An Outpost of Progress – The Narrative – And so, farewell to Venezuela

Tom Jenkins with shrunken, mummified head. Head shrunken down by head hunters of interior of Venezuela 1937.

Tom Jenkins with shrunken, mummified head. Head shrunken down by head hunters of interior of Venezuela 1937.

When I was a boy and you went to the movies there were trailers for upcoming films, short subjects and cartoons that preceded the feature film and getting there in time to see all of them was part of getting your money’s worth – even if it was much less than a dollar for admission in those days. A common short feature was a travelogue for some far away place with a strange-sounding name and the narrator often signed off with, And so, farewell to…, before the raucous cacophony of a cartoon that promised more violence than any feature film dared. I can not begin to tell you how many such adventures I shared with Bill Leach when I was a boy and in tribute to those happy days I will close out this true life adventure of his using those words as the preamble.

Bill served several years in Venezuela but the diary that I found among his papers covered mainly 1937 – although the accompanying photographs cover 1938 as well. In 1937 he was a graduate engineer with a work history and more than a few other adventures behind him but he was still foot loose and fancy free not yet having met Laureene with whom he would spend the next fifty plus years. It may have been her influence that kept the manuscript closed up in a drawer for the best part of sixty years and even though I knew bits and pieces of the story I left it there for another fifteen until the confluence of the blogosphere and the desire to tell a story to my children and grandchildren caused me to transcribe it and scan the pictures in and publish for friends and family.

Most of what I have published dealt with his association with Standard Oil in the early days of developing the eastern Venezuelan oil fields. There are tales of the oil patch in the jungle and of the camradie of the cabin and the canteen as well as adventures on the high seas and in the low dives of Caracas and Ciudad Bolivar. What is absent in the narrative but was ever-present in the stories he used to share with me are the tales of the native peoples – the indigenous Indians – who still constitute such a large part of the Venezuelan population. The stories I heard were not of head hunters and poison arrows – although they hung someplace over the horizon in an impenetrable jungle – but rather of kind and generous people living off the land and the river who had no particular need of oil wells but were grateful to have outboard motors for their currials, would gladly use a Ford truck to haul a heavy load and loved the freedom from the night that a generator could provide.

This final entry in this series is largely a photo essay containing pictures taken by Bill that relate part of his story and part of theirs.

Native house in village of Mata Negra near Temblador.

Native house in village of Mata Negra near Temblador.

Rio Tenoro - one of the many highways for the native peoples

Rio Tenoro – one of the many highways for the native peoples

Looking toward Caroni Falls - Chris Mireau, Don Bancroft, Buck Ackerman, native pilot - in a currial on the Caroni River

Looking toward Caroni Falls – Chris Mireau, Don Bancroft, Buck Ackerman, native pilot – in a currial on the Caroni River

Native house on the banks of Orinoco River near San Felice

Native house on the banks of Orinoco River near San Felice

Street in Caripito Village looking from Caripito Camp.

Street in Caripito Village looking from Caripito Camp.

Street scene in Caripito Village near Rio Caripe

Street scene in Caripito Village near Rio Caripe

Calabash Fruit, Cumarebo, State of Falcon, Venezuela 1937

Calabash Fruit, Cumarebo, State of Falcon, Venezuela 1937

Method of pressing poisonous juice out of Cassava Pulp. Caripito, Venezuela 1937

Method of pressing poisonous juice out of Cassava Pulp. Caripito, Venezuela 1937

Making Cassava Bread

Making Cassava Bread

Scene in Mata Verada Village.

Scene in Mata Verada Village.

Native huts in village west of Caripito Camp - on road to water pump station.

Native huts in village west of Caripito Camp – on road to water pump station.

Village street in Caripito

Village street in Caripito

Native hut.

Native hut.

Native huts in Mata Negra.

Native huts in Mata Negra.

Thatched huts in Caripito Village [note intrusion of sheet metal in lower left]

Thatched huts in Caripito Village [note intrusion of sheet metal in lower left]

The end!

The end!

