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Memoirs of Robert Dollar
Vol. 2 - Chapter Thirteen

Now as to the river from Ichang to Chungking. I made the trip in the early part of June on the passenger steamer Robert Dollar II, leaving Ichang at daybreak, as no steamers run at night.

Steamers in this service must he built to suit the conditions that exist, and I do not know of any other river navigation so difficult. In fact, during a few days of extreme high water, it is impossible to run. Then for five months in the winter season the water is so low that it is impracticable to run at all. The ideal steamer is about 200 feet long, 34 feet beam, and about 8 feet draft, and about 2000 indicated horsepower with boilers in excess of the horsepower, so as to drive the vessel in still water about 15 knots an hour. In places, even with this speed, there are rapids in which even such a vessel cannot stem the current in the middle of the river, but must take advantage of the eddies on one side, then cross the river when there is an advantage of less current on the opposite side. The hull is built as light as practical, with a stem that has a very sharp curve back to assist in steering. There are three rudders, all connected; and for the speed required she must have tine lines, thereby limiting her cargo capacity, which does not exceed 500 tons. The steamer on which I traveled had armor-plated shutters to enclose the bridge, as last year she was fired upon by bandits; the marks of the bullets are still visible on the plates. At present this precaution is unnecessary.

In this section;, the width of the river is from 400 feet to over a mile. While only 400 feet wide, it is supposed to he from 400 to 500 feet deep, and the water is very swift. This goes without saying, as the great volume of water that must pass from a river one mile wide into such a narrow width, must flow with a great rush. One precaution I was pleased to notice that the Government had taken, was the establishing of signal stations at places where the river turns at right angles, and it is


impossible to see ahead. A mail is stationed where he can see both ways; if the approach is clear he hoists a cone with its point upward; if a steamer or junk is coming, the cone-point is downward. This allows the up-stream vessel to stop in still water and the other to pass without danger. In entering a gorge where the cliffs towered over 1000 feet high, rising perpendicularly from the water, the first thing that occurred to me was, how is it possible for what is called the trackers to walk along and pull the junks against the current. But I found that a path, in places not over a foot wide, had been cut over a thousand years ago in a very irregular way along the face of the cliff, and where small streams came in, steps were cut in the rocks for the men to go down one bank and up on the other side.

It takes at least 120 men to haul a reasonably sized junk through the rapids, none of the men were entirely naked as most had straw hats or bandages around their heads. Except for this, however, they could be described as naked. A big hawser of twisted bamboo is used, and each man has a small rope around his breast fastened to the hawser. Generally they are stooped to the ground and pulling for dear life, certainly a very hard and dangerous occupation. I learned that they are paid a lump sum for the round trip which takes about six weeks, their wages being $1.00 gold and their rice furnished. I saw men swim out and clear the line when it fouled on a rock, no very safe job in the rapids. This may appear to many a fairy tale, but it is the truth.

At high water, Ichang is 220 feet above the level of the ocean, and Chungking over 710 feet, so the elevation to be over come is nearly 500 feet in about five hundred miles. In some exceptional places the current in the middle of the river is so swift that a steamer of 15-knot speed cannot surmount it, and in many places an 8-knot current has to be overcome.

As to the scenery—it would be impossible for me to give even a faint description, this I must leave to those more competent, and all I will write you must consider as only superficial. Photographs are a great help in a case of this kind but on account of the very high and almost perpendicular hills the dark shadows make photography difficult. Every mile brought to view something new and different from anything that we had seen before. One of the very strange sights was, the families living on the steep hillsides where one would think only goats could exist, but we could see small patches only a few feet square terraced out of the rock, and with a little soil, which must have been carried there, they were raising a few vegetables and Indian corn, as it is impossible to raise rice. Under such conditions one wonders how it is possible to reach those places, and how they managed to carry up material to roof the shack, although stones w ere obtainable to build the walls. There are a number of people living in caves which can be seen in many places yn the hillsides. How they all manage to live is a problem that I have never succeeded in solving.

