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
Washington’s 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
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.
...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?
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?
I personally did not work in the sandbanks. I was a young kid when that
was all going on.
Your father then?
C.C.: My father worked
in the sandbanks from about approximately 1917 to up in the 40s, after
Give us his full name.
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
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 Italyto 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?
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.
And your grandfather's name was?
John F. Petersen.
E.S.: And where were they
C.C.: My father was from
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?
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
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
C.C.: He started out with
the Phoenix Company. And when the Phoenixsold 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.
Let's get back to your grandparents for a moment. What was life on the
Well, they were sea-faring people from Norway
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
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
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
E.S.: It was one family
One family per scow, yes.
E.S.: What about in the
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.
Were they friendly with the people on the other scows?
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
E.S.: Was there visiting
on the scows?
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
C.C.: Most of your scow
people were of Scandinavian descent - the Danish, Swedish, Norwegian
E.S.: Had they known each
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.
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 BarBeach is today. Most
of the time they were here behind BarBeach.
E.S.: Where did the kids
go to school?
C.C.: There was a little
school over on BarBeach,
across where BarBeach
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?
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
C.C.: No. They didn't worry
about those things.
E.S.: What year was the
fire that took their lives?
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?
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.
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
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 BarBeach, went into the building
of New York City.
E.S.: Did your grandparents
have a boss?
C.C.: Oh, yeah, they all
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,
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
E.S.: What about the fire
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.
E.S.: Your father, getting
to the next generation now, could you repeat what company he started
He started with Phoenix.
He was born in 1880 and he came to this
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
C.C.: Oh, yeah. We'd play
over there all the time when we were kids. We were a nuisance.
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
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?
E.S.: Why not?
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. 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
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
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
E.S.: Why was that?
C.C.: Just one of his standards,
that was all.
E.S.: What was the company
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
E.S.: Was there a canteen?
C.C.: Yes. Gallagher I
remember when I was a kid, every Christmas
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
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
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
E.S.: Do you remember him?
Very, very faintly.
E.S.: What did he look
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 BarBeach.
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.
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
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
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
E.S.: What did he like
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.
I wanted to get some idea of the number of men who were working in the
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
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
E.S.: Was there one steam
shovel working at a time?
C.C.: Three. At one time
I say the banks, I always refer
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,
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?
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
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
when they were little. They're all deceased now. This picture was taken...you
know where the entrance to BarBeach 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
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
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
C.C.: Jimmy Salerno, the
man that worked with him for I don't know how many
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
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..
E.S.: What if a man got
sick? Was there any disability pay? Any benefits?
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".
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
work, you can work, and you do this, and you do that. The way theyhad 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
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.
E.S.: Who else did you
know from the sandpits? Did you know Al Marino?
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
E.S.: What did Mr. Marino
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. Therewas 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.
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
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
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
: 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.
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.
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
E.S.: Tell us what that
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.
Do you see any reason why the sandbanks should be preserved?
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.