History of the Atlantic Cable & Undersea Communications
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John S. Whaley - All America Cables
Santa Elena Station, Ecuador

Introduction: John Sedgwick Whaley worked for All America Cables for many years at different stations. In 1924 he was manager of the cable station at Santa Elena, Ecuador, and the All America Review, the house magazine of the company, featured the station in its June issue of that year. Here are the highlights of that issue, which give a good picture of life on a remote station.

—Bill Burns

J.S. Whaley
Manager, Santa Elena

My career with the Company has been short, though full of variety. Previous to 1916, I had been for about thirteen years principally connected with wireless telegraphy, under Lloyds, and later with the Peruvian government.

Cover of the June 1924 issue of the All America Review, showing Santa Elena Point

I joined the Central and South American Telegraph Co. as operator, and was attached to the Cable ship “Guardian” as “Wireless and Assist” for about two years, being favored by an excellent opportunity of gaining valuable experience of the electrical side of our business in connection with cable testing and repairing, and the technical working of our up-to-date stations. Mr. [Nelson] Perryman, and later Mr. Hecksher, gave up much of their time, when we were on the “road” to different repair “grounds,” in explaining to me the many intricacies of cable work, and as I have often repeated, “One year on a cable ship is worth ten years in a cable office to one who is at all interested in the technical side of submarine telegraphy.”

I worked in Barranco office under Manager Denegri, and later under Manager Crowther, until in February, 1920, when I was promoted to station electrician at that station. In this position I had further opportunity of gaining valuable experience on many matters regarding which I benefited by Mr. Crowther’s knowledge.

Whilst I was station electrician at Barranco, I was detached to Iquique for a few weeks as assistant to Manager Burns, who had been left without a station electrician, and later to Valparaiso, to help out with the installation of a new AL room there. When at Iquique, I had the pleasure of renewing a former acquaintance with Manager Burns, both of us having had the same fellow for our best “chum” when at the training school in London. When Mr. Crowther left on furlough in November, 1921, I was made Acting Manager at Barranco until the arrival, in December, of Manager Stevens, who was to become Manager of the new Lima office when transferred from Barranco. I was then appointed Manager at Santa Elena, relieving Manager Lassen, who had to leave for Panama to undergo an operation.

J.S. Whaley in his office at Santa Elena

I am now about to leave on a five months’ furlough and to see the old folks at home, after eleven years’ absence. I shall look forward to the Review each month, and to learning of the doings of my many associates.

I have met many South American friends, especially in Peru and Ecuador. Amongst other notabilities, it has been my privilege, with the SL staff, to entertain Dr. Tamayo, President of Ecuador, whilst on a visit to Salinas; also to meet General Oscar Benavides, ex-president of Peru, whilst on a visit here, and who, incidentally, was in office as President of Peru when I was working for the government of that country.

Salinas is a favorite summer resort of many well known and influential people, and the spirit of friendship which exists between us “gringos” and these Latin American people is significant of the sincerity of the hospitality extended to us in these countries, which we endeavor to serve, on behalf of the Company. We should not forget that, whilst we are daily bringing the peoples of the American Republics into closer relation and understanding with one another, and with the rest of the world, we are, at the same time, indebted to them for their hospitality, and it should be our effort to work together towards mutual progress.


All America Cable Station, Santa Elena

Santa Elena Staff
Closeup of J.S. Whaley

SL Social Notes

R.N. Johnston, Station Electrician, Santa Elena

It is not generally known that we are fortunate enough to possess several excellent musicians and singers at this station. Johnston is the possessor of a beautiful banjo, which, however, gracefully reposes in his wardrobe. and it has been rumored that it is an heirloom from one of his darker ancestors, owing to which it is jealously guarded. Stevenson sports a very old and mellow toned Hawaiian guitar. He is a very slick fingered gentleman and possesses a fine sense of touch—especially if cigarettes are exposed to view—or even a plate of tomato soup. The Hawaiian guitar is famed for its plaintive music, but Stevenson plays with such perfection that his really “plaintive” melodies should be heard in Hawaii. With a little more practice he ought to be able to earn enough to buy himself a few new shirts.

Petersen, when in the right mood, sits at the pianola, runs the records very slowly and thrills us with his melodious voice—error, should have been queried.

His favorite piece is “Hello, Prosperity,” which, owing to his wonderful capacity for intonation, sounds to the bystanders like “Hell and Prosperity.” When Petersen is not engaged singing, we and our cigarettes generally part company, hence the “prosperity.” The “H---” is our exclamation.

J.T. Smith makes a “bull”

One of our staff has procured a “new” car from Guayaquil, a car such as the makers place in a glass show case and label “our first effort.” It is really a beautiful specimen and possesses nearly all the necessary parts that a famous car should have, with the exception of a few odds and ends, such as tools, batteries, lights, etc. The engine is so powerful that the owner, upon arriving at his destination. finds considerable difficulty in persuading his steed to halt. However, after cutting off the gas, applying the brakes, and grounding one of the ignition wires on the frame, the deed is generally accomplished, though, at times, it is necessary to throw the engine into reverse, and one man claims he was obliged to get out and run ahead pulling a string—he may have been pulling someone’s leg. Shifting the gears is a herculean task which brings back to our memories the old concrete mixer, during the erection of the new quarters.

