Right after finding out Bob and I were going as a team, I began to spend more time in the public library learning of the area we were to “explore”: Kenya, Tanganyika and Uganda. I compared Gatti’s writings with that of Martin and Osa Johnson. They were early day explorers and movie makers. I learned that East Africa was not the unexplored land Gatti would like to have the world believe. There were modern cities with hotels, shops, railroads, and the countryside had European (euphemism for Caucasian or white people in Africa) farmers growing sisal, pyrethrum, tea, coffee and other crops. Of course, most of the area in the three countries was populated with primitive native tribes and thousands and thousands of wild animals. I read, too, of the health dangers: the tsetse fly which carried sleeping sickness, and the mosquito that transmitted malaria bugs. These diseases had made Africa a very poor place to live in the early years of this century.. Africa had a life expectancy of only a few years after they arrived in the country. But the idea of seeing the native people and the animals of Africa was very stimulating; I wanted the adventure. After all, I had been in New Guinea jungles for a year and a half and had survived without malaria or any other disease except “jungle rot,” a common skin disorder, so I was mentally prepared to be careful. Bob, from his ham shack in San Mateo, and I had a merry time each day comparing notes of our impending trip. Bob’s father had taken a job in Saudi Arabia with Aramco Oil Company prior to this time, and Bob’s mother was going to move to that desert country about the same time we were to leave for Africa, so his mother would be in New York along with us I next received a letter from Gatti asking for “a favor on your way from Chicago to New York... manage to stop at Lancaster, Pennsylvania, at the Hamilton Watch factory where Mr. Robert Wadell wants to give you instructions for the (handwritten word unintelligible) of the chronometers which the Hamilton Watch Company is giving the expedition. At the same time, Mr. Wadell will handle (sic) you also these various chronometers.” I assumed that because of the fragile nature of the precision clocks, they should not be shipped by the common carrier; it was best to have them hand carried. Gatti mentioned that we needed the chronometers for scientific time measurements. I wondered, as I read his letter, what he planned to do that would require accurate time. In my army experience, the only chronometers I had seen were on ships for the navigator’s use, and in a topographic mapping company for their surveyors to fix positions on the maps they printed for the army. The surveyors needed accurate time for celestial plotting of position. The “favor” letter had a postscript that tossed me a curve. Here is the request Mrs. Gatti and I are simply crazy about wild ducks, especially mallards. I know your country is full of them. We are going to leave here on November 4th. But if you could manage to get us by Air Mail, Special Delivery, or something, a couple of good mallards in time to cook them and eat them, you would do us an enormous service. Of course, I will be glad to pay all expenses connected with this matter. Thanks again. I had no way of fulfilling his request, so I ignored the whole thing. I never heard about it again. Bob and I met in Chicago at the Hallicrafters’ factory where we were greeted by Bill Halligan, the president of the company. Hallicrafters had been essentially a manufacturer of ham radio equipment before the war, but the war caused the company to become a major supplier of military radio equipment. In my Signal Corps days during WW-II I had plenty of experience with the BC-610 transmitter manufactured by Hallicrafters. It was the standard transmitter for long-distance Morse Code radio circuits in the Signal Corps and was a component of the SCR-299 and SCR-399 radio station sets that fit in the back of a two and one half ton army truck. Bob and I were to have an HT-4 (BC-610) as our transmitter in Africa, so I was meeting an old friend again. We had a short meeting with Halligan in his office. He was cordial and polite. I tried to read between the lines about his feelings for Gatti. Little by little, I gathered from Bill and his staff that Hallicrafters had given Gatti, through the two isolating corporations, $200,000 to finance this “scientific” expedition to the “dark continent.” The company was charging the money off to advertising because many hams around the world wanted to exchange signals with Africa. It seemed to be a really great promotion for the company and ham radio. I also developed the feeling during our conversation that Halligan was having second thoughts about spending the money on Gatti. He made some statements about the explorer that gave me that impression. “Gatti’s a promoter,” Bill said more than once. It was the tone of his voice that set me to thinking he wasn’t too sure of Gatti; it had a sour tinge. When we parted Halligan’s office he said, “Do the best you can for the ham community and the company.” Bob and I posed for pictures in the company ham station with some of the company executives; we were treated like movie stars for a few minutes. The publicity people had us do a phone interview with Irv Kupcinet, a Chicago newspaper columnist. At the time, I didn’t know Kup from a load of wood, but I found out later he was big man in the windy city