Members News & Information Officers Classifieds Reference Discussion Links Events Regions Store Home
By Sullivan C. Richardson
|If southern Costa Rica is difficult, the Darien Peninsula
and the Atrato River Basin at the Atlantic neck of Darien are infinitely more difficult.
The expedition is in no position to argue about the terrain, the swamps, the mountains, or the jungle of Darien, We didn't actually cover it, on the ground or in the air. But we talked with those who had, and we know pretty well what is there.
At the moment it is still impossible to drive from Buenaventura to the interior.
We arrived in Buenaventura aboard the Elliot Line ship, Colombia. No Colombian official had received any communication regarding us, and it looked like plenty of trouble Colombia was tough on regulations.
We called the American Consul, Mr. Blood,
He came down to the dock to meet us. He had received communication from the Embassy in Bogotá regarding us, but there seemed little he could do. He got us in touch with the Captain of the Port, then said he had to go meet another boat. We never saw him again.
But our good star was watching over us once more. Without fanfare, a little half-pint man in extremely casual almost baggy-clothes walked out of the customs house and up to the car. He introduced himself. Dr. Zapata (Dr. Shoe, in English) from Bogotá: an official of the Automobile Club of Colombia.
"We were in communication with the Automobile Club of Colombia, before leaving the States," we explained. "They knew of our coming. And our Embassy knew of our coming. We can't understand why someone at the Foreign Office, or the Automobile Club didn't inform these customs officials here regarding us, that we might get our car and equipment into the country without duties
"Oh he beamed. "You are the Pan American Highway expedition No"
"Yes- But it seems we are in difficulties at the moment."
-You watt-" he said "'There be no difficulties" the doctor soon hard the Captain of the Port over near our car. There were pictures. There was a reporter from Bogotá’s leading paper on the scene. There were telephone calls and telegrams m Cali and to Bogotá. The car was passed as it had been at every other frontier, without bag or package coming out of it.
And then in an offhand way, while we were still talking about expedition experiences, we told the doctor what Costa Rica and Panama had done about railroad transportation what the Elliot Steamship Line, and the United Fruit Company had done: and the Canal 'Zone authorities. The doctor's small black eyes popped above his over-genrrotr3 Latin nose. He went into conference with the railroad people.
We Somehow felt, however it was to much to expect that our luck in free transportation for ourselves and car should continue.
For a times it appeared the doctor would even swing the gratis transportation. A flatcar was provided and -would pull out next day for Cali. We were to pay our fairs and the freight for the car, amounting in total to some forty-six dollars American money, and every effort would he made to refund the money when we reached Cali or Bogotá. But it never came through. Once money is paid in Latin America. it is must difficult to recover.
'That ride on the train from Buenaventura to Cali startled us. Half an hour out of Buenaventura we began climbing extreme grade. The train was a combination freight and passenger with only eight cars. But it was all the engine could pull.
"Two hours from the Coast." Read my notes of the trip. "We had Completely left jungle behind and were up in the tops of open spaced mountains still climbing At one spot, a place called Dauga, we twisted back and forth across the face of the same mountain five or six times We had traveled an hour from the station and were still passing back and forth in front of it for more than half a mile up the mountainside!
All the way up the Pacific side of the mountains and on up the next higher peaks of the interior range, we had watched with eager interest, almost anxiety, the train as it rounded the extremely sharp curves of the track. The car seemed almost to tip over. And when we started down some of the – lesser canyons of the inner range, the train clattered around these bends until we thought some part of it must surely leave the rails and go over the frightening side. The trainmen and the conductor engineer, as he was called, appeared to think nothing of it. We asked if accidents ever happened when the train went that fast.
“Occasionally, perhaps” said the conductor as near as I could translate. -But we travel it many times at this speed and nothing happens. It is quite safe " He shrugged his shoulders.
So the three of us rode the flatcar with the automobile, inspection at every stop the ropes that lashed the wheels to the platform. Sometimes we rode atop the boxcar hooked just ahead of our automobile. There we had to hold our hats in the rush cat wind made by the train. We also pulled our sweaters, Jackets, or whatever we had tightly around us against the cold. Our blood was thin from weeks of sweat and aril in the weltering jungles This change in two days from heat to cold made our teeth chatter.
And up in Bogotá, two days later, we read in the paper that same train on which we now rode, left the rails on as return trip to B Buenaventura. The conductor engineer, who had chatted with us so unconcernedly a few moments ago, was torn and mangled in the wreckage. A brakeman also was killed, and another was seriously hurt "One of the greatest disasters of the Buenaventura - Cali railroad." said the article. Somehow, we were grateful for the margin of two days between life and death. We hoped it would never come closer to the expedition. We know now it did.
We got into Call about 7:00 o’clock; well after dark as Columbia short days went. There was no chance of getting the car cleared of the railroad yards that tight, fur everyone had gone home. Besides, since there was question about a refund of money-, we didn't want to do anything until the highest possible officials in the railroad could be reached.
It took some time next morning to get the car cleared of the railroad. There was of course no refund. They said they hadn't heard from Bogotá. We changed American money into Colombian money, got as much information as we could about the road north to the Capitol and finally drove out of town about ten o’clock. That night we made camp still short of Ibague.
"From Ibague, we flattened out into a large valley that might easily have been one of our United Stairs southwestern valleys except it was infinitely greener. It was cut with tacky ridges and little ravines. This valley was filled with farms, banana plantations, coffee trees, and towns, and stretched all the way to Giradot where we crossed a bridge over the mucky muddy water of the Magdalena River.
”From Ibague we watered to climb again almost immediately, up a little canyon with a river in it, then into a wider canyon higher up At one place the car passed under a small - waterfall. Above that point a short distance, we came suddenly upon men working with pulley, block and tackle and chains across the road. Looking below, we saw a truck lodged in trees and the sleep carryon slope. It had gone over the side. The road is very narrow along there and often passes completely under overhanging rook cut right out of the side of the gorge. Today I saw in the paper that two people were killed when that truck went over. It looked like a bad wreck as we passed.
"From that pant at up here to Bogotá, we unfolded enough mountain scenery to last a long time The climax of routes was the final boost right up through the clouds to this plateau. For five miles we climbed in low gear through the densest kind of jungle. Choking with clouds, fog, and rain. Our windshield wipers swung back and forth like pistons trying to keep the glass clean so we could see out. In each wheel track of road a little rivulet of water raced down the mountain to meet us. The tracks were slick in spots where insufficient rock mixed with the dirt and clay. Suddenly a man stepped out of the side but in front of us and waved n red flag. A chain stretched across the rood and a big yellow sign said 'Pare.”' We stopped. From there up said the man; it was one-way traffic, because the road was narrow and climbed along Side of a bad precipice. When we finally went on, after a forty-five minute wait, we found he wasn’t lying. The road wound upward through moss, fern, and Jungle, with great rocks hanging out over the top of us and off to the side of us, dripping with water and rain. We passed into yet denser fog. Off to the side we knew was a precipice, yet how high or how deep--we had no idea. The abyss and the trees that lined it were completely grayed out with cloud and rain. Finally we crossed the chain at the upper end of the sola via and knew then we'd leave to look out for cars and traffic coming down to meet us. We barely crept along, still the motor was roaring. One quick break in the clouds, four or five hundred yards above the control chain we'd just passed showed us three twisting turns in the road we'd just climbed. Then the clouds closed in and everything was a stringy curtain of grey again.
