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Bill Mullon (front row second from right)


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 Mitch Carucci with Bill Mullon in Port Washington in December 1981.

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

Underwritten by a grant from the New York Council for the Humanities


Interview with Bill Mullon (BM) by Mitch Carucci(MC), December 1981

Click here for index

page 1

MC: Maybe you could just tell me how you started, what was your first job with sandmining?

BM: Well, my first job with sandmining was with my uncle down on Harbor Road, that was in 1924.

MC: And he ran a company?

BM: He had his own little sandbank down there, and he had a crane that we used to go out on the road and dig cesspools, cellars, and so forth, that I operated, and we’d go back. It was only a small place on Harbor Road, next to Salerno’s and that.

MC: And what was his name?

BM: Mullon, his name was Mullon, yeah.

MC: And his first name?

BM: Richard Mullon.

MC: Richard Mullon. And where would he sell the sand to or did he just use it all for himself?

BM: Well, in a small way that he would sell sand to the town, maybe they’d need it for icy roads and so forth. It wasn’t any big amounts. Then Salerno, next door, used to buy it for his small deliveries. We only had, maybe, a third of a million yards in there, see, which wasn’t very big. So from there, then, during the Depression, then, when it opened up, I went over in the sandbank myself, as an operating engineer.

MC: So, during the Depression, the original sandbank, you stopped operating there?

BM: Yeah, well there was no work around, you know.

MC: So, he had no market for his sand any longer.

BM: That’s right.

MC: Did he ever re-open that after the Depression?

BM: No, he sold the place.

MC: And then it was used for housing and it didn’t go back to sand.

BM: Which most all of these sandbanks around here...

MC: Exactly, they turn into housing, right.


page 2

BM: The one down in the pits, Pittsburgh Sand and Gravel, that’s on Shore Road down by Mill Pond Road, up in the back and then it takes it down into Sandy Hollow Road. That was all sandbank in there. That was all dug out. Same as Steers in Northport, and the same as you have over in the development over on Shore Road. It was all sandbanks in there. And this here one will probably be a part of a golf course after this is cleaned up.

MC: And then when you moved into the sandpits what company did you say that you worked for?

BM: I worked for Metropolitan. For Metropolitan is the actual owner of that property, not Goodwin and Gallagher. A man by the name of Dupre. This all Morewood Realty Company. This is the man behind the Goodwin and Gallagher, that Goodwin and Gallagher took it out, Colonial took it out, they paid so much a yard. And I believe it’s still owned by those people. The same as down on Shore Road, the Morewood Oaks.

MC: The same company all owns...

BM: And they’re in Manorhaven, the tunnel is still there where the train used to go through from one side of the road to the other, as you go up the hill into Barker’s Point. There’s a tunnel under there. I think it’s all boarded up now, but that’s where the tunnel... And down in there is where the concrete slabs was made for the Queensborough Bridge, which they made several attempts, for that Queensborough Bridge, cobblestones and the same as they have out here, the concrete. That was made down there from the Goodwin and Gallagher Sand and Gravel.

MC: So they actually fabricated concrete right there.

BM: They did, yes. Concrete slabs.

MC: For special projects, and then shipped that out pre-fabricated.

BM: That’s right. All reinforced till way up. Yeah, I have several of them here from what I picked them up with a crane and brought ‘em.

MC: So your job, now, was what position?

BM: Operating engineer.

MC: Operating engineer. What does that involve?

BM: Well, that involved fixing the docks on the different positions that they had, possibly sometimes going out to the stake boats and fixing the anchors. I was on the floating derrick, for about ten or twelve years. And the docks, it was smashed and so forth, put new piling in, and so forth.

MC: It’s interesting. During the Depression, now, activity was still pretty good in the larger companies?


page 3

BM: As much as the sand was being sold in the City. See, when Goodwin and Gallagher had it they had as many as... I had it written down here. Goodwin and Gallagher’s about 1890. And, of course, Marino, he had a place on the side there where the men used to stay there. He had a shanty and he had a store and it was, more or less, not so much the sand business, it was a business in there.

MC: That’s an area I find very interesting. When you started working there were there still worker’s housing in the sandpits? Were there accommodations for workers right in the area?

BM: Oh, yes, he had accommodation but there was so many that lived in Port Washington that walked over in the mornings and went over by those that had cars, rode over.

MC: But there were still some people that were living...?

BM: Oh yes, he had the store over there with the book trade.

MC: Was he the only one that had a store there?

BM: No.

MC: There were other stores?

