Monday, November 16, 2009

Memoirs of a Grandfather, Part IV

The following concludes my grandfather's memoirs. He and my grandmother had four children and built a life for their family in the Philippines, never guessing that their existence would be shattered forever in 1942. In the meantime, Herman tells of his experiences hunting water buffalo, working for the mining camp and avoiding robbers in the hills of Baguio. Frank Arnibal was my grandmother's brother and my grandfather's frequent hunting comrade. Herman does not mention the death of little Fe, my aunt who passed away at age three. Her death was too much of a tragedy for him.
I must mention some of the close calls I had during our stay at Agno. First was an earthquake of such violence causing roaring landslides that filled the river gorge and blocked the river flow until it reached a depth of about 400 feet. Finally, enough pressure built up to break the dam that was caused by the accumulated mud, and the water surged with such force that it tore great chunks out of the mountain as it made its way to the lowlands. It was determined that the epicenter of the earthquake was about half a mile from our camp where steaming water gushed out of a wide crack in the earth that extended half way up the mountain. It washed out a little Royer gorge as it made its way down to the river where it could have easily engulfed our camp site had it been a little closer.

Another incident was when Dugan and I went hunting and I shot a deer across a steep canyon. After going around and coming down on the other side I evidently started a landslide which carried me down the mountain. I managed to grab a little bush just before going over a sheer cliff. It was impossible to climb out so Dugan improvised a vine rope which he threw down and pulled me out. I still cringe when I go down steep hills and wonder how I survived.

During my time with Benguet Consolidated I was friends with the Baguio Chief of Police who called me into his office one day and informed me it was common knowledge that I carried the monthly cash payroll which placed me in a dangerous situation. I carried the payroll along a lonely horse trail from Baguio to our camp site, so he convinced me to carry a .45 caliber automatic pistol for protection. Although I was never held up, the fact that I was armed prevented at least one attempted robbery.

One event which occurred while going to Baguio for the payroll happened early one morning when my horse suddenly stopped in the trail that ran along a Guava grove. Not more than twenty feet from me stood a large wild boar who stopped munching on the Guavas and stared straight at me and the horse. I gently pulled out the .45 and slowly aimed at a spot between the eyes of the boar and fired. The shot caused my horse to jump out from under me, but fortunately I had killed the boar or it would have ripped me and the horse to shreds with those mighty tusks. Incidentally, I used the tusks for paper weights.

I always carried the .45 when hunting. On my first trip to north Luzon in the Gob-Gob valley along the Chico River I spotted several wild Carabao, sometimes called Water Buffalo. This was near the plantation of Madge’s brother Frank. Only one in the herd was in a position where I could safely approach, so in order to get close enough to shoot I had to go down a little stream that led into the valley. Here I climbed a lone tree so that I could look over the tall Rono Grass, and there he stood about fifty yards away in a little clearing defiantly guarding his herd. These animals are considered some of the fiercest on earth with a horn spread of nine feet. As I looked down my sights at this 800 pound animal I remembered the warning the Presidente of the local Bario government who through an interpreter said, “If you try to kill the Carabao he will kill you”. I carried a 30.06 Winchester Rifle with a 220 grain bullet developed by Western Cartridge Co. for the purpose of hunting Carabao. I hit the Bull with a shot to the heart, but he got up and came bellowing and pawing the ground under the tree where I was clinging precariously. With two more carefully aimed shots to the head I finally downed the Bull for good.

To emphasize the ferocity of these animals, I had a harrowing experience on another hunting trip. Again I aimed at the heart and the bull fell only to get up and charge me. The next shot got him through the nose which laid him back on his haunches from which he rose blowing bloody foam from his nostrils and charged again. The third shot broke his shoulder yet he was still trying to get up. While only 15 yards from me I used the .45 to stop him. When the natives dressed him out it was noted that the 220 grain bullet ground up his heart like sausage.