The following represents the start of a journey. Owner enters car, slams the door shut, and shouts, with a wave of the hand, “GOOD-BYE, ALL,” presses clutch pedal, but discovers he has forgotten to crank engine, swears, alights, takes hold of crank—half turn and five quick full turns—no result—finds he omitted to join ignition wire to wind shield.

A trip was made to San Vicente last week. The occupants made part of the journey on foot—just for exercise they said. The car returned the following day, and we are told that there are the footprints of three men mingled with wheel tracks for about a mile and a half.

Nankervis has taken to golf, at least he wears the stockings, and he claims they are pure wool, been washed twenty-five times and impossible to wear out. We have our doubts—about the washing.


Instrument Room, Santa Elena

We Go to San Vincente

Six of us, Mr. Whaley, Mr. Johnston, Glencross, Bratsen, Nankervis, and Stevenson, made arrangements for a trip to the Hot Sulphur Springs one Sunday. Accordingly, we negotiated with Eleodora for the hire of her 60 H.P. (50 of which have gone west!) Oldsmobile, and Señor Marengo for divers provisions. The grub-basket was packed and everything was ready to start at nine on Sunday morning.

We got away in fine style, sun shining and everybody smiling. In all these expeditions something has to be forgotten, and in our case it was the tin-opener. This was speedily rectified by borrowing one from a store in Santa Elena, our first stop.

One and a half hour’s pleasant drive brought us to our destination, San Vincente. During the ride Mr. Johnston entertained us with his well known (mim) stories of his wild youth in Baires and Iquique, while Nankervis, feeling in good form, rendered various ballads well known to cable men, in the choruses of which we all joined with great vim, Mr. Whaley’s deep bass contrasting well with Mr. Johnston’s shrill falsetto. Mr. Johnston can fix a suspension or adjust a Heurtley, but he can’t sing!

The Picnic at San Vincente
L to R: Nankervis (shouldering arms), Stevenson,
Bratsen, Glencross, Johnston, Mgr. Whaley

We tumbled out at the hotel at San Vincente and made a bee-line for the springs. These are situated in the crater of an ancient volcano, and bubble up with a temperature of about 90 degrees. They are also credited with great healing powers for rheumatism, lumbago, stoutness, and other infirmities of the aged, and contain a strong impregnation of sulphur. None of us were sufferers unless we count Mr. Whaley, who is happy in the possession of a pet corn, and Nankervis, who is afflicted with temporary baldness. However, we borrowed the key of the hut erected over the spring, and went in three at a time.

Mr. Johnston, Nankervis, and Stevenson were the first to take the treatment. The water seemed very hot at first, but after a few minutes we got used to it, and settled down to ten minutes slow boiling. The water has a peculiar smell, closely allied to over-ripe eggs, and the taste, if you arc so unfortunate as to get a taste, is not at all pleasant. However, we saw it through and came out looking like freshly boiled lobsters, especially Nankervis, whose head assumed the appearance of a red billiard ball. We all felt rather wobbly on our pins after ten minutes of it, but a sharp rub down soon restored us to normal.

Señorita Eleodora’s Hotel

After the bath we looked around for a good camping ground, and finally selected a clear spot surrounded by cactus trees. The location made it very necessary to look well before sitting down, as the ground was covered with fallen spines from the cactus. Mr. Whaley was the first to sit in a prickly spot, and he spent the next fifteen minutes picking thorns from the seat of his pants. He selected a fallen tree trunk for his next seat. Glencross, being an old hand at the game, soon had a fire going, and while Bratsen fried the pork and beans, Glencross boiled water for tea.

For the next hour we were busy feeding. Two cold chickens, supplied by Bratsen, were absolutely what the doctor ordered. Nankervis, forgetting nothing, had brought along several bottles of beer, which, needless to say, went well with the chickens, Mr. Johnston doing exceptionally well with his share. The only little misfortune was the butter, which had been left in the sun by mistake, and promptly melted into oil. A bet, offered by Bratsen, to anybody who would drink the transformed butter found no takers.

After lunch Mr. Johnston illustrated his prowess as a sharpshooter by taking potshots at a beer bottle with a Colt automatic, at a range of three yards. Unfortunately, he missed every time. This was his off day. He said we put him off his stroke with our sketchy remarks. Glencross suggested a little run across country to digest the pork and beans but was howled down by an overwhelming majority, Nankervis protesting loudest, as he had the shortest legs and had imbibed the most beer.

Hotel at Thermal Baths, San Vincente

At about 4 P.M. we went back to the hotel and had tea and another bath, then started back for home. On the way Mr. Whaley and Stevenson made rather a mess of some pigeon shooting, the others making things worse by offering sarcastic advice and scaring the pigeons before we could draw a bead on the birds. About twelve miles from Salinas we had a blow-out and spent fifteen minutes giving unnecessary advice to the chauffeur, who maintained a stolid indifference to our bright suggestions.

