As soon as possible the tents were taken down, packing accomplished, and a start made. Fortunately the ant-hills were considerably fewer in number to-day, but the ground was ankle deep in water everywhere, and fallen tree trunks hidden under the, in some places, really deep water, formed a considerable danger in our path. However, again owing to the skill of our drivers, no accident occurred all through that long drive in unceasing rain, which shrouded all but the most immediate view. Of course, constant changes of horses were necessary, as, for eight hours we drove through water, above and below, to our destination. The accomplishment of that drive of his four-in-hand from the absolutely unsheltered position on the box was no small feat on the part of The Jehu; we all felt an even deeper admiration for his pluck and endurance than before, as he steadily pursued his way on that terrible day, when his whole body and especially his hands must have been numbed through and through with the cold and wet. The Chaperon, too, had an arduous day, though his work was not so strenuous as that of The Jehu. At one spot, when under trees we made a change of horses, The Chaperon was seen to be wading through water, knee deep, as he handed round the only refreshments available—ginger-bread, biscuits, beer and gin—to guests and peons alike, all drinking gratefully from the same small measure. That drive is something to be remembered; it was executed under the most trying circumstances with not a single complaint or grumble from anyone, but an increased thankfulness on the part of the passengers that they were in such good hands during the trip. The land through which we drove to-day is covered with trees of various kinds; large forests exist on the eastern side of the Calchaqui, bordering the river for its entire length; the trees of these forests are chiefly Algarrobo the wood of which is not unlike our walnut in appearance, but extremely hard; in days to come this timber will be used in great quantities for making parquet flooring. It seems almost incredible that the city of Buenos Aires should import millions of square metres of ready-made parquet flooring when the Argentine produces magnificent timber of far more suitable and better wearing quality for the purpose than any used in imported parquet. As we have journeyed eastward, trees have become much more numerous, and splendid timber is to be seen on every side. Most numerous amongst the trees is the Quebracho Colorado, which supplies one of the hardest timbers the world produces. The trees have a peculiar appearance, for their leaves are quite small and the trunks have a rough bark from which often hangs moss-like lichen, of which, by the way, cattle are very fond. The photo on the opposite page gives a general idea of a tree's appearance.
The wood, which is light in colour when first cut, becomes dark red upon being exposed to light and weather, and it is intensely hard.
The word "quebracho" (pronounced KAYBRATSHO) signifies axe-breaking, and even modern tools do not retain their edge long when working on this wood.
The wonderful durability of the wood renders it a perfect material for railway sleepers, and this has been appreciated by the Government of Argentina to such an extent that they have decreed that the laying of new railways is to be upon sleepers made of the hard woods of the Country.
The forests of the Santa Fe Land Company have produced in the last twelve years over a million Quebracho Colorado sleepers.
One drawback to the wood is that it has the peculiarity of splitting around the heart of the tree. This is caused by the accumulation of resin at certain periods, and is probably connected in some way with the excessive moisture or dryness of a particular year's growth.
The tree is often attacked by a boring grub, which enters by making a very small pin prick opening, and during its existence in the tree grows and bores an ever enlarging hole until often it becomes half an inch in diameter. It would seem almost incredible that a grub could live either on the resins in the tree or be able to bore through what is one of the hardest woods in the world.
Of recent years this timber has also been put to another use—that of producing tan. When used for this purpose, the tree was cut down, its outer sapwood removed, and then taken to the river to be finally shipped to the United States of America or to Germany.
It was soon found that the railway and shipping freight charges absorbed a considerable amount of the profits to be obtained in making this tannin extract abroad, and, therefore, extract factories were erected in Argentina. The process of obtaining the extract is very simple; the logs are first put through a machine which reduces them to chips, the chips are then boiled in water till all soluble matter is extracted from them, and the solution obtained is concentrated down to the consistency of pitch; in this form, after being dried, it is exported, and is used by tanners the world over. The great necessity and essence of success, in the present way of working the business, is good water and plenty of it.
We do not know who first noticed the tannin material oozing out of these trees, but no doubt attention was called to the fact by pools in the neighbourhood of the trees being often red in colour. Undoubtedly the Germans first took this business up on a large scale, and to-day they hold an enormous quantity of forest lands.
