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Thai Dodge Trucks & Thungyai

It seems like just the other day that I traveled to Thailand in search of Dodge Power Wagons. Over 2 years ago I was fortunate to find a large cache of Military Dodge M601 open cab Power Wagons and M615 ambulances. These trucks were based on the famous WM300 Dodge Power Wagon design with the substitution of an open cab body in place of the traditional closed cab.
I traveled to Thailand with my friend Art, who had come along for the journey to give me a hand with a project that had seemed nearly impossible. My goal was to bring back to Iowa, over 75 Dodge Power Wagons. It was to be a difficult undertaking to say the least. On the flight over, we began to organize our thoughts. We set some goals of what we would like to accomplish and in what time frame. I had seen the trucks on an earlier trip just a few days before 9/11. I had been relieved to find out that I was not the high bidder after the World Trade Center had been destroyed right after my return to the U.S. Some months later, when things began to calm down, I made contact with the high bidder and asked if I could select up to 80 vehicles for transport back to the U.S. I had contacted the owner who spoke only Thai and left a message. A return call from a friendly voice that spoke very clear English helped establish a relationship with the winning bidder of the Dodges. The translator’s name was Surin. We began to communicate frequently thru e-mail over the coming months about what it would take to not only make the purchase, but to disassemble, load and transport a large number of Power Wagons back to the U.S.

By the time we arrived at the hotel in Thailand, it was 2 AM and Surin was waiting at the desk for us. I was impressed by the fact he would go out of his way to meet us in the middle of the night, but more than anything I was impressed by his kindness & friendliness. It was to be the start of a long friendship. The following day, after hours of travel, we arrived at the new location of where the trucks had been moved to from the earlier auction site. It was beautiful and a bit overwhelming, with over 250 Dodges, packed like sardines, in a rough paved parking lot. If you’ve never seen that many Dodges parked together, I can only describe it as a dream like state where you rub your eyes in disbelief and wonder if you will wake up soon from this unbelievable dream you are having. The delivery truck arrived the following day with our (12) Thai mechanics and a load of wood ammunition crates for parts, two of which were loaded with some of the sorriest looking tools I had ever laid eyes on. The worn out, broken wrenches & sockets had been simply dumped into the boxes. The 2 ton flatbed truck was towing a small Toyota pickup that looked like it had been through a war. Not one spot on the truck was free of dents and upon examination, I found the engine was not running and had locked up after 400,000 miles of hard, hard use. In the back of the Toyota was an old but very heavy gasoline powered compressor. The worn out pickup had simply become the wheels for the compressor and had to be towed whenever the compressor was to be moved. A large older acetylene torch set lay in the rear of the pickup bed. Many trips to the local hardware store, along with thousands of dollars worth of tool purchases, remedied the situation.

Surin called a “classroom” meeting that morning and became the go-between our workers, who spoke only Thai, while Art and I spoke no Thai. I conveyed step by step how we would go about disassembling the trucks, where and how we would organize our parts, tools, crating and containers. From that point on our workers knew what “classroom” meant and it soon became a daily habit. After cleaning out two old farm structures with partial tin roofs, we set up our “chop shop” assembly line. Within a week, our motley looking team began to improve on skills. They were proud at the end of the day having fully disassembled (2) entire Power Wagons. Our driver Jod spoke a little English and was able to help with the translation as well. I made contact with Surin daily by cell phone and he explained to the workers what I wanted. His translation work was invaluable with not only our workers but in gathering the necessary nightmarish paperwork involved in the purchase. While I never mastered speaking Thai, I did pick up what was necessary, the names of parts & tools and most importantly “mai dee”, which means “no good”. When someone wasn’t doing what I wanted, a simple “mai dee” and the worked stop. After nearly two months of back breaking work, the components from over (60) vehicles, along with 20 complete trucks, were carefully loaded into (13) 40’ ocean containers. The long journey to Iowa had begun. Before leaving our workers, I bought them each a pair of good boots as most had been barefoot or wore only slip-on thongs for footware.