In another incident on one occasion of hunting with Frank, the foreman of the Captazor Road project asked to borrow my rifle to kill deer so his crew could have some fresh meat, promising that he would bring the gun back in time for me to hunt the next day. Since he did not show up the following morning I went to his camp to inquire, but his crew said they thought he had spent the night at my camp. Only then did we realize that something was wrong. So Frank and I started looking for him at the place where he was supposed to have been hunting. We had no difficulty finding him for he was lying on a rocky clearing near the river, his body ripped to pieces by the sharp horns of a huge Carabao bull. The bull lay dead a few yards away at the edge of the river with bloody horns and three bullet holes in his bloated body. Also lying nearby was my 30.06 Winchester with a broken stock and an empty chamber.

One final incident worth mentioning was a hunting trip when Frank and I crossed a river to look for some wild boar that had previously been seen feeding in his Guava grove. It was a hot day and I decided to take a dip in the river. Suddenly, Frank fired a shot just over my head and my first thought was that the man was crazy. Looking over my shoulder, as I swam for the bank, I saw the tail of a huge crocodile disappear in the water just behind me, to which Frank remarked, “He was looking for some white meat”.

As the work on the Hydro-Electric plant neared completion, a compelling urge came upon me to return to Alabama and show off my wife and new baby. So in April of 1929, Mr. Bean, the project supervisor in Manila, booked passage for us on the Norwegian freighter, MV Fernmore, bound for Los Angeles carrying 173 tons of sugar. Being the only passengers we were given special attention by the Captain and First Officer as well as luxurious accommodations. The voyage across the Pacific was pleasant as was our welcome home.

In retrospect, I could not have picked a more inopportune time to return to the U.S., for the year 1929 was the beginning of the Great Depression. The fare home had taken most of my savings other than enough to buy a used Chevrolet Sedan and pay for the birth of our little Fe’ on September 9, 1929. With Papa and Mama’s help, and a job here and there, we managed, until I took over the operation of a Shell service station on Broadway in Sylacaluga, Alabama which helped us manage to survive financially. In 1932 I convinced my former employer, The Benguet Consolidated Mining Co., that they needed me back in the Philippines. Before we left Alabama, I should mention that a disastrous Tornado on March 21, 1932 flattened Sylacauga.

On April 21, 1932 we boarded the Chichibu Maru, a Japanese passenger ship bound for Manila via Yokohama, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. I must mention here our experience with First Officer Tonaka, who was friendly and accommodating to us on our trip across the Pacific. When we arrived in Yokohama he invited us to his home in Tokio, ( not to be confused with Tokyo, Japan), where according to custom we removed our shoes and sat on the floor while we had tea. After this we boarded a train to Osaka where we shipped out for the Port of Shanghai at the mouth of the Yangtse River. Here we went ashore and took a Riksha ride to see the elite district of Shanghai. On walking back to the boat through what was obviously the slums, I saw dead bodies in the side streets, and as we pulled away from the dock I observed boat people dipping water from the river to use for cooking as dead bodies floated near by. Although Shanghai was a large city of wealth and influence, this occurrence showed the disparity that existed between the classes as well as the ignorance and lack of health standards in some Asian cities at the time.

Upon arriving in Hong Kong it was amazing to watch the Captain and Pilot manage to maneuver such a large boat through the maze of Junks in Hong Kong harbor, where it is said that many of the boat people rarely set foot on land. Although Hong Kong was a British Colony at this time, business was conducted in an Oriental manner. For example, the dozens of money changers along the streets all had different values in their exchange of Yen for Dollars, yet on the surface Hong Kong looks like a modern American city.

On the last leg of our journey as we approached the entrance to Manila Bay, before us stood the familiar rock of Corrigador Island on my right and the beautiful Mount Marvales on my left seemingly extending to us a hand of welcome.

