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:
AA00016037:00070


This item is only available as the following downloads:


Full Text







Lucas, Rufus C.; Apartado p476, Panama, R.P.



I, the undersigned, born in Jamaica, June 25th, 1888,
left Kingston, Jamaica on the "S.S. CLYDE", April 3rd, 1913,
bound for Colon to work for the Panama Canal. My first job
with the Istmian Canal Commission, as it was called at that time,
was with the Storehouse Department at Empire the same month of
my arrival. I started to work at the rate of 10% an hour moving
supplies around In wheelbarrows. I did this job for a short
period, It will be difficult to recall correct dates, months,
year eta. but these will be to the best of my knowledge and mem-
ory. Records will prove most of the following statements to be.
correct.

In 1913 before water was put in the Canal, I was living in
Empire and on August 15th, 1914, 49 years ago today the
Canal was opened for Commerce. It was then or before that the
liquor stores were ordered closed and liquor was prohibited on
the Canal Zone. In 1914, I picked up a job with the Floating
Gang as a carpenter and went off to Portobello. We got there
one midnight where the mosquitoes by the millions were waiting
for us. There were some wooden structures on top of a hill, we
got up there and took them.down by sections, slid them down the
hill and loaded up the barge, then the tug-boat pulled it out to
Cristobal. That was real hard work. I worked there for three
weeks, then landed in the Gorgas Hospital formerly Ancon Hos-
pital where I was treated for malaria as I had more than my
share.

I also worked with the Dredging Division for a short period
as an oiler on the lumber One Grader in the Canal with a man by
the name of Mr. Wright. He looked at me one day and said "you
are fired right now'. It was for no just cause but I couldn't
talk back because in those days every white man thought he was
CGOD down here.

My next job was with the Municipal Engineering Division at
Corozal with a Boss by the name of Mr. Brooks. He was a very
tough guy, but some reason or other, he and I got along fine
until reduction of force caught up with me.

Next I worked at the Aspinwall Hotel at Taboga as a waiter.











Lucas, R. 0. p.2


That is where I learned to swim. I worked for a short period
of time and then Sot a job at the Balboa Commissary as delivery
man for approximately four years. I got along nicely with my
immediate boss who was a cork-leg man by the name of Mr. Wise.
The manager at that time was Mr. Cornwall and Mr. Pearson
respectively. It was there in 1920 when the employees pulled
off a strike which lasted eleven days but did not materialize.
Instead we got demoted In salary because it was illegal to
strike against the government.

My next and last job with the Panama Canal was in February
1922 with the Health Department at Gorgas Hospital at the rate
of $30.00 a month everyday including Sundays, Holidays, Birth-
days and Armistice Day from 6 A.M. to 6 P.M. If my memory serves
me right, I think it was some time in 1947 or 1948 that the
eight hour shift came about and I was retired in July 1950.
After 17 years working at the Gorgas Hospital, Miss Davis, who
was the Section Nurse at the time fired me on the sly without
notifying the office. I immediately wrote a letter to the
0hief Clerk who was next to the Superintendent in self-defense.
He ordered me back to work immediately. During my 28 years
sertice at the Gorgas Hospital, I met all kinds of people from
all walks of life. As far as I can recall, a part of the Office
staff there was as follows:
Miss McCreth, who was Chief Nurse in 1922. She was a
fine old lady. She was succeeded by Miss Negle and Miss
Negle's successor was Miss Telfer. They were all very
nice people to work with. Male nurses Ench as Mr.
Eddridge, Mr. Sapato and Mr. Smith were all ward nurses.
I witnessed AMr. Sapato dropped dead on the floor of Ward
14 one afternoon, while on duty. I worked with Dr. Wright in
his clinic for some time. All these people died and here I am
still enjoying life on the LAND OF THE LIVING at the age of 75
for which I am very thankful.

These are only sketches with many many other items left
out. If I were to write the history of my life and work in full
on the Isthmus of Panama itwould take me about three books, but
I hope these briefs will be understood. My time on the Isthmus
is 50 years. During this period, I took two trips back to
Jamaica, one in 1941 and again in 1944. In July, 1959, I went
on a vacation to California, U.S.A., where the best of my entire
life has been spent, returning to Panama in September 1960.












Luo*e, R. C. p.3

Since 1913 up to the time that I have been retired, these
are some of the check numbers that were assigned to me:

136502 32854 61487 and last but not least 32273.