We decided to run into Cautivo and say “Howdy” to our old friends and neighbors of the oil camp. We arrived there in fine style, singing something about “John Brown’s cow,” in full chorus led by Glencross who possesses a voice which would be useful for sawing logs. At this stage. “John Brown’s cow” making us all hoarse, we partook of the justly famous “Cautivo cocktail” which will he familiar to any old SL man. Then from Cautivo we drove home, where we arrived in good time for dinner, after having spent a really great day.

We extend our vote of thanks to Mrs. Whaley for shutting her eyes to Mr. Whaley’s raids on her pantry, and to Mrs. Bratsen, who happened to be in Guayaquil, thus enabling Bratsen to make away with two of their best chickens for the enrichment of the feast.


Santa Elena, Ecuador

Xmas and New Year Festivities at SL

The festivities started on Xmas eve with a masked ball and supper, given by the Staff at the Ancon Oil Camp. There was a very large attendance, and a most enjoyable evening was spent, dancing being indulged in until the early hours of the morning.

The next on the list was the Cautivo Oil Camp, with a dance and supper on New Year’s Eve. Here, also, there was a large number of guests, and as usual the new year was ushered in with handshakes all round and the customary flow of good resolutions from many of those present, whose misdeeds during the outgoing year weighed heavily on their consciences. This, of course, only refers to those outside the cable staff, as cablemen lead such upright and sober lives that resolutions would be superfluous and a waste of time, which might be usefully spent in allaying the pangs of thirst.

On Sunday, the 13th of January, the cable staff reciprocated, also with a dance and supper. This was really a magnificent affair, and I feel sure I will not be contradicted when I say that such an entertainment was never seen in SL before. The large saloon and dining hall were tastefully decorated with paper chains of many colors and the wide balcony was covered with palms, under which were placed the seats for the guests. The balcony on the left hand side was also beautifully decorated and small tables and seats were placed amongst the palms. Here the guests were supplied with light refreshments during the dance. The supper table, which was in the open, simply groaned under the weight of good things with which it was burdened.

The entertainment was carried through without a hitch of any kind. The guests were greatly surprised and highly delighted, when, at midnight, the lights were switched off, and to the strains of “Three o’clock in the morning” an artificial moon rose gracefully over the end door of the saloon and shed its pale light upon the dancers. This bright idea was the result of the inventive mind of Mr. Gardiner and was loudly applauded, and it certainly added an extra charm to a superb evening.

The staff worked in a splendid manner, but all agree that, special praise is due to
Messrs. Lindsey, Gardiner, Petersen, and Withers for their work, which largely contributed to the success of the evening. There were about 100 guests and all left with smiling countenances.


A Day at the Sulphur Springs—Santa Elena

Leaving Salinas at 8:30 A.M., we arrived at our destination without incident, with exception of a few minor bumps. The gear changer certainly worked overtime but it was Sunday, therefore overtime was an understood thing. On arrival we were very cordially welcomed and invited to lunch which we certainly enjoyed, after a bath in the sulphury spring. After taking some snaps and discussing the weather till 4 P.M. we left without misgiving for home.

The Bathing Beach, Santa Elena

Our transport, the old bus, started vigorously and climbed the first big hill like a Rolls-Royce and took us along at a fine pace to just out San Vicente, where, after one long drawn sigh it came to a gentle glide, which glide terminated in a long stop. We were stuck in the wilderness. Were we downhearted? N-n-o! Off came our coats, out came the tool box (consisting of one enormous monkey wrench) and we started work. From following investigation we found that the carburetor had gone prohibition and absolutely refused to partake of a drink, however small. We talked to that old machine for half an hour in cable vocabulary, but all to no avail. Still we were undismayed and at last managed to obtain expert help. This did the needful and once more we started off with many optimistic glances at the engine. Probably this did it, as, after another eight miles the axle fell out and the poor old engine gave up the ghost, this time for good.

The Salinas “Cathedral”

Lindsey, by the stars, took an H.E. (human endurance) test which worked out as follows. Hungry, thirsty, fed up and far from home, the three of us then formed fours and pushed our “Waterloo” right to Cautivo, where Spook (the watch dog) joyfully welcomed us and offered to escort us part of the way home, which he did. Luck still held good as we were overtaken by the famous local big game hunter in his car, who promised to return and take us in immediately. We had already walked ten miles and were just warming up for the last lap when he returned and took us aboard for home and oblivion.

The sulphur springs, by the way, are really wonderful, a constant flow of hot water bubbling up from the earth. They possess great curative powers, especially for rheumatism and old age and promise to outrival monkey glands. Someone, probably jealous, suggested taking Brat’s car out there again and bathing it regularly. I think a little love, a little miss, would be more appropriate.


Mr. and Mrs. J.S. Whaley and their lovely children. The photo was taken during their recent visit to England.
[All America Review, December 1927]

For additional personal stories of life with All America Cables, see Captain Frederick Hack and CS All America, George S. Watson’s Remembrances of a Cable Operator, and Frank R. Crowther's A Submarine Cable War Tale

Last revised: 6 December, 2014

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