An Outpost of Progress – The Narrative – From mining engineer to field geologist

oil sands

When Bill Leach graduated from the New Mexico School of Mines he did so as a mining engineer but he had taken courses in geology and petroleum engineering and in those days a degree in almost any type of engineering meant that you had the requisite tools to work in almost any industry, after all for many years every West Point graduate matriculated with a degree in civil engineering. In a place like Venezuela Standard oil wanted to use and develop the talent they had and so Bill went from a mining engineer working primarily as a draftsman to a mining engineer working as a field geologist. This is part of the story of the transition.

oil well

April 3rd, my birthday, I passed the day riding around with J. L. Kraemer, the district Geologist with whom much of my work will be connected. Days have passed slowly in which I rode around with Kraemer, just riding around to the various wildcat wells.  On April 5th I had my first official work outlined for me and it happened to be what is called a sand formation tester, an instrument made by the Johnson outfit.  It was all Greek to me but I noted all that I could and made the best of it.  My first appearance on the job and the test went haywire.  In the following jobs I have been pretty well occupied and some of the hours were plenty long; one in particular lasted 36 hours without any sleep – I sure was a tired hombre.

claim jump

When you are drilling an oil well you are poking a hole in the ground and hoping that you will come up with oil. The early wells were drilled where oil had already oozed to the surface and pictures of early producing fields show wells close to one another in an exercise of “proximity discovery” – very close to what the average miner would have called claim jumping! As the experience factor grew about where oil might be found and the exploration tools improved oil exploration became a more scientific endeavor and as the demand for the product increased production engineering became more important. The deeper you drill the more expensive it is and the more important it is to know exactly what you are drilling through and into.

tester hose

In 1926 near El Dorado, Arkansas, Edgar and Mordica Johnston performed the first commercial drill stem test (DST). Frequent tests were necessary in the  because of the irregular nature and thinness of formations, but the only means of testing was to set casing, cement, and bail. The Johnston brothers wanted to develop a more practical and less expensive way to test. They conceived the idea of a test tool that could be run on the end of the drill stem. To try out their idea, they made a tester out of discarded belting and a test tool out of a poppet valve and a heavy spring from a railroad box car.

looking at mud

Field runs were successful, and by 1927 the Johnston Formation Testing Company had more jobs than it could handle. More people were hired and trained for locations in the major oil-producing areas of Texas and California. In 1929, the Johnston Formation Testing Corporation was granted a patent  for the well formation testing device. In 1933, Luther Johnston bought a pressure recorder from the Standard Oil Company and ran it on drill stem tests in Louisiana. The pressure recorder was a success and became a regular procedure in well testing. In very simple terms you could now get a read out of the pressures at each level you were drilling through and you could pull a sample from any fluids you encountered to see if it was oil and the quality of the oil. Needless to say pulling the sample up and transferring it from the tester to a sampler bottle that could be taken into a lab for testing was no clean job.

examine mud
April 7th, the Rockefeller party stopped in on us and I had the opportunity to meet Winthrop and Nelson Rockefeller, Major Armstrong, the legal advisor of the Standard of N.J., and Mr. Linam the “big man” of the company here in Venezuela. As it happened we were taking a special test on one of the wildcat wells, namely the Yabo #1.  The test went along to the satisfaction of the whole visiting party, but I surely was a sorry-looking sight at the conclusion of the job.

clothes
The party left later in the afternoon but returned at a later date; on the 11th.  This second trip was a much better trip or should I say visit for I had a more through and enjoyable talking visit with the party.  It surely did surprise me at the attitude of these visitors for they were not the snooty type that I thought that they would turn out to be.  Winthrop had actually worked as a roustabout in the Conroe Field in Texas, and I understand that he did not ask any favors from any of the group that he had to work with.

drillers

In 1930, Nelson Rockefeller had graduated with a BA in economics from Dartmouth College and took jobs with the old family firm including Chase Bank in 1931;  Rockefeller Center,  and Creole Petroleum, the Venezuelan subsidiary of Standard Oil of New Jersey, 1935–1940. The Creole Petroleum Corporation was  formed in 1920 to produce fields on Lake Maracaibo, Venezuela and was acquired by Standard Oil in 1928. Until 1951 Creole Petroleum was the world’s number one oil producer. A man who was born to be president he never made and only reached the vice-presidents office through appointment.

gauge

His younger brother Winthrop attended Yale University (1931–34) but was ejected as a result of misbehavior before earning his degree and was probably along for the trip while the family tried to figure out something to do with him. In early 1941 he would enlist in the Army as a private. As a soldier of the 77th Infantry Division, he fought in World War II, advancing from Private to Colonel and he earned a Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Clusters and a Purple Heart for his actions aboard the troop ship USS Henrico, after a kamikaze attack during the invasion of Okinawa. His image appears in the Infantry Officer Hall of Fame at Fort Benning, Georgia.

pipe thread
Here it is the 25th of April and much water has passed under the proverbial bridge.  Have been actively busy and keeping out of mischief  – who could be otherwise after working as much as 14, 16, and 24 hours a day. It started to rain about 4:00 A.M. and it came down in a good heavy and steady downpour and at present it is still coming down although not as hard and not in as much volume as in the earlier part of the day.  This is the first real rain that has come down on us since I have been here; it is a relief for this section really needs the rain since the area is as badly sanded as the southwestern part of the states, and this makes the riding pretty and hard and rough at times.

mud machine

May 27th. Early this morning this area was subject to a few slight earth tremors but they did not do any damage.  It is evident that this area will not suffer to any extent when subject to quakes.  However many of the men left their rooms in pretty much of a hurry.

