showed us pictures of the savannah tiger treed by native dogs.  It showed a native with a machete tied to a flexible pole stabbing at the tiger. After a few stabs at the animal the peon killed it.  I am going to try to get a picture of the incident for it certainly is a beauty.  Of course the tigers around here are not really large but they are dangerous enough for one to be real careful.

Beecher also told us stories about seeing tapirs, tigers, chiguires (hog-like animals of which I have heard plenty about but have never had the opportunity to see), land and water boas (culebras), a fer-de-lance, rattlers and other interesting animals.  Some of these I have seen.  His tale of seeing a battle between a crocodile (Caiman or Baba – the latter is only a local name) and a water boa was exceptionally interesting.  The water boa crushed the crocodile and later proceeded to swallow the victim (I have seen pictures of a water-boa slit open after gouging an alligator and do not doubt the story one bit). The water-boa had such a hard time of swallowing its victim that the jaws were spread wide open as if ready to snap at something that looked tempting.  The snake slowly wrapped its tail around the open jaws of the alligator and clamped the jaws shut and then leisurely began to swallow the remainder of the victim.  Slowly the snake crawled away to a shady spot of a nearby tree and began to doze off.  After doing such a swallowing task the snake is drowsy and can be approached closely.  In this instance after allowing about a half an hour for the drowsiness to overcome the snake the natives proceeded to butcher the snake and no resistance was offered.  The stomach of the snake was slit open and the innards revealed the crushed alligator.

During one of these trips on an off day Beechar and Molnar came upon an old indian trail that led up a dry cano and after travelling some distance came to a small indian camp.  The party remained here for about one week and waited for the remainder of the party who were expected to arrive for some future seismograph work. One day Beechar permitted the one indian who was able to speak a little Spanish to look through the telescope of the surveying instrument at the moon.  When the indian saw the moon so large and close he was so scared that he ran away evidently thinking that the instrument was some sort of a demon.  After this incident the instrument had to be guarded closely for the same native indian made some awkward attempt to attack it.


The seismograph boys use plenty of dynamite in their work and quite often “shots” are set off in the river bottoms and throw a large water-spout into the air.  The fish in the vicinity of the shot are often blown to bits while others are merely stunned by the concussion of the shot.  Often times rather peculiar shaped fish are brought to the surface.

An Outpost of Progress – The Narrative – A whiff of revolution

PROLOGUE: There are people who insist on an equivalency between the American and South American revolutions and are fond of labeling Simon Bolivar as the Washington of Latin America. It is one of the great inaccuracies that historians love to engage in and based on the results the Latin American revolutions are far more akin to the French, with its Terror, and Bolivar is merely the first in a long line of caudillos who hold power, rather than authority, and still plague these unstable nations.


The first experiment in globalization – European colonization [be it military or economic] – did nothing to contribute to the progress of the newly independent people or the indigenous peoples who hoped to share in that independence.  José Antonio Páez was succeeded by civil war in which hundreds of thousands died – in a country with a population of not much more than a million people – was succeeded by Antonio Guzmán Blanco who was succeeded by  Venezuela Crisis of 1895 in which the United States took an active role by declaring that the Monroe Doctrine made any matter within the hemisphere an American interest. In 1899 Cipriano Castro, assisted by Juan Vicente Gómez seized power in Caracas and Gomez would by the tyrant of the Andes until his death in 1935 and even though Eleazar López Contreras would be in charge while Bill Leach was in the country it was still a gomecista dictatorship.


One of the major rules of maintaining a dictatorship is the promotion of xenophobia – if there is an external locus as the source of the country’s problems there is someone else to blame. With a large influx of foreign workers the targets were there. Jose Rafael Pocaterra – who would be in turn a journalist, imprisoned, a revolutionary, the minister of communications and the ambassador to the United States – described the oilmen as “the new Spaniards” when he wrote in 1918, One day some Spaniards mounted a dark apparatus on three legs, a grotesque stork with crystal eyes. They drew something (on a piece of paper) and opened their way through the forest. Other new Spaniards would open roads…would drill the earth from the top of fantastic towers, producing the fetid fluid…the liquid gold converted into petroleum.


Popular resentment of the foreign oil companies was also evident and expressed in several ways. Rufino Blanco Fombona – another writer and revolutionary [buried in the National Pantheon of Venezuela no less] give a typical account for the conflict between the workers and their foreign bosses in his 1927 novel, La Bella y la Fiera, The workers asked for a miserable salary increase and those blond, blue-eyed men who own millions of dollars, pounds and gulden in European and U.S. banks, refused.


