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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 38.djvu/632

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

transversely placed, forming dull knives. The leaf is introduced so as to bring one side in contact with the revolving wheel, which is run by a small engine. A brake then presses the leaf against the scrapers, while the butt is firmly held by a pair of pincers. The scrapers remove the outer surface and some of the soft tissue; then the leaf is taken out and turned, and the other side undergoes the same operation, until only the fibers are left. These are then shaken out and hung in the sun for a few hours to dry. The result is a rather coarse fiber of considerable strength. The finest quality is nearly white, while the inferior grades are yellowish in color. In order to produce the best quality of fiber, the leaves must be cleaned as soon as possible after being cut; otherwise the fiber is apt to be spotted.

It may be well to state here that the cultivation of sisal is also being tried in Bermuda, Trinidad, and Jamaica, but on a much smaller scale than in the Bahamas. There, as already stated, large tracts of land have been bought from the Government for the sole purpose of producing the sisal hemp. The price is now four dollars an acre, and two acres are said to produce one ton of fiber. Wages for men vary from thirty-six to sixty cents per day, according to the season and locality, as most of the negroes are spongers, and at certain times of the year labor is not easy to obtain. Women, however, are largely employed in the planting and weeding, and receive on the average twenty-five cents a day. These are the data on which it is stated that a ton of fiber can be produced for fifty dollars. As the price of the fiber is now from one hundred and twenty to one hundred and thirty dollars a ton, and has been as high as two hundred dollars, these figures look attractive.

But it may well be asked, "How about the quantity of fiber now on the market, and will the market stand the enormous increase, that the yield of the Bahamas will give?" That is, of course the very point on which the question of profit or loss will turn. The writer has been told, by one who is well acquainted with the fiber market, that if the sisal hemp could be sold for four and a half or five and a half cents per pound, in a few years the consumption would be doubled; for, when the price reaches nine or ten cents a pound, the use of the fiber for many purposes is abandoned, and is replaced by some cheaper material, as jute.

One of the principal obstacles in the way of cheaper fiber is the need of a good machine, as the one now in use is a crude affair, requiring the attendance of two men and a boy besides the engineer, and producing but a small quantity of fiber daily. Although much skill and money have already been spent in attempting to invent a better machine, as yet all efforts have been msuccessful; but, as inventors and mechanics are still at work,