During the first few days at Kwale we spent most of our time with housekeeping chores. None of us really knew all the goodies that were hidden in the trucks. Gatti had been very thorough in his stocking of equipment; at least that is what I thought during those first few days. When we discovered a spare Hallicrafters SX-43 receiver, Errol asked, “Why can’t we have that in the dark room? It would be fun to listen to you guys on the air.” “And tune in the BBC in London for the news,” added Weldon King. “I don’t know why you can’t,” I said and immediately unpacked the little radio set and put it in the dark room. After all, it was part of the Hallicrafters radio contribution, and I assumed we could use it as we wished. We were on the air the same hours Weldon and Errol would be developing color film shot during the day. Also, Gatti had one on his desk for monitoring our contacts. The two campsites were about 300 yards apart, sufficiently far apart from each other so that notes and reports were the best method of communication. We did have telephones in the Schult trailers, but we hadn’t got around to stringing a wire line between the two camps. Bob and I were busy learning about the ham shack, the power units, and all the possibilities of DX communications. Gatti had a knack for writing lengthy orders to the troops. The working word content, plus Gatti’s verbiage, had a semi-military look and ring, and were usually written on a five-to-the-inch squared blue-ink graph paper. For the most part, they were properly dated and the geographical location listed. As time went on, I realized that note and order writing avoided face-to-face confrontations, too. Our commander could smile to our faces while raising hell with us via the note-paper route. Now that we were actually on safari, Gatti required each crew member to submit a written log daily. My reports were terse and to the point, for example: “Installed SX-43 radio in the dark room so the boys can follow what goes on in the ham shack.” Commander Gatti’s reply really gave me an insight into his mind and personality. All my early negative estimates of Gatti’s modus operandi were rapidly being validated. In my report for February 15th, 1948 I merely said, “Wired Higgins for 1 light each.” By that I meant we had strung a power wire from the 120 volt generator to each of the pop-up Higgins campers we were using for sleep time. I liked the Higgins Bob and I shared, and a light bulb made an useful addition to its livability. Not only did Gatti blast me for installing the lights, he kept up railing about the radio in the dark room. Here is the Gatti-Gram: Camp #1. Kwale. Sat. Feb. 16 SNYDER: Re: Yesterday’s log: “Wired Higgins for 1 light each.” A. The other day, I had in my hand 160 shillings of yours, just like you have in your hands supplies of mine. How would you have liked my saying “Given 5 of your shillings to each of my boys”? As I told you already about the SX-43 you gave out without my authority; I wish you would keep in mind that equipment and supplies in your hands are NOT for you to give freely according to your whims—but for you to guard, preserve, and keep in perfect condition, also in view of final re-sale. (SAME, of course goes for everyone else in the expedition.) For instance: SX-43 should be packed back in its own box, with the original packing, instructions, etc. Sold this way—as new—it naturally will have higher value. Incidentally, there is no need of having this set around “so the boys can follow what is going on in the shack!” Two photographers are there most of the time—others can go there whenever they wish. Returning to wiring the Higgins—it should have been suggested in FUTURE FILE. Then I would have said to wait for next camp when we will have all tentage—and not so many infinitely more urgent jobs to do in a hurry. SIMILARLY—let me emphasize again to you and Leo NOT to make any announcements or statements concerning the expedition without first consulting me—NO other special schedules (excepting Prince’s in 14 days) until all my messages have gone out and I have talked to all people I need. DO NOT announce participation of VQ3HGE to next DX contest, either, -- until we make sure that no new factor happens to make such participation impractical. Then there was a section for SNYDER AND LEO that said it all:


As for expedition’s station, allow me to repeat once more to both of you: “it is the expedition’s station” that’s my station which two of you are here to operate exactly as I wish and when I wish. The more you will bear this in mind, the happier we will all be! Camp #1 near Kwale was a very nice spot for breaking in the expedition. A troop of baboons took a fancy to our area and spent a lot of time bouncing around under the rhombic antenna. At our first camp at Kwale, in almost the first mail sack we received there, was an envelope from Ken Christensen, W0GHN, one of my old ham radio buddies from Fargo addressed to me. Jim Wayman, W0PVS, Bill Ogden, and Ken along with yours truly, were the ham radio gang that every Saturday gathered at Fargo Radio Company where we pestered Red Swanson, the local ham radio parts salesman. Red also performed as the guru for all new comers to the hobby, he sold them the stuff the hobby needs to be alive. The members of our gang teased each other, played jokes on one another and outsiders, too. And usually we had a couple of beers to help the Saturday afternoon go by. When one of the foursome constructed a new transmitter, which we all did from time to time, we always gathered to watch the christening of the new “rig.” One Saturday afternoon we did it to Ken. Now please remember that in the right after World War II pperiod, there were no Japanese companies making transceivers with solid state miracles doing their thing. It was still the days of the primitive vacuum tube circuits that required neutralization, and all the other interesting things we had to do with our home-built transmitters to make contacts.. This one Saturday Ken was going to try out his latest home-built rig with a new final RF amplifier. So we all gathered in his basement ham shack to watch the christening. We had a six pack of beer to use as the holy water and we each downed a can of it to start the afternoon festivities. When the warmth of the beer made everyone a bit mellow, Ken was ready to check the new 150 watt final he had just finished. It was a pretty amplifier, and it had two tubes in push-pull for the final amp. The tubes, the type number long ago forgotten, where a new “jug” from some manufacturer like Eimac, if my memory serves me still. “Throw on the final,” said Jim Wayman, W0PVS., and the command was seconded by Ogden. So Ken flipped on the high voltage to the final tubes, and started tuning to get the dip in the plate current indicating resonance. What we should have done is neutralize the final amplifier before throwing the high voltage to the poor amp.. The plate current meter jumped up to a super high current condition, and the plates of the two brand new tubes began to glow red, then quickly they became brilliant white and then bingo, each plate had a tiny hole burn into the plate. As a chorus, we all yelled in unison, “Shut off the power!” But alas, we were all too late, the holes in the plates were enlarging to signal the end of the two new jugs. The un-neutralized amplifier was gone west for good with a parasitic oscillation. There were tears in the air, believe me. Red would sell another pair of tubes to poor Ken. And we split the last cans of beer among all four of us. With tricks like that, when I saw the envelope from Ken, I said to the others around me, “Hey, here’s a letter from the Ken, the guy whose name I used in that empty booze bottle we tossed in the sea about a mile out of Capetown.” I unfolded the letter and started to read it out loud. “Bill, you old SOB,” Ken scribbled, did you toss a booze bottle into the ocean near the southern end of Africa? Read the enclosed clipping from the Forum that was in the issue of February 8, 1948? I’ll bet you did!” Floating Bottle Mystery to Moorhead Man. A bottle which drifted at sea for six months, washed ashore on an African Beach and resulted in unexpected correspondence problem from would-be pen pals in South Africa has a Moorhead student mystified. One of five letters received by Ken Christensen of 1003 Fifth Ave. S, Moorhead, contained a clipping from a late January newspaper published in Johannesburg. The article said a bottle containing a message from Christensen was found by J.C. Wolfaart of Parrl, a teacher, 90 miles north of Capetown. The bottle was cast into the Mississippi river near New Orleans, June 22, 1947, the message said. Christensen, however, has no knowledge of the bottle or who may have dispatched it. On June 22, 1947, Christensen was home in Moorhead. If the bottle was cast into the Mississippi at New Orleans, a geography teacher here gives a possible explanation how it could have reached South Africa. It could have been caught in the Gulf stream , carried northward to Ireland, then south via the Canary stream to the equator. There it may have been borne by the equatorial current down the coast of Brazil to the Argentine, then east to the African coast. The bottle may have traveled 20,000 miles. South African youths who read about the find request letters from Christensen and other who will tell them about the U.S. We all had a good laugh. All I could think of was the fact that the bottle traveled 90 miles north of Capetown, when the navigator had told me it would only have to go a mile or so to wash up on the bathing beach that we could see from the ship. As a sidebar for this story, that was the only bottle that we ever