The difficulties of navigation are very great and the experiences are thrilling, but the level-headed navigator with clear sight and steady hand can bring a steamer through what would appear to be the impossible I remember on coming around a sharp bend at a rapid that we met a big junk bound downstream rowed by over 100 men. every man naked except the captain. At iirst it did not seem possible to avoid cutting her in two, but by extraordinary, skillful and rapid handling of our steamer, we rushed by her with less than two feet to spare. Those junks are all steered from the bow, as well as by a rudder. The bow sweep is from 45 to 50 feet long. For a few-seconds I shuddered to think of the terrible loss of life that appeared to me to be inevitable. While the men were all good swimmers, at this place on both sides of the river the rocks rose perpendicularly from the water, and for miles it would have been impossible for any of them to have gotten ashore: and in this critical situation it would also have been impossible for us to have rendered them any assistance. When we passed, I looked to see how they would run the rapid and saw a big whirlpool catch the junk and turn her completely around. The last I saw of her, her bow was headed up-stream.

The rapids, whirlpools and eddies make a ship act like a feather on the water. In all my experience with ships I never saw one handled so quickly and efficiently as this one.


To give an idea of the extra power required at certain rapids, the captain has an arrangement with the engineer, that when the engines are running at full speed, if the telegraph rings full speed again he will open her out more, hut if he again rings full speed it indicates she is in a critical situation, and then the engine is run what we call "wide open," and the boilers are made to produce all the steam possible. To show what reserve power she had, on an occasion such I have just described, the safety valve of the boilers actually blew off steam. For the safe navigation of the gorges plenty of power is one of the most important essentials.

We reached Ouaifu at 8 :()0 p. 111., 110 miles from Ichang, where we anchored for the night and filled our bunkers with coal. The appearance of the rock formation indicates plenty of minerals.. Coal is in abundance, and only the out-croppings have been worked as yet.

This is quite a good sized walled town. The lulls are much lower than in the gorge and there is plenty of rich agricultural land in this vicinity, the principal crop being corn, although some tobacco is grown. There are lots of goats all along on the hills. On our trip from Ichang to Quai-fu it rained in torrents all day, which we thought was a great disadvantage, as the heavy rains caused innumerable water falls over the cliffs. In fact there was a waterfall, small or large, about every 1000 feet of the way through the first gorges. It was a sight never to be forgotten. As we went along the muddy water of the waterfalls changed in color from light yellow to dark brown, and in some places to a light red, all indicating the various kinds of soil the water was passing over. The dark brown color of the Yangtse continued as at the mouth of the river, and full of sediment. In this 110 miles we must have passed more than twenty temples, some of good size, but the majority small, all built on the tops or near the tops of the hills. They were m the most inaccessible places one could imagine. Evidently they were of the opinion that God did not descend to the lower levels.

As to the quality of coal we are getting, some of it is fairly good, while some is only passable, but for surface coal it can be considered good. When it is mined farther in from the surface, coal of a better quality may be expected and an)' amount of it right close to the river.

Our second day's run was from Quai- fu sixty-seven miles to the big city of Wang Hsin, where ail steamers have to anchor and report to the European customs officers, who come on board and make a very perfunctory visit, get a copy of the manifest, etc. A short distance further we entered the big rapid of Hu-Tan, at the foot of which there was a big whirl pool, big enough to swallow a small sized boat. Stories are told of several having been swallowed in this whirlpool and all hands lost. At this part of the river, between rapids, there were some good stretches of straight river about a half mile wide. We now passed stretches of good agricultural country, the hills that are not too rocky being terraced and cultivated to their tops. The principal crops are corn and tobacco, which gives one the impression that the climate must be similar to our Southern States.

The first attempt to supersede junks in the navigation of this river was made by a tug with a lighter in tow, in 1908. This effort was only partially satisfactory. Then a passenger steamer service was inaugurated in 1914, and up to the present it can be said to have been only partially successful, on account of the numerous and costly accidents, several steamers having been a total loss. But it would appear, with a better know ledge of the river and by putting on steamers of greater power, that accidents should decrease.

To give an idea of the erratic rise and fall of the water. At Wu-Shan rapid and gorge the high water mark reached 203 feet above what is called zero, which is supposed to be normal low. When we passed this gorge going up it registered 93 feet, and when we returned three days later it had fallen to 79 feet, a drop of 14 feet and at a time when we expected a rise and not a fall, as extreme high water comes in early August, and is caused by the melting snows on the Himalaya Mountains. At this place the greatest rise and fall occur.

At Snihpoachai we passed a monastery built on a rock that is perpendicular on its four sides, and to reach the top to build


the monastery they erected a nine-story pagoda leaning against one side of the rock, thereby providing the means for the monks to go up and down to their domicile, nearly 200 feet above the ground. The rock appeared to be about 400 feet square on the top, which was entirely covered with substantial buildings.

