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:
AA00016037:00096


This item is only available as the following downloads:


Full Text








Rouse, Joseph; no address given, postmarked Balboa.


I landed here on the Isthmus in the year 1905. I cannot
remember the month I was put off at the section which was called
Gorgonia where I was camped and fed. The next day I was presented
with a pick and shovel to work on the track line of the Mechani-
cal Division where the locomotive run. I was turned over to a old
Jamaican man by the name of Charles Campbell as my boss. I
worked as a laborer for about one month. I became so skillful
that' I was presented with 21 working men and a water boy by the
Walking Foreman, Mr. Little. The General Foreman was Mr. Elleck
and our Master Mechanic was 1ir. Cummings. After the tradk lines
were built, the machine shop was built then the can shop. I yet
remained as foreman for the car shop for many years then the shop
removed-to Empire, I remained as foreman.

I will now bring to your remembrance of the time the Pay Car
ran off the track. I cannot remember the year nor month, but I
remember I was called by my General Foreman Mr. Herman and my
foreman Mr. Taite to seek the trouble. I did so with three men.
We went off at the call on a trolley. The trouble was a bad
wooden shim and it only took us a few hours. The Pay Car was
able to pay off that same day.

The shop then removed to Balboa (the same Mechanical Divis-
ion) and I yet remained as foreman. After such time I was pro-
moted to a clerk. These were the people I worked for: Mr. Alex-
ander Greig, Foreman, Shipwright and Dock Master; Mr. George F.
McDade, succeeding Dock faster; Mr. McMahone, Foreman of Planing
Mill and Mr. Swanson, Foreman of Planing Mill and Shipwright.

In the early days of construction of the Isthmian Canal, the
wages were small yet we could live better than these days. Things
were cheaper I would say 100%. The wages were 101 per hour, then
as the years rolled on the wages went higher. In those days we
were fed on the job with quinine to keep away the fever. When
the big dike was blovmed in 1913, those who were yet alive
praised the Almighty God that he had enabled us to see the water
flowing and that he had given men the knowledge which enabled the
completion of hard toiling n!ght and day. As far as I can remem-
ber, these are the sections: Colon, Gatun, Frijoles, Monte Lear,
Mindi, Gorgonia, Empire, Balboa, ranama.

I have been retired in the year 1950, after working 45 years















Rouse, J. p.2


for the Mechanical Division and during the World War 2, I worked
from Sunday to Sunday as a monthly employee with no relief.

Respectfully Yours
signature typed
DR 4256




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Rouse, Joseph; no address given, postmarked Balboa.
I landed here on the Isthmus in the year 1905. I cannot
remember the month I was put off at the section which was called
Gorgonia where I was camped and fed. The next day I was presented
with a pick and shovel to work on the track line of the Mechani-
cal Division where the locomotive run. I was turned over to a old
Jamaican man by the name of Charles Campbell as my boss. I
worked as a laborer for about one month. I became so skillful
that' I was presented with 21 working men and a water boy by the
Walking Foreman, Mr. Little. The General Foreman was Mr. Elleck
and our Master Mechanic was 1ir. Cummings. After the tradk lines
were built, the machine shop was built then the can shop. I yet
remained as foreman for the car shop for many years then the shop
removed-to Empire, I remained as foreman.
I will now bring to your remembrance of the time the Pay Car
ran off the track. I cannot remember the year nor month, but I
remember I was called by my General Foreman Mr. Herman and my
foreman Mr. Taite to seek the trouble. I did so with three men.
We went off at the call on a trolley. The trouble was a bad
wooden shim and it only took us a few hours. The Pay Car was
able to pay off that same day.
The shop then removed to Balboa (the same Mechanical Divis-
ion) and I yet remained as foreman. After such time I was pro-
moted to a clerk. These were the people I worked for: Mr. Alex-
ander Greig, Foreman, Shipwright and Dock Master; Mr. George F.
McDade, succeeding Dock faster; Mr. McMahone, Foreman of Planing
Mill and Mr. Swanson, Foreman of Planing Mill and Shipwright.
In the early days of construction of the Isthmian Canal, the
wages were small yet we could live better than these days. Things
were cheaper I would say 100%. The wages were 101 per hour, then
as the years rolled on the wages went higher. In those days we
were fed on the job with quinine to keep away the fever. When
the big dike was blovmed in 1913, those who were yet alive
praised the Almighty God that he had enabled us to see the water
flowing and that he had given men the knowledge which enabled the
completion of hard toiling n!ght and day. As far as I can remem-
ber, these are the sections: Colon, Gatun, Frijoles, Monte Lear,
Mindi, Gorgonia, Empire, Balboa, ranama.
I have been retired in the year 1950, after working 45 years
2 image0023.jpg
Rouse, J. p.2
for the Mechanical Division and during the World War 2, I worked
from Sunday to Sunday as a monthly employee with no relief.
Respectfully Yours
signature typed
DR 4256