by Spencer Howard
Rodney Dutcher was one of 27 journalists who accompanied President-Elect Herbert Hoover on his “Good Will Tour” of Latin America in November and December 1928. Dutcher was a bureau manager and political columnist for the Newspaper Enterprise Association, one of the big news syndicates that served 850 U.S. newspapers. As published for a much smaller audience in the newsletter of the USS Utah, this is his account of being left behind when he and two colleagues missed the boat in Chile.
The Big U — Evening Bulletin, Jan. 3, 1929
Over the Chilean Andes and over the clouds, three American correspondents flew to rejoin the Hoover party at Santiago. One of them, at least, was nervous and miserable.
Edward Price Bell, of the Chicago Daily News, William Philip Simms, of the Scripps-Howard newspapers, and your correspondent were marooned at Antofagasta when the battleship Maryland sailed before we reached the dock to board her again. Subsequent successful attempts to catch up with the party, aided by two governments, took us by automobile, train, track car, on foot and by airplane.
David Kaufman, American minister to Bolivia, adopted us in Antofagasta, wiring the American ambassador and others in Santiago on our behalf. In Santiago our plight became a matter of kind concern even for President-elect Hoover and President Ibanez, of Chile. Ibanez ordered a special train for us, on which we were to leave next morning until it appeared that by driving 130 miles to Baquedona, we could catch a fast sleeper which would get us to Santiago only 18 hours after Mr. Hoover’s departure.
Sunday morning Kaufman drove us through the mountains to Baquedona. We boarded the train just after noon, with his felicitation, his shirts, collars, toothpaste and pajamas, a few thousand pesos, which he insisted on lending us, and a huge basket of food and wine – provided by Kaufman!
We rode comfortably that afternoon through vast, rolling stretches of mountain and nitrate fields, with never a tree, bush or patch of grass. Now and then near some tiny nondescript settlement we saw an appallingly dismal little cemetery, with brief, wavering rows of crude wooden crosses. We would look at these, then at each other – and shiver.
They woke us early Monday morning and explained, through the only other English-speaking passenger, that we were to take a rail-riding Dodge touring car to Copiapo, four hours away, where planes would meet us. So we went off in the track car, through bigger and better mountains, with all other traffic stopped, where necessary, to give us right of way. Senator Ruiz, the Intendente of Atacam Province, met us at Copiapo and took us to lunch with the waiting aviators. More track car riding and a two-mile walk brought us to the improvised landing field.
Captain Hererra, leader of the relief expedition, picked Bell and Simms as the two thinnest and flew them away in his snappy little Curtis Falcon in the biggest cloud of dust ever raised in that section of Chile. They reached Santiago less than four hours later, having nearly frozen 12,000 feet up, as all overcoats had been left on the Maryland.
The other plane was a British Ballin of uncertain age. Your correspondent had never before been in the air, and when he did get up there was too much wind, too much noise, and too much altitude for comfort.
Five minutes, and something happened to the plane. The pilot and mechanic were making excited signs. The plane began to bank, and your green correspondent thought it was getting out of control. Oil began to spatter. Your correspondent yearned in vain for a parachute and more life insurance; he was just about as miserable as could be… But the pilot was only making a forced landing and managed to get back to the spot he had left, though the plane was definitely on the blink.
Back in Copiapo, a town of 8,000, your correspondent found a single American. Both of us, it developed had once worked on the same newspaper in Worcester, Mass., though he was now a mining engineer. We adjourned to the Copiapo Social Club, where I was interviewed by the local editor, and late that night came a telegram saying the Chilean government was sending a new plane.
The Hoover train was leaving Santiago at eight, Tuesday night, and we took off, Captain Saenz, his pilot and myself, soon after one. For the next six hours I saw little but sky, fog, clouds, and bleak, barren, Andean mountains, painfully conscious that a forced landing couldn’t be made on a mountain peak without fatal results. Fog and poor flying weather once forced Captain Saenz far off his course to the sea. Again we had to land in a rough field to ask our way.
It appeared to your correspondent, at least, that we were still lost as late as six-thirty, and once more I began to worry about catching up. Misery smote your correspondent again, although he had diverted himself by reading through a Tauchnitz edition of P. G. Woodhouse’s “Love Among the Chickens.” As scenery, those Andes are majestic buy monotonous. Emotionally speaking, however, frequent bumps into air pockets were not monotonous at all.
Finally, at about seven p.m., the mechanic shouted “Santiago!” in my ear, and pointed eagerly. I looked over the side, and it was true. Never was any obvious truth quite so beautiful. In a few more minutes we had landed at the aviation school, and Major Aracena, the director, was driving me into the city to rejoin the Hoover party, with a bare half hour to spare.
Just about enough time for Simms, Bell and I to huddle together for three loud cheers for the hospitable government of Chile!