Ursula Bayne Journal

URSULA BAYNE’S ACCOUNT OF LIFE IN VENEZUELA IN THE 1920's and 30's

 
Written APRIL 2002
 
 

Russell & Ursula Bayne, Wedding Day, 1933, Trinidad, British West Indies.

 

   
Ursula & Russell in 1960 after retirement from CREOLE in 1955, Trinidad, British West Indies.

 

For years I have wanted to write this. I have decided if I'm going to I better get started as I'll be 90 years my next birthday.

Yes, for a long time I have read your magazine with great pleasure but so often wondered why nothing has been said about the mid twenties when operations started in Venezuela, South America and under the hard conditions that those men went through. So now I probably am one of the few left who can bring you a few facts about those days.

'Lago Petroleum' in the middle twenties

The men lived four to a room in two large bunkhouses - two floors each. There were no washbasins or closed showers, there were shower stalls and large wooden troughs to wash your hands and face. In La Salina my husband, Russell Bayne, worked in the warehouse at a salary of under $100 per month. There were only about 15 or 20 family homes in camp. The home we had in the early 30's was a one bedroom, a tiny bathroom and a second room for dining, a small screened front porch used as a sitting room. At night we had rats the size of kittens running across the open rafters in our bedroom - a nightmare not knowing if one might fall on us. Many times when you came out of the shower you had big spots of oil on your body. This was removed with lard. We dared not wash our hair in the shower but caught rainwater and kept it to shampoo our hair.

For shopping we had a small marketplace where we'd go very early in the morning before the flies took over. The meat hung on string tied between posts. On Tuesdays we went by launch across the lake to the city of Maracaibo to get supplies of canned food from the Curaçao Trading Company, the only fair-sized grocery store and to Botica Y Nueva for other household articles. On special occasions like Christmas we would do our shopping in Maracaibo.

We always enjoyed having the single men, teachers, folks who had no family, for Christmas dinner. At this time there was no club and the single men found their fun in Cabimas, the village town. In those days the oil production was only in the thousands of barrels per day. In the 20's, the foreign employees were paid in gold coins so that's where 'The Gold Payroll' got its name.

In the 1930s six large homes were built for the department heads. They were in the old La Salina camp on the lakeside and work began on a new residential complex called 'Hollywood Camp', about 30 two and three bedroom homes. Soon most of us were moved to the new camp, to a new two-bedroom home, two bathrooms, large living and dining room and a nice kitchen. We were in heaven.

Most families were given Hollywood stars' names. Russell's and mine were Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers as we were good dancers, loved to dance and when we had a dance at our new club a group of us would stay until 5AM then go to the mess hall for breakfast.

A swimming pool and two tennis courts was another product of the 30's. By now more employees were coming and another camp, Las Cupalus was built across the main road from Hollywood Camp. A new school was built and American teachers were brought in to teach our children. Spanish classes were arranged for adults, especially the men.

Then Pearl Harbour! Most of the young men were called, so many of our friends left. This meant the older men left behind worked many extra hours everyday. Work started at 6:30AM, many days at 5:30AM to 10 or 11PM with an hour off for lunch and a short siesta. No one ever complained. The work had to be done. The oil drilling could take no time off. Russell, being in the supply department, had to be sure they always had the drilling department well supplied. He was one of those who worked long hours. The wives formed a women’s club. We rolled bandages for the Red Cross, knitted socks and more socks, had bake sales raising as much money as possible to send to the Red Cross and overseas.

When we left Venezuela in the mid fifties, our production was a million barrels per day. There were many more homes built, new camps, hundreds more families, a well-stocked commissary, an excellent dispensary and good doctors. For major illnesses, births, surgery, we had our new hospital 'Coromoto' in Maracaibo. Before that we shared the Caribbean Hospital, which had all English nurses.

If you would like names, I remember so many, even in the small first camp in La Salina. There is so much more but I think what I have written should give you an idea of those early days of now, Exxon Mobil.


Sincerely,
Ursula Bayne
Lake Wylie, SC

April, 2002

 

(Ursula Bayne, shown above with her husband Russell, sadly passed away on March 23, 2003, one week after her 90th birthday. My thanks to Oster Bayne and his family for providing this journal entry to me and allowing the posting of it here for all of us to share.)

 

Quoted captions are provided by Oster Bayne.

“Cabimas Village circa 1928 - Where the young single men went to for recreation and to get away from the camp at weekends. My Dad had a lot to say in his Memoirs about the night life in Cabimas in those primitive days.”
“Lago Camp, La Salina, circa 1926 with mess hall, bunk houses, offices and commissary/warehouse marked. All very 'close to nature'”.
“Lago Camp, new Mess Hall 1928. Very modern and a great improvement much appreciated by the men.”
“Lago La Salina new Family House circa 1930 as referred to by Ursula Bayne. Note 'small' oil fire in background.”
“A Lagunillas lakeside oil fire in 1928. A constant danger and one requiring the staff to deal with on an 'all hands to the pumps' basis with no overtime paid, according to my Dad.”

Ursula & Russell's last house in “Hollywood”, 1955.

 

“Aunt Ursula and Uncle Russell and family taken in Trinidad in 1960.“ Standing, L to R: Jim Hughes, Marlene Bayne Hughes, Ursula Bayne, Russell Bayne, Mary Bayne Cadiz, Bill Cadiz. Sitting, L to R: Russell (Rusty), Jim Hughes Jr., Kathryn and Rita”