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Memoirs of Robert Dollar
Vol. 2 - Chapter Eleven

On the way up the river, near Wuhu, we passed four rafts of poles that had been brought from a considerable distance up the river. The poles were from four to twelve inches at the butt, and twenty-five to thirty-five feet long. The rafts were over one hundred feet wide and about four hundred feet long, and as they were six feet out of the water they must have been eight feet under the water, making a mass fourteen feet deep. Most of the surfaces of the rafts were covered with mat houses for the crew of considerably more than one hundred men to each raft. They were well and solidly fastened together with strong bamboo ropes about two and one-half inches in diameter, then fastened to the shore with six bamboo ropes three inches in diameter. It required all these fastenings to hold such a solid mass of timber in the strong current. They were on a long journey from the up-river forests to the market at Wuhu or Chinkiang, where they would be broken up and sold in quantities to suit the customers. As there was such a large quantity, it would take a number of purchasers to buy one raft.

In my younger days I had considerable experience in rafting timber, but I have never seen anything that approaches the mass of timber in one of these rafts, which must have taken considerable skill to bind together. In a swift water I must confess that without anchors, I would not know how to do it. I noticed many stakes had been driven in the ground and each stake had a brace put against it. then as stated, it took six large hawsers of three inches diameter, made of bamboo; these on account of their weight and stiffness, are not by any means easily or expeditiously handled, but the fact remains that they did it. Each rope was so tight it was just like a bar of iron, and was all of 200 feet from the end of the raft to the shore.

This is the competition we have to meet in the small sizes of Oregon pine, and the reason that the Chinese market for Oregon pine calls for large sizes and excludes all of smaller.


Those rafts are floated many hundreds of miles from the forests of Szechuen to the market.

For a long time I thought, when they were cutting such small timber that they must be nearing the end of their supply, but on investigation I find that whenever a small tract is cut off it is compulsory to immediately re-forest it by planting the ground over with small plants, and that in sixteen or eighteen years a full crop is again ready for cutting. This is quite an improvement on the American mode of cutting everything down and doing nothing to reproduce. This Chinese method of reproduction will give them an everlasting supply of small timber. Would it not be well before it is too late, to take a leaf out of the Chinese book of knowledge, even though we think we know so much more than they?

After passing Nanking, we passed through the mineral part of the country, mostly iron and coal. This section continues for a distance of 300 miles. On the left side of the river, at times, the hills are so far away as to be invisible, and great fertile tracts of land extend for miles on each side of it. It was a great sight to watch the harvesting in full operation on such an abundant crop so early in June, as the land is in a very high state of cultivation.

It is commonly reported, especially in Japan, that the steamer travel from Shanghai to Hankow is made very uncomfortable, due to poor accommodations, indifferent food, and nothing in particular to see, etc. It is remarkable that such reports gain credence, as the very reverse is the case. The first-class accommodations on the river steamers are unsurpassed on any other river steamers within my ken; and as to what is to be seen, no person making the trip will ever regret it. As a matter of fact I have never met a tourist that did not praise it highly after having made the trip, so I do not hesitate to say to all visitors—take the river trip.

The reaches of the river are divided into three sections, or rather into four The first sixty miles is from the ocean to Shanghai; the second, which extends from Shanghai about 700 miles to Hankow; the third, Hankow to Ichang is nearly 400 miles on account of the many turns to the river; and the fourth, through the gorges from Ichang to Chungking, is 462 miles, the last named being over 1600 miles from the ocean, and due south of Hankow.

At Wuhu I noticed the gauge stood at forty three feet ten inches above low water, and at Hankow it was about the same. This is considered low for the time of year on account of the extreme high rise of the water in summer, due to the melting snow on the Himalaya Mountains. Because of the extreme difference of fifty feet between high and low water, no wharves can be built for steamer landings, but in their stead are hulks. They are anchored far enough from shore to allow steamers to go alongside at low water. At high water pontoons are anchored at intervals between the hulk and the shore, and by the use of planks a bridge is formed between the hulk and the shore. Steps from the Bund lead down to the bridge at low water, and during high water it is level with the land. Steamers between Hankow and Ichang are of shallow draft, drawing from six feet to eight feet.. In going up the river during high water they follow close in to shore, and for miles will not be further than from thirty feet to fifty feet from the bank. This is to avoid the very strong current that is in midstream as it runs from five to six miles an hour close to shore, and frequently advantage is taken of eddys and the backwater.

On account of steamers following so close to the shore, the swells cause a constant falling in of the banks, as the soil is made up entirely of silt which results in a constant change in the topography of the country. Much of this soil is deposited on mud banks, and is one of the causes in producing a constant shifting of the channels. There is also a large quantity of this silt carried far out into the ocean, probably for 200 miles the water is discolored by the silt brought down by the rivers and is the reason for that body of water being named the Yellow Sea. Thousands of tons of this soil are yearly carried out into this sea and result is its becoming very shallow. No effort so far has been made to bulkhead, or as it is called to bund, the shores, except at the large cities where good and permanent rock rip-rapping has been found to be satisfactory. In the not distant future the condition will become. so bad that work of a similar character to that along the hanks of the Mississippi River will be necessary.

The river at this writing, at a distance of 1000 miles from the ocean, varies from two to five miles in width. This will give an idea of the tremendous volume of water rushing towards the ocean and carrying untold tons of silt.

The boats are a sight to behold, big junks, small ones, sail boats of all kinds and description, row boats from twelve feet long up to fifty feet, besides power boats varying from large passenger steamers to small gasoline launches. If it were possible to enumerate them, it would no doubt surprise the world, as the number runs into the hundreds of thousands. Every village has its own fleet tied up at the river bank, and the smallest creeks or canals are crowded with them. It is impossible for us to tell what they find to do, but they are always busy doing something, and when they are going up river, especially when it is almost calm, there is a tow-path.

Along each river-bank miles of boats can be seen as close together as they can move, towed by men on the shore. Each boat has a line tied to the masthead, and according to the size of the boat, from four to twelve men are hitched to the tow-line and pull the boat along as fast as they can walk. It is a common sight to see them bending to the work with all their might. When a little wind arises the big sails are of much help.

The rich agricultural valley is as level as a floor and most of the time it is so wide that the hills cannot be seen on either side, hence the explanation that China produces food enough (and some for export) for her five hundred millions of inhabitants. Besides, there is a good deal of land not fit for cultivation, but that which is under cultivation is made to produce crops by intense effort, as is done in no other country.

The population is very dense in this stretch between Hankow and Ichang, as every two or three miles apart, villages and towns can be seen. All the towns are walled in.

There are places along the river which are very crooked and a steamer has to sail to every point of the compass. At one location in particular, we had steered south for three miles, then made a sharp turn and headed north for another three miles, and after steaming the six miles were only one third of a mile nearer our destination.

The steamer on which we made the trip from Hankow to Ichang was the Kiang-Ko, a typical steamer for this run. She is about 300 feet long, 38 feet beam, and carries about 1200 tons on an eight-foot draft; has accommodation for thirty first-class and some three hundred steerage passengers. She is a very comfortable and a well-operated steamer, and adapted to the trade in which she is engaged. She made about ten knots through the water against the current, which is but half her speed over the bottom; or in other words, she had to run twelve nautical miles through the water to cover half the number of miles on land.

Hankow is in Latitude 30° 33' N, Longitude 114° 20' W, and Chungking in Latitude 29° 35' N, Longitude 106° 30' W; so it is about southwest of Hankow.

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