The drilling program in this field is certainly keeping me plenty busy for it is always a matter of going from one well to another.  It would not be so bad except that the roads are rough and the distance between wells is long and tortuous.  One feels pretty well-worn out after a day’s bouncing over these savannahs.

henrico001

POSTSCRIPT: When Bill Leach served in the Navy during WWII it did not matter that he had worked for Brown Brothers Shipbuilding in Houston helping to turn out destroyer escorts. The Nay sent him where they wanted him and that turned out to be the island of Samar in the Philippines. He got there on a ship very much like the USS Henrico which was the ship Winthrop Rockefeller would be on when it was attacked by a kamikaze pilot. The navy record of the attack follows and we have included some pictures to show where these men served.

henrico005

The veteran ship [USS Henrico]  was assigned to the Kerama Retto attack group under Rear Admiral Kiland, and began the landing 26 March. The important islands, needed as a base for the invasion of nearby Okinawa, were secured 30 March. Henrico retired at night during the operation, and Japanese air attacks were nearly constant. While retiring 2 April, the ship was attacked by a fast suicide bomber diving out of a cloud formation. Although Henrico quickly brought guns to bear, the plane crashed into the starboard side of the bridge, her bombs exploding below. The ship lost power but her well-trained fire parties soon brought the flames under control. Forty-nine officers and men were killed in this attack, including Henrico’s captain, her embarked division commander, and the two troop commanders. Her executive officer took command, however, and brought the ship to Kerama Retto. She sailed under her own power for San Francisco 14 April and arrived 13 May, having contributed much to the decisive compaign in the Pacific.

henrico003

An Outpost of Progress – The Narrative – Routine and Change

Going to Venezuela was not Bill’s first job after graduating from the New Mexico School of Mines in 1935. That summer he started out by prospecting in the Durango – Silverton area of Colorado, living rough in the hills and finding nothing. The Depression was still at full throttle and the more New Deal programs that sought to solve it the worse it would become but he did spend some time with the CCC working on projects in New Mexico and picking up what work he could. His brother, Steven, who had graduated from the School of Mines as well worked for the New Mexico Highway Department after his first job in a mine ended by climbing out an emergency exit after the mine began to flood and would eventually go to work for Humble Oil. One of Bill’s classmates, George Wiegand, went go to work for Standard Oil signing on for a better paying job by going to Venezuela and Bill would follow the dollars as well.

New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology Class of 1935 - Leach is bottom row far right and Wiegand is second row far left.

New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology Class of 1935 – Leach is bottom row far right and Wiegand is second row far left.

A professor once warned us that not everything we wrote would be deathless prose. This is especially true most of the young, a large number of the middle-aged and a fair sampling of the elderly. This episode proves that Bill had a long way to go but we continue to reproduce his words faithfully as a source document. This episode is about his time at the Standard Oil Village at Caripito and although no one could recognize the place from this account and his photographs today they do capture a moment in time.

One of two ways to get there. La savanah de Cachipo - Pan American airport for Caripito

One of two ways to get there. La savannah de Cachipo – Pan American airport for Caripito

Here it is March 6 th. and I have been gone since January 2nd, and what have I done to make myself useful!  Time really does fly by without one thinking of just where it goes and what one has done; practically all the days are the same consequently one does not pay any attention to the days going by. Routine work, if one cares to call it that, for all one does is to get up about 6 in the morning,  go to breakfast before 7, then to work until 11:30. After dinner one takes the noon hour siesta until 1:00 at which time we start in to work; the work continues until 4:00 if one has the desire to feel towards working. After 4:00 a good share of the fellows meander to the club for a drink or to the bowling alleys to work up an appetite for supper or a sweat for a shower. Then comes supper from 6:00 to 7:30. After supper the fellows meander to the clubhouse to read the latest papers or magazines.

