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!

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An Outpost of Progress – The Narrative – The Long Voyage Home

PROLOGUE: One of the advantages – maybe the only one – of being an expatriate is that after a long absence from home, anyplace from 6 to 18 months generally, you get sent back on a long vacation, 30 to 90 days. Since you are removed from the job site and far enough away to be out of communication it is generally a genuine vacation. After his first tour in Venezuela Bill Leach found himself bound back for the Port of New York for his first leave.

In a few short years things would happen to the ship he travelled on, to ship’s he saw and to places he saw. But this was before the Hindenburg blew up at Lakehurst and during the heyday of American dirigibles, it was before u-Boats would prowl the Gulf of Mexico and U. S. East Coast almost at will and it was before a war that would change everything. His account includes sailing through heavy weather and the way north and the sensitive with literary pretensions will probably want to make much of this as a harbinger of things to come from the storm clouds festering over Europe at the time. If he had any ideas that a war would demand his attention in three short years there is no indication of it here – the storm is simply a storm. In hindsight we have noted some of the things that happened subsequent to his travels out of a sense of poignancy and because we think they help complete the story.

PAUL H. HARWOOD a US single screw steam tanker capable of making 10 knots of 7,193 gross registered tons  was 435 feet long x 56 feet abeam. Purchased by Standard Oil Co. in 1935 she was in service until 1949.

PAUL H. HARWOOD a US single screw steam tanker capable of making 10 knots of
7,193 gross registered tons was 435 feet long x 56 feet abeam. Purchased by
Standard Oil Co. in 1935 she was in service until 1949.

Time is really flying by and vacation time is just around the corner.
Left Mata Negra Camp on March first, rode to the Boca de Aracoa where I was to get on board the Caripiteno and thence to Caripito.  Arrived in Caripito on the 2nd , and made arrangements to get for home.  Sailed 12:30 p.m. from the Caripito Terminal, arrived at Guiria at about 5:30 p.m. and had to wait for the high tide due to the low sand bar at the entrance to the Gulf of Paria.  Sometime during the night we arrived at Guiria.  When morning finally arrived our tanker Paul H. Harwood was being filled with oil.  Left Guiria 12 a.m. and sailed for the island of Aruba where we were to discharge our oil cargo.

Between 10.16 and 10.17 hours on 7 Jul, 1942, U-67 fired four torpedoes at three ships about 40 miles southwest of Southwest Pass, reported one hit and assumed that one tanker sank at 10.45 hours. The Paul H. Harwood (Master George Rasmussen) was hit by one torpedo while steaming at 12 knots in a small convoy of four ships being escorted by one destroyer. The torpedo struck on the port side abaft amidships at the #6 tank and blew a hole 15 feet by 12 feet into the hull, causing the flooding of tanks #5, #6 and #7. The tanker was stabilized by counterflooding the forward tanks and continued on her course at 10 knots into Southwest Pass to Burwood, Louisiana. She anchored at Pilottown and then proceeded to New Orleans. None of the eight officers, 32 crewmen and 16 armed guards (the ship was armed with one 4in, one 3in and four 20mm guns) reported an injury. The tanker arrived for permanent repairs at Galveston, Texas on 16 July and returned to service on 28 September.

Between 10.16 and 10.17 hours on 7 Jul, 1942, U-67 fired four torpedoes at three ships about 40 miles southwest of Southwest Pass, reported one hit and assumed that one tanker sank at 10.45 hours. The Paul H. Harwood (Master George Rasmussen) was hit by one torpedo while steaming at 12 knots in a small convoy of four ships being escorted by one destroyer. The torpedo struck on the port side abaft amidships at the #6 tank and blew a hole 15 feet by 12 feet into the hull, causing the flooding of tanks #5, #6 and #7. The tanker was stabilized by counterflooding the forward tanks and continued on her course at 10 knots into Southwest Pass to Burwood, Louisiana. She anchored at Pilottown and then proceeded to New Orleans. None of the eight officers, 32 crewmen and 16 armed guards (the ship was armed with one 4in, one 3in and four 20mm guns) reported an injury. The tanker arrived for permanent repairs at Galveston, Texas on 16 July and returned to service on 28 September.