Yours very truly,
RUFUS C. LUCAS




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Lucas, Rufus C.; Apartado p476, Panama, R.P.
I, the undersigned, born in Jamaica, June 25th, 1888,
left Kingston, Jamaica on the "S.S. CLYDE", April 3rd, 1913,
bound for Colon to work for the Panama Canal. My first job
with the Istmian Canal Commission, as it was called at that time,
was with the Storehouse Department at Empire the same month of
my arrival. I started to work at the rate of 10% an hour moving
supplies around In wheelbarrows. I did this job for a short
period, It will be difficult to recall correct dates, months,
year eta. but these will be to the best of my knowledge and mem-
ory. Records will prove most of the following statements to be.
correct.
In 1913 before water was put in the Canal, I was living in
Empire and on August 15th, 1914, 49 years ago today the
Canal was opened for Commerce. It was then or before that the
liquor stores were ordered closed and liquor was prohibited on
the Canal Zone. In 1914, I picked up a job with the Floating
Gang as a carpenter and went off to Portobello. We got there
one midnight where the mosquitoes by the millions were waiting
for us. There were some wooden structures on top of a hill, we
got up there and took them.down by sections, slid them down the
hill and loaded up the barge, then the tug-boat pulled it out to
Cristobal. That was real hard work. I worked there for three
weeks, then landed in the Gorgas Hospital formerly Ancon Hos-
pital where I was treated for malaria as I had more than my
share.
I also worked with the Dredging Division for a short period
as an oiler on the lumber One Grader in the Canal with a man by
the name of Mr. Wright. He looked at me one day and said "you
are fired right now'. It was for no just cause but I couldn't
talk back because in those days every white man thought he was
CGOD down here.
My next job was with the Municipal Engineering Division at
Corozal with a Boss by the name of Mr. Brooks. He was a very
tough guy, but some reason or other, he and I got along fine
until reduction of force caught up with me.
Next I worked at the Aspinwall Hotel at Taboga as a waiter.
2 image0169.jpg
Lucas, R. 0. p.2
That is where I learned to swim. I worked for a short period
of time and then Sot a job at the Balboa Commissary as delivery
man for approximately four years. I got along nicely with my
immediate boss who was a cork-leg man by the name of Mr. Wise.
The manager at that time was Mr. Cornwall and Mr. Pearson
respectively. It was there in 1920 when the employees pulled
off a strike which lasted eleven days but did not materialize.
Instead we got demoted In salary because it was illegal to
strike against the government.
My next and last job with the Panama Canal was in February
1922 with the Health Department at Gorgas Hospital at the rate
of $30.00 a month everyday including Sundays, Holidays, Birth-
days and Armistice Day from 6 A.M. to 6 P.M. If my memory serves
me right, I think it was some time in 1947 or 1948 that the
eight hour shift came about and I was retired in July 1950.
After 17 years working at the Gorgas Hospital, Miss Davis, who
was the Section Nurse at the time fired me on the sly without
notifying the office. I immediately wrote a letter to the
0hief Clerk who was next to the Superintendent in self-defense.
He ordered me back to work immediately. During my 28 years
sertice at the Gorgas Hospital, I met all kinds of people from
all walks of life. As far as I can recall, a part of the Office
staff there was as follows:
Miss McCreth, who was Chief Nurse in 1922. She was a
fine old lady. She was succeeded by Miss Negle and Miss
Negle's successor was Miss Telfer. They were all very
nice people to work with. Male nurses Ench as Mr.
Eddridge, Mr. Sapato and Mr. Smith were all ward nurses.
I witnessed AMr. Sapato dropped dead on the floor of Ward
14 one afternoon, while on duty. I worked with Dr. Wright in
his clinic for some time. All these people died and here I am
still enjoying life on the LAND OF THE LIVING at the age of 75
for which I am very thankful.
These are only sketches with many many other items left
out. If I were to write the history of my life and work in full
on the Isthmus of Panama itwould take me about three books, but
I hope these briefs will be understood. My time on the Isthmus
is 50 years. During this period, I took two trips back to
Jamaica, one in 1941 and again in 1944. In July, 1959, I went
on a vacation to California, U.S.A., where the best of my entire
life has been spent, returning to Panama in September 1960.
3 image0170.jpg
Luo*e, R. C. p.3
Since 1913 up to the time that I have been retired, these
are some of the check numbers that were assigned to me:
136502 32854 61487 and last but not least 32273.
Yours very truly,
RUFUS C. LUCAS


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