With no central authority in law to protect either the workers or the investors there is no real surprise to the frequency of violence, the ultimate nationalization and expropriation of property and the continuing failure for any of the process to benefit the workers. Although there were no full-blown revolutions while Bill Leach was in the country and the worst excesses of government seizures were still 30 plus years away there was always an undercurrent of the fear and instability that would culminate in the current dictatorship.


Here it is January 29th and the days are passing  innocently by.  At last I find something to write  about.  Excitement galore today for a huge fire  swept the village of Caripito in which 46 houses  were burned and a number of people were burned.   One deaf and dumb Venezuelan who was asleep at the  height of the fire was seriously burned and is at  the present time at the hospital. Another one was  admitted the following day but he was not burned as  seriously as the former. A great many of the  inhabitants whose homes were burned were forced to  find both relief and shelter as best they could.   The people are hanging their sleeping hammocks at  the most convenient place and they are strung all  over.

January 30th: Some more excitement for the  American-speaking Venezuelan and originally from  Caracas, and a member of a prominent family, who  works for the Industrial Relations Department was  killed by a native contractor.  This event was  enough of a spark to create friction among the  natives.  Somehow the natives taking advantage of  this event to create more friction against the  Americans.


At the present time the Caripito and Quiriquire  camps are undergoing strict guard for the gates are locked and no one is  permitted to go outside the gates unless absolutely  essential.
I imagine that the Caripito Camp is wide awake and  is set for any emergency that may crop up.     Here’s hoping that nothing sets off the mob. The  native mobs are hell when they get started for  there is no controlling any of them once they get  started.


Excitement is at a high pitch for a number of  circular letters stated that two men were to be  killed and that the tanks of our refinery were to be  set on fire.  This caused much worry on the part of  the officials since one death has already occurred.   Extra guards are placed all around the refinery  and all other necessary points about the camp.

January 31 – All is well so far and nothing has  happened.


Tuesday, February 1st.  At about 2:00 o’clock early  this morning two of the natives guarding manager  Linam’s home fired on some native prowlers who were  no doubt up to some mischief of some sort.  Before  any damage could be done they were fired upon and  managed to escape down the nearest “Cabrada”. This  incident according to reports had the rest of the  camp up and around and fully armed for the  remainder of the morning.  These natives are so  peculiar that no one knows what to expect from them  next; but it seems that one can always expect  trouble of some sort.  I would not be surprised to hear one of  these days, that some foreigner as we are often  called, would be shot at or stabbed, for they think  little of taking one’s life.  It often makes one  feel rather jittery at times, especially at night  when the camp is asleep.


An Outpost of Progress – The Narrative – A trip to Santiago de León de Caracas


PROLOGUE: I take possession of this land in the name of God and the King, were the words of Don Diego de Losada in founding the city of Caracas on July 25, 1567. In 1577 Caracas became the capital of the Spanish Empire’s Venezuela Province under Governor Juan de Pimentel (1576–1583). During the 17th century, the coast of Venezuela was frequently raided by Dutch, English, French and freebooter pirates so with the coastal mountains as a barrier, Caracas was relatively immune to such attacks – one of the reasons it became the principal city of the region. The other being the cultivation of cocoa under the Compañía Guipuzcoana de Caracas which stimulated the development of the city and cemented its position as the capital of the Captaincy General of Venezuela.


An attempt at revolution was put down in 1797. But on 5 July 1811, a Declaration of Independence was signed in Caracas. As the birthplace of “El Libertador“, Simón Bolívar, it was the focus of the independence from Spain movement.  Even though an earthquake destroyed Caracas in 1812 – which was portrayed by authorities as a divine punishment for the rebellion against the Spanish Crown – the war continued until 1821, when Bolívar gained a decisive victory at the Battle of Carabobo.

simon bolivar

Between one-quarter and one-third of Venezuela’s population was lost during  two decades of warfare – including perhaps one-half of the European population – which by 1830 was estimated at about 800,000. Much of Venezuela’s 19th century history was characterized by political turmoil and dictatorial rule which culminated in the Federal War (1859–1863), a civil war in which hundreds of thousands died, in a country with a population of not much more than a million people. In the latter half of the century Antonio Guzmán Blanco, another caudillo, served a total of thirteen years between 1870 and 1887, with three other presidents interspersed.