Going out of Guiria and through Boca de Sierpo the water was choppy and rough.  Finally arrived in Aruba on the 6th and it was rather smoky due to the refineries working at full capacity.  The view of the houses from the harbor was just a flash of brightly colored houses – they certainly do go for loud colors.  The boat was being unloaded on the 6th and 7th and in the meantime, Lenert, LeBlanc, Hewes, McClendon, Willis and I went out to do our shopping.  Bought quite a few interesting articles for folks at home.  Imagine that all will be appreciated. Left Aruba at about 6 p.m. on the 8th and headed directly for the Windward Passage.  Stood by the rail to enjoy the night view of Aruba. The refinery plant lights vent flares and smoke make the night scene of the island rather an interesting one.

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On the 9th we were well in the Caribbean Ocean and I was out at the bow looking into sea as we rode safely, rode above the deep-seated coral beds.  It was around the vicinity of the Island of Haiti (8 a.m) that I saw three octopi, numerous orchid-colored jelly-fish, flying fish, squids, and a giant sea eel. Saw the Island of Cuba about 5 p.m. but it was about twilight and nothing could be seen.  Saw the lights of a number of tankers, freighters and a cruiser. On the 10th at 5 a.m. we were off to the west of Crooked Island.  Saw the usual amount of jelly-fish and flying fish. At 3 p.m. we were off the west coast of the Island of San Salvador, and about 10 p.m. we were about due east of the southern tip of Florida.

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The Italia Società di Navigazione a Vapore was founded in Genoa in 1899 to operate services between Italy and South America. Although registered in Italy, the company was controlled by Hamburg America Line. In 1906 Hamburg America sold their share of the company to Navigazione Generale Italiana and sailings to New York and Philadelphia started in 1908. In 1917 Italia was absorbed into the new company Transoceanica Società Italiana di Navigazione.

March ll th. The sea was rough all day.  We had a heavy wind-blown sea. The waves washed over the lower decks; the wind whistled and lightning snapped quite often.  We did not however get the heavy part of the storm.  At times the waves splashed well over the bow of the tanker. The ship rolled as much as 16 degrees.  Some of the passengers did not feel so good and remained in their rooms.  Periodically the ship’s whistle blasted its warning since visibility was not very good.  The sea was heavy all night. Between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. the sea was at its worst.

Built by Cantieri Riuniti dell'Adriatico, Monfalcone in 1931 for Lloyd Sabaudo, she was a 48,502 gross ton ship, overall length 814.6ft x beam 96.1ft, two funnels, two masts, four screws and a speed of 27 knots. There was accommodation for 360-1st, 375-special, 400-tourist and 922-3rd class passengers. Launched on 28/10/1931, she was transferred to Italia Line (which was an amalgamation of three former independent lines) in January 1932. She was one of the first ships to be fitted with gyro-stabilizers which, it was claimed, maximized her rolling to three degrees. She was sunk in shallow water at Venice by British bombers on 11/9/1943

Built by Cantieri Riuniti dell’Adriatico, Monfalcone in 1931 for Lloyd Sabaudo, she was a 48,502 gross ton ship, overall length 814.6ft x beam 96.1ft, two funnels, two masts, four screws and a speed of 27 knots. There was accommodation for 360-1st, 375-special, 400-tourist and 922-3rd class passengers. Launched on 28/10/1931, she was transferred to Italia Line (which was an amalgamation of three former independent lines) in January 1932. She was one of the first ships to be fitted with gyro-stabilizers which, it was claimed, maximized her rolling to three degrees. She was sunk in shallow water at Venice by British bombers on 11/9/1943

March 12th: The sea was heavy all day, and a cold wind blew from the northwest.  Remained in our cabins all day as the ship rolled as high as 17 1/2 degrees; our ship had to slow down to 3 1/2 knots per hour and we were pitching badly.  About 4 p.m. the CONTE DI SAVOIA liner passed us on the east side and it was literally plowing thru the heavy seas.
March 13th and 14th the sea had quieted down somewhat but the air was rather chilly.