newspaper world. We made his column. Rollie Sherwood, the sales manager for Halligan, took the two of us in tow and roughly explained the equipment we were to use overseas. Then, Rollie and others told us what they expected of us on the trip to “the Mountains of the Moon.” The others, company engineers, explained the portable rhombic antenna they had designed and fabricated for the expedition, and, of course, gave us instructions on how to erect it in the field. All the radio equipment had been installed in the “Shack on Wheels”, a big Schult house trailer that was in New York awaiting shipment. We were to get our first glimpse of it at the International Harvester showroom in the big city. The “radio shack” trailer was apparently on display there because Harvester furnished all the trucks for the expedition, and Schult had donated three deluxe house trailers, two for the Gattis and one for the combination photo lab and radio shack. Bob and I agreed, Commander Gatti was a grand master of promotion. “We’re going to have a huge press party at the Harvester showroom,” Rollie said, “and you guys will be the stars. After that blast, everything gets loaded on the American South African Line ship “African Pilgrim” for the trip. That’s what Gatti says.” Bob and I were given a quick tour of the Hallicrafters’ factory where the production lines were turning out television sets like cookies. The huge plant, built during the war to crank out BC-610 transmitters and other electronic gear for the military, was now producing consumer TV sets. Television in 1947 was just beginning in the few cities that had operating stations. Keep in mind that there were no TV networks, only a few cities with experimental stations that were broadcasting to the public. However, judging from the plant activity, it was obvious that the Hallicrafters corporation was being prepared for the sales rush when the Federal Communications Commission started issuing licenses for new TV stations all over the country. Our engineering guide for the tour explained the manufacturing procedures as we walked around the giant factory. I recall our guide’s business lament, “Every day that the retail price of these sets is lowered, we have to engineer out another electronic part to stay competitive. When the price goes down, the electronics get worse.” Hallicrafters was making ham radio equipment, too, but the TV lines were a lot longer and busier than the amateur equipment side. And so, instead of spending two to four weeks learning about radio equipment at the Hallicrafters’ plant that Gatti expected in his letter addendum to the contract, Bob and I spent a single afternoon being briefly briefed. The most important information we received dealt with erecting the portable rhombic antenna we were to use. During our many ham radio contacts prior to leaving for New York, Bob had filled me in on his personal history. His father was working for Aramco Oil Company in Saudi Arabia and his mother was in the process of moving from the USA to join her husband in the desert country, so she planned on accompanying Bob on his trip from San Mateo to New York on the Overland Limited of the Union Pacific Railroad. During the five day rail trip to the east coast, Bob met a pretty young Dutch girl name Cobi Kapteyn who had been visiting relatives in our country and was on her way back to the Netherlands. As Bob explained it, “On the train we talked, and we talked, and we talked. We kept it up all the way to the east coast because I was really attracted to her.” After the stop at Hallicrafters, Bob and I boarded our separate trains for the rest of the journey to New York. I took the Pennsylvania Railroad and stopped in Lancaster, Pennsylvania between trains to pick up the Hamilton chronometers. The Hamilton advertising manager, Robert Waddell, treated me to lunch of “Shoo Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy” and a quick tour of the watch factory. At that time Hamilton was one of the few American companies actually manufacturing watches, the rest came from Switzerland. The Hamilton tour guide stressed the accuracy of the manufacturing processes; after all, the Hamilton print ads carried the slogan, “The watch of railroad accuracy.” Both my grandfather and father carried Hamilton pocket watches, nicknamed “turnips” in railroad jargon. Watch models containing more than a certain number of jewel bearings had the precision time keeping quality necessary for railroad use, so I was intrigued by the factory tour. Waddell showed me machines that were making screws so small you had to look with a magnifying glass to see the threads. He then turned me over to an chronometer expert who gave me a short course in using and rating one of the gimbal-mounted clocks. I couldn’t figure out why Gatti wanted precision time keeping machinery on the trip, never the less I carefully carried the two chronometers on the evening train to the big city. In New York, Bob and I checked in with Commander Gatti at his suite in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. One by one we met the other members of the expedition with the exception of Mrs. Gatti; she remained sequestered in the hotel suite, although Gatti promised, “You’ll soon meet Mrs. Gatti.” The photographers, winners of the True Magazine contest, were Weldon King, of Springfield, Missouri and Errol Prince of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Both were a bit