THE REMINISCENCES OF CHRISTIAN CHRISTIANSEN

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PORT WASHINGTON COMMUNITY ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM

PORT WASHINGTON PUBLIC LIBRARY  

THE REMINISCENCES OF CHRISTIAN CHRISTIANSEN

 
Christian Christiansen

 

PREFACE

The following interview is one of a series of tape-recorded memoirs in the Port Washington Public Library Community Oral History Program. This series was developed in order to systematically gather historical information about the important themes in Port Washingtons history from before the turn of the century until the present time.

This interview focuses on sandmining in Port Washington, and was part of a New York Council for the Humanities Project, "Sands of Port", conducted by the Public Library in 1981-82.

This interview was conducted for the Port Washington Public Library by Elly Shodell with Christian Christiansen in on February 5, 1982.

The reader is asked to bear in mind that he is reading a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written, word. Editorial corrections have been inserted by hand, when required, to help preserve the authenticity of the verbatim transcript. Permission to quote for publication must be obtained from the Port Washington Public Library or from the oral authors, their heirs or forebears.

 

Elly Shodell
Port Washington Public Library
Oral History Program Director

Funded by the New York Council for the Humanities.

 (c)PORT WASHINGTON PUBLIC LIBRARY

 

 

Christian Christiansen(CC) interviewed by Elly Shodell (ES), February 5, 1982

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page 1

C.C.: ...broke his heel jumping off a horse cart, never went to a doctor. For the rest of his life everybody called him Lame Jim.

E.S.: Jim Salerno?

C.C.: Jim Salerno. He worked in the banks with my father. He was the man who opened the bucket when they put it over the cart to empty the sand.

E.S.: Let's start at the beginning. How long did you work in the sandbanks?

 C.C.: I personally did not work in the sandbanks. I was a young kid when that was all going on.

 E.S.: Your father then?

C.C.: My father worked in the sandbanks from about approximately 1917 to up in the 40s, after the war.

E.S.: Give us his full name.

C.C.: His full name is Christian O. Christiansen. The middle "0" is for Oleneus, now don't ask me to spell that one. It's a Norwegian name. He came from Norway to this country. Settled here in Port Washington and then

 

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C.C.: he went to work in the sandbanks. Married my mother. And he worked there up until he died.

E.S.: When did he come to Port Washington?

C.C.: He came to Port Washington about 1890 and he lived with my grand- parents on Jefferson Street. until he married my mother. Then he went to live up in the Park section, 15 Park Avenue, where I live to this day.

E.S.: How did he get a job in the sandbanks?

C.C.: Well, the banks were pretty well just starting up and they were

hiring everybody. Especially the Italians were brought straight from Italy to work in the sandbanks. They had their houses, their stores and everything in the banks. Just like the song, "16 Tons", they owed their souls to the company store, right over here in Port Washington. They had their own houses 'n everything. Tony Carr, Carta, used to live in one of their houses over there.

E.S.: Why did your grandfather come to Port Washington?

C.C.: He came from Norway thinking the streets were paved with gold. The old story. And he happened to settle here in Port Washington because he knew my mother's father, Petersen, and they started out from there.

 

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E.S.: And your grandfather's name was?

C.C.: John F. Petersen.

E.S.: And where were they from?

C.C.: My father was from Norway. He was a fisherman, that's all he was in Norway. But there was no work, so they came to this country thinking that the streets were paved with gold like in the old days they used to say. And he eventually got started working in the sandbanks.

E.S.: Did your grandfather also work in the sandbanks?

C.C.: My grandfather and my grandmother on my mother's side lived on

the scows, the barges, that hauled the sand into the city. And when my father's parents came over they also lived on the sand barges that hauled the sand into the city. Matter of fact, they died in a fire in Brooklyn aboard the barge.

E.S.: What year was that?

C.C.: Oh, you're going back about 1900. Many years ago.

E.S: Were accidents common?

