Monday, 27 February 2012
The Story of Rubber
So far research indicates that Verrill wrote at least 16 stories for Everyland from 1915 to 1919. Several more of these stories will be appearing here shortly./drf
The Story of Rubber
By A. Hyatt Verrill
DID you ever stop to think how useful rubber is? Without it, this busy old world would be badly off indeed, and if all the rubber was suddenly taken from us, countless industries, arts, manufactures, and businesses would cease and modern life would be impossible.
Without rubber, telephones, telegraphs, electric lights, and the wonderful wireless would fail; automobiles would be all but useless; aeroplanes would be discarded; trolley-cars would cease to run; submarines would be well-nigh impossible, and countless mills and factories would find their machinery at a standstill. Moreover, thousands of people would be thrown out of work, great factories would be closed, millions of machines would cease their busy roar and hum, and many sick and injured people would die, for all these things and all these industries require rubber or a substitute which has not yet been discovered.
Truly we live in an age of rubber and yet our great-grandfathers, or even our grandfathers, for that matter, hardly knew the meaning of the word, and the important and useful substance was used only for gum shoes and erasers.
Rubber is merely the juice of a tree and in its natural state bears no resemblance to the tough, elastic rubber or the shining, black or red, hard rubber which we know.
There are many kinds of trees and plants from which rubber is obtained, but some furnish better rubber than others and the best of all is Para rubber, which comes from a tree found growing wild in Brazil.
Formerly all the rubber was obtained from the wild trees, but nowadays, the rubber trees are planted and cultivated on estates or plantations, and the Brazilian trees have been introduced to warm countries in many parts of the world.
Still, much of the rubber comes from the wild trees in the forests, and thousands of men—black men and Indians mostly—go forth into the vast tropical forests each year to find rubber trees and to gather the juice.
The juice or sap, called latex, of the rubber trees is between the outer and inner bark and when a cut is made in the bark the white, milky sap trickles slowly out and after a time becomes thick and sticky. As it is slow work gathering the milk by climbing the trees and tapping them, many of the men in the forests save time and trouble by felling the trees. This is a very wasteful method, for rubber trees grow very slowly, and in most countries where rubber is found there are strict laws against destroying the trees and laws regulating the way in which the bark must be cut.
When properly bled, the tree is not injured, for the cuts soon heal and the tree may be tapped year after year.
When a tree is to be bled, the rubber gatherer makes a number of V-shaped cuts in the bark and connects these by a groove or cut so that the juice from all the cuts will run down in this channel. Then at the lower end of this up-and-down cut a little trough is driven into the tree and a cup or other receptacle is placed beneath.
As the juice fills the cups it is poured into big gourds or bowls, where it is hardened or coagulated. In the forest this is done by using certain leaves whose juice partly hardens the latex, but on the estates it is accomplished more rapidly and thoroughly by means of acid.
When the rubber gatherer has accumulated a sufficient quantity of rubber he builds a smoky fire and, dipping a stick into the latex, twirls it about until a quantity of the rubber has adhered to the rod.
This he holds in the smoke of the fire to cure it, and by repeatedly dipping his stick in the rubber and smoking it he gradually forms a huge mass or ball of cured rubber on the end of the pole. These big balls are then shipped to the seacoast to be sent to all parts of the world.
On the estates, however, the rubber is made in sheets or thin cakes which are packed in bales for shipment. Thus you can always tell forest rubber from plantation rubber, and as the gatherers of wild rubber often try to cheat by enclosing stones, sticks, or other material within the balls, the estate rubber can be depended upon and, therefore, brings a higher price.
When the Europeans first visited South America, they found the Indians using rubber for balls with which to play games, and also as a waterproof varnish, but its real value did not occur to the white men for a long time, or until some one found it could be used for rubber shoes. But these gum shoes, as they were called, were very poor, sticky, heavy things, for they were made by dipping a clay mould in the latex and smoking it over a fire, after which the clay was broken up and removed.
Gradually other articles of rubber came into use, but these were all of the same gummy, soft rubber as the shoes, and it was not until a Mr. Goodyear made a wonderful discovery that the true value of rubber was realized. Mr. Goodyear found that by mixing sulphur with rubber and then heating it the substance became hard and firm without losing its elasticity or waterproof quality, and that by this "vulcanizing" process, as it is called, the rubber could be made to any degree of hardness provided that the right proportions of sulphur and the right amount of heat were used. When this became known, rubber could be used for thousands of purposes never dreamed of before, for it could be cast, moulded, or pressed into any form while soft and then vulcanized until it was hard and retained the desired shape.
There was nothing equal to it for surgical appliances; it withstood acids and chemicals which ruined other substances; it could be easily cleansed; it never decayed, and it could be turned, carved, or polished like wood or ivory. Dentists found it the best of all materials for making plates for artificial teeth; it was made into elastic bands, waterproof garments, shoes and boots, toilet articles, and rubber cloth, and when it was found that rubber was a non-conductor of electricity it became of the utmost value in many new ways.
So, year by year, the value and uses of rubber have increased until to-day we could not get on without it, for man with all his skill and science has never found a way to make artificial rubber or even a substitute for the juice of the wonderful South American tree.
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- As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.