older than Bob and me, but still young men. Another member, International News Service (INS) reporter James Powers, had been assigned to the expedition for exclusive stories from Africa. INS was the Hearst newspaper chain’s news gathering service. It was similar to the Associated Press and the United Press International and gathered news from all over the world. Although the service did provide wire news to a number of independent newspapers, the INS existed mainly for the Hearst papers in this country. With all the expedition members assembled in one place, we counted two photographers, two ham radio operators, one newspaper writer, plus Commander Gatti and his as yet unseen wife. I raised this question: where were the people who were going to do the “scientific investigations”? Maybe Gatti had an answer, but none of the hired crew was able to answer that simple question. I liked all the crew from the start. Errol King was on leave from his job as chief photographer for Cramer- Krasselt Advertising Agency in Milwaukee. A heavy-duty smoker, Errol was a crackerjack picture taker. In his job at the agency, he did all the photography for Evinrude Outboard Motors and a number of other national accounts. When he told us of his years of experience photographing boats and motors for Evinrude, I suspected that was the reason he was a member of the expedition, because Gatti had told us in Derby Line that we were taking a large number of Evinrude outboards to get pictures of them working in “the dark continent.” King was the other photographer and a very sensitive one, too. Weldon had been a military prisoner of the Japanese during World War II and had miraculously survived the famous death march in the Philippines. He turned out to be an excellent photographer, but I didn’t think at the time he had the credentials that Errol exhibited in advertising photography. Weldon disclosed that his father was the export vice-president of International Harvester Company, and was the same Clyde King that drove the first four-wheel vehicle across the continent of Africa in 19 days. Now the “Jungle Yacht” brochure that Gatti gave us in Derby Line was making a point. Weldon had an ace in his father. Jim Powers was a society reporter for INS. He, like Weldon, Bob and myself, was single, with no exemptions for income tax purposes. A very good writer, Jim liked his booze. In my first talks with him, I felt he really was going to make a great literary contribution to the expedition by documenting our every move in Africa. I wondered about having two writers on the same expedition; would there be a bit of jealousy in the wind? Gatti was the “Commander” in every respect. He issued orders like a military man, and he was quite a dramatic actor in that area. He gloried in being called “Commander”; later we would find out that only his wife called him “Attilio”, or “Till-o.” Gatti sent us to the outdoor outfitters Abercrombie and Fitch to buy “safari-type” khaki “Colonial Clothes.” I had plenty of suntans left over from my war-time military years, so I had a footlocker trunk full of them along. For picture posing purposes, Gatti gave each of us a fake “topi” helmet made of cardboard. His instructions were to wear it at the International Harvester showroom press party scheduled for 2 p.m. the next afternoon. We had to look the part of explorers. At this point none of us had seen the safari vehicles that were to be displayed to the 300 radio and print people that had been invited to the showroom for the unveiling. Nevertheless, Gatti put me to work lettering a few simple explanatory signs to put on the Schult trailers. The next morning we were all marshaled in the IH showroom at 570 West 42nd Street dressed in our “Colonial Clothes” and cardboard jungle helmets. We quickly toured our combination “Rolling (photo) Lab” and ham “Shack on Wheels” trailer for the African continent; it was first rate. Gatti had done an excellent job of design, and all the eight trucks and eight trailers were painted colors that would photograph well. I taped on my crude signs telling of the usage of the trailers. The Gatti’s two luxurious living trailers were also on display. Gatti’s was a combination office and sleeping trailer, Mrs. Gatti’s was a dining and sleeping arrangement. All three of the large Schult trailers were equipped with a refrigerator. The “Shack’s” fridge was primarily used for making ice cubes to cool photo chemical solutions, while the two Gatti trailers “ice-a box” were to cool the cocktail hour drinks and keep the butter hard. Gatti appeared in the heavy canvas style safari jacket with a little monogram on the breast pocket. He looked quite dapper and the real pith topi with an especially long back “porch” set him off from the troops. I looked over the topi; I had never seen one like it, so I asked Gatti about the style of his helmet.”I have these helmets special made,” he said in his rich Italian accent, “the long projection on the back of the helmet is my own invention. It’s to protect me from being bitten by poisonous tree snakes when I’m hiking in the jungle. Some snakes like to bite in the back of the neck.” When I heard that bit of rhetoric, I thought about the Gatti-authored books I had read. Gatti seemed to be fascinated with poisonous snakes, probably because they inferred “danger.” If I were to characterize the Gatti I had read, I would say he almost stepped on at least one venomous snake