 

page 4

C.C.: Very common. You see, whole families used to live on those sand barges 'cause the man's job was to level the sand out so they could take 'em out into the sound and into the city. Because otherwise it would capsize. And that was my grandparents job. My father's side was working in the sandbanks as a young man and working his way up to operating the biggest steam shovel they had over there. He was number one engineer in the sand company.

E.S.: How did he work his way up?

C.C.: Just hard work, that's all. He had no education. Could barely write his own name. But by doing, he worked his way all the way up from the second shovel to Number One steam operator.

E.S.: What company was that?

C.C.: He started out with the Phoenix Company. And when the Phoenix sold out they sold to Goodwin and Gallagher where he worked 'till Goodwin and Gallagher died. Then he went with Colonial up until he died. That's a period of, I'd say, fifty years or better.

 E.S.: Let's get back to your grandparents for a moment. What was life on the scows like?

page 5

C.C.: Well, they were sea-faring people from Norway and Denmark so they were used to that. And it was a place to live. And that's why they took that job. Being paid and having living quarters. Living went along with it.

E.S.: How much did they get paid?

C.C.: I haven't the slightest idea. In those days, I don't know. I remember toward the end my father was making less than one hundred dollars a week. On those standards, in those days, that was considered top money. My father was making the best money for the working man in the sandbank at that time. He started with a pick and shovel and horse and cart.

E.S.: What was he earning when he first started?

C.C.: I don't think he was making more than two or three dollars a day.

E.S.: What were the living conditions like on the scows?

C.C.: Oh, they had just a bedroom, they had a kitchen, they had their own heat. The only thing they had to supply was their own food. But everything else was taken care of. They were good living quarters in those days. Today's standards would be altogether different.

E.S.: It was one family per scow?

 

page 6

C.C.: One family per scow, yes.

E.S.: What about in the winter.

C.C.: They lived right on, year round. They had their own heat in the winter. They worked year round. They kept the ice broke open with the tugboats and everything. "'Cause those tugs used to go out in those days pulling thirty or forty scows at a time. Today they pull, what, three, four. But the sand was a very, very big thing. I remember them working from daylight 'til dark. No lights were rigged or nothing. When it got daylight in the morning, they went to work. When it got dark, they stopped. No such thing as an eight hour day.

E.S.: How many children did your grandparents have?

C.C.: At the time they were living on the scow, they had three children. And after they got off the scow and moved to Jefferson Street they had three more.

E.S.: How many years were they on the scow?

C.C.: Between five and six years. Not too long.

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E.S.: Were they friendly with the people on the other scows?

C.C.: Oh, they all knew each other. In those days, everybody knew everybody. You couldn't walk down the street where you didn't run into somebody you knew.

E.S.: Was there visiting on the scows?

C.C.: Oh, yeah. They had regular get-togethers an everything when some of the families would be in the same place at the same time. They had their little visits and they recognized their holidays and all that stuff.

E.S.: Was it mostly other Norwegians?

C.C.: Most of your scow people were of Scandinavian descent - the Danish, Swedish, Norwegian and German.

E.S.: Had they known each other before?

C.C.: Most of them knew each other from the old country, yes. My grand- father was very fluent in about six or seven different languages. They got along pretty good. They started with Phoenix, that was one of the first started digging over there.

 

page 8

E.S.: Do you remember who got him the job on the scow?

C.C.: That I do not know. I think they more or less did it on their own. But I have about twenty, twenty-five arrowheads at home that my grandfather gave me that he found over where Bar Beach is today. Most of the time they were here behind Bar Beach.

E.S.: Where did the kids go to school?

C.C.: There was a little school over on Bar Beach, across where Bar Beach is today, there was a little schoolhouse set up on the street. One-room schoolhouse. My mother started school there.

E.S.: What were some of the stories your grandfather told you about adventures on the scow?