Near the end of the project, I had returned to Surin’s hometown of Nakonpathom to pay a final visit to him in his computer repair shop. The walls of his small facility were literally covered with offroad shots and wildlife photographs, showing unique animals and plants of every kind. These amazing photographs sparked my interest and so I asked him about them. As a young man, he had traveled to a special place in the northern part of Thailand. Thungyai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary, a Natural World Heritage Site, is located on the western international border of Burma and is part of the Western Forest Complex. One of last great remaining forests in all of Southeast Asia, it covers nearly 4.4 million acres and supplies over ½ of the oxygen in Thailand. As Surin watched, civilization was drawing dangerously near Thungyai, as millions of acres of pristine jungle near the boundaries of Thungyai were being decimated year after year. Poachers were taking tremendous tolls on wildlife populations within the sanctuary. It was hard to understand why this pristine forest wasn’t getting the protection it desperately needed, but funding wasn’t available. It was obvious that Thungyai (meaning “big field”) needed help. Surin’s love for this great forest soon became his lifetime obsession. It became his mission to protect not only all the wildlife in the forest, but a small group of tribal people, who had lived for hundreds of years, deep within the forest. While I was certainly passionate about Dodge Power Wagons, my interest was dwarfed in comparison by Surin’s total dedication and focus on Thungyai.

It was time for me to pay Surin for the many hours of translation and support services he had provided me with over the last few months. He refused my offer and would not accept payment. I argued with him, but it was no use, he had made up his mind.

“Alright then, if I can’t pay you, then let me make a donation to your conservation club”, I argued back.

This he would most graciously accept and I was pleased. My donation to the Western Forest Conservation Club (WFCC) was small by U.S. standards, but the excitement in his eyes along with his big smile made me know how much it was appreciated.

“We will use your donation to add another photovoltaic solar panel at one of the ranger stations. These solar panels will recharge batteries for the communications network being set up by WFCC for the rangers……. I have been thinking that you might like to go into the jungle with me and help install this panel that your donation will purchase.”

I was excited and without a moment’s hesitation, I accepted his offer.

Two days later at midnight, we gathered outside Surin’s office and began to load needed equipment and supplies. Our transportation was a red Toyata pickup truck which had logged over 500,000 thousand miles during its rough life. The truck was on loan from someone. Food, sleeping gear, minimal clothing, pipe, rolls of wire and radio antennae sections filled the truck to the brim. Lengths of pipe and antennae sections extending well over the top of the cab were secured. We were accompanied by two other WFCC members. Nok, a longtime friend of Surin and Ko, the youngest member of the Western Forest Conservation Club. Both would be helping us out over the next week. Surin and Nok chose the back of the truck to catch some much needed sleep before daybreak. Ko drove the 8 hour journey to the jungle entrance, while I rode shotgun. The red Toyota or “Truck with the Iron Heart” as WFCC members called it was loaded to the hilt and I was concerned. That morning after dropping off donated school supplies at a local village orphanage, we arrived at the back entrance to Thungyai wildlife sanctuary and forded a low river crossing. It was the dry season and the water level was low. Overhead was a high suspension bridge nearly 40’ above the water crossing. Surin explained that during the rainy season the river rises and floods even sometimes covering the bridge. Travel to and from the outside is impossible during those times. Within 100 yards of the entrance we stopped at the first ranger station. While I can’t speak or understand Thai, it’s obvious to me that these rangers are very excited to see my traveling companions. An unexpected problem with radio equipment at the station delays our journey for several hours as WFCC members set out to repair the situation and spend time talking with the rangers who see very little of the outside world.