The discovery of massive oil deposits in Lake Maracaibo during World War I would  prompt an economic boom that by 1935 would have Venezuela’s per capita gross domestic product Latin America’s highest. In power from 1908 Juan Vicente Gómez benefited handsomely from this, as corruption thrived, but at the same time, the new source of income helped him centralize the Venezuelan state and develop its authority and he remained the most powerful man in Venezuela until his death in 1935. The gomecista dictatorship system largely continued under Eleazar López Contreras and through the Second World War as the combination of big oil and the American government insisted on the maintenance of stability. It was during this period of relative stability that Bill Leach was in Venezuela and visited Caracas.


Well, here it is the 10th of December and I am going by auto to Coro, a matter of about 50 kilometers from Cumarebo, where I’ll Take the Pan American Plane for La Guira. Took the plane, one of the newest and largest Douglas in the service from Barranquilla, Colombia to LaGuira, and after flying gracefully over the mountains, coastline and sea, finally landed at La Guiara which is the airport for Caracas.  One cannot land in or near Caracas since it is securely nestled in the Andes Mountains.  It is difficult to land at La Guira at times for during certain seasons winds create a downdraft that is considered dangerous for landing, for the mountains dip steeply into the sea here.


Hired a native taxi to drive me to Caracas and I must admit that the trip was an exceptionally beautiful scenery drive, for one climbs 2600 meters, or 1616 feet from sea level at La Guira to Caracas which is about 40 kilometers or about 30 miles away – but it should be borne in mind that in a straight line it is no more than 10 miles away at the most even at that it may be less. Anyways the trip was a great one and I enjoyed every bit of the way.

street scene
The city of Caracas that I have seen is typical of the Spanish city that I have seen in pictures. The gardens, parks, more important buildings, and the more interesting sights are kept well and seem to be spotlessly clean.  I was especially impressed by the district around the Swiss Club for that district certainly was beautiful.  The grounds around the country club were a wonderful sight to see also.

miraflores palace

The streets around the business districts were not kept as clean as could be expected from the shine boys keep throwing their empty shoe polish cans out into the streets. There is forever a blowing of the automobile horns by all the chauffeurs and it seems that the one making the loudest noise has the right of way at the intersections.  It seemed to me that these intersections were as noisy as a boiler factory.


The city itself is fast approaching the average American city when it comes to keeping in step with Americans in regards to ownership in the new styled cars; the most noticeable types being the Oldsmobile, La Salle, and the Buick.  The people have a flair for going in for odd sounding horns, for at times I thought I was in fog or out at sea with all the fog horns blowing around me.

plaza bolivar

Plaza Bolivar is located in the heart of the town and a steady parade of all types and classes of people amble along at ease with the world and with no evidence of a care in the world.  I used to spend a few of the evenings idling in the plaza just to see the curious crowds go by.  It is different to watch a Venezuelan crowd in comparison to the average American crowd.
There are two modern hotels in the city.  I tried to engage a room at the popular Domke but the place was full so I had to migrate to the Majestic which is the only first class hotel.  It certainly is a classy hotel for the city.  It is the stopping place for the incoming elite – why shouldn’t it be when they charge B’s 25 for a day! The meals are served by waiters in swallow-tails and that tends to make the place distinguished in every respect. I can vouch for the service being infallible.


On Friday the 10th I promenaded around the town and took in the general sights of interest, and also did a little shopping for myself,  made a number of long trips to try to get some souvenirs but was unfortunate. Seems funny to me that a city of the size of Caracas would not have a place where one could buy souvenirs.  In the evening I went to the Teatro Principal and saw “Stella Dallas” and was much impressed with the picture.


On Saturday the 11th I did get a little more shopping and finally went over to the Pan American offices to get straightened up in regard to my passage and reservation for Caripito on the coming Monday morning. Did not do a darn thing on Sunday outside of going to church; I just idled leisurely around the hotel the whole day long.  At night I went to the Plaza Bolivar and listened to the Sunday concert; there certainly was a large crowd to listen to the music.


Monday morning and here I am departing for La Guira and in the general direction of Cachipo.  Took the 1:15 p.m. P.A. amphibian and headed for what is classified as home.  Has to go quite a bit south of Carpito on the return trip for the heavy mountainous clouds did not permit much horizontal visibility.  Finally arrived at the airport and while there I met O’Connor with whom I had worked in Temblador; he was heading for San Francisco for his long vacation.  Finally took the company car to Caripito and was fortunate to be able to receive my old room.


Nothing eventful has passed during the Christmas and the New Year’s holidays.  The usual field parties arrived in camp and the members were ready to do their holiday absorbing.  I for one was one of the few remaining sober ones.