The main highway - the river - with the village in the background

The main highway – the river – with the village in the background

Oftentimes I go up to the bowling alleys where I dash off a few games to keep fit for it really pays for one to keep fit in this type of country. Only a few nights ago I rolled a 255 game bunched with 192, 184 and 158.
On Sundays 1 usually have breakfast about 8:30 and then take walk around the golf course.  Sunday is a day for throwing the bull and sometimes the bull flies thick and fast — in this case one usually takes it all in with  a grain of salt, depending, on the source of the bull.  In the afternoon one usually goes to the club for a drink, or to watch the swimmers, or to watch the softball game. I.. the evening about everyone goes to the show for there is no other place to go.

Looking toward the 8th green at the golf course.

Looking toward the 8th green at the golf course.

On other evenings I spend my time studying either Spanish or Russian, the latter I found in. the club library. Believe you me I find that the Russian language in not so easy to grasp. Other times I go sit around the room musing aud trying to reason why I ever came down here into this country. This is certainly the place to really study yourself out and try to figure for the future and in my case the future is so darn far ahead that I hate to even think of it.

The "extranjeros" shopping by daylight

The “extranjeros” shopping by daylight

At times I can go down to the town of Caripito, but what is there to see or smell except the vile and putrid smells of the native villagers and they are an awfully foul smelly lot. It is funny to take a stroll down to the village at night and to smile inwardly at the way the native girls try to  make  any of the new comers, “extranjeros” as they refer to them. It is too darn unwise to go down the town and mix with the natives for there is no telling just what one can pick up in the way of disease and it is a known fact that fully 90 percent of the people in any of these villages have about any form of disease known and the worst part of it is that they are contagious.  After one is initiated into his or her first trip to this or any other village one usually feels like kicking ones self for making an ass of ones self — and if one makes the trip a second time he or she ought to get a good kick in the most sensitive spot, especially where it hurts the most.

Let me live in a house by the side of the road And be a friend to man

Let me live in a house by the side of the road And be a friend to man

Received letters from Steve, Mary, Tillie, Arline and I replied promptly for I want to hear from them again. Letters surely are a God send for the imbeciles who have the nerve to plant themselves here for three years.

Andy Wiegand arrived here from Pedernales on Monday, March 15th. and it sure did do me good to see him a good-sized chinfest about things in general.

Washday at Rio Caripi

Washday at Rio Caripi

Yesterday, March 16th. I found that I was scheduled to go to Temblador  which is about 200 kilometers south of here, in the “Savannah” country and which I understand is similar to West Texas and Eastern New Mexico. However I’ll soon find out in short, order for I am to leave on Saturday 20th. I hope that the place will come up to expectations but I have my doubts, One consolation is that I’ll go there with the idea in mind that I started with the field – by that I mean I’ll be considered as being brought up with the field

Sunset looking west from Caripito

Sunset looking west from Caripito

Caripito now has around 50,000 inhabitants. It is the third largest city in the state of Monagas, Venezuela and hosts both the Universidad Nacional Abierta and Instituto Universitario Tecnológico de Caripito.

 

 

An Outpost of Progress – Part I

Thanks to Joseph Conrad‘s Kayerts and Carlier the entirety of the western interaction with the third world has been mistakenly portrayed as a litany of exploitation and injustice. Never mind that Makola was the native serpent in the garden and that his predecessors and heirs had borne the mark of Cain long before Kayerts killed Carlier and long after he hanged himself in desperate remorse. Cultural commentators have found it too simple to place the blame on fictional characters and perpetuate the lie and today’s world gives a sad perspective of public policy based on fiction.

venezuela

When I was a boy my father had a bookcase that was filled with things like Smolley’s Tables on top of which sat a loving cup that he had won in a golf tournament while working in Venezuela. One of the few non technical volumes on the bookcase was a biography in a lurid red cover with the title in black on a gilt field on both the spine and cover that read, GOMEZ – TYRANT OF THE ANDES. Too young to get any enjoyment out of an old Handbook of Physics and Chemistry I fixed on this account of any early Chavez who built a prison that had tidal cells where chained inmates had to struggle to keep their heads above water at high tide or drown. From 1908 until his death in 1935 Juan Vicente Gomez ruled Venezuela absolutely, as did his successors, pretensions to democracy notwithstanding.

Although Conrad's novel NOSTROMO had more to do with Venezuela than An Outpost of Progress or Heart of Darkness the majority of South American nations suffered from the strong man syndrome. This 1911 illustration shows Cipriano Castro, former president of Venezuela, dressed like Napoleon I, on board a ship, with the presidents of "Uruguay, Chile, Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil and Argentina" standing in the background. Batlle y Ordóñez, José, 1856-1929; Barros Luco, Ramón, 1835-1919; Gómez, Juan Vicente, 1857-1935; Alfaro, Eloy, 1842-1912; Restrepo, Carlos E.(Carlos Eugenio),1867-1937; Fonseca, Hermes Rodrigues da, 1855-1923; Sáenz Peña, Roque, 1851-1914. Only Restrepo outlived Gomez but ironically the only real republican of the group served only a single term [1910-1914] as president of Colombia.

