River boat (or Tunnel Boat) arriving in San Ignacio, towing two pitpan, 1910's or so... Left bank is Santa Elena.
IN THE BEGINNING, the Western part of the country of Belize, known as the " WESTERN DISTRICT" could only depend on the river for transport (no Road services nor Air service existed).
SO, the Mengel Lumber Company, stationed behind Benque Viejo Town, introduced the first River Boat (called Tunnel Boats) in 1904.
This boat was baptized as the "CLARENCE MENGEL" followed by their second Boat named "THE CRUIZER".
In the beginning, these boats towed large PITPANS, which were loaded with cargo. But eventually, they built large barges that could carry more load. During those busy eras, up to 26 boats served the route, BELIZE CITY to SAN IGNACIO and back.
In the picture above, there you see one of those boats arriving in San Ignacio, towing two pitpan (Pitpans were long doreys but with flat bottom and wider than a dorey.).
These Boats were called TUNNEL BOATS, because their propeller was placed in a hollow place, underneath the bottom of the Boat, to minimize contact with stones or any other object..
These Boats had powerful engines. And they carried a WENCH at the front Bow, which was reffered as WHARP LINE.
Let us deal with the River first. - - From Belize City there were about 150 Shallow areas ( referred as SHALLOWS. )
Ever so often, in the DRY SEASON, these shallows were blasted in the center, with heavy dynamites to form a deep CHANNEL for the boats with their barges to pass through. - In the rainy season, the river always had a convenient depth.
BUT beside the above, there were shallows like at Big Falls, at Duck Run, Back Landing, and other places, which were pretty steep, - SO the WENCH would be used, by tying the Cable to a tree above and the men would wench the boat up the current.
On the way down, it was all smooth streaming down back to Belize City.
IT WAS A PLEASURES, ESPECIALLY AT THE RIVER BANKS, TO HEAR the different Horns of the Boats and when they passed bye.
The economics of it was, that these boats brought up Merchandize and Passengers -and took down Passengers, Cargo and agricultural products for Belize City. ( The sailors did business, by buying Fouls eggs, Fruits to resell them at the Market in Belize City.
IT WAS A PROSPEROUS TRADING ROUTE.
Photograph courtesy Hector Silva
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