“I can do that Bwana Steve, let me do it please…”
Kanjombe was jumping up and down in excitement hoping for the chance of being the most important member of the Team..
When Ian Smith and his Cabinet declared UDI* in 1965, it resulted in the border between Rhodesia and Zambia being closed which meant that no more fuel arrived from Umtali. With the aid of Lonrho, the Zambian Government purchased 52 Canadian Kenworth tankers to bring fuel from the port of Dar es Salam in Tanzania, along the Great North Road**, to Kapiri Mposhi and then on to the the fuel depot at Ndola (NOSCO) This operation became known as The Hell Run.
Each Kenworth consisted of a rigid tanker with a 5,800 gallon tank pulling an 8,500 gallon drawbar trailer.
The tanks had individual compartments to keep separate the petrol and diesel but it was decided that some of the tankers should carry just one type of fuel, either petrol or diesel, so were tasked with cutting large holes in the compartment walls.
Now, the walls were 1/4” thick duralumin, welded all round to the internal skin of the tanker. Each drawbar trailer had three compartments so it meant that two walls had to be opened up thus creating two baffles.
Because of the lack of power in the yard, we only had an old Ruston powered generator which had served most of its life at the Livingstone Saw Mills, Honda petrol generators were sourced along with some 220 volt power drills.
Teams were organised. The first member of the team was a Zambian with a piece of wood with a nail in one end and a pencil in the other. With this he marked off a twelve inch diameter circle in the compartment wall.
The second member of the Team had a hammer and a centre punch and he punched a mark all around the circle about the width of a pencil apart.
Now the third member had the job of drilling around the circle with a 1/4” drill bit. As the tankers had previously been full of fuel, they had to be steam cleaned first to remove all traces of petrol but there was always a couple of inches of water left in the bottom which couldn't be drained off. Therefore this third member of the Team was under strict instructions NOT to let the drill come anywhere near the water.
The final & fourth member had to cut out the baffle using just a hammer and chisel. You can imagine the noise that was generated.
So, all went according to plan. The circles was marked, centre punched, drilled and chiseled until we had just one tanker left to do.
“Bwana Steve, Bwana Steve pleeeze can I do some of the drilling pleeeze ‘?
OK, Kanjombe, but you must be very, very careful not to let the drill touch the water, do you understand Kanjombe’?
“Yes, yes Bwana Steve, I understand…….”
With that, Kanjombe swiftly climbed up to the top of the tanker and lowered his lithe body down through the Emco Wheaton hatch and he started drilling.
After about ten minutes Kanjombe had drilled all around the circle and he excitedly shouted out “Bwana Steve, I have finished the drilling”
Kanjombe had dropped the electric drill into the water
There was a scream, followed by a shrill cry of “It bit me, it bit me”
Now, if you recall those cartoons where a character punches their way out of a box, well I swear that the sides of the tanker bulged where Kanjombe’s body ricoched from side to side off the tankers sides.
The hatch at the top of the tanker is only about 18” in diameter and it takes some effort to reach up and haul yourself out of the tank but Kanjombe literally shot out of the hatch like a rocket and his legs were already running at speed along the walkway at the top. Just like the cartoon Road Runner, his little legs kept on running even when he was in mid air as he disappeared into the bush still screaming “It bit me, it bit me..
The rest of the Team who had witnessed this episode had meanwhile collapsed with laughter but were relieved to see poor Kanjombe eventually come back out of he bush.
“Did I do a good job Bwana Steve” Kanjombe asked ?
“Yes Kanjombe, you did a very good job” I replied.
“Thank you Bwana Steve”
Kanjombe walked off with his head held high and a big grin on his face.
He was proud that at last he was an important member of the Team.
The photograph shows Kanjombe standing on a tyre by a Kenworth Tanker.
* Unilateral Declaration of Independence
** This became known as the Hell Run
Other members of the Team were Ernest Tembo, Mwila and Sheftu Zewa, also great characters.