C.C.: No. A couple of times they almost tipped over because the sand load shifted in a storm. But other than that, it was just a normal routine life.

E.S.: Did your grandmother worry?

C.C.: No. They didn't worry about those things.

E.S.: What year was the fire that took their lives?

page 9

C.C.: That was before 1920, early years. And they're buried in Brooklyn somewhere.

E.S.: Did your two sets of grandparents know each other?

 C.C.:Oh, yes, very closely.

E.S.: Were they from the same town in Norway?

C.C.: No, two different towns. My mother's parents came from Denmark. My father's parents came from Arvik, Norway. But they knew each other from, the way they did in the old days.

E.S.: Did your grandfather try to move off the scows?

C.C.: Yes, they tried, numerous times. But the living around here wasn't that much-in those days. There weren't no apartment houses or anything else. Just the families that were here for awhile had their own homes. There was no renting or anything like that. You had to own a home or you didn't live in this town at that time.

E.S.: Can you discuss the physical labor involved in working with the sand? What did they actually have to do.

page 10

C.C.: The sand cars came out and dumped the sand onto the barges. It was their job to shovel and rake the loads so they were level, so they would not capsize. But every inch of space on there, there was sand. Sand was the money maker, so they had to get everything they could on that scow. The man's job and the woman's, if they were married, living on the scow, both of them had to work hand in hand, pure back power, muscle power, like we call it "Norwegian steam" to level out the sand so it would be seaworthy, so it would not capsize at sea.

E.S.: Where did the scow go?

C.C.: Into Brooklyn. In the Red Hook section, that's as much as I can tell you on that part. Seventy-five percent of the sand that went out, by barge from Bar Beach, went into the building of New York City.

E.S.: Did your grandparents have a boss?

C.C.: Oh, yeah, they all had bosses.

E.S.: Who were the bosses?

C.C.: The people who owned the company. They didn't bring in extra fore- mans or anything like that. But the longer the men were with the company,

 

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C.C.: the more they stepped up in their seniority. The owners themselves would check.

E.S.: What did the scows look like? Were they decorated on the outside?

C.C.: No, it was all company, and they all had numbers. Each scow. That was the only identification, was the number on the scow.

E.S.: How common were accidents?

C.C.: Not too common. I think in my lifetime, I heard about four or five of them capsizing in a storm.

E.S.: What about the fire hazard?

C.C.: That was a very common thing. Because they were all wood. And they had coal burning or wood burning stoves in them. It was very common in those days to have a fire.

E.S.: Did your grandparents enjoy their work.

C.C.: Yes, they did, very much. One time they wanted them to go home, but they refused to go home. Wanted to stay here, doing what they were doing. There was nothing, nothing, in Norway. You either fished or you were hungry.

page 12

E.S.: Your father, getting to the next generation now, could you repeat what company he started with?

C.C.: He started with Phoenix. He was born in 1880 and he came to this country around 1890, so he was fourteen or fifteen years old when he went to work for Phoenix Sand and Gravel Company.

E.S.: What kind of work did he do?

C.C.: Well, they started out with the horse and wagon. The men were digging into the banks with shovels, load the wagon, they'd take it down and dump it. And they got bigger companies, they went to steam trains, did away with horses, and they started to get in the big steam shovels, the big Marion steam shovels. And he worked his way on up from fireman to oiler to operator, just on sheer know-how, not know-how, but doing. You could show him one thing and he'd never forget it. He'd retain anything you ever showed him. Whoever taught him what it was, he worked his way all the way up to Number One steam shovel operator. He had the biggest steam shovel working over there.

E.S.: Did you ever see it?

C.C.: Oh, yeah. We'd play over there all the time when we were kids. We were a nuisance.

page 13

E.S.: What were your feelings as a young boy when you saw this?