"At last we imagined streaks of light began to appear in the fog, wisps of blue, and without warning we rolled over the summit and practically fell into a wide-open valley without even a hint of cloud or jungle! It was a great wide trough, high in the sky, sparkling with sunshine and the grand tingle of fresh clean air. It was almost unbelievable.
"From there on to Bogotá, we followed that same wide trough, really an expansive valley, several miles wide and many miles long.
But Colombia was still less than half the distance to Cape Horn from Detroit. We hurried on!
We left Bogotá exactly six months and nine days after leaving Detroit. (And we had expected to be back in Detroit in six months!)
On the way to Bogotá, those first days in South America, we had experienced continual difficulty with the car at high altitudes. We had provided it with a lean carburetor jet, to begin with, but obviously, jet alone was insufficient. The motor would cough, gurgle, and die in the midst of those steepest grades.
We had a trying time.
Before we left Bogotá therefore, we installed an electric fuel pump on the gas line. That would provide maximum fuel regardless of altitude. The principle of operation was simple. Whenever the regular vacuum system faltered, the electric system took over. It helped immeasurably.
And going back over those high reaches of the Andes, south to Cali again, on to Popoyan and Pasto, the car worked better. We kept the big water can, lashed on the front bumper, filled with water from the streams we passed and time after time as we climbed those mountains we stopped to fill and refill the radiator. Three times a day, for two days in succession, we climbed over ten thousand feet in the car. The second night after leaving Bogotá we expected to stay somewhere in the neighborhood of Cali, but learned upon reaching there that from Popoyan to Pasto was a stretch of Bola via road over which we could not travel unless we were in Popoyan by six or seven o'clock in the morning. And Popoyan was 120 miles away:
Handicapped as we were by not knowing the road, we decided to drive through the night to Popoyan. We needed that extra day. Until midnight it was not so bad, because we could find people to ask regarding the highway. (It was generally unmarked, or at least very poorly marked.) At the entrance and exit of each town of size, and at the entrance of geographical departmentos (much like our state counties) were police control stations with chains across the road. But after midnight it was too late for anybody to travel in those mountains, so the control stations closed up. When we came to chains stretched across the road, with no one there to ask the usual questions, look at our passports, etc., we simply let the chain down, drove over it, placed it back and went on our way.
We got lost once during the night-or thought we were but at 5:00 A.M. we pulled off the highway into tall grass, some five miles out of Popoyan, set up our beds and got two hours sleep. We were awakened with sunlight and two natives driving a herd of skinny cattle almost over us. We got up, didn't wait for breakfast, drove into Popoyan, were "inspected" by a control officer who said it was still 35 kilometers to the beginning of the solo via stretch, piled in again and hurried to get there that our night's drive might not be in vain.
That control inspection at Popoyan was nothing to pass off lightly. The officer said he had to test the car to be certain it would negotiate the grades. He got in, checked the steering gear, started the motor, drove down the road two hundred yards, turned around and came back at us speeding to forty miles an hour! When he put on the brakes the tires screamed with protest. That officer didn't know he was testing ordinary brakes with almost a small truckload of weight behind them! When we got out, he pulled up the front seat to see that we had tire chains, tools, and tow ropes, put the seat in place, looked at our official papers, grunted a muy bien, and waved to us to proceed.
"But is the road so bad, you check each car like this?" we demanded.
“Seguramente, Senores," he replied. "And you often encounter rain in the altitudes. That is why you must have chains." He had us half frightened.
Actually the road was not so bad as we then expected. It was narrow. It was steep. And it climbed to well over ten thousand feet. But it was relatively easy going, compared to what we had accustomed ourselves to expect of bad road.
And every few miles along that one-way stretch were chain control stations. We have never yet determined exactly why, unless it was to give more people more work. At the inspection control in Popoyan we were given a wide long sheet, with mimeographed blanks on it for signing. We didn't understand it at the time what it was for, but we soon learned. At each of these control stations, the guard took the paper, looked to see that we had properly been checked through by the guard to our rear, noted the time we arrived at this particular station, told us of any workmen we might expect on the narrow dug ways ahead, rubber-stamped the sheet above his signature, and let down his chain for us to pass.
There were twelve stations all together. At the last one, we begged the privilege of keeping the sheet as a souvenir. We'd never seen so many rubber stamps and flourishing signatures in our lives! At first the guard shook his head. [t couldn't be done. Then I spread it out on his table, back side up, flattened it with my hand and asked him to please sign it himself as the last control officer, certifying that the Pan American Highway Expedition passed
La Union at 1:00 P.M., bray 29, 1941. That pleased him. With his rubber stamp he fixed it exactly as we wanted it, folded it again with a big grin, passed it back to me and watched to see how carefully I placed it again in my pocket. His name was on an official document, going all the way back to Norte America!
We stayed that night in an abandoned mud-and-grass hut, well above 11,000 feet in the air with cold winds blowing the black soot in our faces. The stuff hung like strings of moss to the rafters. It was our last night in Colombia. One more day and we'd be at the Equator!
The day we left Colombia and entered Ecuador, we had the car heater on most of the morning. It was that cold. We spent the day from 8,000 to 12,000 feet above the sea!
From the broken and abandoned mud-grass hut we had camped in for the night, we dropped down into Pasto, climbed more, dropped more and climbed again to Ipiales, got exit papers okayed and drove on to Rumichaca, boundary-line between the two republics. Our visit to Colombia was done.
It was almost night when we finally got through customs, emigration, and military offices at Tulcan, check-up town ten kilometers inside Ecuadorian territory. The Jefe of Customs had received a cable from the Ecuadorian Minister in Bogotá advising him we were diplomaticos-which wasn't true, but was none the less more convenient!-and we were to be given every possible assistance and courtesy.
There was little vegetation on those high mountains as we neared the equator. The natives walked with ponchos and shawls drawn tightly around their throats and up under their noses. We shivered in the morning air, got in the car, dropped steadily into the earth to find a large river rushing by a smelly mud-hutted village filled with kinky haired black people. Not a blade of grass, or a bush grew near the: town.
