Belize Saw Mill
by Carolyn Carr
In the 1800's logging was the main thrust of the economy. The only way to the interior was by boat and people spoke of the jungle in hushed tones. Banana Bank was an outpost of this forbidden land on the Belize River.
The colonial system was to award certain companies huge tracts of land with logging rights in exchange for support for the crown.
From February to June, the logs were cut and dragged to the company headquarters. They were sorted, branded and lashed together in large rafts, awaiting the rains that raised the river enabling them to float to the sea.
Such gathering sites for the logs were called barquadiers. As well as a barquadier, Banana Bank was a headquarters for the owners of the company, Belize Estates Corporation. It was a place to come and find a good meal, exchange news and get a good night's rest. Stories were embellished by those coming from the city and others coming from deep within the jungle where the logs were found. It was a place of refuge from the hardships of the jungle and of excitement for those thirsty for a taste of adventure. A newspaper article from the Clarion in 1910 designated Banana Bank as a place of great hospitality and intrigue.
The logging operation depended on the transfer of logs first of all from the bush to the river, which was usually accomplished by oxen. These same oxen when old or wounded were used to feed the workers. If there was no river then in certain parts of the country, small rail lines were built. One such rail line was built in the early 1930's going from Gallon Jug to Hill Bank, another outpost of the logging era.
A train station was built at Gallon Jug around 1910 and used until the 40's when heavy trucks replaced the small rail lines for transporting logs. Around 1945 the train station was broken down in panels and transported by truck to the New River, loaded onto a barge and carried down the river to the Caribbean Sea. The panels were loaded on a boat at Corozal and taken all the way to the mouth of the Belize River then up the river to Banana Bank. This is a distance of some 350 miles. It is only about 25 miles from Gallon Jug to Banana Bank as the crow flies. As improbable as it may seem, it actually happened.
By this time the purpose of the ranch had shifted from logging to cattle and a large herd was maintained. There was also a remuda of some 50 horses. Largely due to the flamboyant nature of the managers of the day, Banana Bank was known countrywide as a place to come for a jolly good time and anyone involved with horses spent time there. The train station headquarters was the main house. Painted green, it stood in low profile against huge rain and ceiba trees. It wrapped itself around some stories that can't really be told except in reverence because of their personal and delicate content. Other stories must be told. They are too good to keep.
A racetrack evolved and during the dry season, horses were brought across the river at a shallow point near Little Orange Walk. In the 50's and 60's horse races were held at Banana Bank on a regular basis and the ranch was famous countrywide for its horses and horsemen. A horse named Warrior Chief is still talked about today in racing circles. It might be mentioned here that the cattle foreman was a woman named Patricia, the pretty flaming red headed daughter of the Scotsman manager, John Shaw.
In 1973 when John Carr and his partner Bill Jaeger came to see Banana Bank they were enchanted immediately and bought it two weeks later. The place looked anything but prosperous. The country was struggling to escape the clutches of a tired and inattentive colonial system.
The economy was faltering. Fences were broken down. A work force of 30 men barely kept the pastures chopped with machetes and were paid $2 a day. The place, however, had a beauty that was captivating. The Belize River with a personality like a fickle lover wrapping its arms around the property affording it 20 miles of riverfront. It reached into the heart of John who was raised on a ranch in Montana.
John, his wife Carolyn (an accomplished artist whose work can be viewed here) and their two daughters lived in the "old green house" as they called it. In 1985, they built a new house and the old headquarters became a saddle and tack room. It burned down in 2007.
Horse racing had long since vanished at Banana Bank. The only income at this time was cattle. About the only remainder of the glory days was a huge black stallion and a few mares that came with the ranch along with 1500 heads of cattle. The stallion's name was Nigger. Thinking his name entirely inappropriate and offensive John tried to change it to Midnight. Nigger, however, was known throughout the country as an outstanding horse and it was impossible to change his name.
Since 1977 John has taken his horses and horsemanship to a whole new level. He states "I have learned more about horses these past few years than the first 60 years of my life." He is referring to horse whispering. John is a natural communicator with a horse. He uses this amazing technique along with his deep understanding to train each and every horse. The result is a horse who is gentle yet responsive and attentive to the riders ability and command. He has also strived to upgrade the herd. Crossing Quarter horse (descendants of Nigger) with Thoroughbred (some are even descendants of Aladar) to create horses that are gentle and sure-footed yet upbeat and enduring. With over 100 head we are sure we have the right horse for any level of experience.
Banana Bank Lodge has been developed and is a classic example of sustainable tourism for which Belize is famous. As a family run jungle lodge, unique in character and personality, the lodge is based on the principle that guests come to participate in a natural environment. Banana Bank is again the refuge for those escaping from the hardships of the corporate jungle to a place of excitement and adventure
CHECK out the new Banana Bank website