in every fifty pages of his writings. I thought to myself, “I hope I don’t have to walk much in the ‘jungle’ with Gatti, because my cardboard helmet doesn’t have a ‘snake protector’ back porch on it.” The whole thing didn’t worry me too much, after all, I had spent almost a year and a half in the jungles of New Guinea and never heard of neck- biting snakes. The press party began, the news people arrived in droves, and the booze began to flow like water at the Johnstown flood. Bob and I were stationed in the radio shack; Errol and Weldon in the photo darkroom portion of the combination photo/ham shack trailer. Most of our trucks, trailers and station wagons, complete with expedition flags flying from a fender, were on display in the building. It was their last exhibition before being driven to Pier 33 in Brooklyn for loading onto the M/S “African Pilgrim” for the trip to Mombasa, Kenya. Rollie Sherwood and some of the Hallicrafters’ people were on hand for the press showing. The New York radio station news people did interviews with most of us, and the newspaper guys snapped photos both in and out of the trailers. Gatti circulated among the crowd and was at his jovial best. In a dull moment, I asked him what the little flag-like crest he had sewn to his jacket meant. He replied: “This is the crest of the Gatti family.” I was beginning to discover Gatti liked that sort of thing, that’s why he had the “special expedition flags” flying on the vehicle fenders. Gatti loved pomp and hype; I could see he was a master of both. At the finish of the press conference, Bob and I were invited by Rollie Sherwood to a dinner party at a jazzy night club. After a couple stiff drinks, I leaned over to Rollie who was sitting at the head of the table and said, “I’m not sure I want to spend six months working for Commander Gatti.” When that thought hit him, Rollie nearly spilled his drink. “Jesus, Bill, you’re not thinking of quitting now, are you?” asked Rollie. I could see the sales manager was upset. “I’m just thinking of what Halligan said, and what I’ve learned thus far. This guy stumps me, I can’t quite figure him out.” “I’ll admit he’s something of a phony,” Rollie said, “but he ain’t all that bad. We’ve got a bundle of money in this expedition and we’re counting on you and Bob. You can’t quit now, Bill,” Rollie was turning on the high pressure steam; he ordered another round of drinks. “Well, I’m still thinking,” I said. “I’d hate to get caught in Africa with a contract that says if I quit I have to pay my own way home.” “Don’t worry, Bill,” said Rollie, trying to placate me in my booze generated fog. “We’ll take care of you.” After dinner, we moved the party to the Hallicrafter’ suite in the Roosevelt Hotel. There were a number of engineers and other sales people staying in the suite which the company leased by the year. The discussion was all about Gatti and the expedition. Sherwood had a number of things he had noticed about the Commander, so he passed on his observations. I had noticed some of the same things in my brief contact with the Italian immigrant. Here are a few of those things: Gatti always referred to everything by its proper manufacturer name when he said “the Underwood” he meant the Underwood typewriters that had been donated; when he said “the Hamilton” he meant the Hamilton Chronometers, and so on. Gatti invariably used a brand name, never the generic title of a product that was a sponsor. We had “Goodyears”, “Remingtons”, “Evinrudes”, and a host of other saleable materials that had been given to Gatti in return for a few color transparencies and the hope of a mention in the next book. Also noticed that Gatti never mentioned a brand name for a product he had to actually buy, only the freebees were mentioned by brand name. In one of first pre-departure lectures to the assembled crew, thecommander said, “When you use a product or take pictures of it, be careful not to scratch or damage it. Always, always, always be keeping in mind the resale value of a product.” That admonition stuck; “Keeping in mind the resale value” became our watchword, and our running gag. I began to see clearly: Gatti’s so-called “scientific expedition” was a reason to solicit equipment donations from big corporations, take the stuff to East Africa, snap a few pictures, and then sell it at a handsome profit. What a nifty deal! In 1947, East African currency was “soft money” and because of that, there were very few imports from the United States. By getting donations of equipment that he could sell in the soft currency countries, Gatti could pay the African expenses of the trip with “soft” shillings, and thus keep the hard currency US dollars that Hallicrafters funded the junket with in his own bank Derby Line account. It was a shrewd deal for Gatti, and I respected him for that part of it. The day after the press party we moved all the vehicles to the ship. The G-H crew gathered at the International Harvester showroom and with the help of I-H drivers moved the trailers, trucks and station wagons over the Brooklyn bridge to Pier 33. It was slow going in the maddening traffic of Manhattan. We left the showroom a little after 2.p.m. and arrived at the dock a bit before 6 o’clock, about one mile per hour. The traffic was stop and go, stop and go. On the pier we turned the vehicles over to the longshoremen crew for loading onto the ship, and then we went aboard the “African Pilgrim” for the