heard from on the trip. Hallicrafter’s 48 bottles of bourbon didn’t really do much for the expedition except warm us up during the evenings at sea. The crew was learning a lot about East Africa, the Swahili language, and the natives that Gatti had hired for the trip. In addition, a new member of our crew, Norman Wakeford, joined us as camp manager. Norm was a Caucasian Kenyan citizen of some 30 years. He had been educated in the Mombasa schools and spoke the Kiswahili language as perfectly as he did English. He wanted to be a “White Hunter” and was quite proficient with heavy gauge rifles. Norman lived with his mother in downtown Mombasa. She was a widow and worked in Mombasa as the chief of the Rice Ration Board. Gatti had Norman driving back and forth the 20 miles to Mombasa, doing such details as storing surplus equipment in warehouses until the final sale at the end of the expedition. For example: Gatti had a number of Evinrude outboard motors that were not needed, so they were put away in a safe storage area until sale day. Norman, a personable young man, was a fine addition to our crew. He also looked after food purchases, truck repairs, etc. Bob and I were certainly unaware of everything going on in our camp if what I discovered in Gatti’s writings many years later is true. He wrote that we had “forty-two people busy setting up house, handling and unpacking 700 cases, distributing their contents among our eight trucks, eight trailers, twelve tents, photographic laboratories, short-wave radio shacks, offices, mess and kitchens.” I know we had a lot of “stuff” in the Mombasa warehouse, but I think the commander was stretching things a bit. Dramatic license, some call it. The photographers began to break in the “Rolling Lab,” as Gatti loved to call the front half of the “Shack on Wheels” trailer. Gatti didn’t waste any time getting Weldon and Errol to start taking pictures of the products we were going to advertise. The first advertising shots were of the “Goodyears,” all the tires on eight trucks and eight trailers. Gatti put two of the native laborers to work with paint brushes putting silver paint on the Goodyear logo on each tire. Then, with Gatti as art director, the picture shooting began. Gatti hired some of the local natives as models. What he paid them I don’t know, but I can assure you it wasn’t much. He did, however, get them decked out in flashy ceremonial native clothing and paint their faces with ceremonial make-up to go with the costume. Gatti posed the colorful people looking at their faces in rear view mirrors on the trucks, looking with awe at the Goodyear logo on truck tires, looking astonished at wind from an electric fan, and looking like warriors with spears and shields. The commander also shot a lot of International Harvester pictures (both in color and black and white) featuring the IH trucks and our native drivers all decked out in blue coveralls, complete with the IH logo on their backs and caps. Gatti was somewhat of a “lens hog,” that’s a person who wants to get in every other shot. In most of the pictures, he posed as the “Commander” supervising some work detail. He sometimes appeared with a walking stick, which I likened to a “swagger stick” that I had seen carried by high-ranking generals in various armies. Gatti flipped the walking stick with a “swagger” reserved for such human beings as generals of an army. In his “Colonial Clothes,” he looked the part, and he played the part. At night, Errol and Weldon would process film and hang it up to dry overnight. The following morning Gatti would inspect the pictures and make his comments. The two picture shooters were masters of their craft and they did produce a lot of great pictures, but Gatti made his critical remarks daily. At Kwale, color processing in the tropical heat required using all the ice cubes produced in the Shack’s refrigerator to cool the chemistry down to 68 degrees Fahrenheit. With the day-time air temperature up around 100 degrees, our water cans would get pretty warm during the day, so before processing the water had to be cooled. As an adjunct to the little refrigerator, a “Cubelator” was in the expedition inventory. However, it could only run with the 10 KW PE-95 generator supplying the electrical power, it was too much for the smaller Kohler plant, so Gatti forbid using it as an economy measure. The native crew consisted of twelve Africans, most of them from the coastal town of Tanga, Tanganyika. They were members of the Digo coastal tribe, and all spoke English as well as Swahili, although Gatti liked to chat with them in Swahili. There were four drivers, two cooks, two assistant cooks (totos—kitchen Swahili for children), and four houseboys. In addition, Gatti hired Moyo as his personal askari, or policeman. In our Kwale camp, the commander also recruited, through the local District Commissioner, 