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March 15th: Sighted the Jersey coast, saw the air maneuvers of an Army blimp from Lakehurst.  Gradually pulled into the New York Harbor and thence to Bayonne, N. J. where we remained overnight.

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March 16th: Went thru the customs inspections.  Met Mary and Dell at the pier.  Then went to Hotel Taft where reservations were made for me. Straightened up business, bought a new  Plymouth 2-door De Luxe sedan and headed for Amsterdam.

longvoy020

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.

venbo002

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 – A trip to Santiago de León de Caracas

caracasven2

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.

caracasven3

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.

gomez

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.

cathedral

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.

altar

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.

train

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.

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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.

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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.

church002

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.

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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.

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An Outpost of Progress – The Heart of Darkness

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Patio of La Rotunda – Caracas, Venezuela.   Jail Chief Pacheco earned a unique reputation in murdering political prisoners. While Pacheco’s underlings tortured prospective corpses, Pacheco drowned out the victims cries with sentimental strains of the harp. He was christened NERO. He is now serving a 25 year sentence in jail.

One of the essential elements of travel is that you often find yourself in a place that does not share the political system that you live with at home on a daily basis. For many Americans that means they may be visiting a county that has little or no use for political dissension and absolutely no scruples about how they suppress it. The myth of Simon Bolívar is that he played a key role in Latin America‘s successful struggle for independence from the Spanish Empire and was the Washington of South America. The reality is that he was closer to Napoleon having finally proclaimed himself dictator on the 27th of August 1828 just as the little corporal had himself crowned emperor. Much of Venezuela‘s 19th century history was characterized by political turmoil and dictatorial rule. In 1899 Cipriano Castro, assisted by his friend Juan Vicente Gómez, seized power in Caracas, marching an army from his base in the Andean state of Táchira. Castro defaulted on Venezuela’s considerable foreign debts, and declined to pay compensation to foreigners caught up in Venezuela’s civil wars but when Castro left for medical treatment in Germany and was promptly overthrown by Gómez.

The Rotunda viewed from above - the same yard served for exercise and execution.

The Rotunda viewed from above – the same yard served for exercise and execution.

The discovery of massive oil deposits in Lake Maracaibo during World War I prompted an economic boom that would make Venezuela’s per capita gross domestic product Latin America’s highest.  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. He remained the most powerful man in Venezuela until his death in 1935. The gomecista dictatorship system largely continued under Eleazar López Contreras until 1941 with only the periodic nods to democratic reform that have passed like breezes through the savannah from time to time. Prehaps Bolivar’s words, All who served the Revolution have plowed the sea, are prophetic and only in the rarest and happiest of circumstances can people truly enjoy the fruits of a republican government. Although Standard Oil practised politics only at the highest level during his service there and the workers were shielded from most of the political instability Bill still witnessed the aftermath of horror. Bolivar, being sterile, left no heirs but that has not stopped the sterility of ideas that have filled the political vacuum from Bolivar to Chavez – and beyond.

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Hole in Wall. President Gomez used to put his political prisoners in such a cell where the prisoner was cramped for room. Light came from a small hole about the size of a brick. Prisoners were poorly taken care of and usually went crazy or died of starvation. The prison is now demolished. [pictures taken in 1937]

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 – The Narrative – Getting Situated

Continuing Bill Leach’s narrative of his time in Venezuela in the late 1930’s we pick up where we left off last week. If you are a city boy and move someplace where the drugstore, the diner and the cinema are not just around the corner it is more than a small shock and requires some acclimatization. Fortunately most of us find ourselves in places where we are too busy to notice what isn’t there and too interested in what is there to worry about it anyway. As usual Bill’s original text is italicized and everything else isn’t.