Although Conrad’s novel NOSTROMO had more to do with Venezuela than An Outpost of Progress or Heart of Darkness the majority of South American nations suffered from the strong man syndrome. This 1911 illustration shows Cipriano Castro, former president of Venezuela, dressed like Napoleon I, on board a ship, with the presidents of  Uruguay, Chile, Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil and Argentina standing in the background. Batlle y Ordóñez, José, 1856-1929; Barros Luco, Ramón, 1835-1919; Gómez, Juan Vicente, 1857-1935; Alfaro, Eloy, 1842-1912; Restrepo, Carlos E.(Carlos Eugenio),1867-1937; Fonseca, Hermes Rodrigues da, 1855-1923; Sáenz Peña, Roque, 1851-1914. Only Restrepo outlived Gomez but ironically the only real republican of the group served only a single term [1910-1914] as president of Colombia.

From the discovery of massive oil deposits in Lake Maracaibo during World War I with the western reserves in and around Lake Maracaibo developed by Royal Dutch Shell and the eastern reserves developed by Standard Oil for which both companies received purchasing concessions Venezuela leapfrogged its Central and South American neighbors with petrowealth. By 1943 the government was demanding a 50/50 split of the profits with the oil companies, in 1960 it was the new Hydrocarbons Minister, Juan Pablo Pérez Alfonso, who led the creation of OPEC – not the arabs! – and by 1973 the Venezuelan government nationalized the oil industry completely expropriating all private interests. Our posts are only going to follow the adventures of Bill Leach during the late 1930’s when, as a newly minted Bachelor of Science in Mining Engineering, he worked for Standard Oil in Eastern Venezuela.

eastven

Although our contemplations on Conrad could fill a blog of their own as could a cautionary discourse on the path from strongman to dictator or from price-fixing to expropriation we have as little a desire to write such a thing as our followers do in reading it. What we are going to do is follow Bill Leach and share some of his photographs of the Venezuela that he saw in the late 1930’s. Fifty years later we would have our own adventures down there but by the time we got there it had gone from the genuine outpost of progress that he helped build into the backwater of socialism and corruption that it remains today.

Posing with part of sword from swordfish caught of the coast of Guiria, Venezuela

Posing with part of sword from swordfish caught of the coast of Guria, Venezuela

A little bit of geography first. Caripito is near the headwaters of the San Juan River that drains into the Gulf of Paria that is a sheltered body of water between Venezuela and Trinidad. The land is part marsh, all jungle and no mountains. Maturín, the capital of the State of Monagas, is the nearest city of any size but from its founding as a mission in 1722 through nearly being wiped out by civil war, malaria and yellow fever during the nineteenth century it was just one more populated mud hole until oil turned it into a boomtown. Much of this area is still populated by the indigenous peoples who greeted Christopher Columbus in 1498.

The residence hall for the batchelors with one of the crew with a varmint gun - everything from snakes to pumas

The residence hall for the bachelors with one of the crew with a varmint gun – everything from snakes to pumas

The Standard Oil Village was just outside Caripito. Villagers worked there, in the oilfields, building the terminal and received treatment for the workers and their families at the clinic. A miniature Anytown, USA the Village contained everything that the expatriate workers could need including a commissary, a school and recreational facilities. The expats lived in company housing to prevent any unnecessary friction from fraternization by any of the young men tempted to go native but the longer the village remained the bigger it grew and the more interaction there was. For the most part it was beneficial – Bill taught his friend, Yo No Se,   English and learned Spanish in the bargain, children were educated in the school and the swamp village of Caripito is now a city of 50,000 that incorporates all of the improvements of the old Standard Oil Village. The generation of Americans that built everything to 125% of specification has left the monuments of peace and commerce all over the world.

Four of the bachelors Cato Andrews and Ledezma standing, Leach and Schurman in the foreground. In the background is the pumping station.

Four of the bachelors Cato Andrews and Ledezma standing, Leach and Schurman in the foreground. In the background is the pumping station.

Not only did Standard oil employ engineers, drillers, geologists and laborers there were managers, accountants and all sorts of office personnel in the village and in the following photograph we have two such looking at we are not quite sure what. From personal experience we understand the field glasses. When we were at Puerto La Cruz  in Venezuela in the 1980’s on a loss control trip we found that measurements were being taken in the control room off of gauges probably originally installed in the 1930’s. We asked if we could go to the tank in the storage farm and observe a physical measurement ourselves. We piled into the bed of a pickup truck, drove to the tank and observed a Venezuelan crocodile sunning himself at the foot of the tank staircase. Not wishing to disturb an endangered species we merely made a note on the survey report and returned to the control room – wiser if not better informed.

