Letters from Isthmian Canal construction workers

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Material Information

Title:
Letters from Isthmian Canal construction workers Contest solicitation, overview and entry requirements
Series Title:
Isthmian Historical Society competition for the best true stories of life and work on the Isthmus of Panama during the construction of the Panama Canal
Physical Description:
Mixed Material
Language:
English
Spanish
Donor:
Afro-Antillean Museum ( donor )
Publisher:
Isthmian Historical Society
Place of Publication:
Panama

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords:
Panama Canal

Notes

Scope and Content:
The Contest: In 1963, as the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Panama Canal drew near, the Isthmian Historical Society decided to make a collection of stories of personal experiences of non-U.S. citizens during Construction Days by means of a contest. This contest was publicized in local newspapers, by notices in the food packages given to Disability Relief recipients, and in newspapers in the Caribbean area. The following letter was sent to a total of 15 newspapers in Jamaica, Barbados, British Honduras, Trinidad, Antigua, St. Vincent, St. Lucia, and Grenada: "The Isthmian Historical Society is trying to collect the personal experiences and viewpoints of those West Indians who served in the labor force that dug the Panama Canal. Very little has been written by them or about them. Soon it will be too late to obtain personal accounts. In the hope of making a permanent record of their experiences during the construction of the Canal, our Society is sponsoring a competition for the best true stories of life and work on the Isthmus of Panama during the construction years. It would be much appreciated if you would assist us in publicizing our competition. I am enclosing a separate sheet with the information for this." The information sheet: "The Isthmian Historical Society announces a competition for the-best true stories of life and work on the Isthmus of Panama during the construction of the Panama Canal. The competition is open to West Indians and other non-U.S. citizens who were on the Isthmus prior to 1915. Entries may be handwritten but must be legible. Anyone who is infirm may have his story written for him by someone else, but in this case it must be stated on the entry that it has been written for him in his own words by someone else. Give name, address, year arrived in Panama, where employed there, and type of work done. All entries must be in the mail by November 1, 1963. The winners will be announced in December. All entries become the property of the Isthmian Historical Society. First prize will be: $50 (U.S.); second prize: $30 (U.S.); third prize: $20 (U.S.)…” Brief notices of the contest were placed in several thousand food packages ("Food for Peace" packages have been distributed monthly by the Panama Canal Company-Canal Zone Government). These notices read: "Competition -- For West Indians & other non-U.S. citizens who worked on the Isthmus before 1915. For the best true stories of life & work on the Isthmus during the Canal construction there will be awarded prizes: 1st PRIZE: $50; … Give year arrived in Panama, kind of work & where, name & address. Write of interesting experiences & people, living & working conditions, etc… The Entries: The majority of the contest entries were handwritten. In some cases the handwriting was difficult to read. In making copies of the entries, it occasionally was necessary to omit an undecipherable word, leaving a blank space to indicate the omission. Although an effort was made to reproduce the letters exactly as they were written, it is probable that there are errors. However, they will detract little from what these Old Timers wanted to say. It should be remembered that these letters were written by individuals who labored on the Isthmus prior to 1915. They are no longer young. Some are handicapped by the infirmities of age: failing eyesight, unsteadv and arthritic hands that find it laborious to form words and sentences, and minds that know what they want to say but communicate it imperfectly. Generally, unfamiliar spellings need only to be sounded and their meaning becomes clear. In cases where the entrants wrote as they speak, there may be dropped "H"8s so that "has" is written "as". Other features of West Indian speech will be noted. As spoken language, there is no English more colorful. Mr. Albert Banister's interesting letter is a good example. The Society is most grateful for all the entries and we regret that there could not be a prize for everyone. Ruth C. Stuhl Competition Editor

Record Information

Source Institution:
Afro-Antillean Museum
Holding Location:
Afro-Antillean Museum
Rights Management:
All rights reserved by the source institution.
System ID:
AA00016037:00029


This item is only available as the following downloads:


Full Text









Chambers, Robert T.; General Delivery, Colon P.O., Colon, R.P.