C.C.: We were amazed, the size of it and everything else. The shovel he operated would pick up eight yards of sand at one time, that's the size of about a normal house today, and put it in the little sand cars. And we were amazed. They didn't have wires on 'em like they have today. They had big chains. Like you can see in the picture, there's chains on it. Just to maneuver that thing back and forth, one man standing there with all that control. And that used to amaze us.

E.S.: How did you get on to the steam shovel?

C.C.: They had ladders. It was eight to ten feet off the ground where the man operated it from. The only place they didn't allow us to go in was where the moving machinery was. They were afraid we'd get caught up in it. We could go around 'em, or stand up around Jim, watch him pull up the rope to empty the bucket and my father pulled the levers and stuff like that. Watch 'em lay track. So they could move up to the next place.

E.S.: Was it something you wanted to do when you grew up?

C.C. No, never.

E.S.: Why not?

 

page 14

C.C.: Well, I always had my mind set, since I was a little fellow, of going into the Navy, which I did. And I spent thirty years in there.

E.S.: So you had no ambition to go to the sandbanks?

C.C.: No, not the way I seen them working. The way I used to see my father come home so tired that my brother and I used to have to sit and bathe him. He'd fall asleep in the tub and we'd have to go in and bathe him and get him to bed. Four o'clock the next morning, back to work again. Like I said, there was no eight-hour shifts. They worked from the time they could see until the time they could no longer see.

E.S.: Did he have any brothers?

C.C.: Two. One of them went into the Merchant Marine. The other operated a tugboat in New York Harbor for forty some odd years.

E.S.: Your father never lived in company housing?

C.C.: No, no. They frowned on it. They would not live in company housing. He bought a house on Park, because it was closer to work than Jefferson Street.

 

page 15

E.S.: Why was that?

C.C.: Just one of his standards, that was all.

E.S.: What was the company housing like?

C.C.: I guess it was just like any other company housing. Was a room, a cook stove and a heater. That was it. Period. You got your food and your clothes from the company store. McCormack's owned that store that was down near where the skating rink is today. Cause the sand companies, as you come down Beacon Hill, was the O'Brien Sand Company. Then there was the Phoenix Sand Company, then the McCormack Sand Company. There were three sand companies over there. Each had their own company store, each had their own housing. Just like an old time general store.

E.S.: What was in it?

C.C.: Food, shoes, clothes. You name it. They had just about everything in there. It was a small store.

E.S.: Was there a canteen?

C.C.: Yes. Gallagher I remember when I was a kid, every Christmas

 

page 16

C.C.: the Gallaghers got together and they threw a party for all of its employees and families. And all us kids, every year we got an Ingersoll pocket watch. Never failed. We could bet on it.

E.S.: Where did they hold the party?

C.C.: They had a regular cafeteria, set aside just for this purpose. It was in walking distance for everybody so they could get there. In those days, they didn't have cars.

E.S.: Was Gallagher considered a good employer?

C.C.: He was considered the best. My father was on first-name speaking terms with him. He used to come up and sit and talk with my father while he was working.

E.S.: Do you remember him?

 C.C.: Very, very faintly.

E.S.: What did he look like?

 

page 17

C.C.: He was a baldish men. grey-headed at the time. Stocky build. He was always well dressed. All us kids used to be amazed at how well dressed he was all the time.

E.S.: Where did he live?

C.C.: He lived over at the entrance to Bar Beach. it's gone now. Bar Beach today used to be the Gallagher estate. It used to be a beautiful. beautiful house. big. Hardwood floors. fireplaces in all the rooms an all that stuff. I'm surprised they tore it down. Every man that ever worked for him. I never heard a harsh word said against him. He was a very soft spoken person. He did not have an accent. He was born and raised right here in this country. And very polite to everybody. Regardless of your stature in life. he was very polite to you.

E.S.: Was there an office?

C.C.: He had an office in his home. To me. it was a regular office with a desk. There was one girl working there and the rest were all men. Regular paperwork. There were no telephones to speak of. Everything came by carrier. They didn't depend on mail. They had a man. All he did was go back and forth with messages and all this kind of stuff.

