Publication: The Telegrapher
New York, NY, United States
The Central American Telmraphs.
BY A TELEGRAPH OPERATOR.
WHEN the California trade, fifteen or more years ago, was partia ly [sic] partially diverted from the Isthmus of Panama to the then new route of Nicaragua, it became necessary to insure speedier and more sure means of communication for the guidance of the steamers of both oceans than the facilities at that time afforded, and from this want arose the first telegraph line of Central America. Exclusively devoted to company's business or wants of passengers, connecting no important towns, with the close of the line of transit the telegraph was allowed to go to ruin. Today a few old fashioned porcelain insulators attached to the gigantic trees of mahogany or cedar, dispersed throughout the route, or remains of rusty wire affording trellises for inumerable [sic] innumerable vines of the country, and a former operator in the garb of a stage driver and owner, are the only remains of the first attempt at telegraphs in Central America.
The Republics of Central America were not fully, aware of the immense benefits accruing from the electric telegraph until within the past nine years. A motion was at that time made in the Salvador Congress for the construction of the first telegraph line, and two years later the work commenced by the building of twelve leagues of line. The lines have since rapidly increased, until now the State controls 600 miles of line with 30 offices, uniting the principal towns with the capital, and extending to the boundary of Guatemala on the north and Honduras south. The total cost for construction, tools, and equipage has been, up to August 1, 1875, $83,075; for repairs and ordinary expenses, $26,000. The receipts the past year were $28,113.62, exclusive of Government business, which is free. The instruments were furnished by C. T. & J. N. Chester, and L. G. Tillotson & Co., of New York.
The operators are natives of the country, generally intelligent, and under the guidance of their superintendent, Mr. Maury, are capable of reading by sound. The telegraph being in its infancy, comparatively little is known of the laws applying to electrical science; a simple ambition to understand the practical working of the instruments is considered sufficient, although I can say with truth their standard of knowledge is much higher than in the other republics. In the eastern department of the state bad insulation, combined with the small diameter of the wire, renders repeaters of 300 ohms' resistance necessary.
The salary paid by the Government for operators averages from $50 to $75 monthly, more or less, according to the location of the office rather than skill of the manipulator. The tariff is 25 cents for ten words throughout the State.
four years since, followed the lead of Salvador, by a decree of 300 miles of line, extending from San Jose on the Pacific through the principal towns to the capital, and thence to Champerico on the Pacific. The price paid was $150 per mile, the Government furnishing the posts. The wires have gradually extended, and there are at present 457 miles in working order, connecting all the principal towns on the Pacific coast, also uniting with the wires at Salvador south, and a contract has lately been made for the construction of 300 miles more to bring the Atlantic department in telegraphic circuit. The tariff is 25 cents for ten words for any part of the Republic. The cash receipts average some $1,000 monthly. This with the Government business shows a very creditable amount of work. The number of offices is 26. Salary of operators $60 to $100 monthly. Instruments from Tillotson & Co., New York. As the Government appears satisfied with their lines and management, I leave them in that happy state
"Where, ignorance is bliss," etc.,
leaving comments for the future electricians "to be," should the failing of the "chief" allow the craft the advantages of self-improvement in their occupation.
Galvanometers, testing, etc., are here unheard of, and not the slightest idea is entertained of any of the principles of the science, or endeavors to have them understood, for fear, as the intellectual head of the department informed me, "of getting too much in their cabeza."
With the railroad construction mania in Costa Rica four years ago came up also the subject of the construction of telegraph lines; and the question once broached to Congress, a contract was given for a line from Punta Arenas to the capital, a distance of ninety miles, embracing ten offices. A line is also under way from San Jose, the capital, to Port Limon, on the Atlantic. The expense of this line was heavy, as in some places iron posts were necessary, and Brooks' patent iron insulators substituted for the glass. It cost the Government $25,000. The English alphabet is here used. Tariff 40 cents for 10 words. "No foreigners need apply."
issued a decree in March last for the construction of 200 miles of line connecting the two Pacific ports and principal towns with the capital, and at the close of 1876 will probably be in communication with Costa Rica on the south, as this Republic (Costa Rica) has officially offered to build the wire necessary in its own State to insure the connection, should Nicaragua extend its line to the frontier of Costa Rica. On the north it extends to Chinandego. From this town to La Union, Salvador will be the only link remaining to unite the five Republics by telegraph, and open a country of 2,500,000 people to the benefits derived. The recent overtures made by three of the Republics for a Central American Confederation, if carried, will do much toward completing the beginning.
While the South American Republics have for six years past agitated the uniting of South America with the Old World, North America and the West Indies, the project is at this moment being carried into execution on the Pacific under the management of the West India and Magnetic Telegraph Cable Co., of London, and one cable has already been laid between Brazil and Lisbon, and the third is in course of submerging between Brazil and Jamaica. The Central American Republics have been wrapped in a cloak of happy seclusion, amazed at the strides made in this branch of scientific civilization within the past few years, and the main question has lain dormant. This question is the construction of a cable to bring the world within a day's call of Central American wants.
There are two routes of no great distance, either of which would be serviceable at a reasonable expense. One embraces a cable from Port Limon, Costa Rica, to Aspinwall, a distance of 250 miles or less, connecting with the cable of the W. I. & P. Co., of London. The other from a point in Honduras to the Island of Cuba, a distance of 250 miles, connecting with the wires of the International Ocean Telegraph Co. and Western Union Telegraph Co., of the United States, as also here with the wires of the W. I. & P. Co., traversing the West Indies. This latter route would necessitate the building of 200 miles of wire in Honduras.
The cost of cables is not so great but that the Central American States, with their patriotism, and the intelligence distinguishing them, assisted, perhaps, by foreign capital, could soon lay them.
There are many laughable incidents connected with the telegraph construction here, and yet not so very funny to the contractors financially interested. I refer to the silly notion entertained by the ignorant class as to the mission of this new improvement At the beginning of the work in Costa Rica, the hundreds of cartmen engaged in the transportation of coffee saw in the telegraph the means of transportation of their cargo, and no chance of breaking insulators was allowed to escape-"Competition is the life of trade" not being duly appreciated. The crowds congregated at their night bivouac, over their smoking bowl of coffee and tortillos, related with laughs and carambas their exploits of the day in breaking "inkstands" (i. e. insulators), to the infinite delight of the listeners.
The adoption of Brooks' patent paraffine insulator remedied this, while time and legal enactments have overcome the practice of using the telegraph wire for clothes lines, or for repairing broken carts, harness, etc.
In Nicaragua, while waiting at an intermediate station for a change of horses, I overheard with some amusement the explanation given by the landlady as to the uses of a telegraph service, and the numerous "Santisimo Maria" expressed as their imagination pictured the sacks of coffee going hopping and skipping over the posts, followed by bags of sugar, sandwiched now and again by passengers, while native cartmen with hungry mien looked on in wonder at the usurper of their bread, would be changed to some stronger expressions should misfortune ever compel them to be a telegraph operator.