"About midday we began seeing more colorful country. We climbed over another range and as we topped the crest a large valley spread itself below us, with the town of Ibarra sleeping alongside a lovely lake..
"From there on to Quito we hit valley after valley of interesting Indian life.
"After passing Otovala we climbed another high range, stampeded an Indian's herd of pack bulls-we couldn't help it. They wouldn't get out of the way so we tried to outrun them. The Indian shouted and cursed, probably at us, but the last time we saw his beasts they bounded up over the side of the road and disappeared into a spread of thorny brush clumps. We hope he found them again: Then we dropped down into another dry valley which finally ended in a searing gorge cut through sun baked mountains until it seemed we must be near earth's center! When we climbed up out of that, with radiator boiling, we were within 20 kilometers of Quito."
We drove some miles out to the north of the Capital to visit the Equatorial monument, aid stand with one foot on either side of the earth's center. Quito is 9,500 feet above the sea.
When we left Quito to go on south, we drove to Cajabamba, put the automobile on a flatcar with a courteous gesture of 25 per cent discount in cost by the railroad company, and rode the rails down off the high plateau to the sweltering, but economically rich, city of Guayaquil on the gulf between Ecuador and Peru. That railroad took a prize for ingenuity in construction in the experience of the expedition in Latin America. Dropping down through Canyon El Diablo, the track describes a great Z across the face of the near-perpendicular walls. One engine can pull only five cars up it. There is no place to make a turn at the points of the Z, therefore, our train, coming down, pulled ahead of a switch, backed down the middle line of the Z beyond another switch at the lower end, then started forward again nearer the bottom of the great canyon. In the bottom nestled a little town and station. The train stopped. I got off and looked back up at the cliffs and shook my head in amazement to think any engineers might imagine they could drive a usable railroad across that mountain face.
That night at Guayaquil we met and had dinner with large, lumbering, unhandsome J. H. Dreibelbis, Chrysler Factory Representative for all of South America. We had met Drei first in Bogotá. We happened to be in Guayaquil the same night.
We got our first look at fabulous Peru from the deck of the Grace Line steamer Santa Elena. She dropped anchor off Talara, probably one hundred miles down the coast from the Bay of Guayaquil. And we stared at the desolate coastline, which we were to follow for so many miles south. We didn't want to come so far by boat, but there was no regular ferry service just across the fifty-mile bay to Tumbes, or north of that point. And at the oil town of Talara there begins the first of Peru's really fine through road, gravel to Chiclayo, probably two hundred fifty miles, then pavement from there to Lima.
At Talara, desolate hills of sand and rock rise right from the sea a hundred to three hundred feet to a floor-like plateau, also of sand. There is no sign of vegetation. Yet that plateau is speckled with oil derricks! The ocean wind and water currents, which bring rain, branch out from the Pacific Coast at the mouth of Guayaquil bay. On one side of this bay is jungle, dense and rain-soaked. On the other side is sand; desolate sand and desert where rain rarely falls! And that coast of sand stretches unbroken-save for occasional little river valleys which cut down from the great blue ribs of the Andes in an effort to carry water through the desert to the sea-more than 3,000 miles south almost to Santiago, Chile!
Plump, handsome, and barely-graying Eduardo DiBos, ex-Mayor of Lima, influential politician and businessman, had met the expedition first in Mexico City. He is importer for Goodyear Tires in all Peru. And the expedition was using Goodyear Tires.
"When you get to Lima, if you ever do," he promised with a twinkle in his eyes that December day in the Mexican Capital, "well give you the keys to the city"'
"Is it a promise" we demanded.
"And more! But you've got to get there first! "
From Panama City I had sent Eduardo a letter telling him we were still coming: to prepare Lima to receive us: I wrote it with a laugh. But from Quito I sent him a cable asking that the authorities at Talara be notified of our coming, and there by make it as easy for us to enter Peru as possible. Eduardo was also president of the Automobile Club of Peru.
The Santa Elena hadn't dropped her anchor more than ten minutes until a young man was aboard trying to find us. He represented the Automobile Club in Talara, he said, and showed us a telegram from Eduardo to himself, and handed us one of welcome, addressed to us.
The young fellow stayed right with us that morning, first, to get the car off the Elena, next to get us through the Captain of the Port's office, Customs, Emigration, and the Police. Then we filled up with gas, at the cheapest price we paid anywhere on the expedition-11 cents per gallon American money-and the chap drove his own car out onto the plateau with us, to start us on the right road for Chiclayo. We said goodbye a few minutes after 12:00 o'clock noon, and started south.
We reached Chiclayo about 10:00 o'clock that nigh:. Eduardo had notified the Automobile Club head there to be on the lookout for us He met us, took us to late dinner, begged us to stay all night and see the age-old things of interest about the city. We declined firmly, but with appreciation, saying we could not lose a single unnecessary day. So our host picked up the telephone called Eduardo in Lima and told him we'd be coming in at 11 o'clock next morning. We drove out into the night on a ribbon of pavement. Lima was more than 500 miles away.
At the outskirts of the city, a motorcycle officer with siren screaming pounded up in front of us. Behind him came five cars. Eduardo had come to meet us!
Of all the cities in South America we entered, the expedition Lutes Lima Number One in pleasantness, interest, beauty, and what we'd term "general livability." It has one important drawback. Fog clouds flat in from the Pacific most months of the year. You enter them only a mile or two from the city limits. You leave them again a mile or two on the other side. That phenomenon is better understood when it is said that periodically all the way down those three thousand miles of desolation and sand we encountered little stretches of one mile to five miles wide, where such clouds came over the desert. They precipitated enough moisture that the sand hills were covered with a tiny blanket of little flowers three or four inches high. Then almost as if we had crossed a fence, we would leave the section behind. The clouds were gone, the flowers were gone, and there was not a stick, a piece of pulpy weed, or anything that ever grew, to be found for miles and miles farther along that wasteland.
We left Lima on Monday morning, June 23rd. and hit south over pavement and more incredible desert toward the northern boundary of Chile. That boundary was almost a thousand miles down the coast. Four hundred and forty miles of that thousand were fine new pavement; the rest was washboard gravel.
Patches of notes from along that road give the idea:
"We've never seen sand like this Peru sand. Perhaps the Sahara is like it. We don't know. But as we drove along today, we saw small ranges of mountains, foothills to the actual Andes: but they were high, jagged, and sharp, and in places they were almost completely covered right to the top with sand."
And days later
"Camped out on the soft sand of the desert about 24 kilometers north of Tacna, last town in Pens. Fog is drifting over us now, making things rather uncomfortable: fog, of all things on the desert! It's cold and damp. I dug out my 'parka style' rain jacket a while ago, and used it while we ate supper. It kept the dampness off very well. Now I'm sitting here in the car, hunched over in the jacket pounding these keys. The head cap feels nice and warm over my ears and the back of my neck.