 

page 18

E.S.: Do you remember what the men wore to work?

C.C.: Everyone of them that I know, up to and including my father, always wore about two suits of clothing, regardless summer or winter. Because they'd sweat in summertime their heavy underwear would keep the body cool. In the wintertime, it kept them warm. They all wore hats of some kind, but no earmuffs or anything like that. Just a homemade wool hat. No gloves.. I don't recall him wearing gloves. But they, almost everyone of them, wore two suits of clothing plus heavy underwear.

E.S.: What did they do for lunch?

C.C.: They brought their own lunch. Because my brother and I used to have to take my father's lunch over to him. He'd leave so early in the morning that my mother didn't have time to make it, so we'd have to come home from school, grab my father's lunch, run up to the sandbanks, deliver my father's lunch and get back to school again. (laughter). That was the routine.

E.S.: Did your father enjoy his work?

C.C.: Yes, he very much did so. He really looked forward to it, even the way he was beat and tired and everything else, but he still enjoyed the work.

 

page 19

E.S.: What did he like about it?

C.C.: The challenge of it, I guess. Digging into them great big banks and waiting for them to cave down, loading the cars, how much he could load, how fast he could load. He was a hard working man.

E.S.: I wanted to get some idea of the number of men who were working in the sandbanks?

C.C.: Well, each shovel, that's the steam shovel itself, there was at least six men working on that shovel alone. Then in front of each shovel they had what were called cavers, two cavers. They had long poles with spikes on top, twenty foot pole, and as the shovel would dig out the underneath sand, they had to go in and cave the top down. And that's where I know four to five guys who were buried alive. I think they saved one out of the four.

 

page 20

C.C.: That was the most dangerous part of the whole thing. They had to go up there, and with long poles, loosen up the upper banks so it would fall down.

E.S.: That must have been depressing for your father?

C.C.: At first, it was. But then it got to be routine. Just like every thing else. It got to be routine.

E.S.: Was there one steam shovel working at a time?

C.C.: Three. At one time at Bar Beach...when I say the banks, I always refer to Bar Beach, to me that's East Shore Road. But they had three levels oj sand working there. The bottom layer was real fine sand. The middle layer was a mixture. And the top layer, they were scraping off the stuff, the gravel. So there was three shovels working at all times.. Twenty-four hours a day, towards the end.

E.S.: How were they positioned? On top of each other?

C.C.: No, they were staggered, in case of a bank slide. The one on top would always be way up front, then the other would be half way back, and the third one all the way back. So they wouldn't cave in on each other,

 

page 21

C.C.: the ledges were so narrow. I would say, on anyone day, there were six-seven shovels working in all the banks. And before the Depression, they were working seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. You could hear them little tooters going all night long.

E.S.: What were the tooters?

C.C.: Those were the little cars, the little donkey engines, we called it, bringing the cars back up. Letting the engineer know he was comin so they could get ready to load 'em up. Cause the longer he stayed up there, the less sand he was dumping on them scows. And they had to move them scows out.

E.S.: What were the other sounds that came from the banks?

C.C.: Just you could hear the chains clinking from the steam shovel when he was raising and lowering his bucket and when they dropped that big bucket the back door would come shut and you could hear it allover town. Boom! You could hear that door go shut and he'd make another scoop. Tooting and bansing and chains, it was a very common sound of this town.

E.S.: What about whistles?

 

page 22

C.C.: That's what I call the tooter. Everybody, when there was an emergency, all blew their steam whistles so the whole town, especially the banks over by Shore Road, all knew there was an accident of some kind.

E.S.: When you looked up at the sandbanks when you were visiting your father, what were you thinking?

