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Journal of a Seaplane Cruise Around The World
Part Three: Asia

Tuesday, November 13

Calcutta to Moulmein Elephants at Work. Up early, so as to have a look at the teak wood sawmill before flying to Bangkok. It lies a mile or two south of town, on the river bank; its logs are floated down the Salween river, sometimes all the way from the Chinese borderland; a single log may take 5 years in going to town. Teak is the only wood of which ships can be built to withstand these tropical waters; and it must have wider uses too, for there was a Norwegian and a Swedish ship waiting to be loaded. Edsel Ford's new Dearborn home is said to have teakwood floors. The power plant used here is the elephant. Four huge male elephants are maintained and, with their tusks for lifting, their broad heads for pushing, and their trunks for pulling, constitute the most economical method of log handling that exists. The logs stored in the yard were already cut into square cross-sections, about 18"-24" on a side, and 15-20 feet long. There were thousands of these in stacks and piles, and the beasts were ready to take them to the water's edge, where they could be slung together in rafts to be floated out to the ships. Two animals were at work, each managed by a driver who sat, not on the head, but on a sawhorse over the withers. Direction was given by voice, and by a small steel rake which was scraped against the animal's back: backward for a signal to move backward, from rear to front when he was intended to walk forward. At command, an elephant would reach high above his head for the top log, pull it out and down, and pick it up with his tusks and trunk and march around the yard. Or, if it were heavy* one animal would take each end, and two working side by side. We took many pictures with the Fairchild, and then the elephants were turned loose for a swim. They clambered down the ramp, and went under all over, the drivers standing up to avoid a wetting themselves. Then, after blowing like whales, they came out for a good rubdown, a self-performed task. A stick (twice the thickness of my wrist) was broken in two by holding one end in the trunk, and stepping on the other, and its sharp point was used as a scratcher. Swell fun, digging it into his coarse hide with much more gusto than the driver had used his rake, systematically going over the neck and check and legs! --- Elephants, partly trained, cost R. 2,000 ($800), but the drivers, whose position and art are hereditary, are paid only R. 25 ($10.00) monthly. One animal was in heat; -- the male elephant, and not the female goes through this seasonal manifestation; and in Siam it was reported that an animal had tipped over a railroad train, and then killed a trainer who attempted to quell it. -- The bull in question was securely chained in a stall. On the way back, through lovely breaks of cane and bamboo, with house (slightly raised on stilts) peeking through the trees as in a park, a woman was washing clothes in a stream, but on a plank bridge just above, a small boy was perched squarely over the creek, carefully polluting it.

We had breakfast, packed the bags, and went aboard the plane. Bless that motor, it always starts! A short warming up would have been enough, but the harbor was so scattered with debris, rolled up in great lines by the receding tide, that it seemed best to taxi into the almost still water to the west. We are gassed 60-60-15-15 (Bob says it is 560 nautical miles to Bangkok) and there is a slight ripple from a 5-8 miles breeze.

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