Keeping an eye on things

Keeping an eye on things

One of the things you have to be aware of is that these pictures were taken during the Depression in the United States. FDR’s quick fix of 1933-34 had failed and by 1937 economic conditions were worse than they had been before he took office. One of the reactions to a lack of opportunity at home is that talented people vote with their feet – the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall were built to keep people in – and the jobs offered in Venezuela offered premium pay, no taxes and living conditions that met or exceeded the standards at home. The following three scenes show the swimming pool at the Village.

pool001

pool002

management

In the last photo we have some of the members of management – they may have had specific times when the pool was reserved for their use [probably just after fresh water had been added!] – but they would be both seen and seen to be seen, benignly approving the enjoyment of their lessors. Standard Oil would have encouraged the presence of wives and children for management as a means of not only contributing to productivity but also as another means of keeping employees from going native. With Standard Oil you may have been a member of management but unless you were one of THE members of management you were still an employee but in order to maintain the home from home feeling and possibilities for professional employees Standard recruited the necessary complement of unmarried ladies to complete their society.

Miss Cunningham

Miss Cunningham

The new schoolmarm at Quiriguire   September 5, 1937

The new schoolmarm at Quiriguire September 5, 1937

Lest we get too distracted with the social arrangements the reason the Village was there in the first place was for the exploration and production of oil. That means crude oil had to be found, drilled for, gathered and shipped someplace where it could be turned into refined petroleum products like fuel oil, heating oil, diesel and gasoline. The village was built far enough off the river that it would not be swamped in the rainy season and graded roads were maintained to the oil fields, the tank farm and the ship’s dock.

Protecting the workers in transit

Protecting the workers in transit

Jardine the geophysicist under one of the derrick platforms

Jardine the geophysicist under one of the derrick platforms

Chet "Frank Buck" Hewlett waiting for supplies

Chet “Frank Buck” Hewlett waiting for supplies

The first storage tank built

The first storage tank built

The reader may need a little more information to appreciate the tank. The very small figure barely visible at the bottom of the tank is a man so the tank is probably about forty-two feet tall. You can see that the tank is fabricated of steel plates each of which weighs about 2,000 pounds and they are all riveted together and a roof is built on the top of the tank and so it must have the structural integrity  to support the its own weight – PLUS – about 50,000 barrels of crude oil that the tank can hold [about 16,800,000 pounds] and the ground beneath must be able to support all of it (plus sometimes the weight of one Venezuelan crocodile). Pipelines ran from individual rigs to the gathering station where the oil was pumped to the tank and from the tank it would be delivered on to a ship or barge possibly be gravity feed and possibly be another pump.

One of the things that you have to remember is that there is a production stream. You don’t just go poke a hole in the ground unless you have someplace to store the oil – oil wells can not be turned on and off like a water faucet. You don’t build a storage tank unless you have someplace to ship the oil and some means of shipping it there. You don’t build a refinery to ship the oil to unless you have a customer to buy the refined product. It is one of the most complex logistical calculations in the world and these fellows did it mostly using slide rules while today multinational corporations using super computers still seem to be wrong as often as they are right.

Tanker getting ready for cargo at Caripito Terminal on the San Juan River

Tanker getting ready for cargo at Caripito Terminal on the San Juan River

Tanker Regulus completely deballasted

Tanker Regulus completely deballasted

Tanker Regulus at the "dock" taking on a load of crude oil

Tanker Regulus at the “dock” taking on a load of crude oil

The tankers that ran up and down the San Juan River necessarily small – they probably drew about 9 feet of water fully laden which, for purposes of comparison, is about as deep as you can load a barge on the Gulf Intercoastal Waterway – they used the steep rake of the bow to run into the bank, put the rudder hard over and turn the ship before docking so they would be head out loaded. This taker, the REGULUS, could probably hold about the capacity of the shore tank pictured in the last section. With a single cargo hose and gravity feed loading it must have taken at least 24 hours to load a cargo and if it was going to Trinidad it probably took the best part of 24 hours to get there – if it was going to the then largest refinery in the world at Standard Oil’s refinery on Aruba – it probably took 72 hours to get there. We know the captain and crew had to think very little of Caripito. If it was a company ship maybe the old man and the chief engineer got to come to the Village for a meal and a few hours shore side but everybody else spent time swatting mosquitos and cursing their decision to see the world through a porthole. The other purpose these tankers served was carrying workers in and out and Bill Leach shows up on several passenger lists as he would complete one contract, return to the United States, and the come back to serve out another contract.