C.C.: How high it was. How am I gonna get up there? Cause when they got done work, when they had to go home, there was no ladders, no stairs, they had to climb a rope up these sheer sandbanks in order to get up top. They had knotted ropes and the guys where they kicked footholes into the sand- banks to get out of the banks. They came out the Park section, which is where I lived at the time. They all come down through that way. Otherwise, they had to walk all around Shore Road to get back and, tired as they were, they took the shortest way home.

E.S.: Were the pits scary to you as a boy?

C.C.: No, that's the one thing. We were never afraid of them. Even with all the rocks and boulders and everything else. We knew everybody working there. And everybody knew us. I rode many of those little donkey

 

page 23

C.C.: cars. The guys used to let us kids ride 'em and teach us how to run 'em and stuff like that. To break the monotony for themselves.

E.S.: Tell us about this picture with the donkey car?

C.C.: Those are my three uncles, those three boys here. There's John Petersen, Sam Petersen and Frank Petersen. None of them went on to work in the sandpits. They were all plumbers by trade at the end and moved out of town. They lived on Jefferson Street when they were little. They're all deceased now. This picture was taken...you know where the entrance to Bar Beach is right now? About fifty feet from there is where that picture was taken. We were always playing cowboys and Indians in there. This is a picture of the steam shovel my father drove. They'd dig in so much, then they had to lay tracks to move this whole thing forward so they could dig some more. The rocks in those days they did not save. They were more of a bother than anything else. They just laid them off to the side. Got them out of the way. I found this picture in an album I hadn't seen in a long time. And I had a lot of memories flash back to me. And I said, "Yeah, that's my oId man standing right there". He could speak Italian better than he could speak Norwegian. Because all these people were Italians.

 

page 24

E.S.: Can you describe your father physically?

C.C.: He was a very big and a very strong man. He stood about 6'1, 6'2, weighed around two hundred pounds. But it was all muscle, cause he worked hard all day long and he worked with his arms, not with his head like they do today. All his body. It was all arm work to pull himself up that ladder.

E.S.: Was there any illness caused by being around the sand all the time?

C.C.: The only illness I heard of there was most of the guys wound up with pneumonia. My father had pneumonia three times. They told him the last time he had it it would kill him. He lived another twenty years after that.

E.S.: Why did they get pneumonia?

 C.C.: Out in the cold weather, weather didn't mean nothin. Below zero, two, three, four, feet of snow meant nothing. They were soaking wet continuously. Year in, year out, winter, summer, it didn't make no difference, they were soaking wet.

E.S.: Who was your father's best friend?

C.C.: Jimmy Salerno, the man that worked with him for I don't know how many

 

page 25

C.C.: years. I can remember that I always referred to him as Lame Jim. Him coming up to my house on Park Avenue on bicycle, having breakfast with my father and mother and then the two of them would go off to work. Come home at night, Jimmy would speak to my mother cause he was very polite and very courteous all the time. Speak to my mother, pick up his bike, ride on home up to Avenue A. Worked on the shovel with my father for "X" amount of years.

E.S.: What did Salerno do?

C.C.: He was strictly the man who stood up there and pulled that rope to empty the bucket and assist with oiling the engine if there was a slow period. It was three or four hundred pounds. Cause you take a steel plate the size of this door or this wall, you got to pull one rope to open that, with I don't know how many tons of sand. It took a lot of power. They dug into the bank with this shovel, and on back of it was this door. He'd dig in, he'd fill this thing up with sand, he'd swing it over the car, the sand car would be parked here, and Jim's job was to pull the rope to open the back door, so it would empty out. It had no mechanical means. It was just brute strength to open that door. And he did that ten, twelve, fourteen hours a day. They'd stop for a bite or a cup of coffee, then right back to it again..

 

page 26

E.S.: What if a man got sick? Was there any disability pay? Any benefits?

 C.C.: No. No unions, no benefits, no retirement plan, nothing. They did not want a union at that time. I remember my father was very worried when they talked about bringing a union in. Cause he said, "I will not join a union in any way".

E.S.: Why?