Hitherto the extract has been brought on to the market in a solid state very much after the style of Burma cutch. The Santa Fe Land Company have recently produced the material in a fine powdered state, absolutely pure, and containing a great deal less moisture than any other form of extract on the market, and they are about to erect a factory to work this process in connection with their saw mills at Vera. This new process requires very little water as compared with the old method, and can be adopted, in huge areas hitherto unsuitable for the industry.
About mid-day we approached a plaza, or wood deposit, of the La Gallareta Factory, situated on the Company's Lands. Rain had been falling in torrents for days past, and the tracks (called by courtesy "roads") had one and all become deep crevasses of soft mud, loads of timber had been left here and there in the wood, just wherever the cart conveying it had stuck, and in many places the water was so deep that not a vestige of these obstacles could be seen. Our coaches had to be driven under (or perhaps we should say "over") such circumstances as these for about three miles, and this part of our journey was absolutely dangerous; the greatest credit is due to the drivers and those in charge of the party that no serious accident occurred, for, about mid-day, the way was truly terrible, and one never knew when a tree trunk, small or large, lying hidden under the water, would cause a terrific jolt to the cart, despite the utmost efforts on the part of our cocheros. However, we passed from the extreme danger zone into the comparatively smooth waters of the flooded lands. So we drove on, our drivers and guides becoming more and more chilled with the rain and cold, but always cheerful, till at last wire fencing and other signs of civilisation marked our approach to the precincts of Las Gamas. This was indeed a welcome sight to the party, for all were beginning to feel the need of food and shelter, and though the "passengers" in the coaches were comparatively dry, despite the continual downpour, the drivers were wet through long ago and the peons had not been dry since dawn.
No one was sorry when "The Jehu," to shorten the drive, ordered some of the wire fencing to be dropped so that we might proceed in a straight line to the house instead of making the considerable detour to the gate. It was past three o'clock when, after a side-slip or two, and consequent meeting with gate-posts, we drew up in front of the estancia house and noticed on the outbuildings a damp flag trying to flap a weary "welcome" to the party of Tacuruers. The first thing was to get The Jehu from his driving seat and into a warm bath, and the same treatment was meted out to The Chaperon, and hot whisky and water for all! Our host and hostess gave us such a genial welcome and the big room looked so dry and inviting, with a wood fire crackling in the grate, that our troubles, which had, during the long hours of to-day's tedious drive, assumed really serious proportions, were soon forgotten as we sat down, in an incredibly short time, to a hearty meal of roast turkey and mince pies! We almost fell to wishing each other a Happy Christmas, and instinctively wondered if roast chestnuts would form part of the afternoon's programme. Unfortunately, chestnuts of an allegorical kind did enter into the proceedings. Meanwhile, the rain continued its unceasing downpour. It was some time before the baggage waggons arrived on the scene, and, needless to say, they and their contents were very damp. But the peons soon had the goods unpacked, and ere long were happy and dry in the big galpon round a roaring fire, which they must have badly needed. Their behaviour all through this terrible day, sometimes under most trying circumstances, had been splendid, and it says a good deal for master as well as for man that not once was a sound of discontent heard. In fact, the men often suggested themselves little things in which they thought they might help the caretakers of the party. It was a relief to us all to know that the work of those peons had ended for the day with the caring for the horses and unpacking of the goods.
Monte still accompanied us, but here he had to be kept under strict surveillance, for dogs were numerous on the premises, and several of them were not of the kind who brook any encroachment, however harmless, on their preserves; so poor Monte was perforce shut up, away from the house, where Bear and his companions could not take exception to the presence of an interloper. The late afternoon and evening were chiefly spent in having warm baths, which were most grateful after the, of necessity, somewhat sketchy ablutions of the past three days. Now that the safe arrival of the luggage was an accomplished fact, and the travellers clothed and fed, there seemed little reason for late hours, and it was not long after dinner when the general dispersal took place. We only waited to hear a few selections of songs on the beautiful gramophone which our host had received a few months ago as a Christmas greeting from England. It must be difficult for those at home to realise what an immense amount of pleasure a good gramophone can give to the dwellers in the far camp lands. This instrument was in constant request, and both the machine and records were extraordinarily good. Still, even this great attraction did not tempt the party to sit up late; everyone was tired and exhausted, and our cocheros, more especially the Jehu, must have been worn out with their exertions of the day. We can only hope they will suffer no after ill effects from their arduous task and severe drenchings.
