"African Safari" by Jerry Niemeier
Rick, Here is a photo of myself and OLDE BLUE. This photo was taken in Tigre province in the town of Dessie. A bunch of us were on our way back from a hunting trip when this photo was taken.
The date April 1971. OLDE BLUE was a converted military 3/4 ton truck. I used to drive it around base and Asmara, that is, once I learned how to double clutch it from first to second.
This particular photo was taken after our trip from the Danakil area, Awash river area, just north of Addis Ababa. Olde Blue had seen better days. I had spent all day helping steer OLDE BLUE, as it had broken down on the way to our destination. We had a Army Deuce and a half that was on loan for our R&R and we had been towing OLDE BLUE back to Kagnew. Everything had worked fine with our towing system until we met some hairpin turns through the mountain areas that caused the towing gear to break. So I got in OLDE BLUE and became the wheel man to get us and our vehicles through the terrain and back to base.
The trouble with the truck was that we had spun the main oil bearings on the way down to our camp. That was the last of doing any other repair work on OLDE BLUE for this trip. We had other breakdowns, and in the middle of Ethiopia, we had some remarkably talented individuals who could make something out of nothing. Our coil in OLDE BLUE went kaput. While some of us enjoyed the C rations that we had, people like Sgt Tom, Jack Bailes, and a few others got the truck going by improvising with the existing coil. No spare coil, just shear determination, got us back on the road.
It was while we were broke down here that I saw first hand how the little kids would come up to us looking for whatever we had to discard. I was disturbed by the fact that flies were all about their eyes and the kids did not seem to mind. There was no swatting to shoo the flies away, the type of thing we would do if even the fly was just walking on our arm, much less our face. This is one impression of many impressions that I have taken back with me and has not faded over time since.
I was the group photographer which allowed me to go without the need of a hunting license. I wanted to shoot things and capture the trophy on film. The one trophy (if you want to call it that) was a photo of a village girl carrying a bundle of sticks back to her village. I shot her as she walked across the field. Immediately after taking the photo, she dropped her sticks and ran away, crying, screaming. Omygosh, what did I do? My friends explained to me that I had captured her soul in my camera box. I had no idea. My "friends" then proceeded to tell me that I would be subject to the village chief's wrath, and described some of the unspeakables that the chief would do to me. I, for one, was relieved when Olde Blue sputtered back to life and we were rolling away from that spot on the road.
Later, we broke down again, this time due to the spinning of the main bearings. We had broken down at night, and we had set up camp in a field, close to the side of the road. Dawn came, and with light, we could see where we were. Still the middle of nowhere, but still an adventure not knowing what was ahead of us.
While our mechanically inclined people (I do not include myself in this group) were assessing the situation, a few decided to go around and check out the area. Myself and others stayed at camp cleaning up from breakfast. It wasn't long, when we heard a gun shot. We think that one of guys had found some game and took a shot at it. After all, this was a hunting party. To our amazement, part of the group came back and told us that _____ had shot a lamb. Why did he do that? Well, he was using the scope on his rifle to survey the area with his finger on the trigger when the shot went off. We were all fortunate that the shot hit a lamb and not one of the shepherds in the valley. It was the lucky day for the owner of the lamb -- several years of income was paid to redeem that shot fired.
While stuck, we had another group take the Deuce and half further down the road to see if we could get parts, but they found a police station that offered to fix our truck while we were hunting.
So we set up the towing rig, broke camp, and continued towards our destination.
We get to the police garage, they tell us that they can order the parts from Addis and that they would be happy to fix the truck for us. We tell them that we appreciate it, but we also ask that they just remove the bad parts and install the new parts. This was not a permanent fix as we knew (not I, but the others) that the engine would have to be rebuilt. We unpack everything from the OLDE BLUE onto the Deuce and half and a 1/4 ton trailer. We continue on our way and finally arrive at our destination. The events of our actual hunting I will leave for another time.
We are in the Awash River, or so it was called, it was the dry season and no water was running in it. Some water holes were squatterred about and it was along the bank that we made camp and spent the next 6 days on our African safari.
Our first order of business on the way back was to visit the police station and retrieve what we thought would be a repaired OLDE BLUE. The mechanics wanted to be nice and wanted to do us a favor. They took it upon themselves to start the rebuilding job of the engine, even though our instructions were just to patch it up. They did not have enough time to complete the task. There was OLDE BLUE in the garage, hood open, and no engine. Our only logical choice was to put the engine block plus all the parts back in OLDE BLUE's bed, unpack some of the items from the Deuce and half onto BLUE and set up the towing hitch for the ride back to Asmara. This towing only went so far until we hit some of sharpest hairpins on the planet and as described earlier, I became the wheelman of BLUE. I became part of the road as the dust spewed up through the holes in the floorboard left from the unfinished rebuilding job.
I was just 21 when we started this hunting trip. I had just a few more months to remain in Asmara and Kagnew Station. This was my adventure of actually going into an area where people had not been as caught up by Western civilization. Despite all the breakdowns with the truck, I treasured the experience of the journey.
I remember the little villages along side of the road, the hill, or off in the distance. I was living my geography book and the National Geographic up close and personal. We saw the women doing their laundry by the side of the stream, the market places teaming with commerce, the camel drivers and the camels along with assorted herds of sheep and cattle. We drove the narrow and dusty roads that snaked up the and down the mountains. The road to Pikes Peak looks like a super highway compared to what we were driving on. What an adventure.
On the way back, we stopped at Dessie. This is the location of my photo next to OLDE BLUE. We had two purposes of stopping -- one was to eat, and the other was to pick up an MG midget that we had to park when the rocks on the road were taller than the clearance of the car. This car was owned by Randy who was a DAC (Dept of the Army Civilian). The DAC was there to operate some of the communication gear that did the space capsule tracking.
The next day as we left Dessie, having done the dirty duty of steering OLDE BLUE, I got the luxury of riding in the MG. We were slightly ahead of the caravan of the Deuce and half, OLDE BLUE in tow and a 1/4ton trailer in tow. I asked Randy to stop on a curve. I wanted to get a shot of this train that was going around the bend. All of a sudden, an Ethiopian solder came out of nowhere and started shouting NO FOTO! NO FOTO! I am 21. I am at the age of immortality. What could happen? I took the photo of the vehicles as planned. That caused a small patrol of troops (Ethiopian) to stop our convoy and talk to Sgt Tom. I take another photo of this event through the driver's window of the MG. We are detained for a while, and I shudder to think what could have happened to a crazy American taking pictures when told not to. Worse case -- shot on the side of the road; next worse would be to have the camera and film confiscated; and the best case, we would be detained and then allowed continue. The best case came to be. To this day I have no idea what I might have caught in a photo that would get the attention of the Ethiopian Army.
We were trying to make up time and we were driving at night. We got pretty far, until an Ethiopian policeman or soldier stopped our group. Shifta (bandits) activity ahead -- stop they say. We did as they said and I had been sleeping and continued where I was until day break. We got back to Kagnew later that day. The story of the journey is over.
But a number of stories that happened to me or happened during my tour of duty remain untold.
Does anyone remember the story out of Palo Alto paper that indicated that we were eating Porterhouse and Kansas City steaks on a regular basis in the mess hall, that we affectionately called MOM's?
Oh, yes G Big Blue is a screenname for another Blue truck, 1979 Ford F-150, supercab, that I had for 14 years.
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© Copyright Gerald L. Niemeier 1997
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