I booked passage on the Royal Mail Steamer "Magdalena"
which sailed from Kingston, Jamaica, B.W.I., Friday, Feby. 21st,
1913, and arrived in Cristobal Sunday Feby 23rd 1913. There was
a strike of Hotel wgiters in the I.C.C. Hotels and the Manage-
ment were looking out for men to fill the Gaps. Myself and sev-
eral other fellows were taken on for "Gorgona Hotel" as waiters.
I worked there for a couple of months, but the conditions did
not suit me so I quit. I was determined to get a job of some
kind. I was walking along the Railroad Track and met up with a
Railroad Gang at work and the Foreman took me on and set me to
work right away. That was no easy going, no bad of roses. From
7 am to 4 P.M. at 10% per hour, in Sun & Rain. Sometimes we
found ourselves working, not even a gust of wind blowing, cover-
ed with Peraperation dripping down when all of a sudden a heavy
downpour of Rain on us no where to get a shelter, drenched to
the skin & had to stay that way till quitting time. -We then
board our Pump Cars to take us home to Camp. On several occas-
ions going to or from work we see Train Signals & the Train
coming so close toward us that we bearly have time to jump off
and 4 men grab the Trolly Car off the Track with not a minute
to spare before the Train dashes by. During the Rainy Months
of the year I was sent out as Night Watchman from 6 P.M. to 6
A.M. to watch along certain parts of the R.R. Track where rocks
& Boulders might get loose & come down to block the Track. In
those dqyb the Health Dopt issue Quinine to the men to keep
away Fever etc. We could get a (2.50 coupon Book to purchase
Food Stuff, etc. in the Comsy. 1 Loaf of Bread for 4, Rice,
sugar, etc. at low prices. Not now.

After water was let in the Canal, sections after sections
had to be abandoned and F.R. Tracks had to be taken up. Here
again we R.R. men had a tough job. We had to go through water
and mud earring Pails with Rail Tongs to load on Flat Cars to
be taken to places of safety. whilee oif the R.R. Section Gang,
there was a vacancy for a Porter at Gatun R.R. Station and I
was selected from a Gang of 23 men to fill that vacancy. I got
on that job in 1924 & served under many Station Agents from
Porter to Station Helper, till the last Station Master was re-
moved. I spent 28 years at that Station till my retirement in
1952. All through 4 years of World War No 2 I was on duty
there. Now I can say thanks to God for keeping me & that God











Chambers, R. T. p.2


bless U.S.A. that she continue to feed the World.

Respectfully
ROBERT T. CHAMBERS
D.R. 5372




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Chambers, Robert T.; General Delivery, Colon P.O., Colon, R.P.
I booked passage on the Royal Mail Steamer "Magdalena"
which sailed from Kingston, Jamaica, B.W.I., Friday, Feby. 21st,
1913, and arrived in Cristobal Sunday Feby 23rd 1913. There was
a strike of Hotel wgiters in the I.C.C. Hotels and the Manage-
ment were looking out for men to fill the Gaps. Myself and sev-
eral other fellows were taken on for "Gorgona Hotel" as waiters.
I worked there for a couple of months, but the conditions did
not suit me so I quit. I was determined to get a job of some
kind. I was walking along the Railroad Track and met up with a
Railroad Gang at work and the Foreman took me on and set me to
work right away. That was no easy going, no bad of roses. From
7 am to 4 P.M. at 10% per hour, in Sun & Rain. Sometimes we
found ourselves working, not even a gust of wind blowing, cover-
ed with Peraperation dripping down when all of a sudden a heavy
downpour of Rain on us no where to get a shelter, drenched to
the skin & had to stay that way till quitting time. -We then
board our Pump Cars to take us home to Camp. On several occas-
ions going to or from work we see Train Signals & the Train
coming so close toward us that we bearly have time to jump off
and 4 men grab the Trolly Car off the Track with not a minute
to spare before the Train dashes by. During the Rainy Months
of the year I was sent out as Night Watchman from 6 P.M. to 6
A.M. to watch along certain parts of the R.R. Track where rocks
& Boulders might get loose & come down to block the Track. In
those dqyb the Health Dopt issue Quinine to the men to keep
away Fever etc. We could get a (2.50 coupon Book to purchase
Food Stuff, etc. in the Comsy. 1 Loaf of Bread for 4, Rice,
sugar, etc. at low prices. Not now.
After water was let in the Canal, sections after sections
had to be abandoned and F.R. Tracks had to be taken up. Here
again we R.R. men had a tough job. We had to go through water
and mud earring Pails with Rail Tongs to load on Flat Cars to
be taken to places of safety. whilee oif the R.R. Section Gang,
there was a vacancy for a Porter at Gatun R.R. Station and I
was selected from a Gang of 23 men to fill that vacancy. I got
on that job in 1924 & served under many Station Agents from
Porter to Station Helper, till the last Station Master was re-
moved. I spent 28 years at that Station till my retirement in
1952. All through 4 years of World War No 2 I was on duty
there. Now I can say thanks to God for keeping me & that God
2 image0089.jpg
Chambers, R. T. p.2
bless U.S.A. that she continue to feed the World.
Respectfully
ROBERT T. CHAMBERS
D.R. 5372


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