15,500 Miles Across African Desert with Motor Lorries
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Almost Insuperable Obstacles Overcome by International Six-speed Specials During the Glover Expedition from Senegal to Somaliland
By T. A. Glover
Leader of the Expedition
THE attraction of the SenegalSomaliland journey of the qlover Expedition across _Africa was that it had been attempted, but had never been accomplished by a motor vehicle. The various Governments concerned warned us beforehand of the difficulties that it entailed, especially with machines not equipped with tracks. Road reports were difficult to obtain (that is, where roads existed), but, having motored extensively in Africa, we accepted the African motorist's motto, "chance it."
We arrived at Dakar (French West Africa), and found our three International Six-speed Specials in their crates awaiting us. Assembling them gave us considerable interest, particularly as we were working with so-called black mechanics, whose idea of a spanner ia a hammer and chisel. The bodies had been made by the Lambeth Motor Body Works, Ltd., 44, Langham Street, London, S.W.9, and were detachable, to enable us to use them as bridges and pontoons.
We made our first oainp at Cape 'Verde, the most westerly point of Africa, where we unpacked our kit and made ready for the road. We bad ahead of us two 1-ton dumps of food, one at Kano, Nigeria, and the other at Nairobi, East Africa.
Petrol, we knew, was going to be one of our main problems. The Shell concern placed at our disposal its efficient staff, which enabled us to know where
spirit 'could be obtained. 'We left Verde with 400 gallons of petrol contained in 12-gallon and 40-gallon tanks, and each vehicle was carrying 2 tons of kit.
The road to St. Louis was excellent, and, with the exception of a fire in No. 1 vehicle, we had no difficulty. From St. Louis to Burnam, we passed car after car bogged in the soft sand, whilst burnt-out machines were to be met with every 100 miles or so. This type of sand we were able to negotiate in second low auxiliary gear.
Pushing on to Timbuctoo, we encountered our first moadless stretch, there being not even a bush track. Years earlier trees had been marked with red paint to give some idea of direction, but most of them had died, fallen or been removed by natives to make firewood. The way led over sand dunes, windswept and often with a 2-ft. carpet of powder. Sometimes we were able to find a way around them, but on most occasions a dune would stretch across the country, cutting it in halves.
To negotiate these dunes was a long, laborious task. No. 1 vehicle would rush at the dune with all possible speed, reverse along its own tracks and repeat the operation, perhaps gaining each time a vehicle length, which we considered to be excellent. Once, I repeated this procedure 19 times before achieving my object. Through the tightly packed sand, the other two lorries, by following in the tracks, had an easier passage. Water was difficult to obtain, but, fortunately, the lorries did not boil, but, even so, over this stretch of 63 miles, we used 226 gallons of water for ourselves, boys and vehicles. The Trans-Saharan vehicles are supposed to complete this journey, but it is not so. For this stretch, if I remember rightly, we took 16 days.
Reaching Gao, we struck the rains, the dread of the African motorist. Over sandy stretches, the rain helped us, but the mud became a morass, chains became useless, and all that it was possible to do was to run the engines at their maximum speed, letting in the clutch sharply in the hope of jerking ourselves out. It was a severe strain on the transmission, but we were obliged to abuse the vehicles in this way.
At Sokoto, we used the bodies of the lorries for the first time to take us across flak of swam) water. Obtaining three native dugouts, we lashed them together with ropes and chains, and made a platform of the lorries' sides. Working with unekilled labour, it was a dangerous business, for the natives have no sense of balance and weights. Four days we spent in shipping the motors across the water, and the natives were so excited with our success that they accidentally pushed one vehicle off the pontoon before it was nuale fast, and it was completely submerged.
From Sokoto to Kano the track is bad, and from Kano to Fort Lamy it was necessary to build five bridges across the swollen rivers. From Fort Lamy to Nairobi is a reasonable road ; in places it is definitely good, especially in the Belgian Congo, where the highways are wide and well surfaced. Through East Africa the roads are passable, rocky in places and extremely hard on tyres. In Italian Somaliland, the roads are, I think, the best in Africa, and every 100 miles the Italians have erected petrol pumps for strategical purposes, and it is possible for the motorist to obtain supplies.
We were now nearing the end of our journey. For four days we drove through a desert sand storm, and although we wore goggles, the sand got into our eyes, cut our faces and rattled on the lorries like pellets from a scatter gun. The storm made eating difficult and the direction extremely hard to find.
When we reached Ras Hafun, the most easterly point of Africa, the lorries were in excellent condition. By this time we had become optimists as to our ability to travel anywhere, so, in a foolish moment, someone proposed motoring to Cairo. This was a journey reported as being impossible, but, retracing our freaks for a few hundred miles, we crossed into British Somaliland, where the roads were bad.
At Berbera, the Government authorities told us that it was impossible to proceed with our heavily laden vehicles, and the road that bad existed into French Somaliland had not been used for eight years.
I can now endorse everything that they said about the road, because it was terrible, as was all our journey along the Red Sea coast. The heat was unbearable, it was impossible to stand for any length of time in the sand, and it was under these conditions that we had to carry out our first repairs—to two roller races.
Through French Somaliland we built our own roads, tearing the running boards from the lorries in passing between massive boulders, until, at long last, we reached Port Said. Along the Red Sea coast the vehicles occupied 24 minutes in covering their own length, and, although this may appear to be an exaggeration, it is true. The approximate mileage covered per Machine was 15,500. Sometimes the fuel consumption was a gallon per mile, but the average over this distance was a gallon per 11 miles, which we ,all considered to be an excellent result.
[International vehicles are handled in this country by the International Harvester Co., of Grea€ Britain, Ltd., 259, City Road, London, E.C.1. —ED.]