Map of Wang Pratart, Kamphaeng Phet, near the Mae Ping River drawn by K.G. Gairdner. (photo courtesy of Frans Betgem)

Early married life

After their marriage, Malee and her husband spent their lives in Wang Pratart Farm, Kamphaeng Phet, for about three years, from 1931-1934. This farm was established close to the Ping River on in excess of 520 hectares of paddy field and more than 40 hectares of gardens and plantations. There were many buildings within the farm, including power house and pumping station, warehouses, cattle barns, workshops and residences for families and tenants. This farm also equipped with many modern machineries of the time.

However, life in the farm must be difficult as was mentioned by Malee to her children later in her life. The area was not only haboured various diseases, but also where bandits were rampant, so much so that the tenants had space under the floor of their residences that had been converted into bunkers, lined with sandbags, in case of attack. She therefore requested her husband to change the job, in which he later got accepted into the Anglo-Siam Co. Ltd.(formerly Siam Forest Co. Ltd), as a forest assistant, in 1934. This company at that time was operating logging railways in various forests both sides of Doi Phu Nang mountain range, northwest of Muang Pong, a small village in Amphoe Ban Muang, Changwat Nan. (Nowadays Amphoe Pong, Changwat Phayao)

One of the reasons that her husband, Kiet Wattananikorn, could easily secure a job with the company might be because of his earlier experiences before coming to work in Wang Pratrat Farm, in response to K.G. Gairdner’s persuasion in 1929. In 1927, about a year after kiet finished his study from Saint Xavier Institution, Penang, he accompanied his friend, Ken, to visited Ken’s father, K.G. Gairdner, in Ban Tha Luk, Lampoon. During the time Gairdner was responsible for a logging railway project for the BBTC in Mae Li Forest. Seeing foresters’ interesting life, Kiet decided to ask Gairdner for a temporary job with the BBTC in the area, where he worked for about two years, from 1927-1929.

A sketch map drawn by K.G. Gairdner in 1926, showing the proposed railway line from Ban Thung Man to Ban Tha Luk. Labeled black is the bad section of the Mae Li River. (photo courtesy of Frans Betgem)

Congestion of teak logs in the Mae Li River around 1928-1929. (photo courtesy of Oliver Backhouse)

During the last few years of A.L. Queripel as BBTC’s Chiang Mai Manager until his retirement in 1927, there was a huge congestion of teak logs in the lower part of the Mae Li (or Me Lee) River. This was because the river in this area, about twenty-six kilometers in length, had been widen to about ten times the average width of the river above and below this bad area. Due to the widening of the river, in 1925, the congestion reached a total of 49,674 logs. From then on the outturns by floating from the Mae Li Forest had become progressively worse. Queripel tried to solve the problem by using buffalo carts to transport logs from the bad area of Mae Li, to the Mae Ping River and floated them there, but it turned out to be a futile effort. Finally, BBTC decided to bring in logging railway to solve this problem, and assigned K.G. Gairdner to carried out the task.

Gairdner responsibilities included surveying, clearing the forest, track laying, bridge construction, locomotive assembly and truck building as well as loading and transporting logs to the Mae Ping rivers. He started the detailed survey in December 1926, and by the end of April 1928 the first logging railway operation was ready to start. The railway began from its railhead beside the Mae Li river at Ban Thung Man, Amphoe Ban Hong, in the south passing through Ban Huay Kan, and then probably continuing along the present highway routes 3004 and 6034 to a marshalling yard close to the Mae Ping river in the area of Ban Tha Luk, Amphoe Wiang Nong Long.

Upon arrival at Ban Tha Luk, the logs were rolled from the trucks on to a wooden slipway, so that they could slide down easily into the Mae Ping River. This railway had a total length of about twenty-four kilometers (excluding many temporary paddy field and creek lines). The railway cutting through a ridge at Doi Lang Tham, near the north end of route 6034 just east of Si Tia Tambon office, can still be seen. Three Hudswell Clark locomotives were used for the whole operation, which was finished on July 10th, 1929. After ceasing operation in Mae Li, the locomotives, trucks, rails and other infrastructure were sold to the East Asiatic Company who used them in Phrae. [i]

[i] Prof. Kittichai Wattananikorn, British Teak Wallahs in Northern Thailand from 1876-1956 (White Lotus Press, 2018)

A Hudswell Clark locomotive was hauling ten teak trucks to Ban Tha Luk. Upon arrival, the logs were rolled from the trucks on to the wooden slipway, so that they could slide down easily into the Mae Ping river. (photo courtesy of Oliver Backhouse)

The present-day railway cutting through a ridge at Doi Lang Tham, near the north end of route 6034 just east of Si Tia Tambon office.