"Several times today we followed up gullies and canyons where the road had been made right in the bottom of them. One good rain would wash out miles of road: but the rains never come! And during the afternoon we've been following along a range of mountains that must go up eight or nine thousand feet, and there is sand almost to the top of them. It's a weird feeling to see sand piled up that high. Rather gives you the impression it might slide down on you! It's one of the amazing sights Peru offers. And in back of these lower peaks rise the high blue snow-covered crests of the Central Cordillera. What a magnificent scene.
"In one spot, just as we left the railroad water station of La Joya, our road took off across the desert. There was no graded road or single track. Instead there were literally hundreds of tracks spread over desert for probably half a mile in width. We had no idea which track to follow, for they all looked soft. And we didn't even know if they'd all converge again in the same road. We just guessed, and drove! Several times we almost stalled in the soft sand. After twelve miles of such stuff, however, we noticed the tracks gradually converging, and they all landed on a fine well-graveled and graded road, which we've followed all the way to here. I suppose it runs on into Tacna.
We crossed the boundary into Chile next day. The line was marked only by a cement post and a low steel tower, probably a quarter of a mile apart, and sitting out in a perfect sea of sand, with no visible living thing for miles in either direction.
Chile hung up more records for the expedition than any other country in Latin America: records both good and bad.
She began her spree with the books the moment we crossed her frontier. Three telegrams had come to the customs officer regarding the expedition: one from the Chilean Embassy in Lima, Peru, one from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Santiago, and one from the Automobile Club of Chile, also in Santiago. It took us exactly ten minutes to be cleared of Emigration, Customs, and Police. Ken and Arnold didn't even get out of the car.
Chile was terrific in many respects. Before we were through with her, she went further in cooperation with the expedition than any other country. By all odds, she was filled with the friendliest people encountered on the trip. And that is no reflection on the many extraordinary individual friends who treated us so wonderfully in other countries. Within Chilean borders we experienced perhaps our soberest moments of despair, and our moments of greatest triumph. To Chile goes record for the longest unbroken stretch of "impossible" washboard road in the Western Hemisphere. To her also goes record for perhaps the most spectacular stretch of desert sand and desolation on either continent. And certainly, her record for sand-canyons and sand-gorges is untouched by anything in the Americas.
There could even be a record in the fact that Chile has the longest stretch of territory without improved road, of any country traversed by the expedition.
And through most of that territory a roadway of kind could be easily made with no other implements than a road-grader.
Chile was indeed a country of extremes and superlatives. We'll remember her. Without question:
Stretching south from Arica, the great Atacama Desert, which is simply a continuation of the desolation to which we had become accustomed in Peru, rises to higher elevation than we had found it anywhere else along the coast. It forms a high sand tableland, one thousand to probably three thousand feet above sea level. For almost a hundred miles at a stretch we traveled without seeing a drop of water, a living soot or a stick of anything that every grew above the ground. In the background, the ragged line of the Andes became higher even than in Peru, with occasional snow-covered peaks to break the monotony of blue spearheads in the sky.
And through that desert there were only patches of road that had ever had a grader over them to mark where the road ought to go. Generally, we picked the tracks, which appeared the most solid to us, and the most likely for traveling. Always they were the same: soft sand in the bottom covering the most vicious washboard we'd ever driven through. The car rattled and shook. We tried to gather speed and get above the vibration point, at least for the car body. That almost wrecked us. Turns were sharp and came without warning. After several near-mishaps, we gave up the above-vibration-point idea entirely. Then we tried going so slow the car could roll through the corrugations without such racking punishment. That too was impossible. When we went slow enough to make appreciable difference in the vibration, the soft sand made pulling impossible in high gear, we tried second gear.
The motor heated dangerously, and we used almost all the water in our big can carried on the front bumper. That alarmed us when we suddenly awoke to the fact, so we quit driving in second, speed up until first gear would develop sufficient power and let the car and our own bodies take the pounding jolts. It was physical and mental distress to drive along that road. A few miles wouldn't have bothered us. But hour after hour, day after torturous day, it kept on. We felt the car was shaking to pieces beneath us, and we were helpless to prevent it.
The second (lay out of Arica we came to our first real sand canyon It took our breath.
We had traveled so long up on the tableland we had no idea we were more than two or three hundred feet above the ocean level. Without warning we drove onto the brink of this gorge cut through the earth. For probably the first five hundred feet down, the slope was sixty-five degrees, and as smooth with sand as if it had been poured there from a molten mould, then solidified to maintain its steep-walled slant. At that point in the side, there seemed to he hardpan formation through the sand, and the wall dropped almost perpendicularly then to the bottom of the narrow canyon.
We actually could not see the bottom of it from where we stood. Far below its, and out toward the sea, we saw the bottom. The hardpan had worn away, and the precipitous poured wall slope lasted all the way to the bottom. It appeared more than a thousand feet down. And in the bottom, a thin desperately-pressed trickle of green threaded between the poured walls: little farm patches which hugged the small stream as closely as their outer edges were hugged by the sand which met the green and swallowed it up as soon as they touched.
We dropped into this canyon down a narrow dug way, barely wide enough for one car or vehicle. Every three or four hundred yards, sometimes half a mile, there were wider spots for probably fifty to one hundred feet where traffic could pass. We had to keep watch for other cars or carts approaching. get on one of these passing tables and wait.
In the bottom of that canyon we filled our front-bumper call with water and started up the other side. The sun blazed fiercely down, beat against the sand wall and sprang back to burn our faces and hands with the heat. Also, there seemed to be a rear updraft in the air current, so we got no cooling help on the motor. We pulled in low constantly. Five times on the way up we stopped to cool the overheated car and refill the radiator with water boiled out in the climb. We watched the speedometer. The climb out of that canyon was more than three miles long.
Near the top we suddenly discovered the water can on the front bumper had sprung a bad leak. Our water was two thirds gone and we had no idea how far it would be to the next stream. Quickly we chewed up gum and rolling our sleeves to our elbows we tried to plug the hole. It wouldn't work. Then we tried to force a small piece of bark or stick into the crack and dumped a whole handful of sand into the can. That partially stopped the lead. Our only hope was to get to water before we had to camp, then Arnold would try to solder the can.
|So went the days and the travel. Finally, just outside
one of the big nitrate mines, called Humberstone. 1400 miles north of Santiago, the left front wheel suddenly sheared
clean of the car, bounded wildly out into the desert and we nearly tipped over, trying to bring the car to a halt
riding on the brake shoes oil the patch of rough pavement passing the mine.