Since writing the foregoing I am in receipt of our weekly Ichang report, telling of the sudden rise of the river at Ichang gorge where it reached the incredible height of 330 feet above low water level, the highest in 25 years. It flooded the bund at Ichang to a depth of four feet. This gives a good idea of the very erratic rise and fall of the water in the Upper Yangtse.

On the third day we passed the large city of Feng Tu. At another city, Fuchow, we have an arrangement to have junks loaded with coal waiting for our steamers to replenish their bunkers. Here we obtain good coal, which comes down a tributary river about fifty miles from Fuchow.

At Li fu Chang is a very large pottery plant and at this place last year bandits fired a volley of bullets at our steamer, but the armor-plates saved the captain and pilots. No bullets penetrated but many dented the steel, and the marks they made are still plainly to be seen. The marines aboard made short work of the bandits with machine guns, as eleven bodies were seen to float by. This action gave our steamer a "clean bill of health" at this place, and we have not been molested since.

Near this place are two statues cut into the solid cliff far enough in to protect them from the weather. They represent an honest man and his wife. From the reception our steamer got here we must assume that even in olden times an honest man and his wife were such a rarity that they perpetuated their memory in this manner. It is refreshing to know that hundreds of years ago there was an honest man in this den of bandits.

We reached Yellow Flower Gorge at 6:0() p. m. This is an other passage with sides of perpendicular rocks. On both sides it is dangerous to meet vessels as there are two right-angle turns in it, and as it is not more than four hundred feet wide the current is very swift. At both the turns it looked as if we had come to the end of the river until we got to the corner and then the channel opened up before us. 1 noticed several openings in the side of the gorge where coal had been mined, or rather where the surface seams had been opened up, showing that there is an abundance of coal that can be had on the. surface.

At Chang Shun we anchored for the night. We noticed a very high bridge, that had been built many years ago, across a tributary. It was of stone and had four symmetrical arches— a line piece of architecture.

A peculiarity I noticed in the junks was, that all those bound up river had their masts stepped, as sails are set when there is a favorable wind, in conjunction with the trackers' rope; whereas, all junks bound down stream had their masts down and generally lashed alongside.

I mention again the efficient system of warning all steamers and junks of the presence of vessels when it is impossible to see ahead before they would be on top of each other. I fully appreciate the great saving of life this system affords, besides, at the most dangerous places, life saving boats and crews are provided and are continually on the alert for accidents. They are called the Red Boats.

We are now getting into a more fertile country which show s intense cultivation, and as a result big crops; corn and tobacco predominate, although many other crops are in evidence.

On the morning of the fourth day we passed through the gorge and rapids of Ye Lo Tseod, (Wild Mule Rapid). I suspect it is called tips on account of the vigorous kick it has.

A few miles below Chungking we came to the installation of the Asiatic Petroleum Company which has tankage, good houses and godowns. The Standard Oil Company installation is a short distance above the city on the opposite side of the river. We arrived at Chungking at 10:00 a. m. We did not run at night, our day being from 4:30 a. m. to 7:30 p. in. We made the trip up in fifty-four hours.

The first appearance of the city was very impressive, as it is built on a rock foundation about three hundred feet above the river, on a level plateau. At present our steamers berth across the river, but we have secured land on the city side at the juncture of what is called the Small River and the Yangtse.

When I saw it, it was nearly half a mile wide and had a very strong current. Our land is near a principal gate of the city, but it is very steep, as is all land on the city front. The great advantage is to have a mooring place for our hulk, and from the limited time that I had, it looked as if the location was as good as could be had on the city front. The pontoon, a real good one built of Oregon pine, and the very first to come to the Province of Szechuen; is well built and adaptable for the service it is intended. An interesting part in making it fast to the shore to resist the great current caused by the rapid rise of water, (up to over ninety feet,) is the manner in which the chains are fastened. Holes are cut in the solid rock, and the chains are shackled to them, so to break away, a part of the rock hillside would have to come out. When this is completed We will have by far the best landing equipment in this city. All roads from the water up to the city are steps cut into the rock. Immediately before arriving, the steamer passed an image cut into the rock and recessed about three feet to protect it from the weather. It was beautifully gilded and resembled gold. This is the god of the river and every steamer or boat that passes, "fires off" fire crackers; if bound up, thanking it for a safe passage, and if starting down, beseeching it to grant a safe passage through the rapids.

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