First there was no road between Lagunillas and La Salina much less Palmarejo because there were no ferries. If you went to Maracaibo you did so by company launch and the launches were small at that time. La Salina and Lagunillas had a dock where the shallow draft tankers loaded oil and where freighters off-loaded supplies. Any transportation for equipment, supplies or people between the camps occurred by boat. That's about the time when my grandfather, William, went to work for Lago Petroleum.

My grandfather was British and was a trained master-machinist. He could build anything and one of his jobs was to build a small narrow gauge locomotive (I have pictures of the engine and him leaning against it.) It was a steam engine fueled by oil that was in a tank on top of the roof. Lago Petroleum laid a narrow-gauge track from La Salina to Lagunillas and when I was a youngster on one of father’s many hunting trips we used to drive over remnants of the tracks behind La Salina and he would tell me many stories about it. When my father went to Venezuela to work for Lago Petroleum he used to ride the small train which had small coaches as it ran between La Salina and Lagunillas carrying workers and supplies.

Eventually, Creole which is what Lago Petroleum became after Rockefeller bought it, built Carretera Nacional. It was a crude, arched 1 1/2 lane road and ran from Palmarejo to Lagunillas and beyond. You could not go fast on the road and in those days cars did not go fast. In fact the road was the only “road” along the lake. Shell Oil Company and Mene Grande (Gulf Oil) built crude roads to the wells on their land leases. I wouldn't call them roads back then.

Observations about the road over the years: Dead cows; dead burrows; dead dogs which there were thousands of strays; occasionally a dead person; many times a drunken person, and thank the Lord, buzzards to clean up the mess.

Then thousands of skilled Italian immigrants entered the country after WWII and you began to see small neat stucco homes appear along the sides of the roads and they were in bright colors -- blue, pink, green; red -- and they usually had a tall stucco wall built around the house with cracked jagged many colored glass bottles imbedded in cement at the top of the wall which would glisten in the sun.

And then there were car junk yards along the sides of the road and eventually cantinas with their strings of colored lights. (In back of Tia Juana and Lagunillas behind the native camps there were also buildings -- some two stories and they also had strings of colored lights with a bar, music and adult entertainment up stairs -- another story)

So Ojeda and Las Morochas - as the oil fields prospered – added stores even the first Supermarket built by Rockefeller where you could trust the products you purchased not to threaten your health if eaten -- another story).

And then following Castros exporting of his revolution to Venezuela the paisanos poured out of the backcountry and squatted on Oil Company’s property along the road -- first with cardboard shacks and then more permanent fixtures and small businesses. Paisanos built shacks in the dry riverbed under the road's bridge between Ojeda and Tia Juana and every rainy season the storms could be seen in the distant mountains and you could count the days before the water would roar down the river gulch and wipe out the families caught under the bridge. Year-after-year this occurred.

Anyway, traffic grew on the road -- traffic of all kinds and the road was not widened. So the road was expended by people driving on the sides of the road and in the dry season you see where the road was by the concentration of dust in the air. New rules of the road developed -- the main one was if your vehicle was bigger than the one approaching you, then you had the right of way and people used to love to ride with their hands and arms waving out of the cars because they talked with hands and arms and they pounded the sides of the cars instead of using the horn and people lost hands and arms as those unfamiliar with road rules learned the hard way. Now at this time the bridge was built across the lake and now the farmers in the mountains could get their fresh produce to the Maracaibo markets and we began to see produce trucks coming down from the mountains.

A new form of entertainment presented itself. My brother and I and Randy Sharpe, Eddie Robinson would get in the jeep and drive to Ojeda and sit in a cantina drinking Polar until a stake-truck loaded to the brim with ripe bananas went by and we would jump in the jeep and make chase. The driver of the truck could not see a thing behind them and we had no fear of them even looking anyway -- who cared what was behind you. So, we would drive the jeep right up to the rear side of the truck and reach out and pick bananas and once we had our fill we sped past the truck and headed down the road to the next cantina and had Polar and ate bananas and talked about our exploits and had many laughs and this would continue until we were bored.

We knew things on the road had reached the serious point when we learned that two large oil service trucks had approached each other on the road and stopped with neither driver willing to move his truck aside. They argued until one of the drivers became enraged and he grabbed a revolver out of this truck cab and shot the other driver and then drove off around his truck.

At this time we started to take the back road between Lagunillas and Tia Juana to avoid accidents but even there you had to be watchful. One day I was sprawled back in the seat of the jeep approaching a cross-road intersection on one of the back roads and I pressed the jeep horn thinking that I had the right away, when out of the side of my eye I caught a glimpse of one of those 70 ton Shell mobile well service rigs coming barreling towards the intersection and I had to quickly jam on the brakes and brought the jeep to a halt almost in the intersection when the rig roared through it. Jesus, that was close and the next lesson I learned was if your vehicle was large enough you could ignore any other vehicle approaching an intersection.

That's all.

 

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