The Hard Wood and Work

EAC obtained its second teak concession around year 1900, this time in and beyond Phrae Province, Northern Thailand. It was really in a big scale; the land, fully allocated, was nearly 5.000 km2, almost the size of Zealand in Denmark.

The teak and other hardwood trees grew in small groups spread over the rocky and trackless mountainous terrain. Hundreds of elephants did the hard work of getting the logs through the tropical forests down to the river Yom.

hardwood

The Yom river, just a creek in the dry season, is running through Phrae on its long and winding journey south, to meet first Nan River, then Chaophraya, the mother of waters, in Nakhon Sawan.

It often took more than three years for the logs to reach Bangkok and the EAC sawmill there.

Young Ernst Mazar de la Garde from Ribe in Denmark was hired as Forest Assistant in 1908. He travelled the most direct way, but it took nine days to reach Phrae from Bangkok. First the train to Phitsanulok, where the rails then ended; then towed in houseboat to Uttaradit and finally by elephants and horse back to Phrae.

On wheels nowadays this route is also the shortest, 581 kilometers, but it can be done in a day, no pleasure.

 

Driving to Phrae today
Going to Phrae earlier this year we took the slow and longer route via Tak. The first night we spend there by river Ping. Then on to Lampang, still using the old highway number 1 that ends in Chiang Rai.

On the route northeast out of Lampang, direction Chiang Rai, there are still teak trees to be seen, especially in the pass of Baan Pratoo Pa, with Phrae province to the south. Some have survived since they have been ordained as monks with the saffron robe around them.

Another reason we decided for this detour was to visit the memorial place for Captain Hans Marqvard Jensen of the Siamese Gendarmerie who got killed up here.

 

Hans Marqvard Jensen
From Lampang you first drive on a plateau with that wide and harmonic view which you find only in northern Thailand; especially in the still pale morning light before nine o clock. Then the road leads into a valley and starts winding uphill and you see the mountains on both sides, they come closer and closer. Eventually you reach Baan Maeka Tok Wak at kilometer stone 829, shortly before the town of Phayao.

It was here Hans fell in battle October 14, 1902, 24 years old, while pursuing the remains of the Shan rebels he had earlier almost crushed in front of Lampang town (read more in Scandasia, October and December 2009). The memorial is still here and in good shape, but it took some time to find it.

The monument is obviously being kept clean, the inscription is very clear; the horses and elephants symbolize the modes of transport used by the gendarmerie.

The inscription reads, in direct translation by Pornpan Boonpattanaporn:

Captain H.M. Jensen
Age 24 years, Danish
‘Was invited by Lieutenant Colonel Phraya Wasutiep [alias Gustav Schau] to be a policeman in Provincial Police Department in BE 2443 [1900]. Later, was promoted to Captain in the position as trainer in the provincial police in Chiang Mai. Died while on duty suppressing Ngaew [Shan] rebels in Phayao. Was ambushed by Ngaew rebels by the road at Ban Mae Ka Ta Kam Phayao. Was Thai policeman of Danish blood, born in BE 2431 [1878]. Died on the 14. Of October 2445 [1902].

It seems that also Danes visit this most remote place; there is a little Danish flag and many offers.

We gave our offer to the brave Captains spirit; stayed on for a while and then went back and took highway 103 south from Ngao to the old fortress town of Phrae. The hills and mountains are green and quite low trees are growing, but there are none of the 30 – 40 meters old teaks with the branches starting around 20 – 30 meters up.

While you drive here you don’t need to have your eyes glued to the tarmac all the time and it is not so tiring to drive long distances. The highways in Northern Thailand are often of high standard but with less traffic. The local MP’s always and successfully advocates the best highways for their constituencies; their uncles are often also the contractors, practical.

 

EAC in Phrae
The Shans tribe’s people who worked in the mines east of Muang Phrae felt most exploited and oppressed by the stationed Siamese authorities, they burned down the fortified town in 1902, killed the governor, some 20 staff and also the few Siamese locals.

The gendarmes of the substation were there to protect property, local or foreign, but they fled the scene, leaving their modern Mannlicher-Schoenhauer rifles behind for the Shans to pick up. There were no trained officers and Hans Marqvard Jensen never reached the town.

According to letters to EAC in Bangkok from Forest Manager J. Fengers, the compound of the city Phrae was left untouched by the uprising. It now sits near the river and just within what is left of the ramparts and moat, in the southern part of the medieval town, Muang Phrae. It is a peaceful and shady place with the colonial style buildings placed practical around, there are many old oak-like trees Furthermore a little area with teaks, provided with their Latin names.

In the former EAC head office there is an excellent little teak museum. This museum and the pleasant compound is not on the list of tourist attractions for Phrae Province, it belongs to ‘Forestry Training Center’, 33 Koom-Derm Road, Nai Vieng, Muang Phrae’, telephone 054 511 048.

 

The golden wood
By the staircase of the headquarters is exhibited an early EAC invention. In order to lessen the burden for the elephants pushing the logs for long distances down to the river, the pieces were placed on heavy carts. The elephant or a buffalo was then harnessed and thus had a much easier pull. Later more and more advanced equipment were brought to use, but the elephants remained necessary to get the logs down from the rocks and cliffs.

Another interesting item is the stamp or hallmark. Along the rivers in the north, mainly Ping, Nan and Yom there were many companies holding teak-concessions and they all floated their timber downstream towards Bangkok.

It was, of course, necessary that all and every log could be identified; therefore those of EAC were branded with this stamp. The year is 1933, so we can presume it was used for the logs sent floating that year.

Furthermore there was the royalty to be paid. In Nakhon Sawan the King’s clerks counted the stamps on the logs from each concession and cashed in the substantial fee. Around Nakhon Sawan rafts were made of the logs, the rafts were then manned 24 hours

Theft was rampant; the thieves hid the wood in the swamps and then demanded ransom from the crew of the rafts to get it back. But here The Provincial Gendarmerie under Phraya Vasuthiep, alias Lieutenant-Colonel Gustav Schau, showed efficiency; by setting up sub-stations along the critical parts of the river. They managed to reduce the theft to almost zero, securing that all of the very valuable teak reached the companies in Bangkok, as fast as possible.

Also images of the long forest saws with handles in both ends can be seen. But for many years they were not in use. Mountain tribe people, ‘kamuks’ named, formed the logging teams; they were the experts and they preferred their own axes with long shafts but small blades. First they ‘ringed’ the chosen trees, they were normally at least 50 years old; cut a ring the whole way round, quite deep. Then the tree died and dried out. After a year it was then logged and now the wood would float on the water, cut fresh the hardwood would sink.

In the museum there are of course many photos and other images of the elephants. The photos are old and yellowed, often dark. In the tropical forest here, the trees and other vegetations prevent the daylight from reaching the forest floor.

But neither on the compound, nor in the forests of Phrae did we meet any elephants, not even their dung; they have left forever, maybe they are in Bangkok.

 

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