The incessant punishment of that washboard was having its effect. The first break had come: Of as the places that accident might have happened to the north of Humberstone! In the desert fifty miles from water and equally far from a living soul: a hundred miles from a telephone: or even on one of those narrow one-way dug ways where nothing could have passed us, and where it would have been a trip actually dangerous to life, to go for help. Again our star had been watching. We were less than two miles from the office of this mine, where there was a store, food, water, telephone, and human beings!
But more implausible than all that was the fact that in Iquidue, fifty kilometers away and down on the coast, the Central Office of the Nitrate Company had a fleet of fifteen Plymouths and a small stock room. Among them parts they had a spare steering spindle that would fit our car. Probably the only such spindle between Lima and Santiago: a distance of 3000 miles! They gave it to us at their cost.
Those three days we sat on the sand out from Humberstone, baking in the day, with the wind blowing chalk dust and sand in our eyes and ears, freezing at night when dampness and cold settled over the desert, was an ordeal. But how lucky we were it had happened there! We started south again the morning of July 2nd.
For four days more we traveled, doing between two hundred and fifty and three hundred and forty miles each day. The road got no better, fit fact it became worse. The Fourth of July dawned with its camped in a gravel pit off the road north of Copiapo. Kenneth had carried four firecrackers all the way from Mexico City. Each of us took one, fired it off and shouted, "Viva los Estados Unidos!" And that morning we celebrated with an unusually large dish of mush, the ground-wheat cereal that had been shipped all the way from Arizona to San Jose, Costa Rica, That was our patriotic observance of Independence Day,
On Sunday afternoon, July 6, it happened again. This time, the right front wheel sheared clean, and again we dropped to the rough ground on the brake shoes. That ceaseless unthinkable shaking was tearing the car to pieces.
It is hard to write of the first minutes of that second break. We wanted so desperately to be in Santiago Monday morning. The near-three-thousand-mile journey from Lima, over such trying road, was wearing heavily upon us. We were still more than two hundred miles from Santiago, and how we'd get help now we didn't know. Each of us tried to hide our disappointment.
"I'll change my clothes," I said. "And by that time we'll pray the gods to bring along another car so I can ride in to Valparaiso. or some point where I can catch a train to Santiago. With luck I should get in there sometime tomorrow, and perhaps I can get another spindle and parts out to you by tomorrow night, if I can find a car to bring them back."
"Don't leave us sitting here an hour longer than you have to." Arnold said. "It's not fun." I caught the note of helplessness in his voice.
There was despairingly little traffic along that road that day. We had seen few cars. But with great show of "faith" I shaved, changed clothes, got papers and things together I wanted to take along and said, "Okay, taxi, I'm ready!" then looked up at the ridge of the hill we'd just passed. (The accident had happened this time as we climbed out from a little creek down which ran a stream of water. We'd managed to back the car up, and get it off the road.
Fantastic as it sounds in fact fantastic as had been most of that whole journey from Lima south-a truck hove into view at the top of the hill within three minutes after I'd said I was ready. They picked me up. One of the three natives pressed into the cab seat with the driver, courteously gave up his warm place and went back up on the load that f might get in out of the cold wind. I had no overcoat. I waved Arnold and Ken goodbye.
These friends landed me in Vina del Mar that night five minutes before the train from Valparaiso came through for Santiago. At 11:30 P.M. I was in the Capital! And when stores and offices opened next morning I was visiting outside the Plymouth dealer's with the list of numbers in my hands. A special car took the parts out to Arnold, a mechanic from the Chrysler garage helped him install the spindle and next day noon, the boys were with me in the Chilean Capital. There was no charge for the parts, the special car, the mechanic, or the 500-mile roundtrip journey up to the boys and back. Mr. Besa, owner of the Plymouth agency, Chilean businessman of long standing wanted "to show his appreciation of the kind of courage it took to drive any automobile from North America to Santiago!" Chile was stepping forward with kindness: kindness from her citizens.
Santiago was one pleasure after another. Undoubtedly the Goodyear man in that city presented us the finest steak dinner the expedition sat down to on the entire trip. The Automobile Club arranged a luncheon at which many dignitaries of the City were present. Newspaper reporters and cameramen were on hand. The expedition was news, as it had been in all Latin American Capitals. But we were becoming more anxious to get across the Andes into Argentina and make the try for that final lap of two thousand miles south to Magellan Straits, and Cape Horn.
As had been our fear before reaching Santiago, we learned that the automobile pass over the Andes had been closed for weeks already with ice and snow. We learned too that the passes farther south, which would have landed us on the Argentina side near Bariloche were also closed. That left but one recourse. The Trans-Andean Railroad.
"Will you ask them for us if we might be permitted to drive across the ties to Argentina?" we questioned Automobile Club officials. We would like to avoid shipping the car another foot. if humanly possible."
"We will see"
Next morning we had the answer. It was "No. We're sorry."
"We'd rather have a chance to try driving across your railroad on the ties, than to have you give us a flatcar without cost to take us across!" we responded. "We-
"We'll do either one you want. You try to drive across. If you can't make it, you come back down to Los Andes, at the foot of the climb, and we'll have a flatcar waiting there to take you across on the next train-without cost!" Mr. Pinochet must really have liked our effort to talk his language!
So we had our way across the Andes provided. We left Santiago about noon on Saturday. July 12, and drove to Los Andes in cold rain. Rain at the foot of that majestic spine of a continent meant only one thing: snow in the upper reaches where we'd have to travel. The thought frightened us a little. The railroad crossed at an altitude above 14,000 feet through a gigantic tunnel under the last crest. The automobile road crossed the top almost 2.000 feet higher.
Mr. Pinochet had made all arrangements by telephone. We went to the stationmaster at Los Andes. The evening was dismal. The temperature was steadily dropping.
"You may try to drive, Senores, as you choose. But it will be most difficult and dangerous. We hope you will not have accident up somewhere in the Cordillera and tie up our line."
"We'll be careful about that." we promised. "But can you give us more information about what we'll encounter in the way of snow!”
“Si, Senor. With pleasure."
He drew a diagram on a sheet of paper, showing how the snow slid down from the mountainside, covering the rail on the inside to a depth of some three or four feet, and on the outside where it finally fell over the drop-off, probably only six inches. He explained how they sent a plow, or sweeper ahead of every train: how also the inside of the rails would be packed level with ice and snow: how only the cogs in the center would be clean of it. We had counted on clear rails as a safety factor to keep us from sliding over the edge when we began climbing their eight percent grade. The train pulled it only with the help of cogs. Ice to the rail level was disconcerting news. We shook our heads, but we weren't done yet. Arnold went out and measured the rails.
They were narrow gauge. We expected to run with a rail just inside each wheel. He came back shaking his head even more.