Our horses have been simply wonderful during this trip. We have driven, ridden, and brought along nearly 100 animals for 150 miles, and have not lost one upon the journey. This speaks volumes for the care and training bestowed upon the animals at the head estancia, and we are inclined to think that few other places could supply as many animals to do such trying work. The fitness of our animals is owing entirely to the continual attention and care they receive daily at the estancia.
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We are sorry to be obliged to hold over all correspondence, advertisements, etc., to-day, as, doubtless owing to the floods, no communications had reached us up to the time of going to press. We hope all correspondents will accept our sincere apologies for the unavoidable delay in dealing with letters and orders; all despatches shall receive our earnest attention as soon as they come to hand.
Sunday, April 3rd, 1910.
Dawn showed us no respite of the drenching rain; the paths, the garden, and the camps were all flooded with the continuous rain of yesterday and last night, and still it poured. After disposing of a more substantial breakfast than had fallen to the lot of the travellers for some days, there seemed little to do save listen to the dulcet strains of the gramophone, which proved a welcome diversion. A considerable disturbance was caused by a dog fight under the table round which we were sitting; whether intentional or not on the part of the animals, the rout of the ladies was complete, and the dogs were only separated by the calm procedure of some of the men who held them under the water taps until their ardour was cooled. Monte was out of all this trouble, for he had been consigned to the security of the galpon to avoid trouble concerning rights of way which would assuredly have arisen between himself and Bear (the big bulldog of the estancia) had they met. Bear amused the company by presenting a truly comical sight, some minutes later, when he decided to have a drink after his fight; he walked with majestic mien up to the water spout, which jutted out from the house a few feet from the ground, and, poking out his heavy under-jaw, collected the flow of water in his mouth in a most satisfying way, for a few seconds. Of course, The Instigator started off pacing and measuring the room's verandah, etc., in order to devise a scheme for the best improvements for the estancia, and before long he and The Delineator had made out a plan which would drive any member of the R.I.B.A. to desperation, but caused its authors enormous joy. The Jehu and The Chaperon were occupied for some time in seeing to the comfort of their men and animals, and trying to dry the tents, clothes, etc., by the huge fire in the galpon in which the peons were housed for the day. We are told that one Tacuruer tried to employ the morning remuneratively by opening a temporary barber's shop on the verandah, and advertising "hair-cutting and shaving"; possibly he might have built up a successful business in time, but unfortunately for him his first customer's beard was too unyielding for the ordinary scissors and the customer objected to the way in which the horse clippers were used on the hirsute growth of his chin, and talked of his treatment afterwards in a way that did not inspire confidence in the other might-have-been customers, who were observed to slink away one by one from the barber's chair as if it were infected. We regret that a well-meant enterprise on the part of one of The Tacuru party met with such a poor reception.
A gleam of ceasing rain—it was not sunshine—gave courage to some of the more energetic members of the party to go forth to inspect the heaps of wood about to be made into charcoal in the neighbourhood of the estancia, if any could be reached on dry land. For to-morrow the visit to the La Gallareta factory will occupy the day, and the Charcoal piles are too interesting a sight to be left unvisited now that we are in the wood department of the Santa Fe Land Company.