The San Juan River was the only reliable highway to or from the Village. You might have made it north overland to the Caribbean coast at Carúpano near the only spot where Christopher Columbus ever set foot on either American continent but it would have been through miles of swamp and jungle, there was – and still is – almost nothing east except swamp and jungle and while south and west may be possible on questionable highways today in the 1930’s such a trek would have been out of the question. The only quick alternative to the water was the air – and even that sometimes involved the water.

Coming in for a landing

Coming in for a landing

The first officer supervising the gangway to disembark passengers

The first officer supervising the gangway to disembark passengers

In this golden age of flight Pan-Am owned the flying boat business in the Caribbean and South America.  Although aerodynamically less efficient than streamlined airliners, flying boats could provide service to any destination with sheltered water, which made them the ideal international airliner at a time when runways capable of handling large aircraft were scarce and runways in the jungle almost nonexistent.The plane pictured is probably a twin engined Sikorsky S-43 which could carry up to 19 passengers or about 6,000 pounds of cargo using two Pratt & Whitney 750 hp engines and an effective range of just under 800 miles. With only a pilot and a co-pilot on board this was bare bones flying for those used to the s-42 that could carry 32 passengers up to 1,200 miles and had a crew of 2 pilots, a radio operator, an engineer and a steward. The Sikorskys were work horse planes and never came any where close to the Martin M-130 – the trans Pacific China Clipper – or the Boeing 314 – the Dixie Clipper – that offered around-the-world service with a crew of 10 and even had a honeymoon suite in the tail of the aircraft.

Herbert Hoover company pilot

Herbert Hoover company pilot

Jerry Warner - company pilot

Jerry Warner – company pilot

Standard Oil of Venezuela's new Lockheed a Cachipo

Standard Oil of Venezuela’s new Lockheed a Cachipo – the airport at Monagas

One of the great advantages of working for the oil companies used to be that they had the money – and the willingness to spend it – to have the best equipment available. In a business where time really is money this included having their own fleet of planes so that critical spare parts and critical people could be moved at will without depending on commercial services. Standard chose the Lockheed Model 10 [the Electra] which had captured the market after the United States government banned single-engined aircraft for use in carrying passengers or in night flying – giving rise to the idea that the advantage of twin engine flight was that if one engine gave out the second had enough power to get you to the crash site. It was probably the most popular airplane in Latin America to serve locations with landing facilities but  ironically it was a Model 10 E  that Amelia Earhardt was flying when she disappeared over the Pacific.

Leach and Schurman of San Antonio, Texas on October 23, 1937 at Caripito, Venezuela. Are they looking for the Flying Boat or just wondering how much longer until the next ship out?

Leach and Schurman of San Antonio, Texas on October 23, 1937 at Caripito, Venezuela. Are they looking for the Flying Boat or just wondering how much longer until the next ship out?

From South America to South Texas the adventures of an oil prospector

As with so many stories of Margaret Edythe Young’s family this one begins with a tramp steamer and a passenger list. The tramp steamer was the Esso Aruba and like so many other things will weave its way through this story. To start out with the Arubawas a tanker that belonged to the Standard Oil Co of New Jersey having been built in 1931 by  Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson Ltd. at Wallsend, Sunderland and having a capacity of about 9,000 tons. During the 1930’s she was used to run crude oil from Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela to the Esso refinery at Aruba in the Dutch Netherlands Antilles and to bring refined products from there to the United States east coast.

On the voyage that left Caripito, Venezuela on July 20, 1940 and arrived in New York on July 31st was a young mining engineer who had been born in Schenectady, New York on April 3, 1906 – William Joseph Leach – whose current residence was his brother’s home in Hobbs, New Mexico. He and his brother were both graduates of the New Mexico School of Mines and while his brother had married a girl from Santa Fe and gone to work for Esso in New Mexico Bill had not quite gotten over his yondering and after a period of prospecting for silver in Colorado had worked for Standard Oil in Venezuela. Like so many in the oil business he wound up in Texas and never really left.

In 1901, drawn no doubt by the lure of Spindletop, John Young had founded the Beaumont-Hitchcock Oil Co., Inc. with offices and 414 Tremont Street in Galveston. He acquired land throughout Texas but his two most promising prospects were some swamp land in Jefferson County [Beaumont/Port Arthur area] and a few counties north of there near the small east Texas town of Saratoga. While he may have had dreams of being the next Rockefeller his working life began and ended with what went on at the port of Galveston and it wasn’t until after he died that his son, John W. Young, began developing the prospects.