"Only half an inch clearance on each side. Sullie. We'll tear our tires to pieces if we try it. But I'm still game." He rubbed his chin. "How about the trestles?"
I translated the question for the Station Master.
"Are the ties wide enough on the trestles so we won't be in any danger?"
"Ties. Senores? There are no ties. The rails are laid on longitudinal steel girders. There is nothing either in the middle or on the outside."
That stopped us. Cold. We accepted the flatcar offer and drove into the yards to a platform already waiting for us should we need it.
Our blood was still thin. We were missing that heavy clothing in Mexico City! And now, as we waited for our climb into glaciers and real cold, we shivered in long underwear and blankets and wished we were more prepared for winter in July. Our notes describe that ride:
"When we finally got the automobile onto the flatcar I fixed the stuff in the back and unrolled a bed on it. Ken and Arnold got in there and curled up together, trying to sleep. I took two blankets and the front seat, tangling my feet around the steering-wheel post. It was very cold.
"I woke up when the train began to move at 4:00 A.M.
And so we crossed into Argentina through the long tunnel at the top of the universe.
At Punta de Vaca, little station just below the snow line, we rolled the automobile down off the platform car and cleared ourselves and our papers through Emigration and Custom.
After getting across the Andes, we dropped down onto the sunny plains of Argentina at Mendo7a, a country noted for its wines and vineyards. We were to drive southeast from Mendoza, reaching the Atlantic Coast at Bahia Blanca, almost a thousand miles south of Buenos Aires-by road. We left the Argentine Capital to be seen when we came back, because of our concern over what we'd find in the wintry stretches of Patagonia. (Another mistake, had we only known it.)
The expedition owes much to Messrs. Favre y Basset, Chrysler importers in Argentina: two impeccable Frenchman, born in South America, who as sportsmen, gentlemen, and ready friends were unsurpassed by any of the host of well-wishers the expedition met and appreciated in Latin America! It seemed nothing was too good or too much for them to do in our behalf. Nor can it be said their interest and generosity were impelled by commercial benefit they expected to derive from the fact we drove a Chrysler product. They sent Valdemar Melton to meet us at Punta de Vaca where our wheels first touched Argentina soil.
Altogether, he was with us some four weeks, and took a similar period to return to the Buenos Aires home office. He drove his own car about six thousand miles, and shipped it by boat some 1500 miles: all at the expense of Messrs. Favre y Basset. They paid hotel bills, entertained us, took the car apart and put it together again, replacing parts battered and beaten to death by the 16,000-mile journey from Michigan! And yet with no cars to import, and with which to reimburse them for their increased expense-these two grayed and genial partners, with their General Manager, B. G. Guy and their Treasurer, Mr. Bloomquist, shook hands with us warmly upon our departure from Argentina's vast and terrific experience, and said:
"We like you boys. Come down and see us again." It's a privilege to have known and enjoyed them.
Those first days from Mendoza, southeast and south were pleasant. There is pavement from Mendoza to Buenos Aires. We followed it probably one-fourth of the way to the capital before we headed right. It was the last pavement we saw, except for a few city streets!
But the sun was shining, the days were comfortably warm, the evenings and mornings exhilaratingly cold, and we were on our last lap! We stayed each night in some wayside inn-hotel, often little more than tin-roofed shacks: other times more elaborate and comfortable. But they all had clean beds, no heat, and good Argentina steak dinners.
But the farther south we went the colder it became. Nights grew less and less comfortable in those little inns. It wasn't the temperature alone. It was the fact we three had just left the tropics and had insufficient heavy clothing. We were watching our dwindling "life insurance dollars" by that time and didn't want to buy winter clothing to use only for two or three weeks. We thought we could get along without!
The first day out, we blew a head gasket on the expedition car. We had done that just south of Lima, too, and a special motorcycle messenger from the Automobile Club of Peru had come exactly 99 miles down to us, to bring two: one as a spare. In Santiago, we had picked up another, so we had two spares.
Here in Argentina we pulled off by the side of the road, and Arnold went to work even while the motor was burning hot. He took off the head, oiled the bolts, replaced the gasket, and we were on our way again in less than two hours. Next day the same thing happened near evening. We limped into Rio Colorado, and by flashlight, Arnold changed it again. I came out behind the old garage where he worked in the cold and darkness, to hold the light for him.
"If I have to do this many more times," he sputtered in the cold, rubbing his black greasy hands together in an effort to warm them, "I'm going to put a zipper on this motor head. I wonder what in hell is making her do it!"
Next morning, before we traveled very far, he stopped at the roadside to investigate. In Mendoza, he had asked a helpful garage mechanic to advance the spark timing a little to make possible maximum motor power render increased compression. The boy had simply set it forward without checking how far, and it was so much off firing time, it was surprising the motor ran at all. With that corrected, we had no more blown head gaskets.
There is no use describing that day out of Rivadavia. We were to have others, many others, and much worse. Though that first one seemed depressing and hopeless enough that night. Melton had promised us road we could travel, all the wav to the Straits: road of a kind.
"It'll be frozen solid when we get below Rivadavia," he'd said that day in Mendoza, answering our anxious questions: "And cold enough to make you boys wish you had your sheepskins."
We had wished for sheepskins, all right. But the country was not frozen. In fact, the natives of the Pampas told us that not in fifty years had they seen a winter like this: Rain. All the time, Cold, cold rain. If it would only snow, they said. Or freeze. That was what we too wanted. But it did neither. And rain made the cold still more difficult to endure.
"Yesterday we dug, or pulled, Mr. Melton's car back on the road six times.. Early this morning I was driving the expedition car. Ken rides with Melton. I was only going about twenty miles an hour. Suddenly I started to slide. I turned around once and then dove straight into the ditch - head first. It took us more than an hour to get going again. After that, we were much more careful.
"Most of the road through here has been graded, which is infinitely worse for us. It is simply impossible to stay up on it. We have chains on, but they are little help. The car begins to slide, even at 15 miles an hour, and we ease right off into the bar pit, as if we didn't even have a steering wheel!"
Near the middle of the next afternoon-and it seemed to start getting dark right after lunch! -We came upon a large truck, turned sideways on the road, it’s front wheels and radiator buried in the mud of the bar pit. The rear end extended so far out, however, it was impossible for us to pass. Evidently it had stuck there since the day before and no vehicle had passed since. There was no traffic on that road. We often traveled for forty miles and never saw a house or living thing!
Standing on the slippery road top behind the truck, we held a consultation.
"If we try to get by back here we'll go in sure," Arnold said, walking across the slanting grade in the rear of the truck. His boots slid from under him. He landed on his hands.
"Probably right, my dear Watson." Melton said between clenched teeth, sucking wind through his wet dead pipe.
"And over here, it'd be a gamble." I said. "But looks to me to be our only out."