Surin points out on the map our route of travel, over 300 kilometers of very difficult, varying terrain. Our trip will take us to the north and then back around in nearly a full circle. It will take us one week. Several miles into the trip a clunking noise has us stopped only to find part of the front steering links have come loose. With some of the radio wire on board, I wire it back in place the best I can and move on. I am hoping that the wire will hold for the entire trip, but I secretly wonder. An elephant is on the road ahead, wild I think at first, but his rope collar gives a clue that his owner is nearby. The Thai people have huge admiration and respect for elephants. 10 years ago Thungyai Rangers found a herd of  7 elephants, slaughtered for tusks by poachers, their carcasses rotting by the stream in the deep jungle. It is clearly painful for Surin to even speak of the incident. Many times during our trip we make river crossings and after traveling most of the day we park near one and go for a swim, the water is crystal clear and a relief from the dust and heat.

We stop and deliver school supplies and food to a small village where WFCC has supplied construction materials to built a small one room school. The teacher is grateful to receive the items. She works at this remote village for no paid at all and is dedicated to helping the local children learn. The village is so remote that five years earlier these villagers did not know that they even lived in Thailand. The first teacher died of Malaria , the second teacher went to tiger’s dinner , the third died in car accident when he went out the forest to visit his family and the last one disappeared , never returned after he went back to see his wife 3 years ago. It is not an easy life.

After dark we arrive at the Koe Sadoeng wildlife protection station. A small concrete block building is where we will sleep. The following morning everyone is up early and I glance outside.  The station is located in a narrow valley surrounded by steep hillside forests. Our project today is the installation of the photovoltaic solar panel. It will keep the batteries charged for radio communications. Up until this time, batteries were removed and hauled out of each station on a regular basis, taken to a charging station hours away, recharged, and then returned to each station, a very long and tedious process. I am introduced to Mr. Paiboon , head of the wildlife sanctuary . He is helped to his feet by two other rangers. We shake hands. His leg is severely swollen and Surin tells me that someone will take him out today to the hospital for treatment. He was to have left earlier, but had waited for our arrival and wanted to be on hand for the solar installation. A white Toyota pickup is parked at the station ready to take him out. I am told that this one truck is the only 4wd running vehicle that belongs to the sanctuary all other trucks were parked dead due to the deficit in budget for the repair.

“How is it possible to patrol this huge sanctuary with only one 4wd truck?” I wonder.

“Each ranger patrols on foot” I am informed.

Once the installation is completed, we say our goodbyes and head off up a steep incline towards the next station. We are on the road again and headed for yet another wildlife station on the Burmese border. We’re met by a smaller older gentleman with a patch over one eye who invites us in for tea. There is much talk and I ask Surin what he is saying.

“This ranger say that 500 Burmese soldiers came here two years ago to take over this wildlife protection station. He tell them that they must kill him first as he will not give up the station. After two hours they left away. This area of Thailand along the border of Burma has border disputes for many years and will continue. Burmese soldiers claim that half of the area of this wildlife protection station is Burma due to the new map. We say it is part of Thailand. We cannot leave radios or equipment at this station as soldiers will only steal it as soon as we leave. He says we must not stay too long as the soldiers will be watching us through binoculars. Before we go I would like to show you the river that divides Burma and Thailand.”

The river is small and very serene. However I am anxious to leave as I would rather not encounter the soldiers. The road is extremely rough and follows along the river for several miles and then heads off into the forest again.

“This section of the road has been cleared and built by hand of the local people and you are the first American to ever enter this area.” Surin explains.

The forest changes around every curve, from lush green dense jungle, to open dry savannah and everything in between. We continue on to the next wildlife station where adjustments are made on the antennae for better radio reception. This station is especially remote and these two rangers haven’t had human contact in (2) months. They are happy to have company. I see a strange looking tree nearby and approach it for a closer look. The bark is heavy with deep crevices. Surin notices and stops me;

“Be very careful and do not touch this tree as it is poisonous. Oil from this tree in your eyes will make you blind. This is the tree that the tribal people used for many years to make poison darts.”

It is necessary to have someone who knows the jungle as there are constantly things to be aware of. On the road ahead, Surin points out another danger that to the untrained eye goes unnoticed. There is a small stream crossing ahead, but the rutted path curves sharply to the left where it crosses the stream.

“If you go straight, you will not make it. The water looks normal, but it is not, as there is large sink hole straight ahead. Many vehicles with people, including soldiers in an Armored Personnel Carrier are buried in this water-filled shaft that goes straight down.”