BM: No, there was Langone’s brother. There was Langone’s, Marino’s, and those are the only two that I can recall at this time. Of course, they had 54 miles of track in that sandbank.

MC: That’s quite a lot. The cars, were they electrified or were they...?

BM: Eighteen locomotives, steam locomotives, called “dinkeys,” and the men that operated them were called “dinkey skinners.” The shovels were on tracks, and they had 45 men in the track gang alone. You [ ? ] moving tracks with the... And, see, these shovels, steam shovels, only had small booms on ‘em and they had to go in close to the bank. Some of the banks over there were a hundred foot high. They used to have what they called “cavers,” climb up the bank with a 16-foot pole, caving pole, and bring it down and it’d stand there when that bank is coming down. And sometimes it would break, it all depends on the type of sand, a hardpan, where the sand would undermine, slide out, and the hardpan’d stay there till the last minute and then the whole thing would come down. I’d say there was quite a number of men buried over there.

MC: So cave-ins did occur fairly frequently in the natural course of the operation?

MC: The caving?

MC: Cave-in, where someone might...
BM: Oh, yes, they had to keep moving it because otherwise they couldnt get the track into the caves.


page 4

Then they’d have to get a good slant on the bank before they could move the steam shovel in further. Sometimes we’d come in a cover the steam shovel. We had one right down here in Port Washington where it come in and killed the operator, the oiler, rather, not the operator. Jack Wilfirst (?), he was cleaning out where the cave had come before and the second cave come down and buried him.

MC: I imagine that there would be such a tremendous amount of sand that it would take so long to find someone.

BM: Oh, yeah, sure. I t come down and it come down maybe four or five hundred yards. Now, sometimes, they worked on two levels. The top level in them sandpits, there usually was more gravel, and if the call for gravel came in they would run those shovels and the dinkeys and bring it in. And this was all washed with water from Manhasset Bay, Hempstead Harbor not Manhasset Bay. On the last six years that’s what I run down there, I run the pumps down there.

MC: And the washing procedure would be to wash out the silt, right?

BM: That’s right, and it would go out into the Basin. It’s still quite a basin and I wouldn’t be surprised that the majority of that basin will go into New York one of these days for the fill-in where they want to put the Westway. Arcs (?). All clean fill, all clean fill. But it’s very, very fine. Naturally, I guess you know that the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building and your subways are all built out of Port Washington sand. So your New York City is resting on the Port Washington sand.

MC: Were you aware at the time, did you know where, being involved in shipping the sand out, did you know where its destination was, in many cases?

BM: The last years when I was down on the dock, then I would know where the scows was going. Sometimes they would load forty of those little scows a day. But those scows only carried between 450 and 500 yards and they had a scow captain on it. You saw some of the scows down there with the cabins on? Well, that was... they were quite a crew, (laugh), quite a crew. When I was on the derrick, you know, I was number one man with them because I’d bring them coffee if they run short or newspapers or so forth, when I went out to the derrick. But they were very good. I never had anything taken.

MC: They were a colorful bunch though?

BM: Oh, yeah, very, very, very much so. Most of them were Swedish, Svenskas, Nordskas, and Danes - a good bunch. Like they’re a little ( ? ), you know.

MC: About how many were there actually living on the scows, do you recall?


page 5

BM: Well, sometimes they had a wife with them. Oh, and then some of the woodwork, inlaid, that they made and all, that was in there, very, very, very good. Then they would trim the scows, where the side dumpers would dump the sand on, and then they would level it off and some of them had that string on there, see.

MC: Did they own their own scow?

BM: Oh no, no, no, they belong to Goodwin and Gallagher or some other outfit that sent a scow in to be loaded, maybe it went up to Albany or Troy. They go up the Hudson, into New York, and go up the Hudson and pick up the Hudson crew. The Cornell, they had a towing outfit, they used to go from Albany down and back and forth. ‘Cause in 1922, 1923 I was on the Hudson River and I seen the Cornell Towing. They’d be bringing down maybe forty scows or taking them up, and one little tug would be on the side and unlash it and bring it in and go like hell up and catch up the big tow again. And we had the old concrete roundhouse, all cement, where the dinkeys was all brought in for repair job. We had boiler-makers and all up in there. And the soft coal that was all brought out to each one of these by a horse and a little dumpcart. He’d bring out maybe about a quarter of a ton, or maybe a third of a ton, on the dumpcart and take it to each one and they’d throw it right up on the back of the shovels so it could be used by the firemen. Each one of those outfits’ operator had a fireman stand there to keep the steam up. Carried about 125 pounds of steam on all of ‘em. That’s what I carried on the derrick, too. To use steam is beautiful, oh it is. With just a little treadle (?) you can move that thing like you remember Chapmans lifts (?) that’s up here in the water? They do them big bridge jobs with the girders and all. Of course, they now all are fuel oil.