I stood in front of the truck, measuring with my eye, our chance of shoveling down the side of the pit, filling in the bottom with the ties and wood the drivers of the truck had used in an attempt to get out-then cross entirely to the level side of the pit around the front of the buried radiator. The truck men evidently had gone somewhere for help, leaving their stalled and-loaded transport alone on the highway. Guess they felt perfectly safe, for "no one but damn fools would try this road now," sputtered Melton. "And if they did they'd be much too busy staying on the road to think of robbing a truck! "
On the south side of the vehicle we'd have to shovel in the pit again, and dive through with speed in an attempt to get on the road once more. The problem would be double: first to get up without sliding into the pit through which we were trying to pass, and second, stay up without our speed carrying us over the ridge of the road and into the pit on the other side. If that happened, we'd be completely helpless. It was deep and half full of water.
"It's a chance, and that's about all." Ken observed. "But it's our only one."
We shoveled and worked, placing the wood and timber as carefully as possible to avoid a slip that would capsize us into the truck. Then we fixed the other side, so that once we got in and out on our side of the stalled transport, we could use the speed and keep going for the last and supreme effort.
When all was ready, Arnold stood by me to say:
"Sullie, you take it through here. If you don't succeed, you can't blame me. Besides. I want some pictures of my own!" He grinned. I knew he really wanted pictures. I didn't blame him.
It was a wild two minutes. I backed up, probably a hundred feet to Mr. Melton's car, then put the expedition car in low gear and plunged forward. The right rear fender had never been replaced after losing it in Mexico, and that flying wheel, along with the others, had covered the car completely with a two-inch carpet of mud. It was impossible to see out either window. We kept the windshield clear on the driver's side and that was all. The doors, the foot pedals, the rubber floor mat, the leather seat, everything on the inside, were coated with mud. Lumps of it made sitting on the seat uncomfortable, and our feet felt as if we were wading in it.
But those dives in and out of the bar pit, then in and out again was one of my sensations of the expedition. With a great roar the car charged down in the first time. It struck the slick timber. slid unpleasantly for one breath, held, and charged up. Up that slick bank where we'd shoveled, it, it bounded. Again it slid for a moment, sideways toward the truck radiator, stopped somehow when there seemed nothing to keep it from crashing, and pulled on out. I didn't wait for congratulations. The job was but half done. I pushed the accelerator to the floor a second time, and lunged into the pit on the other side. Going down was easy, but up the other side, the rear end began to slide toward the pit out of which I was climbing. Ken, Arnold, and Melton were yelling. I couldn't hear a word. I didn't want to hear. I leaned forward until my chest was almost flat cross the steering wheel. A great rain of mud was coming up and over the car and down again almost fifteen feet in front of the radiator. The rear end of the car was going as fast sideways as the front wheels were rolling forward. I dared not straighten them. If I did I would certainly slide in backward. I could only hope something would stop the slide, let the rear wheels get a little traction and pull me out on top. As long as I didn't actually go down completely, there was hope.
For fully seventy-five feet the slide continued, the motor pounding and the rear wheels spinning furiously. Then that miraculous something, which finally always decides a slide, one way or another, happened. The rear wheels caught more traction for a fleeting second, straightened slightly, picked up more traction, then decisively rolled free of the skid and came up onto the road crest. I rose from the steering wheel, was conscious suddenly I must have bumped myself in the chest during the crossing for there was a small pain there now, eased to a stop, got out and looked back. I had no word to speak
Though the other three were shouting their congratulations. I walked back to them quietly.
"Nice driving," they exulted, slapping me on the back.
"Let's wait till the next car is over," I advised, rubbing my chest. "Then I'll be happy too."
But when the cars finally stood together again on the road beyond the truck, we felt we had overcome a major obstacle. We stayed that night at Florida Negra: a tilling-station and hotel combined. They had two rooms for guests. It was the only building in miles.
Two days later the cars became separated at Piedrabuena. Arnold and I crossed the river early, while Mr. Melton waited to have his tire fixed. He said he'd be half an hour. It was the last time we saw him and Ken for three days.
All that day we kept watching behind us for Melton's car. He usually traveled faster than we-when he could travel, and strangely enough the road improved considerably for the first 75 miles. But as noon passed, and still no car, we began to worry.
"There's no use going back for them. We know they can travel the road we've come over without trouble: that is, real trouble." Arnold was thinking out loud.
"Let's pull off the road for an hour," I suggested. "We can take pictures, clean the car a little, and use the time generally to good advantage."
We did that, and when the hour was up there was still no Melton. We drove on slowly. As afternoon began to wear toward night, we began considering our own plight.
"Listen, Arnold said again. "It's still about fifty miles into Gallegos. We have no idea what the road is like. We'd better step along and get there. If Melton decided to stay in Piedrabuena, he'll undoubtedly send a telegram or something to Gallegos so we won't worry."
We began driving earnestly then, as fast as we dared, or could go. Almost immediately the road got worse. Then it became virtually impassable.
"Melton will never in the world get through these ruts with his car," I said. "If he's coming behind us he'll stick here as certainly as night comes. We're dragging the axles ourselves. Hear it?"
We didn't have to hear it. At times the car almost stalled-so deep were the winding wheel trenches.
"Well, we don't dare stop now," Arnold said. "If we did, we'd be here for the night." We hadn't see a house or living thing in hours. And it began to rain again.
For twenty miles that night we drove in low and second gear. So saturated had the road became with water that each of the three or four pairs of tracks that followed the road embankment appeared to be great deep furrows a foot apart, ragged and full of muddy water. Darkness was rapidly settling down over the rolling hills.
"According to my figures, we're still more than twenty miles out. If this road keeps up, or gets any worse, we'll never make it."
I didn't reply, but kept straining my eyes at the darkening road. When we had to climb a hill in those ruts it seemed certain we'd stall. And once, even going down hill, they were so impossible we had to pull them in low gear and were grateful even then to get through.
"I understood Melton to say there was better road for a little way out of Gallegos," I finally offered.
"Better pray we reach it soon!"
Less than five miles from there we suddenly joined another road, seemingly out of a large Estancia. The highway had once been graveled from there on.
It helped. Then we came to a police control.
"You will have no trouble from here in," the officers said warmly. "The roadway is pavementado." That sounded too good. "You have had hell, No?"
"Yes. Plenty of it, thank you."
So Arnold and I reached Rio Gallegos: last town in Argentina. There was no pavement. The main street was a wide wallow of mud and gravel. We went directly to the department store, whose owners bought Plymouth cars from Favre y Basset to sell them at retail. Store people had been told we were coming.
"Yes, Senor," they told us. "Here is a telegram for you. It came this afternoon."
"Delayed," said Melton. "We'll come on tomorrow."
