THE WONDER LAKE OF TRINIDAD
By A Disciple
When nature entered the street paving business it was on so colossal a scale that the out-put can easily supply enough crude material to pave the highways of the world, with enough left to begin the work a second time, and do it all over again!
A lake basin, one hundred acres in area and about two hundred feet deep, serves as a kettle whose contents are kept warm by heat supplied by fires that burn ceaselessly, down near the earth's center. To fill this mighty cauldron with road-paving material, various substances are piped from their subterranean sources, where the supply seems to be as inexhaustible as was the widow's cruse of oil.
The visible part of this monster plant is the great Asphalt Lake, on the Island of Trinidad, which is a wee polka-dot of land, stuck up like a fat cream-puff in the Atlantic Ocean, near the coast of Venezuela. Trinidad is a veritable "Hop-o-my-thumb" among islands, and curves around one side of the lovely little Gulf of Paria; on the other side of the Gulf is the coast of Venezuela, and narrow arms of land extending from each country seem trying to touch each other and grasp hands around the fairy-like gulf. The outstretched arms are symbolic of the beautiful friendship that exists between the two nations. Venezuela is a Republic, with Spanish as the national language, and the Island of Trinidad is a British possession, whose citizens speak English. Columbus called the Island "Trinidad," from the three big mountains, the name being Spanish for Trinity.
The Asphalt Lake of Trinidad, which is one of the world's true wonders, lies on the gulf side of the Island, about one hundred and twenty-five feet above sea level. The Lake is a gigantic bowl, almost round, more than a hundred acres in area, and surrounded by low hills that are covered with vegetation. The surface of the lake is bluish-gray in color, with many tiny pools of water standing about; a few stunted trees grow near the center of this strange tract, and along the edges are big pitch-cones, which have grown hard and knobby, and look like dropsical sign-posts.
Out into the lake runs a railroad that is quite as queer, in its way, as is its abiding place. It is a perambulating railroad, and every few days it is hoisted out of its soft bed of warm asphalt, and its rails and cross-ties are laid in a new place. This constant moving is necessary to prevent ties and rails from going down and vanishing entirely.
How deep the Asphalt deposit extends, no one knows. Borings to a depth of one hundred and seventy-five feet find that the liquid material is still going strong! The "cores" secured by these borings reveal the amazing fact that the asphalt at the lower part of Nature's Big Pot is the same as that on the top, the only difference being that the surface asphalt is hard enough to be cut in blocks, while that from the depths is soft, and almost fluid, but quite willing to become solid when exposed to the atmosphere.
Asphalt is the oldest road-paving material known to man, and is mentioned in the history of ancient Babylon. It is a form of Bitumen, which is classed in commercial language under three heads: petroleum, oil and asphalt. In one of these forms Bitumen is found in almost every land on the globe, and is being utilized in various ways, for it is one of the most useful gifts that God has bestowed upon man.
Nowhere in the world can Nature be watched at work so well as on Trinidad Island. Nowhere in the world can one see so clearly the Divine power ceaselessly working for the benefit of mankind. An excavation made in the lake one day will be partly filled the next, and by the end of a week, the hollow place is once more level with the surrounding territory. From deep down in the main supply house has been pushed up sufficient material to replace all that man has taken away. From how deep this stuff comes, no one knows; neither can anyone explain why it is ..that when the hole has been filled with the soft asphalt, the material does not run over and spill around the place needing replenishment. But it does not. Enough comes up to replace what has been taken away, and no more.
Some lines of work are carried on at the present time by the same crude methods employed a thousand years ago. Mining asphalt is one of the great industries that has made no progress through the changing centuries. To dig it with a machine is impossible, because the machine would sink in the soft material and have to be dug out in its turn. Men can skip about, and not stand long enough in one place to get stuck. A man can change his standing ground when he feels that his feet are going downward faster than they should. The surface of the Asphalt Lake is warm at all times and in all places; near the center it is quite soft, and is so hot that the soles of the feet are uncomfortable, even thru very heavy shoes.
Asphalt is dug with mattocks, and is taken from the lake in huge pieces that are about two feet square. These blocks are then broken into smaller bits by hand and loaded in the tiny cars that carry it to a refinery on the Island, or to the ships waiting in the harbor. These vessels are from every nation in the world, for asphalt is found on the streets of London, Washington City, Paris, the cities of South America, and all thru Europe.
Street paving is not the only use for this strange material that so accommodatingly boils up from the middle of the earth, and is brewed wholesale in Trinidad's giant kettle. It is used for roofing, for covering pipes in factories, for water-proofing various garments, for insulating paper, and for deadening sound in big buildings. There are more than twenty-five uses for asphalt, besides its one great job of making the streets of the world easy walking for both man and beast.
For the last thirty-five years, close to one hundred and twenty-five thousand tons of asphalt have been taken each year from Trinidad's marvelous lake. And the awesome thing about it is, there is just as much asphalt in that lake today as there was more than a quarter of a century ago, when the excavating first started! Like so many of God's wonderful gifts to man, this valuable deposit seems to be inexhaustable and everlasting!
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