MC: But the steam was more sensitive, is that what you’re saying?

BM: Very, very sensitive. Just give them a little touch here, just move a little. I don’t know how much more I can go back on, just, of course, what happened, tell about the different people that worked over there. Of course, in the fifties I was even working with some of the fellas that got 50 year watches, so you know how far that goes back. Freddy Smith and Bert Thompson. But I believe that’s still owned by this corporation, Morewood. Not at the top, as they say, they owned all that Shore Road down in Port Washington. And in Manorhaven. That was all owned, not all of it, by so much of it, was owned there by the Morewood people.

MC: What sort of social activities were there among the workers? Did workers group together?

BM: Well, the only thing that the company would run maybe a baseball team and clambakes.

MC: Because I had read in an old newspaper account of one of the companies would have an annual party that would be quite extensive.


page 6

BM: Oh, yeah, that’s the big clambakes they’d have, yeah. And they were clambakes. What they call the real Rhode Island clambakes. See everything was in rock, and then covered, hot rocks.

MC: And where would that be held?

BM: Over in the sandbanks. Had the families and all there. Because they had, sometimes, 250, 3OO men working over in that sandbank, plus the other two McCormacks and... the man up on the Boulevard owned the both of them. Yeah, that was quite a bit of the property. Of course, my people owned alot of property right here in Port Washington, too. Main Street. I don’t know if you know the station, down the one block, all the way up by the firehouse, then down opposite the Dime Bank on Main Street, the property that runs all the way in the back here right down.

MC: Do you recall how many hours a day the average sand worker would put in?

BM: Twelve, 6 to 6. And then it would be, at one time, maybe 9 hours, 8 or 9 hours on Saturday, then it went back to half a day on Saturday. Then they chopped it down to 9 hours a day, then 8 hours a day, and then no work on Saturday. But twelve hours a day used to be the... 6 to 6. But that’s going back to the turn of the century, maybe up to around 1915, 1918 and then it started to go down to half a day Saturday. ‘Cause I know even during the First World War, I was a water boy over in Hazelhurst Field, and it used to be half a day Saturday.

MC: Do you recall approximately what the salaries were for the average sandworker back then?

BM: Only from what I could hear, that they were taking home maybe $8 to $9 a week. How far back that went or how far it came this way, I wouldn't know for sure.

MC: What did people, not only people that worked in the sandpits, but the other residents of Port Washington, think of the sandmining operation back in the early days?

BM: Well, it was a livelihood for the town. At one instance I think it was 1940 or the early ‘50s, where the town of Northport became very, very much against the sand people. So, Mr. Steers, from one of the sandpits over there, Metropolitan had one over there, too. But Mr. Steers had a big one. He paid his men off in silver dollars. The town was flooded with silver dollars and they knew all where it came from.

MC: Then they could see how much the town depended upon it.

BM: The man was smart. That’s all he had to do. And that’s a true story, I’m not... Right in this town you have the fathers of the doctors, lawyers, dentists. We have McKelvey, his one son was a dentist and the other was a lawyer, we had Dr. Teta, Dr. Faisano, well, I guess if I could use my thinking cap we could bring up a whole lot more. All the fathers worked in the sandpits. They were very conservative, you know, and they were...


page 7

BM: Italian, and they made a dollar go the longest way that a person could make it go.

MC: The Italians were one of the main ethnic groups working over there. There was also a large group of Poles, I think. Do you recall any other ethnic groups?

BM: Not as many Poles as there were Italians, way out-numbered the Poles. I know some of the Poles that worked there, the Kelskis (?) worked there. But, you know, you'd have to start and say, oh yes, this one worked there, that one worked there.

MC: Do you recall any other ethnic groups that might have worked there?

BM: Not too many. As I say, only on the boats you had the, more of the cold water people, the Swedish and the Norwegians, the Danes.

MC: Did the men have a union?

BM: Not at that time, no. The union didn’t come in until 1938. ‘Cause I was in with the union and we had very good business with the companies. It wasn’t pushin’ ‘em out too much. But they took a little bit advantage before that of the Italians, because they know they could put the finger on ‘em. Most of them had big families and they couldn’t afford to know.