Arnold and I went to a hotel.
"We're almost to the turning-around place, Pal," he said as we got to our room that night. "It's a hundred and eighty-five miles from here to Magallanes, back over in Chile."
"I don't feel as if we're even this tar, yet," I replied," "until Ken gets here. I don't see how he and Melton will ever negotiate that road. They can't possibly do it!"
"Let's get a good night's sleep ourselves," counseled Arnold wisely. "We'll wait tomorrow and if they don't come, we'll go back after them."
"I hate to make this car travel one mile farther through that kind of stuff than it has to," I said hopelessly. "It' can't keep going much longer without a major break somewhere. We've beaten it too near to death already."
"Worry about a break when the break comes. Let's get some sleep."
Melton and Ken did not arrive the next day. We watched the main street hopefully during the afternoon and early darkness. But no maroon car came through.
"Exactly as I expected," I said dismally. It had rained most of the day.
"You don't want to go after them now, do you?"
"That would be foolhardy. But we'd better be away with daylight in the morning."
We had spent our hours checking up on chances to drive on to Magallanes.
"You boys will never make it," a Britisher told us. We had found him at the hotel. "I've been waiting here for five weeks, just to drive back out to my Estancia.
It's only twenty miles." "Five weeks?" we repeated in dismay. "Why-" "Rain. Every day. Rain. Just a one-night's freeze would fix me up. I could drive out there in two or three hours."
Then he told us about the road to Magallanes: that there was a twelve-mile stretch just across the Chilean frontier called El Distrito Chocolate-meaning, "The Chocolate District." The name is self-explanatory.
"The mail car has been getting through with some regularity," he said. "But it's a very small and very light car. They don't dare carry any load. That district is a series of rolling grass-sod hills. Every depression between the hills is a bog." He smiled at our anxious faces. "They getup on the tops of the hills-off the road, of course, because that's completely hopeless-put the car in low gear and drive like hell down through the bottom trying to get across before they bog in. They've turned over a time or two doing it. But they somehow manage."
"Not so good. Not so good," said Arnold after we'd left the man. "If they have that much trouble with a light car, what'll it be like with our three ton?"
"We'll find out," I replied. "We've come more than fifteen thousand miles now. And we've only one hundred and eighty-five between us and the goal. I'm certainly not for turning back."
"Who said anything about turning back? You couldn't hire me to!"
At the lunch we met a man who had come over from Magallanes the week before.
"There were eleven cars stuck in Chocolate, last Saturday." he said. "You don't dare stop to try and help anyone If you do• you only get in yourself."
"But why so many cars, if there is no traffic'" we wanted to know.
"Oh, there must be dozens of cars in Magallanes, and here both, whose drivers would like to get to the other place. Give them a couple of days when it hasn't rained, and they hope Chocolate has dried up enough so they can make it. Saturday was one of those rare days. Only it hadn't dried up." He laughed. "You've come a long way, and evidently worked a few miracles to get here. Maybe you can work some more and get there!" It was most disheartening.
Next morning early we started back to find Ken and Melton. At the Police Control twenty miles out, the officers said they had seen no car coming through which answered the description we gave. And they would see every car. We passed them dejectedly and began the twenty-mile stretch of low-gear ruts.
It seemed worse this morning than it had two nights before. It had rained almost constantly since our arrival.
For two hours we traveled. We met a boy walking. "Yes," he said. "There is a car stuck about one league back along the road-" But he didn't know if there was one man, two men, or no man. He had seen no one. From a mile away, we thought we recognized Melton's car. We were right.
"By God, I've never been so glad to see anyone in my life," Melton said. "We've been here all night. What a hell of a place!"
"I'm even glad to see you boys," Ken said, wrinkling his face with a grin. "I've spent more comfortable nights, even on the expedition!"
The car was stuck solid. They had had one blanket between them, and their coats. (Melton had brought along an extra one, fortunately! I Ken had been up at 6:00 A.M. not able to stand the cold longer, had walked three miles to an old abandoned hut, torn off some boards and carried them all the way back. But the car jacks wouldn't work any more and they had no shovel. There was nothing to do but sit and wait until somebody came along. And nobody was traveling the road now,-"except you damn fools from North America!" snorted Melton. His words were harsh but his tone was almost affectionate. He was that glad to see us
"Well, we're here. Let's get going:"
Melton had become so completely exhausted and mentally unstrung by the driving that he now gave up completely.
"See if you can take it," he said to me. "I can't keep it on the road anymore."
"I don't know that anybody can," I answered. "You've only got about a foot of slick mud between each of these deep ruts. It'd take Houdini and two angels to stay up on ridges that narrow ! "
For a full hour we tried. We'd go a few feet, then slide into the ruts again.
"Let the damn thing sit here." he said in final desperation. "When we get into Gallegos I'll send a tow truck for it."
"I don't know if our car will take all of us, and the equipment too." (Rather than repack everything when we were going right on, we had left all our regular equipment in the car.
Somehow, we all got in. Bags and cases were piled high. On top of them Kenneth crawled back, curled into a knot. his head and hips rubbing the ceiling.
Arnold. Melton and I sat in the front. With the additional load the car dragged worse than it had done before, but by sheerest luck we drove through. When we reached Rio Gallegos, night had already settled. All day to do forty miles in low gear! And how lucky we were even then, we did not realize at the moment. We were to find that out next day.
It was decided without much argument that Mr. Melton would not try to accompany us to Magallanes. First, his car was forty miles back along the road, and we wanted to start next morning. Second, he had his stomach full, he said, of fighting such road. And third, his automobile had actually become a burden to the expedition car.
"You boys go ahead," he counseled. "I'll get my car in here, contact the office in Buenos Aires, and probably go back on a boat. I wouldn't try that road again for anything!" "Besides these people say it has rained for five weeks without even a mild freeze. There is no use waiting for one now. Might be a month or two yet."
We agreed, spent two of those first night-hours shopping-the stores remained open until 9 o'clock-for heavier underclothing, gloves, socks, etc., and we were ready to leave next morning.
"You fellow's have got guts." Melton said, shaking his head. I wouldn't try that road tomorrow for fifty thousand dollars: "spirit is a sign of youth!"
"And of damn fools," he retorted. "But I can see why you got this far."
"The car trip doesn't end until this automobile sits on the pier at Magallanes, farthest point south it can possibly go. We've got to christen it with water out of Magellan Straits!"
`I'll he waiting for you back in Buenos Aires," he said. "Good luck. And don't think you won't need it!" He went to bed.
When he was gone. Arnold shook his head.
"It's all right to joke, but every word he said was true!" "Are you hearing anyone deny it?" demanded Ken. I said nothing. My heart was pretty full of worry.
Page last up-dated 2006-02-16