I find it fascinating that there is no warning sign on this small road, actually no warning road signs at all in the wildlife sanctuary , but the road is not well traveled and is heavily regulated. Perhaps it is left unmarked for the unsuspecting poacher.

As we wind our way through the forest, we see smoke and small fires inside the groves of bamboo. This is the largest variety I have seen with some up to 12” in diameter. The bamboo rubbing against each other in the wind creates heat and starts natural fires, which burn off the undergrowth and allow for new plant growth. Further along the path we come upon a group of villagers dressed in brightly colored clothing. They are walking to the next village, nearly 20 miles away for a funeral. It is an odd sight seeing these smiling faces in the middle of this remote jungle. Many of the elderly are grateful to see the truck and ask to climb aboard. The Toyota groans under the weight as 20 additional people climb on board wherever space is available. We arrive at the Delu (Suriya) wildlife protection station and the villagers climb off. Nok hands out food and they continue on their journey. Delu (Suriya) is an even further remote station and the antennae sections on board are unloaded. By evening the local rangers along with WFCC members have installed a 50 foot tower with guy wires, not a simple procedure and with virtually no equipment. Surin is concerned with safety as two of the rangers climb the triangular antennae sections to build the tower higher and attach the guy wires. The completed tower will become part of a central network that will keep rangers connected throughout the area. All of the equipment to include, radios, batteries, solar cells, wiring, antennae and GPS units have been donated by WFCC. Members not only train the rangers for installation of all the material but in the use of each component.

It is nearly nightfall as we head out for the next station. We are headed into the savannah where the grass is nearly 10 feet high.

“This area is an especially dangerous one at night”, Surin comments. “Many tigers have been sighted here.”

I continue to hope that our “Truck with the Iron Heart” makes its way to the station with no breakdowns. We reach the station by 10pm and its pitch black other than the lights from our truck. We haven’t eaten. Tonight is my night for being the chef. Searching for food in the dark, we determine that the majority of our food was left at the last station by accident while the antennae sections were being unloaded. The truck is parked with headlights aimed at the entrance to the small block building where we will sleep. Our cooking burner mounted atop the LP bottle is lit and with a wok in place, I begin my preparation of our sumptuous midnight dinner. Food on hand, 2 cans of sardines packed in tomato sauce and pack of un-refrigerated hotdogs….yummmmmm. No one complains and as we complete our meal, a ranger approaches from out of the darkness. He informs us it is too dangerous to stay outside as the tigers are watching us. We are quick to go inside and I am assigned a small room with long windows. I make sure that my windows are latched tightly. In the other room Nok, Ko & Surin roll out sleeping bags onto the floor, the only protection from the outside are screens, as their room has no windows. I can only think of the 1996 movie The Ghost and the Darkness, with Michael Douglas & Val Kilmer. Based on a true story, a pair of man eating lions, attack a hospital nightly while tearing off sections of the roof to gain entrance. It is probably not the best thing to be thinking about at this time.….. but I am glad that my windows are secure. At breakfast the following morning I inquire about where the rangers were last night in the darkness. Without flashlights they must find their way around in the dark. I ask Surin to translate for me.

“Where were you last night when we arrived?”…….”Down near the stream hunting frogs.”…..”Isn’t that where the tigers are at night?”….”Yes.”…….”What were you hunting frogs for.”…….”We are hungry.”……..”But aren’t you afraid?”……”Yes, we are very afraid, but we are more hungry than afraid.”

Sometime there is little food for the rangers especially in the monsoon season when the track  are naturally cut off  and the whole wildlife sanctuary is cut apart from the outside world , no truck could come to deliver food to them so they must get fish and frogs just the reason of their survival only. One of the rangers has descended into a swampy looking area with a diving mask and small spear gun. He disappears under the bank we are standing on, hunting for large fish hiding back under the overhanging shelf.

“The rangers are very brave.” Surin says proudly.