C.C.: That was their belief in those days. They didn't like the unions. They were afraid of the union coming in and dictating terms to them. You  can't work, you can work, and you do this, and you do that. The way they had it there, they each had their own little things to do and they did it. They didn't want a bunch of people coming in and dictating. They had a beautiful boss. They all loved him and he left them alone. They did the work.

E.S.: What were some of the other benefits that Gallagher offered the workers aside from the parties?

C.C.: I can't recall any, to tell you the truth. Just that they had a job. Just that they had a job. It meant a lot in those days. So even though the pay was kind of small, you still had a job. Just a Christmas party that everybody looked forward to.

 

page 27

E.S.: Who else did you know from the sandpits? Did you know Al Marino?

 C.C.: Oh, yeah, we all knew Marino. The big castle, between Neulist Avenue and Marino Avenue, there was a great, big stone castle, as we used to call it. The Marinos owned that palace. And it was built from the rocks of the sandpits. Mr. Marino had his gang of Italian fellows who worked. They hauled rocks and sand and they built that castle up there. I remember, when I was a kid, they had a fire up there. He had a still in the stables that blew up. That was a big scandal here in town at the time.

E.S.: What did Mr. Marino do?

C.C.: He worked over in the banks. I guess you could call him like a foreman. A working foreman. He worked for McCormacks. He was a big, Italian man, like the old time macho man, the father, he was, like they'd call it the godfather today, of that family, not with Mafia, or anything like that. But he was the head man. He was the senior man of that family, and that was it! Everything that Mr. Marino said, they all did. There was no force or anything, just the old-fashioned "the father is the head of the family". And he ruled with an iron hand, I remember that.

 

page 28

E.S.: Can you give an example?

C.C.: Yeah. He caught me out in his stable one time and he almost wore out the sole of his shoe on me. (laughter)

E.S.: How did you feel when the Marino mansion went?

C.C.: It was kind of sad, cause it was quite a landmark and had quite a few memories for me. He was a very good man. He was strict. He took no nonsense from us young kids, which I can't blame him for. It was all farms up there at that time. We were at the Walters' farm. We'd go up and steal their melons, get caught.

E.S.: Back to the sand. Were the sides of the sandpits like walls? What were they like?

C.C.: Just like in a quarry. You see the sloping banks and the big steam shovels would be digging at different layers. It was a sand quarry, you quarry, you could say it was. Whenever they came into a big rock, they had to stop what they were doing, get the rock out, set 'em aside, and then go back to get the sand again. Cause in those days, rocks meant nothing. They were more trouble than anything else.

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E.S.. If you closed your eyes for a second, could you picture how the sandpits changed over time?

C.C.: Well, I remember the three layers of steam shovels working and how we used to work our way all the way down. The second layer, the sand was so fine, we used to use skis and ski down the side of 'em, because it wasn't quite as steep as the first layer was. But I can still picture the shovels working at the different levels, the little donkey engines with the two sand cars tooting around there one after another, getting loaded, and going back down over the strip here, dumping sand and coming back up again.

E.S.: Why were they called donkey engines?

C.C.: Because of the size of them. Where they used to use horses and donkeys to pull 'em, they had these little steam engines, they just named them "donkey engines".

E.S.: What were the names of some of the other machinery? You had donkey engines, steam shovels, dump cars?

C.C.: That was about the extent of it, because they brought the coal and stuff to the steam engines by horse and wagon. A couple of old horses and a dump wagon and he'd bring the coal up to each wagon. They load the coal from the wagon onto the steam shovel and go back to the next steam shovel and do the same thing.

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E.S.: That was before the donkey engines came in?

C.C.: Yeah, yeah. When my father first started working the shovel, it was run on railroad tracks. In later years, I don't know how many years later, they took all the railroad tracks out and they put on tracks like they have on tanks. And he could move forward without putting tracks down first. It made it faster. Like the big caterpillars have the big tracks on 'em. They put 'em underneath the steam engines so they could move forward on their own power and they didn't need the tracks to put 'em down. It was in the 30s.