20 Digos for temporary camp labor. Here’s the list of natives I have been able to put together: Shaffi—Ellen’s personal boy Njumbe Ali Mohammed—Ellen’s cook—I’ll call him a “chef” for contrast Issa Idi Baruku—assistant cook Moyo Asmani Kombo—driver We had only been in Kwale for a few days when Mohammed, Ellen Gatti’s personal “chef” complained to the expedition leader that someone had stolen three one-pound notes worth (60 shillings equal to twelve dollars) from his clothing while he was asleep in his tent. Gatti had advanced that amount to the victim upon hiring him a few days earlier. Because the drivers were in Mombasa and the Digo laborers went home at night, the possible suspects boiled down to Mohammed’s tent mates and a few others—a total of six natives. Gatti and Moyo, the commander’s personal ascari, tried in vain to question everyone to find the thief. No one would talk. Gatti was perplexed. The Kenya Police were called into the camp, but they, too, were unable to ferret out the burglar. Try as they did, they were foiled. Then Mohammed offered an idea: because all the Digos were of the Mohammedan faith, he asked for a “trial by fire,” the native way of settling such a problem. A “mgango”, someone we might call a witch doctor, was summoned to the camp for the purpose of finding the thief. When he arrived to hold court, we broke out the camera equipment. “This is sort of thing we must document,” said Gatti, “I want it on Ektachrome for a story I intended to send to the Saturday Evening Post. I want it on movies for International Harvester or Schult Trailers, and I want it covered from beginning to end in both black and white and color Graphlex pictures.” The mgango, a wizened black of small stature and perhaps 60 years, set up his court in a open area next to our camp. All the suspects were there, along with Gatti and the photographers. Weldon and Errol had their 4 x 5 Graphlex cameras, and I set up a Bell and Howell 16mm Filmo camera on a tripod that I was not used to using. The mgango’s assistant, a young lad of perhaps 12 years, started a charcoal fire and by pumping on two primitive goat-skin bellows, fanned the blaze until it was a pile of red-hot coals. In the meantime, the mgango was working on what looked to me like a witch’s brew. He was mixing herbs with water in a calabash. It seemed to have ritual with it, but I was not sure. The suspects were all arranged in a line so they could witness the proceedings. Most were dressed in the International Harvester blue coveralls that Gatti had issued to each one. They eagerly watched the mgango’s preparation of what he called “dawa,” the magic potion that would protect all the innocent from the next big step in the court. The “toto” pumped away on the bellows fanned fire which now had a long slender chunk of iron somewhat like a tire iron inserted in the coals. The iron became red hot—it glowed ominously red when the clouds covered the sun as if on cue. Then the mgango called for the first suspect. The man walked slowly to the fireside and knelt down alongside the witch doctor. The mgango took the left hand of the suspect and rubbed it generously with a rag soaked with the dawa brew from the calabash. The toto plucked the red hot iron from the fire with a pair of tongs and handed it to the mgango. Weldon and Errol were snapping away with the Graphlex cameras. Each exposure was accompanied by a loud thump of the mirror flopping up and the focal plane curtain flying across the film plane. I was rolling the movie machine capturing the drama unfolding in front of us. The mgango grasped the wrist of the suspect’s left hand, now dripping with the dawa potion, and put it under his own left arm where he could clamp it tightly to his own body. Then the doctor took the tongs with the red iron and, while chanting some Digo verse, pressed the hot iron for about three seconds on the heel of the suspect’s left hand. Again he repeated the iron on the hand for three seconds, and still another press down on the same spot of skin. “The dawa will protect the innocent,” the wizened man said in Swahili. I couldn’t translate it, but I assumed it was what he was saying. The iron went back in the fire for the next suspect’s trial by fire. The toto kept up a musical rhythm on the goat skins, while the next suspect was called to the mgango’s side. All the photographers were interrupting the procedures; Gatti wanted pictures and we were getting them. I could see that the suspects were all somewhat dismayed by our interruptions to get close-ups of the iron hitting the hand and so on. The procedure was repeated again and again. Then one of the suspects came up for his trial. I could see he was visibly shaken. When he put his hand out for the fire treatment, he began to really quake. The mgango saw the jittery hand, too, so when the red hot iron was pressed on this