bill2

There are relatively high mountains to the west and the north and there may he a possibility of getting up there sometime. No doubt there will be plenty to see around any of these mountains in this vicinity for they seem to he full of vegetation; This no doubt is due to the fact that we have so much rain and when I say rain I mean that there is always plenty of it.
Early in the morning and during most of the days one is able to hear the screaming and squawking of the various birds and parrots which incidentally are always flying around in pairs.  Some of the brightly plumaged parrots have their long tails trailing behind them like the tail of a comet. These parrots certainly beautifully colored.

mountain

There are countless numbers of gayly colored lizards which are harmless. They devour any and all insects that are within reach and they are a great help in the riddance of these pests. The butterflies in this area certainly do have plenty of color.  One of the fellows in the camp is making a hobby of collecting them and he really does have a fine collection; he must have in the neighborhood of five hundred.

Juan, the Venezuelan boy who is under my wing with the possibility of making a draftsman out of him has told me of what to expect to see in the inland waters that contain numerous water boas. He related an account wherein a water boa had a hard fight with an alligator. At first I sort of took it  with a grain of salt but after hearing practically the same stories from other sources that were more authentic why I believed the remainder of the stories that Juan related to me.  To a total stranger some of these stories seem rather far-fetched but are an actual reality. I have seen pictures of a snake cut open and inside were the remains of an alligator. I have also seen a picture of a boa (a real live one) that was tethered   to a pole – the rope was fully one inch in diameter.

cocanut

Friday, February 26th, I attended a birthday party held for Howard Voss at the Peterson home. The party consisted of Byron Judah, George Johnson, Mr. and Mrs. Peterson, Mr. and Mrs. Gluckert and myself. Had a very fine time and appreciated being invited to the affair.

Sunday, February 28th, Judah, Johnsen and I went for a horseback ride through the jungle trails in the vicinity of the pumper station. Through the jungle the riding was very close for the underbrush was heavy and thick. I will admit that I kept my eyes on the alert for any and all possibilities, for being a stranger in a strange country and in an area wherein there are constant lurking dangers I must admit that I felt creepy at times. Most of the time I was too far back of Johnsen and Judah to feel comfortable. At almost any time I expected to see almost any form of animal life creep across the path.
I surely did see new plants and flower life and they are certainly inter­esting to gaze at. I imagine that it would be interesting to make a study of the various forms of plant life)  that one comes across. A machete would come in handy and useful in the dense undergrowth.

bunkhouse
At night I joined a supper held at D-27 the following were present at the supper; Mr. and Mrs. Gluckert, Emerick, Judah, Brown, Krasse,Voss and myself. After the party the whole gang went to the show to see the “Gorgeous Hussy”

The Gorgeous Hussy 1

THE PLOT – It’s the early nineteenth century Washington. Young adult Margaret O’Neal – Peggy to most that know her – is the daughter of Major William O’Neal, who is the innkeeper of the establishment where most out-of-town politicians and military men stay when they’re in Washington. Peggy is pretty and politically aware. She is courted by several of those politicians and military men who all want to marry her, except for the one with who she is truly in love. Because of her personal situation at the time, she, in 1828, becomes the unofficial first lady to help her old friend – “old” both in terms of age and length of time – Andrew Jackson, who has just been elected President of the United States. Jackson and Peggy have the same political outlook, where the union of the states is paramount, especially when many states see their rights as being more important than the union. Jackson had a rough ride during the election in large part because his wife, Rachel Jackson, was seen as a pipe smoking hayseed, unfit to live in the White House. On her deathbed, Rachel asked Peggy to take care of Jackson. Peggy, as unofficial first lady, gets as rough a ride as Rachel did, because of her own marital status and the undue influence she may assert over Jackson. Because of her relationship with Jackson, Peggy has to decide which of the conflicting issues of her political convictions, being with the man she truly loves or respectability is of greatest priority in her life.

Apparently Hollywood has been turning out drivel since the first reel was spooled into a camera and this movie was certainly no exception. The important thing is that the camps were being supplied with relatively new films in order to keep the workers happy. Unlike today when everything is available by satellite as recently as 10 or 15 years ago if you worked on board a ship you might get 10 or 15 year old movies to watch – if any – the oil companies have always paid better, fed better and taken better care of their employees than any other organization.