Friday, April 24, 2015

Wood Collector Dedication, Circa 1949

The following letter was printed in Volume 2, Number 8, September 1949. It shows to what great lengths and hardships collectors would go in those days, once they had been bitten with the wood-collecting bug. This experience is simply hard to imagine in today's context.

Excerpts From A Letter From John H. Ter Laak, #77

"At last I get a chance to write you a letter. I left Holland on October 17th and arrived in Suriname on November 29th. It was a long and varied journey. Never in my life did I have such a beautiful time. The news that I must start on the 17th came so quickly that I had no time to write all of my friends.

Before the 9th of December I had to prepare an expedition to the jungle to inspect the prospect of timbering. It was a great change for me to do this. Never did I think that this type of work would be mine but everything turned out O.K.

The jungle, the large rivers, and the bush negroes (here we call them Djaekas) made a great impression on me. I was away three weeks and came back for the Xmas holiday. The 4th of January I started again and returned on the 3rd of February.

After that I went to and from for a month and on March 8th started another trip from which I returned three days ago.

I can't tell you much in this letter. It's impossible to write in one simple letter all the impressions I got. The only thing I can tell you now is that these are hard and troublesome times for me. The jungles of the tropics are crawly. Sickness and accidents are common. The first time I went up I went without any gun, medicines or maps. The day before I left I bought clothes and compass. In truth I can tell you it was criminal to send me into the jungle.

I was the only white man and to help me understand the strange language I found a negro interpreter. So as I told you everything was O.K. I was successful and love my work. I loved the great forest with the thousands and thousands of trees. I made up my mind to stay here. Is this what I looked forward to, where I had spent the best years of my life in order to obtain a good living for my wife and children? I don't know. I can tell you this only after a few years. The only thing I can tell you is this - that the struggle for life is very very hard here. If I find a good job here then I must pay with a shorter life.

I am studying the native tongue. I am talking well and understand their speech very well. Their language is a mixture of English, Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch. Very few white people understand them but if you go it alone in the jungle you must be able to talk and understand."

Wow...what a beginning of a story. So much mystery...what exactly is his work, and who pays him to do it? Does he stay there for the rest of his life? If so, does his wife stay with him? And what happens to him? I hope we hear more of Mr. Ter Laak in later issues.

Friday, April 3, 2015

What Price Hobby

The July, 1949, issue of the newsletter of the Wood Collectors Society was led off by a nice tribute to the hobby by Mr. Harold Nogle, one of the co-founders of the Society and the host of the organizational meeting at Big Cow Creek, Texas, in 1947. Here in its entirety, with a postscript by another member in the same train of thought, is that article.

By Harold Nogle.

Like all hobbies wood collecting is entertainment, diversion, education. It is time-consuming and can be somewhat costly at times. Hobbyists and dyed-in-the-wool workers will leave no stone unturned to help out a fellow enthusiast as can be illustrated by this experience -- I sent a woman in Washington State a few old buttons and to show her appreciation she and her husband rowed for miles across the sound to some Indian island where they secured a section of a rare tree just for me. It took them most of a week-end and I will never know what it cost them.

Making 1/2 x 3 x 6" wood specimens out of small shrubs and vines to trade or dispose of to some other wood collector who does not have them and cannot get them in his locality is an achievement which pays well in satisfaction of accomplishment. In the process of making some of these specimens from Alabama supplejack I decided to keep track of the time to see what the finished pieces were really worth. This vine when drying twists and warps very badly and as a result to build up standard specimens it is necessary to prepare a large number of small, 1/4 x 1/4" to 1/2 x 1/2" strips 6" long and glue these together carefully matching the grains to prevent the joiner from tearing some of them too badly to use. To produce 8 such specimens required 4 1/2 hours of shop work. I can keep busy all the time I have in the shop on repairs to toys, furniture, etc. and average $2.50 per hour. This would make the supplejack specimens worth, for time only, $1.40 each but they are traded with much joy for other woods, or sold for .25 cents to .50 cents each.

I am not alone in this. All the collectors I know do the same thing plus the week-end trips through rain, bogs, mire, and water, car trips, food bills, gas, oil, and hours and hours of time. Sweat pouring from every pore, hands freezing numb and the long hauls through the woods to the car is part of the life of a wood collector and all for the joy of securing a new one to take home, cut up, season, finish, and mail out to some collector or admirer. At least a years time must enter into the picture before they can be distributed.

As to the price of wood specimens, finished or in the rough, the sky is the limit and no collector knows or could accurately estimate their true worth. The price can only be measured in self-satisfaction in the accomplishment of the seemingly impossible. It is unlike other hobbies and the hidden value to the wood collector is in the knowledge gained regarding Nature and Nature's mystery of life of growing things in the plant world.


Another member cuts in here anonymously to add a few lines to fill the page with some information and advice.

In his rather long experience as a collector he made the discovery years ago that there can be no finer or fairer type of man than a wood hobbyist. He is honest to the last degree and he will go out of his way any time to play ball with any other kindred spirit. His very best friends here and in other lands, some of whom he has never met, have been formed through the exchange of letters and specimens.

Take advantage of the rare opportunities your membership in the W.C.S. affords by contacting every one you possibly can. We can never know what a wonderful chap YOU ARE unless you do.

Well, there is some wise advice that holds up as well in 2015 as it did in 1949. - cdr