Makers of Many Things

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A match is a little thing, but nothing else can do its work.



When you pick a dandelion or a milkweed, a white sticky "milk" oozes out; and this looks just like the juice of the various sorts of trees, shrubs, and vines from which India rubber is made. The "rubber plant" which has been such a favorite in houses is one of these; in India it becomes a large tree which has the peculiar habit of dropping down from its branches "bush-ropes," as they are called. These take root and become stout trunks. There is literally a "rubber belt" around the world, for nearly all rubber comes from the countries lying between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. More than half of all that is brought to market is produced in the valley of the Amazon River; and some of this "Para rubber," as it is called, from the seaport whence it is shipped, is the best in the world.

[Illustration: _Courtesy General Rubber Co._


The plantation on which this photograph was taken has 45,000 acres of planted rubber trees, and employs 14,000 coolies.]

The juice or latex flows best about sunrise, and so the natives who collect it have to be early risers. They make little cuts in the bark of the tree, stick on with a bit of clay a tiny cup underneath each cut, and move on through the forest to the next tree. Sometimes they make narrow V-shaped cuts in the bark, one above another, but all coming into a perpendicular channel leading to the foot of the tree. Later in the day the collectors empty the cups into great jugs and carry them to the camp.

When the rubber juice reaches the camp, it is poured into a great bowl. The men build a fire of sticks, and always add a great many palm nuts, which are oily and make a good deal of smoke. Over the fire they place an earthen jar shaped like a cone, but without top or bottom. Now work begins. It is fortunate that it can be done in the open air, and that the man can sit on the windward side, for the smoke rises through the smaller hole thick and black and suffocating. The man takes a stick shaped like a paddle, dips it into the bowl, and holds it in the smoke and heat, turning it rapidly over and over till the water is nearly dried out of the rubber and it is no longer milky, but dark-colored. Then he dips this paddle in again and again. It grows heavier at each dipping, but he keeps on till he has five or six pounds of rubber. With a wet knife he cuts this off, making what are called "biscuits." After many years of this sort of work, some one found that by resting one end of a pole in a crotched stick and holding the other in his hand, a man could make a much larger biscuit.

For a long time people thought that rubber trees could not be cultivated. One difficulty in taking them away from their original home to plant is that the seeds are so rich in oil as to become rancid unusually soon. At length, however, a consignment of them was packed in openwork baskets between layers of dried wild banana leaves and slung up on deck in openwork crates so as to have plenty of air. By this means seven thousand healthy little plants were soon growing in England, and from there were carried to Ceylon and the East.

On the rubber plantations collecting juice from trees standing near together and in open ground is an altogether different matter from cutting a narrow path and forcing one's way through a South American or African jungle. The bark of the trees is cut in herringbone fashion. The collector simply slices a thin piece off the bark and at once milk begins to ooze out.

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