suspect’s hand, the old man put on extra pressure and held it down for an extra beat or two. Smoke curled up from the flesh as the hot iron did its thing. When all the men had been tested, the mgango had them all extend their left hands for inspection. The man with the shakes, Shaffi, had a huge blister forming on the heel of his hand. The others had smaller blisters, but they all had blisters. The mgango pointed to Shaffi and said, “Where did you hide the money?” It was that simple;the man confessed, and the problem was solved. Gatti paid the mgango the whole sum of 10 shillings for his services. When Errol and Weldon finished processing the Ektachrome transparencies that evening, Gatti was right there to look as the results. Bob and I were busy with the ham radio system, by now we were a daily fixture on the ten meter phone band. Both of the photographers were pleased with the pictures as they came out of the developing solutions. Our photo lab was well designed, and with ice to cool down the solutions if they were too hot, and heaters to warm them up if too cool, it was a fairly easy task to develop both black and white and Ektachrome color pictures each night. But Gatti was unhappy with the pictures. “They don’t look African enough,” he said as held up each shot and examined it. “We’ve got to do it over again, and put better costumes on the natives. Blue coveralls with International Harvester logo sewed on them are not African at all.” So, without much fanfare, Gatti hired some local Digo natives to put on “Americani” fabric costumes and pose for the picture sequence all over again. The mgango, now dressed in a loin cloth, did his thing for the camera; however, he didn’t bear down on the actors flesh with the hot iron, he merely tapped it lightly. The extreme close-ups taken on the first go round could be substituted for the second group. Only we would know the difference. And so our first real exposure to African cultural lore was preserved on film and stills—with a little dramatic license instigated by Commander Gatti to help it look “more African”! Jim Powers was excited with the story of the “Trial By Fire!” He raved about it for a few days, and then he suddenly blew a fuse. He turned boiling mad, and the skinny newspaper man let everyone living in what he liked to call our “peasant’s camp” know it. The cause of his anger was Gatti’s failure to approve a story Jim was about to wire to his INS office in New York. “The SOB axed my trial-by-fire story,” Jim moaned to Errol and me. “When I first met Gatti back in New York, I thought he would scratch one of my stories now and then, but here in Africa, it happens damn near every time we do something interesting. I write a story; he tells me no, and then he latches on to the story for his goddam future book. How many times can I write a story about our cook baking a chicken in a hole in the ground. What’s the Swahili word for chicken?” “Coo-coo,” said Errol. “I get so damn mad at Gatti,” snapped Jim, “I can’t remember anything.” “Think of that little bird that comes out every hour on the coo-coo clock. That’s the way I remember it.” Errol lit a cigarette from the butt he was smoking. “And there’s about as much edible meat on the clock chicken as the African variety,” ranted Jim. He took a swig of brandy before he continued. “I wouldn’t doubt if my office calls me back home right in the middle of this so-called scientific expedition. I keep sending the office plain crap: ‘Two hundred ways to cook a goddam chicken by digging a hole in the ground!’ If we’d camp by the ocean, maybe I could do a story on ‘How to fillet a flounder using a machete,’ Or how to use a slit-trench when overtaken by dysentery.” I could see Jim’s problem, but I had no solution to offer. He and Errol were sitting across from me in the Higgins trailer and we were roasting, not toasting, Gatti and the expedition with a shot of choice South African brandy, the last bottle from the stock we’d picked up in Mombasa. Jim kept up the lament: “Well, I’m hoping we can get something good when we get to the so-called Mountains of the Moon. But I suppose Gatti will need all that stuff for his book: his goddam book!” “Here’s to the Mountains of the Moon, and something to write about,” I said as we three split the last of the brandy. He nodded his agreement. Gatti said he was going to send the story to the Saturday Evening Post for publication. He did that, and it was in the March 12, 1949 issue of the Post. It has great color pictures of the Digo actors dressed in colorful “African” clothes, not the plain business-like blue coveralls of the “real” people filmed in the first version. There is a very good closeup of the blistered hand of the culprit.


Copyright 2003,William D. Snyder
All Rights reserved
The Gatti crew, Bill Snyder, Jim Powers, unknown, Attilio Gatti, Bob Leo and Error Prince