They must risk their life to survive and protect the forest. Many of the rangers are married and have children. Their families live in raised bamboo huts at the station with only minimal housing and food. Pay is very low, but most rangers have grown up in the jungle and know how important their job is protecting this forest. Over the years many rangers have been killed by wild animals and poachers throughout the forest of Thailand. Recently, at a remote station, one ranger whose leg was infected was too sick to make the trip out by himself and he always postpone to go to hospital. By the time I reached him, gangrene had set it, I carried him out on my back to WFCC truck with the pus from the boil in his leg flows on my shirt knowing he would loose his leg, he died two weeks later at the temple where he requested , refusing to have his leg amputated for has a hope to be recovered and he need his legs to patrol the forest. ”

Finishing my rice breakfast, I sit in silence, with total admiration for the sacrifices each ranger makes. Ko and I make repairs on one of the lockout hubs, reassemble it and we are ready to go.

We are now out on the open savannah again and the grass is very dry and has been without rain for months. Up ahead is a large cloud of smoke and we approach cautiously. We are entering a black charred area that is still smoldering from an ongoing brushfire up ahead. The ground is nearly too hot to walk on and we get out to take a closer look. I can feel the ground heat through the soles of my boots and I am amazed as I watch Surin walk barefoot across the barren ground. He hasn’t worn shoes for years and his feet are like iron, impervious to nearly anything. Flames over 20 feet high lick at the grass and underbrush and when they reach certain types of trees, these trees torch like they were soaked in gasoline. The fire is in front of us and moving quickly. We have no choice but to drive straight through the flames. Our small two tire track path leads right through the wall of fire. Surin prefers to walk. We are first to go through and I can feel the heat as we drive quickly through the fast moving fire. My thoughts turn to the gas tank on the truck. I hope that the gasoline cans on board are closed tightly. Minutes later we see Surin running on the road behind us catching up on foot and climbing back into the truck. The flames are rapidly approaching but our truck moves quicker and soon the flames are out of sight. During the trip we have stopped several times for repairs and I pray that the “Truck with the Iron Heart’ will continue to run, especially this near the fire.

On the road for nearly a week, I have seen only a small portion of what Thungyai holds. I hear Surin, Ko & Nok talking with rangers into the night. It makes me wish I could speak Thai, but then again just hearing the voices in this unfamiliar language somehow relaxes me. I ask questions when I need to, but for the most part I remain silent. I can feel the attention that WFCC members give each ranger and person we meet. I feel how much respect and admiration these people have in return for Surin and the other club members. Rangers, especially those with families, struggle to make ends meet. When Surin first started coming to the area, rangers were with torn out uniforms or boots. WFCC members donated and supplied the rangers with proper gear. Those who join WFCC go through a rigorous 2 year program of volunteer work, which includes many trips to the jungle. It is a great sacrifice for many of those who join, as all spare time is dedicated to helping the preserve without pay. The 2 year program is a test to see how dedicated one is before their honorable membership is granted. Construction projects for WFCC not only include the central radio project, but the building of wildlife checkpoints as well. Heavy laborious work of hauling materials in such as concrete, block and piping is part of the job. The small local Karen village population is also supported and WFCC holds retaining tribal cultural values as a top priority.

“I want to take you to an area that we do not visit often”. This place is called the Nam Choan Cataract. It is a beautiful peaceful place that allows only limited outside visitors a year.”

I am excited at the opportunity to see something that very few will ever get to see. It is a several hour trip that will take us down miles of steep road into a large canyon. Not far into the trip, Surin shouts and we turn around to see a large animal off in the trees. It is a large Wild Boar. It immediately spots us and is off into the forest before I can take a picture. This is the most dangerous animal in the jungle, even more dangerous than the tiger. Traveling alone or in packs, they are very aggressive and will attack without warning. Surin explains that it is not easy to see wildlife in the jungle as there are usually two responses from animals once they spot you. Attack or run, and if caught on foot without protection, you hope it is the latter. We have a ranger with us this time and I am relieved he is carrying a pistol for protection as we are now in a very seldom traveled area. The road winds down the canyon dropping steeply. Ko has been our driver and has been trained by Surin. He is a careful and experienced driver. The road appears to have been built years ago and there are no signs of recent travel. Washouts are a constant problem and Ko carefully traverses each and every one. Near the bottom we pull into an open area and I am puzzled by the sight. A number of old abandoned metal buildings with concrete foundations are in total disarray and lay before us. There is no sign of life and it is obvious that nature is slowing reclaiming the small settlement.

