San Diego Natural History Museum--Your Nature ConnectionHistory of the Museum

Trip to Trinidad Whaling Station, July-August 1926

Correspondence

The following letters represent correspondence between Huey and museum director Clinton Abbott around the time of the expedition. Editor's notes are in brackets, and "..." and question marks indicate illegible characters.

Pasadena
July 14th, 1926
Dear Mr. Abbott,
Just a line to say that we are off this morning for Trinidad Humboldt Co. California. A whaling in a Fl….! Saw Joe on my way up and a more (…) fellow I never saw before – I almost ran over his (...), he was going so slow! Dickey is away on a short vacation but I found Van R… on the job and had a wonderful day yesterday going over the Central American stuff. Among other things I saw some R… Egrets from Texas and they are decidedly different from our Baja Calif. Stuff. Van is wise to the fact however and is going to name the (…) Hueyii..I wonder how Griffing will take it.

[nothing relevant beyond here]
as ever, LMH

Trinidad
July 19th, 1926
Dear Mr. Abbott,
Just a line to let you know all’s well – we had a whale day today – and were so saturated with the odor of dead, dead whales that even new potatoes fried in butter were so whaley that they were hard to eat and delicious fresh salmon smelled and tasted more like whale than fish and was passed up.

After getting used to the smell the process of tearing up whales is very interesting – today three men armed with huge knives cut up a 52 ton whale in about two hours. The blubber and meat are torn off in huge strips with powerful winches and even the vertebrae is torn apart with these machines, in fact it was hard to get pictures in the shadow light. They kept the poor beast moving about so much.

I’ve been getting a fine lot of specimens – almost all of which are new to our collections – shrews are common and am getting three kinds – there are two species of moles – a gopher – a jumping mouse – two species of meadow mice – mountain B… In fact so much good stuff that I don’t know how I can find time enough to get all I want to get.

Mr. Howell is the same old congenial “pal” and is very busy, this evening paper proofing his latest contribution “Anatomy of the Wood Rat”. I read snatches of it and think it very well done. He tells me that there is a possibility of an opportunity for me to go to South Georgia Isl. In the antarctic to study the Elephant seals there – this trip would be under the SDNHS auspices and have all the transportation and expenses paid by some other (unknown to me) party. It all sounds too good to be true but strange things sometimes happen and besides we are looking for some such good angel.

The old Ilex shutter is on the strike again so I am wanting the little compound with the Tessar lens sent up. It’s on my desk and in my cupboard in my room you will find a new lens board for my 5x7. Please include it also. This lensboard is painted black on one side and mahogany color on the other.

In my last minute rush to get away I neglected to get in the labels Mrs. Whitley strung for me so please have them included - I think they are on top of the mammal cases in a cigar box – send by registered mail and packed carefully.
As ever, LMH

Trinidad
July 19th, 1926
[Recipient Unknown]
Since sending you the card from Ukiah, Mendocino County, we have been traveling through big timber and I’ve almost cramped my neck trying to see the tops of the forest giants as we passed by. I never realized just how impressive these redwoods were, standing over 300 feet high – higher than the Spreckels Building – with a base of 14 to 20 feet – as wide as your office. It’s hard to comprehend such gigantic size, but here they stand, where they have been growing for hundreds of years, with ferns higher than one’s head all underneath, and cool streams that tempt one to go fishing – but I’ve had too many interesting “Rats” to string up the fly rod. Almost every day I get some new species for our collections. You will have a lot of new Latin names to memorize. No, I don’t mean new animals to name – Dr. Grinnell has seen to that!

This day has been a regular whirlwind – for the traps held a bounteous catch of 18 specimens. To cap it off, the whalers got a whale and we spent all morning watching them tear the poor beast up.

It was a finback – 52 feet long and weighted 52 tons, acccording to their estimates of 1 ton per foot of length. We were not on the job early enough to see them haul it up out of the water into the cutting shed, but did see them cutting off the last sheet of blubber. Three men with huge knives fastened on the ends of six foot handles can cut up a whale in about 2 hours, with the aid of powerful steam winches. They start a strip of blubber or skin near the head and rip it off to the tail. Four slices like this and the blubber is off. Then it is out into chunks about four feet long and run into a “slicer”, which chops it up fine. The blubber is then carried on an endless belt to the oil vats, where it is rendered. This oil is made into soap and oleomargarine (butter substitute – “Nucoa”). After the blubber is stripped they start on the meat, again ripping it off from head to tail. This comes off in three pieces and is taken to the meat caldrons, where it is cut into fine big 50-pound pot roasts. After the caldrons are loaded heat is turned on and the meat dried. It is then ground up, sacked and sold for chicken feed. There is now nothing left but the head and entrails and skeleton. These are hacked to pieces and put in vats and reduced to fertilizer.

I do not need to mention the fact that this whaling station is “on the air” for miles; in fact, we were so permeated with “whale” that fried pototates tasted “whaley” this evening and a delicious mess of fresh salmon steaks tasted too much like whale to be eaten – so suppose I’m spoiled for salmon from now on. I do hope that I do not have to “study whale” before going out on the “hunting boat” for the ocean is very rough here and I may lose my “seaworthiness”.

I have to play cook and prepare our one meal per day, now, as Mr. Howell cooked noodles yesterday and garnished them with onions and raisins – which proved to be too many plums for my pudding.

Laurence M. Huey

San Diego
July 24, 1926
Dear Huey:
I was very glad to get your interesting letter of July 19, telling of your day in the whale factory and of the fine lot of specimens you are scouring. Yesterday we sent you the various things you asked for – compound shutter with Tessar lens, lensboard and strung labels. [rest is irrelevant].
Sincerely yours, Clinton G. Abbott, Director.

Trinidad
July 29, 1926
Dear Mr. Abbott,
Just a card to say all’s well. Have been whaling a week and had a good many thrills seeing the whales shot with bombs. Wish I had a short focus Graflex very much. I lost my (…) when riding in the Crow’s Nest – just after a hearty lunch. While I’m at sea getting data here, H. puts up the skins from my traps. Have several real sure things including Phenacomys albipes – so far only 9 known in the world. L.M.H.

[Somewhere in California]
August 8, 1926
Dear Mr. Abbott –
Your good letter of July 24th was received some long time ago but have been so busy that finding time to answer it was difficult.

On August 4th I sent by collect express a small box of sparrows and trust you have received them by this time.

Since writing you from Trinidad, I again was whaling on the rough, rough ocean but had no luck. I did my share of work on board the ship for the passage taking my trick (?) at the wheel – and my turn as lookout in the crow’s nest, so my several days as a whaler gave me a real idea of the work done by the men before the masts. Indeed, not the easy time the boys have on the government boats.

I think we will now be able to answer the “phone calls from La Jolla regarding whales.”

On our way out of Humboldt Co. we stopped overnight at Mr. Wilder’s – I had met him and camped on his place in 1915 but had forgotten what a really fine people both Mr. and Mrs. were. Mrs. W. was formerly Mrs. Thurber of Thurber Junco (?) farm and has as much use for Anthony (?) as the rest of us have for rattlesnakes.
I received a nice bunch of stuff during my spare time [several irrelevant paragraphs here….]

I got a nice series of true Western Gulls at the whaling station and have left them at Wilders until they are dry at which time he will pack and ship them on – they certainly are different from both our local bird and those of Scammon’s Lagoon so I now have a nice well represented bunch to work with.

[rest is irrelevant, travel plans etc.]

As ever, Laurence M. Huey