THE REMINISCENCES OF BILL MULLON
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PORT WASHINGTON PUBLIC LIBRARY ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM
THE REMINISCENCES OF BILL MULLON
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 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
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.
Port Washington Public Library
Oral History Program Director
Underwritten by a grant from the New York Council for the Humanities
(c)PORT WASHINGTON PUBLIC LIBRARY
Interview with Bill Mullon (BM) by Mitch
Carucci(MC), December 1981
Click here for index
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 wed go back. It was
only a small place on Harbor Road, next to Salernos 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 theyd need it for icy roads and so forth.
It wasnt 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 wasnt 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,
MC: So, he had no market for his sand any
BM: Thats 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 didnt go back to sand.
BM: Which most all of these sandbanks around
MC: Exactly, they turn into housing, right.
BM: The one down in the pits, Pittsburgh
Sand and Gravel, thats 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 its
still owned by those people. The same as down on Shore Road, the Morewood
MC: The same company all owns...
BM: And theyre 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 Barkers Point. Theres
a tunnel under there. I think its all boarded up now, but thats
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
BM: They did, yes. Concrete slabs.
MC: For special projects, and then shipped
that out pre-fabricated.
BM: Thats 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: Its interesting. During the Depression,
now, activity was still pretty good in the larger companies?
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 Gallaghers 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: Thats an area I find very interesting.
When you started working there were there still workers 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
BM: Oh yes, he had the store over there with
the book trade.
MC: Was he the only one that had a store
MC: There were other stores?
BM: No, there was Langones brother.
There was Langones, Marinos, and those are the only two that
I can recall at this time. Of course, they had 54 miles of track in that
MC: Thats 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 itd 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 hardpand stay there till
the last minute and then the whole thing would come down. Id 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.
Then theyd have to get a good slant on the bank before they could
move the steam shovel in further. Sometimes wed 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
thats 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: Thats right, and it would go out
into the Basin. Its still quite a basin and I wouldnt 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 its 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 Id 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
theyre a little ( ? ), you know.
MC: About how many were there actually living
on the scows, do you recall?
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.
Theyd 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.
Hed 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 theyd 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.
Thats 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 (?) thats 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 youre saying?
BM: Very, very sensitive. Just give them
a little touch here, just move a little. I dont 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 thats
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.
BM: Oh, yeah, thats the big clambakes
theyd have, yeah. And they were clambakes. What they call the real
Rhode Island clambakes. See everything was in rock, and then covered,
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 dont 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
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 thats 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. Thats all he
had to do. And thats a true story, Im 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...
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,
MC: Did the men have a union?
BM: Not at that time, no. The union didnt
come in until 1938. Cause I was in with the union and we had very
good business with the companies. It wasnt 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 couldnt afford to know.
MC: I had read about one strike very early
on in 1908 and then I didnt 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 youd wait five or six months.
Then the mend say, Hey, whatsa matter? I was the vice-president
of the union and find whispered, Youll have a nice Christmas
present, cause our contract was up at the end of May. And,
as I say, four, five, six months sometimes, theyd get it maybe round
just before Christmas. But, we got very nicely. We didnt 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.
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, youd 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 mand go up and take his place.
I guess its 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 youll 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
BM: Well, outside of some close calls, where
a man falls into the bin, where theyre loading and they get him
out of the chute. Thats 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 elses, 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 didnt
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 dont
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 didnt 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 its really the same kind
of mining, its open pit mining.
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, theres 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 dont really have any more questions.
Do you have anything else youd like to add that maybe comes to mind?
BM: Not right off hand I dont, 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: Youve given me some very valuable
information, some things that I hadnt 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
McCormack Sand Co. 6, 7
Metropolitan Sand Co. 2
Morewood Realty 2, 5
Mullon, Richard 1
Pittsburgh Sand and Gravel 2
Smith, Freddie 8
Steers Sand Co. 2, 6