“What is the place?” I ask.

Surin relays the story: “During the 1980’s, without warning, the Nam Choan Dam project was proposed. Construction soon began but with fierce opposition from conservationists and rangers in Thungyai, the dam project was indefinitely postponed in 1988. Luckily this project was never completed and only the initial construction remains as a reminder to all of us that this Dam would have been an ecological disaster of huge proportions. The sanctuary would have been split and it would have destroyed habitat for many unknown plants and threatened species of animals.”

Looking up, my eyes wander across the lush green jungle, steep hillsides and the tall rock face cliffs in the valley. It reminds me of Yosemite National Park in the U.S. and I am thankful that someone had the foresight to stop the Nam Choan Dam project. A short walk down below the abandon dam construction camp reveals a huge wild river flowing with crystal clear water. One glance into the water and I spot schools of fish everywhere. The day is hot and within minutes we are all swimming in the river. The current is strong and ahead I hear the roar of the falls and rapids below. We swim out to a large rock and jump off the rock into the pure water. I am indeed grateful for having seen this place during my life.

The ride back out of the canyon is a slow one. Steam begins to flow from under the hood and once again the Toyota has to be stopped several times to cool off so we can add water to the leaking radiator. It seems to be getting worse and after inspection of the radiator hoses I am hoping we will make it. A slowly developing steering problem has also worsened climbing out of the canyon. On occasion the steering wheel turns and the front wheels do not respond. I know how dangerous it is, especially with this narrow winding road clinging to the hillside. I must have a look before the steering is gone. Luckily a member has donated a set of wrenches and I find the problem. A clamp around the steering shaft under the dash had loosened. Tightening the bolt takes care of the problem. At the top of the canyon, where the terrain begins to level out, the truck has overheated once again from the long climb out. Our water jugs are empty, so we must wait for the engine to cool down and hopefully make it to the ranger station. Surin suggests we walk the road now and later Ko will catch up after the engine cools off. Once again I am thankful that the ranger has his pistol after our earlier morning sighting of the Wild Boar nearby. The ranger has picked up several dropped orchids to return to Tikong wildlife protection stations. He has something to show us and we head over to edge of the canyon. He points to a large object hanging high in a tree nearly 50 yards away. I can’t make out what it is exactly, but it appears to be nearly 5’ tall and pagoda shaped. It almost appears to be a small house of some kind covered with small shake shingles.  I walk closer to get a better view with my camera but I stop as Surin warns me to stay back.

“The ranger says this is the hive for the Tiger Head Bee, it is very dangerous insect and if this bee stings you in the head, it will take the pigment out of your hair and your hair will turn white. They are very aggressive. If you are stung more than once, you may die .”

I back up slowly, my camera shot now seeming unimportant.

Arriving back at the Tikong station, Surin points out the community garden that feeds many of the rangers. When possible, food is distributed to other rangers at nearby stations. A new shower and restroom facility, recently built by WFCC is nearing completion for the rangers and visitors. Up until now, no visitor restroom facilities have been available. Bees are swarming on the south side of the building where the rangers live. I keep my distance, but Surin assures me these are not the Tiger Head variety.

“The rangers wish to show you the bee tree nearby.”