After reporting to the main office of Benguet Consolidated in Manila we were off to Baguio in a little coal burning train that took us through many Barios along the way to the foothills of the Mountain Province in the town of Daqupon. Here we boarded a bus that took us up a steep winding road to our final destination, Baguio, which seemed more like home to me than Alabama. Since there was no housing available at the mine site we were obliged to find a place in Baguio. After moving from place to place we finally found a suitable house on Happy Glen Road. Again, I had to live and work away from home, not only because of the arduous trip to the mine site, but also because it did not afford suitable living accomodations for a family with young children. Yet I was able to return home for weekends where I enjoyed the company of our two beautiful little girls.

It was evident when I reported for work at the mine site that the company needed help straightening out the operation of the warehouses. I was placed in charge of all warehouse operations, lumber yard, Dry Goods store, Cold Store and an inventory that averaged about one million dollars. Since most of our vital supplies had to be ordered from the United States, which required from sixty to ninety days for delivery, I devised a quantity card system that eliminated all difficulties in maintaining a ninety day inventory.

The mining operation employed between five and six hundred Philippino workers and between twenty and thirty American supervisors, and produced about a million dollars worth of Gold bullion per month. This was poured into five pound bars for shipment to the US Mint in San Francisco. At the time the value was $20.67 per oz!

Security for the transfer of the bullion was very tight and I was often called upon to escort the gold from the mines to the Baguio Post Office in the company’s bullet proof car. The only close call came between the mines and the Post Office where the arrest of armed bandits was made by an alert Chief of Police of Baguio before we even arrived on the scene. I was one of the few who had a permit to carry arms, having renewed my permit with an old friend, Captain Toralba, the Commanding Officer of the local constabulary. To emphasize the strict Philippine gun control regulations, I might mention that when the new superintendent applied for a permit to carry firearms, he was advised by Captain Toralba that he would have to get Mr. Strong’s O.K. He was shocked to learn that the Superintendent had to get the Warehouseman’s O.K. to carry a gun.

Soon after I returned to the Philippines a gold mining boom seemed to sweep the country. Among the many new companies being incorporated was the Gold River Mining Co. who’s new manager was a friend of mine. He insisted on putting me down for 1000 shares at 10 cents a share. Of course I did not have the money, however our mine superintendent, Reed Miller, who had signed up for a block of this stock handed me a check for 500 Pesos saying that was all I had to put up to get the stock. The same day I picked up the stock, I sold it for 65 cents per share and from the profit I purchased a new car. With the balance I ran my stock holdings to well over 3,000 Pesos. This was an improvement over the Depression back in the U.S. where the only jobs available were for $1.00 a day, or a promise of a job at the First National Bank of Sylacauga for $75.00 per month.

During this time I met a gentleman by the name of Morehouse who was opening the new Aloc Mines. He wanted me to set up the books and take on the job of accountant for that company and offered a considerable increase in salary, which I naturally accepted. After a considerable time with this company I became restless and accepted a position with a Philippine company located in Iloilo, an Island about 150 miles south of Luzon, the Island where the city of Manila is located. This company’s exploration of Manganese failed so I returned to Manila and accepted a position with The Marsman Company as head accountant for their store operations in the city of Parocali. When this company also failed I returned to Benguet Consolidated where I was given the position of Assistant Comptroller. It was at this time, when we were living in Manila, that the U.S. military installations in the Philippine Islands were attack by the Imperial Japanese Air Force following the infamous attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7th, 1941. In the Philippine Islands, because of the International Date Line, it was Monday December 8th, 1941, and our lives along with many others throughout the world, were changed forever.
Note: My grandfather started writing this in 1982 at the age of 79 and did not complete it until he was 84. The final paragraph only summarizes the final years before WWII broke out, and because of his advanced age at the time he compiled this, it does not include complete details of events during that period. For information of his WWII years when he was confined by the Japanese to a POW camp at Santo Tomas (a former University located in Manila), refer to the book, A Ringside Seat To War. More HERE. Share

1 comment:

Julygirl said...

I love the descriptions of the hunting experiences...sounds like Hemingway! An interesting life, one that merited being written down. Thanks for sharing! I can see where you inherited your talent with the written word.