MC: I had read about one strike very early on in 1908 and then I didn’t hear of anything after that. Were there ever strikes that you recall?

BM: Well, not so much with ours, ‘cause in our contract we had no strike, but everything was to be retroactive, from the time of the... Sometimes you’d wait five or six months. Then the men’d say, “Hey, whatsa matter?” I was the vice-president of the union and find whispered, “You’ll have a nice Christmas present,” ‘cause our contract was up at the end of May. And, as I say, four, five, six months sometimes, they’d get it maybe ‘round just before Christmas. But, we got very nicely. We didn’t go too deep with any of them, ‘cause we had pretty fair.... Mr. McCormick, that was Mr. Big of New York, he was a very good man for the working man.

MC: So, in general, you thought the conditions in the pits were fairly good?

BM: In the latter years.

MC: So, that the workers basically were listened to if they did have a valid complaint.

BM: Oh, yes.


page 8

MC: And caution was taken, as much as possible, forthe safety of the workers later on? Was there a change in that? Because it was such a dangerous occupation.

BM: Well, you’d go into that in most anything. In the construction line or anyplace else. As much as you could see a man fall off a beam, another man’d go up and take his place. I guess it’s the world over that way, you would never get out someplace, unless, as I say, they closed down on a certain job and that finishes it. But you’ll always find somebody to take the place. As much as a good man, a good president even, dies why it keeps right on going.

MC: Do you remember any particularly humorous stories that might have happened on the work place? Do you recall anything like that.?

BM: Well, outside of some close calls, where a man falls into the bin, where they’re loading and they get him out of the chute. That’s happened over there. Freddie Smith went out to show one of the cavers, he was a smart man, you know, he was always butting in with somebody else’s, and he was the operator. He went out to show the cable where he wanted it and with that it come down and drove him right in the bucket. ‘Cause he was standing there with, you know, that has the bucket down. About 45 minutes later they got him out but he had a place to breathe in there, ‘cause they didn’t fill it right to the top. He had the bucket this way, it shoved him right in there. He was laid up for about six months but he lived through it. But there were quite a number of men buried over there.

MC: If there was someone buried would the whole crew attempt to dig him out?

BM: Oh yeah, sure, oh yes. You don’t know sometimes when you put your shovel down that the... Later on they put those big machines in, drag line machines, with hundred-foot booms on, they could throw the bucket out and do their own cave-ins. Let the bucket go right up against the bank and then they didn’t have to move as often, they could make one big swing in there.

MC: When did those come in, do you recall?

BM: The first one come in there and I worked on that, had an eighty-foot boom, and it come from Ohio Coal Mine, down in Ohio, that come in 19--

MC: That probably was designed for coal mining and other types of mining.

BM: Oh, yeah, sure. That was for coal stripping in Ohio, see, on the top.

MC: I guess it’s really the same kind of mining, it’s open pit mining.


page 9

BM: Yeah, up to a point it is, yes. Only the ones in the coal mines they dump it on trucks, most of them, and they haul it over to the coppers where it can be processed in the different sizes and so forth. The same like here only we use the train what brought it in and dumped it, at that time. And then later on, now, after that, in the fifties, they put the belts in.

MC: The barges that they were shipping it out, the scows, there’s so many of them that are still there lying along the beach. When did the transformation from wood to steel come about? I know those are all wood.

BM: Well, it come along gradually because in the late fifties they started changing. Then, of course, the new ones, they had three sizes, one carried 8 hundred, then the 9 hundred and a thousand, by number 3, 4, and 5 hundreds. The 300s was the large one, you could put even 1100 yards on by loading it right. That took the place of two of the others.

MC: I don’t really have any more questions. Do you have anything else you’d like to add that maybe comes to mind?

BM: Not right off hand I don’t, but if you have any more other questions come up you can either get in touch with me or Al Marino, in fact he was over there a little longer than I was. ‘Cause, see, I was working on the outside with cranes.

MC: You’ve given me some very valuable information, some things that I hadn’t heard before.

[note: 3 million gallons of Hempstead Harbor water were pumped into the washer per day.]

Return to page 1

Colonial Sand Co. 2
Colonial Towing 5

Goodwin and Gallagher Sand Co. 2, 3, 5

Langone’s 3

Marino’s 3
McCormack Sand Co. 6, 7
Metropolitan Sand Co. 2
Morewood Realty 2, 5
Mullon, Richard 1

Pittsburgh Sand and Gravel 2

Salerno 1
Smith, Freddie 8
Steers Sand Co. 2, 6