A small trail leads out behind the station for about a ¼ of a mile. The ranger points up into a huge tree with a trunk diameter of nearly 12 feet. There are only branches near the top of this hundred foot high tree. He points to half a dozen hives hanging in the branches. Standing next to the tree, I point my camera upwards, moving around the tree for the best shot. Working my way around the opposite side of the massive trunk I am surprised by what I find. A narrow makeshift ladder made from bamboo disappears into the branches way above the ground. Short bamboo spikes have been driven into the tree trunk spaced about 18” apart. A punched vertical bamboo rail has been attached to the ends of each spike, creating a hand rail with a step wide enough for one foot. All of this work has been done by hand. Surin translates as the ranger tells the story of the bee tree.

“This is a very special tree and each year the Karen Villagers ask permission from the forest gods to take some of the hives. They ask how many they are supposed to take in this special ceremony. Through this process they are told how many. One or men from the tribe climbs the ladder into the top of the tree to retrieve the honey. In the case where more hives have been taken than were allowed by the gods, there has been disaster and fatal accidents in the climbing process. This is a long time custom of the Karen tribe.”

Nearby I spot one of the largest trees I have ever seen. The trunk at the base is as big a house and then it tapers slowly into a tall shaft. Logging in Thailand has been outlawed which has saved many of the remaining old growth forests.

It is our final day and we must complete our journey to the sanctuary entrance and offices. During our last leg of the trip we have picked up two men who are walking out of the forest. Both have stomach problems and are sick. We have seen them walking for the last several days and when we make our stops, they keep walking, These villagers have walked over 70 miles with only a small knapsack and I marvel at their strength and tenacity. I wonder where and how they sleep at night. The last leg of the journey they are glad to be riding as the truck bounces along the bone jarring road. Near the sanctuary entrance and our final stop, we are greeted by more rangers. A small store with pre packaged foods is a welcome site. I gorge myself after having been on a nearly all rice diet for the last week. Surin shows me the aging Thungyai vehicle fleet parked behind the station. He points to an ancient Toyota Landcruiser that appears to have become part of the forest itself. This was the first vehicle to be driven into Thungyai. Covered with moss and lichen, there is no usable part in sight and it is slowly being reclaimed by the surrounding jungle. I suggest it be brought out and displayed somewhere as a museum piece near the entrance. The remaining vehicles have been scavenged for parts and they appear now as ready for the scrap yard. There is no funding to repair these trucks, keep them running or supply gasoline. I present my idea to Surin of donating modified Dodge M601’s for use here, but as he explains they are too large and require too much fuel to operate.

The end of the journey is near. Outside the entrance gate to Thungyai, we stop for photographs, we are all smiling. I am grateful for my companions and for this life experience of great magnitude. I have been deeply moved by what I have experienced.

Several miles from the entrance Surin painfully points to the barren roadside fields stripped of every ounce of vegetation.

“They come from Northeast of Thailand. They strip the forest bare so they can plant rice and farm. They leave no living thing standing and we must educate them so that the forest survives. Only 8 years ago this was also pristine jungle and now it has disappeared forever.”

We are all tired and the ride home is an exceptionally long one. At midnight we make a slight detour to the railroad bridge across the Kwai Yai River. An old locomotive stands nearby. This is the famous site of the “Bridge over the River Kwai”.

My thoughts turn inward and I cannot stop thinking of Thungyai. I had come to Thailand for Dodge Power Wagons and somehow ended up in a remote wildlife sanctuary. Did it just sort of happen or was it meant to be? Whose responsibility is it to take care of this great forest anyway? Yes, I understand it’s located in the country of Thailand, but doesn’t it really belong to the world? The work that Surin, the rangers and members of the Western Forest Conservation Club do is unfathomable and I know now that I must do my part in supporting these people who help one of the last great remaining forests in the world survive.

Two years later at this writing, the central radio system project nears completion. More wildlife checkpoints have been set up including river stations to prevent further poaching.

An ancient grove of Cycads, (the official tree on the badge of WFCC uniforms) has been found with living specimens over 1,000 years old! And yet there is more ongoing work and research to do in the years to come.

If some of what I have written here has in some way touched you, than I hope you will consider doing your part by helping the Western Forest Conservation Club help the world.  Every ounce of your donation will further their efforts to protect this world gem from further destruction.

David Butler

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