E.S.: Was there one company that seemed to be more technologically advanced than the others?

C.C.: Yeah. The Goodwin-Gallagher Company seemed to do the most of the change-over faster than the rest of them. Usually, the senior man would get the latest equipment. Like the senior shovel operator, he was more or less the boss of that whole operation around that one shovel. My father did a lot of the repairs himself. And it was all by his own doing. Mechanically,  you couldn't beat him even though he wasn't an educated man. Could hardly write his own name, like I said. That big Marion, that was his pride and joy, it was the biggest shovel over there. And that was his. Nobody touched it. Nobody did any repairs without him knowing about it.

 

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E.S.: What if your father was sick or couldn't show up for work?

C.C.: I've never known him in all my years to miss a day regardless of how sick he was. He went to work. There was no such thing as a holiday. Christmas, maybe, that's it. If they were working, that was it, they just kept right on working.

E. S. : What is the meaning of the sandbanks to you?

C.C.: To me? Well, in my younger days out here, if you didn't work in the sandbanks, you didn't work. It was the only thing in this town. In those days, it didn't mean anything to me but someplace to work. It didn't have no historical meanings, or anything else.  It was a place to play, and a place for men to work. There was ponds up there with fish and all that kind of stuff where us kids would fool around. But that was it. It was just another thing. It was the sandbanks.

E.S.: How did you feel when you heard the library was doing an historical study of the sandpits?

C.C.: I was surprised, to tell the truth. I didn't think there was anybody left around who would even know about it, because there are very, very few of us left in this town that know about it.

 

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E.S.: Is it something that you think the town ought to know?

C.C.: They ought to, sure. Because the historical fact behind it, the type of sand...you know. I was in Algiers one time, right on the edge of the Sahara desert, when I was in the Navy, and to my greatest surprise, a ship came in loaded with sand from the United States. Now where in the United States, I don't know. But they had to import sand in Arabia to build with. And they got a desert full of sand over there. So that sand is dead. This sand over here is live.

E.S.: Tell us what that means?

C.C.: It means that the sand from this area here in the most natural sand for building because it holds its moisture, you don't have to add a bunch of extra stuff to make it work. The sand over there in the Sahara is dead sand. It will not, will not, hold any water whatsoever. It crumbles. You can't make cement out of it.

E.S.: Do you see any reason why the sandbanks should be preserved?

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C.C.: Yes, I'd say stop building the factories over there and let it go back to nature. Make a natural park out of it. Put the riding paths in there, walking paths, and let nature re;form itself. We robbed nature of a lot of it. Let's let nature take it back over again.

E.S.: We were talking about the layers of steam shovels.

C.C.: My father's position was, he always worked the top shovel, because he worked faster, moved faster, and he cleared off the rough stuff so the finer sand could be mined, or shovelled, whatever you want to call it, at the lower levels. The faster he worked, the more room they had to work. And they worked at a slower pace.

INDEX
Return to page 1

Arvik (Norway) 9

Bar Beach 8, 17, 20, 23

Carta, Tony 2
Christiansen, Christian O. (father) 1, 24
Colonial Co. 4
Company housing 15

Denmark 5, 9

Gallagher Mr. 4, 15-17, 26
Goodwin & Gallagher 4, 30

Jefferson Street (PW) 1,6, 14, 23

Marino, Al 27-28
McComack Sand Co. 15, 27

Norway 1, 2, 3, 5, 9

O'Brien Sand Co. 15

Park Avenue (PW) 2, 22, 25
Petersen, John F. 2-3
Petersen, John/Sam/Frank 23
Phoenix Co. 4, 7, 12

Red Hook (Brooklyn) 10

Salerno, Jim 1, 13, 24-25

Unions 26

Wages 5