When Bill Leach arrived in Houston in 1940 the United States had yet to emerge from the depression of 1929 and in many ways the social programs of the Roosevelt government had done nothing but institutionalize the economic malaise. This was not the age of sending out a dozen resumes and taking your pick of the three best offers that came in – it was the age of holding two or three jobs and hoping you got 60 hours a week in between them and could get by on it. By happenstance Bill wound up boarding with Mrs. Laureene Anna Young Bettencourt – sister of Margaret Edythe Young, stepmother of her daughter Laureene Bettencourt and sister of Col. John W. Young, USA [ret] of the Coastal Artillery.

With a degree in mining engineering, experience in the oil fields of Venezuela, time served in the coastal artillery and having caught the eye of the landlady’s daughter Bill found himself as chief geologist and head operating officer of the Beaumont-Hitchcock  Oil Co., Inc. and responsible for developing the Saratoga field. It was no Spindletop, although it still coughs out a few barrels and a little natural gas from time to time, and Bill would go on to other jobs – helping to build the tin smelter at Texas City and as a draftsman for Brown Bros. shipyard and wound up married to the landlady’s daughter.

And that is where the story begins to double back on itself. At 0630 hours on the  27th of August 1942 the German submarine U-511 fired a spread of four torpedoes at the convoy TAW-15 about 120 miles south-southeast of Guantanamo and claimed two ships totaling 17,000 gross tons sunk and another damaged. The San Fabian and Rotterdam were sunk and the Esso Aruba was damaged

The Navy tug MONTCALM – these vessels did duty as everything from harbor tugs, to intercostal towing to acting as submarine chasers and mine sweepers.

The Esso Aruba carried the convoy commodore, was hit by one torpedo on the port side between the #5 and #6 tanks. The explosion tore up the deck and blew it 20 feet into the air and also destroyed pipelines but failed to damage the engines or steering gear. The tanker stopped to examine the damage and the eight officers, 33 men, 13 armed guards (the ship was armed with one 5 inch and two .50 caliber anti-aircraft guns) and the convoy commodore and his staff of five men prepared themselves for leaving the ship. But the chief engineer reported the machinery in good order and the damaged vessel, in spite of being in danger of breaking in two, proceeded under her own power in the convoy.

The Cities Service Missouri which lightered the cargo off the Esso Aruba was, in turn, attacked by a German U-boat and sunk March 13, 1943. The most dangerous duty in WWII was to serve in the merchant marine.

At 22.00 hours on the 28th of August, the Esso Aruba reached Guantanamo Bay and was run aground to take the strain off the bottom plates. The remaining 60.000 barrels of fuel were offloaded into the Cities Service Missouri with the help of the American salvage tug USS Montcalm until the 8th of  September. After temporary repairs the ship proceeded to Galveston for permanent repairs at the Brown Bros. shipyard where Bill Leach was senior draftsman. Another project of the shipyard is now permanently moored at Seawolf Park in Galveston, the USS Stewart was one of  over 350 ships built for the Navy by the company that also built the Corpus Christi Naval Air Station and employed over 25,000 men as the nation used the war to recover from Mr. Roosevelt’s utopian schemes.

Bill Leach would leave Brown Bros. to serve in the U. S. Navy taking part in the Philippine campaign and we have a copy of his last pay stub. He worked 4 hours at a rate of $0.875 and 64 hours at a rate of $1.75 for a gross wage of $115.50 from which withholding of $11.60 [it was referred to as “voluntary” tax payment in those days] and Social Security of $1.16 were deducted leaving him with $102.74 for the week – which placed him solidly in the middle class and combined with Laureene’s salary as a teacher [about one-third of his] they were, as the saying used to be, “comfortable”. By comparison when he was serving in the Navy his monthly remittance to Laureene was $8.10!

Taken at San Diego at the end of basic training. The insignia on his sleeve indicates that he is a gun fire control specialist – once in the artillery…

Bill was probably one of the countless tens of thousands of American casualties saved by the decision to use the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and was able to return whole to his family. Here the story doubles back on itself one last time. John W. Young had sold the mineral interests in the Jefferson County properties and the Saratoga field to his aunt, Margaret Bennett, who sold them in turn to her late husband’s youngest brother, Mills Bennett. Mills Bennett already owned considerable oil interests in South Texas near the King Ranch outside of the little town of Falfurrias and Bill became his chief geologist and production engineer and worked with the firm until his retirement.