In the northern districts where trees are numerous it is necessary to "distroncar" the land before the soil can be brought into condition suitable for the plough. In other words all the trees and roots must be removed before ploughing operations commence. But the timber so obtained is not wasted; the branches and all pieces not big enough to be used for sleepers, etc., are cut up into various suitable lengths and piled together in such a manner that when finished the heap presents the appearance of a huge beehive; the centre of this dome running from the apex to the ground is a hollow cylinder; this tube or pipe is filled up with the small sticks and twigs from the trees, and when all is in readiness the contents of the cylinder are fired from the top, the fire slowly burns downwards and sets light to the surrounding logs which in their turn smoulder till they become charcoal. But the match is not applied until the whole mass of wood has been covered up and plastered over with mud, to prevent the entrance of any air. The kiln thus forms an enclosed retort, and the wood is carbonised and makes excellent charcoal, which eventually finds its way to Buenos Aires and other cities, where immense quantities are used for cooking and heating purposes. If all goes well, the kiln being well built, and no air admitted, some thirty to forty tons of charcoal are produced from one of these heaps; not infrequently, however, the crown breaks in; this allows the air to enter, the wood is completely burnt, and the labour expended on this "horno" is represented by a few cartloads of useless ash. The thought of these possible failures was too much for The Instigator; he held forth, at length, upon the advisability of bringing a little science to bear upon the problem of preventing any waste of the material itself or of the by-products. His theory is that to make the best use of nature's lavish gifts in the way of wood products, an iron or brick still should be erected, on the inside of which the heavy tarry products would naturally accumulate, and so find their way to the base of the kiln where they could be collected and run out into casks for utilisation, whilst the lighter vapours are condensed in the hood of the still to be chemically treated later for their highly valuable properties, and the charcoal itself would be a more certain production from these brick or iron kilns than it is from the present heaps. At this point of his lecture the weather became impossible, and when The Instigator discovered that he was expatiating to the camp and rain alone, he, too, turned to seek the shelter of the estancia house, whither his audience had long ago fled. For some time we watched the storm as it worked up with intense fury. The lightning as it illuminated the whole camp was a wonderful sight, it seemed to flash (and this was before the dinner hour) yellow light from the north, red from the south, and a bright white light from the east, and was of long continuance. The culminating point seemed to come when an appalling crash was heard and something appeared to have been struck by lightning. This drove the party indoors, though from the time of the crash (we found later that it was the telephone which had suffered), the storm abated and only steady rain continued. However, nothing more could be done out of doors, and everyone was glad of warmth and shelter, while they hoped for a better day to-morrow.
Songs occupied the evening, and most of the party retired early to bed.
The Editor regrets that up to the time of going to press to-day, the advertisements, correspondence, etc., due for yesterday's issue had not reached the office; he fears they may have been lost, and requests that all orders may be repeated.
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The following advertisements of to-day's dating have been sent in:—
HAIR CUTTING AND SHAVING while you wait.—Lowest prices. Large supply of tools, or customers may bring their own instruments if preferred. Good style guaranteed. Customers' comfort not so much considered as thorough work. Satisfaction certain.—T.C., THE VERANDAH.
WANTED.—Reliable Barber—for clipping advertiser's beard weekly, at own residence. May be required to travel. Gentleness much appreciated; advertiser would give valuable information on any subject in return for Barber's services.—T.I., LAS GAMAS.
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WANTED—By several people; good book on "How not to lose at Bridge." Anyone possessing a copy of this valuable work for sale, please quote lowest price to The Editor, Tacuru Office.
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Monday, April 4th, 1910.
The Editor and Staff of "The Tacuru" announce with great regret the unavoidable demise of the journal known and respected by all as "The Tacuru." This valuable and instructive periodical has become a necessity to every happy home. The Editor hoped long to continue his beneficent task of bringing a daily joy into the lives of all English-speaking and reading people; but, alas, just as he bore "his blushing honours thick upon him," there came a flood, an awful flood, and carried away his hopes and printing press (we believe some people were drowned, too). Therefore we must, perforce, bid our readers "farewell, a long farewell." Though not, we hope, for ever. Printing presses are not unique, and some day, in the land of civilisation, we hope to be able to make our loss good and bring happiness and information once more to countless millions. In case any of our readers would like to erect a monument of gratitude to "The Tacuru," in memory of the enjoyment, or otherwise, this paper has brought into their lives, we would mention that the printing-press and a few lives were lost on the way to Olmos. We are able to publish a photo of extreme interest, depicting the counting of the loss after the deluge. With this, and our deepest regrets, we must pause, trusting that some day our great work may be renewed under similarly happy circumstances, by the same staff, to whom, and to all contributors, willing or unwilling, a thousand thanks.