first time. The African Pilgrim was a nice clean cargo carrier. It had been recently renamed from “The Archer” by its owners, the American South African Steamship Line. They had renamed all their vessels to include the word “African.” The C-3 ships all had celestial names like African Sun, African Moon, African Planet, etc., while the C-2 class vessels were named similar to our “African Pilgrim.” After we climbed the gangway up the Pilgrim, we found our starboard side staterooms ready for our occupancy. Bob and I shared one, Weldon, Jim and Errol another. Gatti and his wife each had a large cabin on the port side of the vessel. Two other non-Gatti passengers were cabined on the commander’s side of the ship. “Tomorrow we move in,” said Weldon, “that’s what Mister Gatti told me this morning.This ship looks ten million times better than the rust-bucket the Japs hauled me to Manchuria during the war. That was a horror ship, believe me.” At Pier 33 we all piled in one cab for the trip back to Manhattan and more partying. As scheduled, all of us, minus the Gattis, moved aboard the Pilgrim the following day. We put our clothes in the closets and some of the cameras and film in the built-in drawers. It had been estimated that our trip to Mombasa would take approximately 40 days, so we made ourselves at home for the long voyage. Gatti suddenly appeared in our cabin door and looked around. “I see you’re all settled down,” he said. He was all smiles, but when I asked about Mrs. Gatti, he frowned and said, “Mrs. Gatti is a bit under the weather, she’s in her stateroom.” That was all. I didn’t press more. “And by the way,” said Gatti, “please pass the this word to the others in our group: Mrs. Gatti and I will appreciate it if you stay on this side of the ship. We are very private people, and we do not wish to be disturbed. You have your deck; we have ours.” My forecast was coming true. “By the way, Snyder, would you do me a favor?” said Gatti as an afterthought. I nodded in the affirmative. He reached in his pocket and pulled out his wallet, opened it and took out a 50 dollar bill. “Could you pick up some gin for me? Mrs.Gatti likes Tangaray, and so do I. What ever this will buy is all right.” He handed me the money. Bob and I made a special cab trip to the nearest Brooklyn liquor store and bought the gin. I’d never heard of Tangaray Gin before, it was something new. We lugged it back to the ship after the smiling salesman had wished me a happy voyage. “It ain’t for us,” I said, “We’ll be lucky if we can smell a cork.” “Well, have a good trip anyway,” the clerk said as we walked out the door with the booze. Remember Bob’s mother was also in Manhattan on her way to Saudi Arabia, so Bob and I, at her invitation, devoted our last night in the U.S. by going out on the town with her. We took in the gala show at Billy Rose’s Diamond Horseshoe night club. I remember seeing the bill for the three of us when Bob’s mother paid for it. It was over a hundred bucks. I wasn’t accustomed to charges like that; after all, drinks in Fargo were at the time two-bits a pop. After the party, Bob and I took a cab back to the ship and spent our first night aboard. The next morning we went to the wardroom for breakfast. Meals on freighters run according ship’s crew hours: breakfast at 8, lunch at noon and dinner at 4. The times correspond with the change of watch. Captain Alden G. Graham, the pleasant and efficient master of the African Pilgrim, greeted us when we appeared in the officer’s mess wardroom. After telling us where we were to sit, he said, “The steward has reserved two seats at my table for Mr. and Mrs. Gatti.” I noticed the reference to Gatti as “mister”, so I said quietly, “It’s Commander Gatti, Captain...” “Oh,” said the Captain apologetically, “I wasn’t aware of his title.” I had a hard time keeping a straight face. After a delightful breakfast, Bob and I returned to our stateroom. We had no more than sat down when two husky black men arrived in the cabin door. “Mr.Bill Snyder in this room?” the lead man said. He had two large boxes, one under each arm. His companion was loaded likewise. I acknowledged the fact, and they both entered the room and deposited their cargo on my bunk. It was four cases of assorted whiskey: a case of Old Grandad, another of Old Taylor, and two more of lesser well known brands. Included was a note from Rollie: “Have a happy voyage!” An estimated voyage of 40 days and 48 fifths of booze to fill the empty hours seemed like a happy thought. Neither Bob nor I’d ever had a gift like that before. “It’s going to be a good voyage,” Bob said thoughtfully. “Now we can keep up with the Gattis!” I added. Weldon, Jim and Errol gathered in our cabin to look at the bar supplies. Jim smiled and asked, “Do you think, Bill, it’ll get us to Capetown? The Captain said it’ll take about 18 days to Capetown, 40 to Mombasa.” “I’ll ration it out,” I said, “one jug per day. That’ll make Mombasa with a bit to spare.” At that point a harbor tug and the harbor pilot along with the skipper of the Pilgrim began whistling back and forth causing the ship to slowly inch away from the 33rd Street Pier in Brooklyn, New York. We all went out on “our side” of the deck to watch the departure; our African adventure was under weigh. For me, there was no quitting now!

CHAPTER 3, Preparations

Copyright 2003,William D. Snyder
All Rights reserved
Visiting hallicrafters prior to the interview by Gatti