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:
AA00016037:00107


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Full Text




Waisome, Jeremiah; P.O. Box 1172, Colon, R.P.



This is my story of life in Fannma and the Canal Zone.
I was born in 3luefields Nicc agua :in the year 1895, my mother
brought me in p-anama when I was 7 months old, when I did had
sence enough I knew that we were living on the lines they call
Rio Grande, just across were from where .my mother was living
the french was still digging the canal, at the time they had
some small french locomotive the 700 type with a few cars,
mostly looks like a western dump, but much smaller than the
American western dump. and there locomotive had no safety
valve, at times the locomotive would blown to pieces with
engineer fireman and all, first to begin with the french had
no system in their organization. A man can work on 5 differ-
ient jobs a day, and when the week ended you collect for those
5 jobs, there timekeeping system was poor, during these
days we had all kind of revolutions, especially when voting
for President, should one party won, the opposition side
claim its a fraud, then the shooting start, men life did not
mean much -those days, the cheapest thing to buy those days is
gun and bullets, they were sold in chinks shops or in any
stores, no restrictions in buying a gun. they were all Amer-
ican made. at those days every man owns a gun. when ever
time the voting is to get under way all the natives would move
all there belongings to the interior, because most of the
fighting are in the city, before the election my Mother would
stock up supplies in her home in preparation for the elections,
when the shooting start we had to lay flat under our bed
pretty near a week, you coud hear the bullets rolling off the
roof tops when everything cleared off perhaps they runs out of
shots, when my Mother comes out in the morning you could see
bullits holes through the side of the buildings, and a lots of
corps laying around, to m..'ake things short my M'other move
over to panama, ju;-.t we] e the local rate service center was
just at the foot of Tivoli hotel, there was a lot of wooden
building faceing the railroad track, that place was called
Volvo nuevo, .my stop father was a fireman on the panama
railroad then he promoted to locomotive engineer.

I could remember when I started to go to Arts Officio
school in panama, in the morning we go into class, lunch
tine at 11 oclock and at noon say 1 oclock we return to school
each boys will find there place In different shops, what ever
trade you selected, such as mechanic, cabinet, or any other
trade. our teachers were mostly from spain, and they were
very polite, during the t-ime goin to school, .the construc-
tion of the panama can:.l .ere underway, I saw many of my








VWalsome, Jeremiah p.2


friends on pay day with a lots of big balboas the temptation
were too groat to resist, unknown to my Mother one morning
instead of going to school, 1 went to Galboa to look myself a
job, I was about the ;-o of 12 or 13 years, there was no
regulation on age. at that time most of the dirt dug from
the canal were sent to dump the sea from balboa to flamenco,
I approach a boss one rornino for water boy job, I said good
morning boss, he retorted good morning boy, at this time he
had a big wad of tobacco chewing I ask him if he needs a
water boy he said yes, he ask what is your name I told
him, I notice that my name did not spell correctly as
Jeremiah Waisome, so I said excuse me boss my name do not
spell that way, he gave me a cow look, and spit a big
splash, and look back at me and said you little nigger you
need a job, I said yes sir, he said you never try to dic-
tate to a white man, take that bucket over there and bring
water for those men over there, the kind of work the men
were doing is to ballae the track, every time a loded train
unload the dirt and rock into the sea. they pulls away back
to gorgona or to culebra, to be loaded, a locomotive stand-
ing by with a spreander, thin op cader sl a flat car is con-
verted with a mechanical frame built on top with wings like a
bird on both side Pct on a 0'5 degrees angle, dirt can be
spread on either Orlde if it had to, the spreader has got air
hose connection from the locotive to operate it, the conduc-
tor operate the spreader with leaves to lover and lift by
notches, the brak the wings to put a pin every time the conductor lower and
raise the wings, according to notches, to spread the dirth, I
were too young for that kind of work, because condition out
their were. too rou::h, every now and again the spreader would
turn over and men get kill. so I left and get myself a job
at the balboa hotel under a angerr with an alias name
tanglefoot. I work there for a few months, and left again
and got another job at miraflores as a switch tender, things
were mighty rough out there too, but I stick it, it means
nothing to see men Fet kill daily, either by train, accident,
or explosion by dynamite, the locks fate were built by the
Mcclintic marshal partly every day you could hear the scarfle
would cut away with drill, ieamers and other equipment with
white & black gone down to 75 feet to the bottom of the looks
to there doom. there 'wee no safety these days, one morning
we left F.anma on a labor train en-ine no 318, engineer
Healy was at the trottlc, just little beyond the new corozal
railroad station noin towards iirt.aflores, there was a dead








Walsome, Jeremiah p.3


end track left open by some careless night hustlers, the loco-
motive was goin at full speed with a labor train of about 10
cars, run through the switch where there was abot 5 loded
western dump cars with sand, and the morning was dark, no
switch lights, and Ait those c.rs the engineer jump, the
fireman got hill, and ;;ny workers got kill, one could hear
the morning and the hollering, that morning it was awfull. to
see the dead scattered around, God was with me that morning,
this happens between corozal and miraflorea, this happens
about 545 AM, there were no switch lights. Another accident
happens in the canal between Miraflores and Corozal there
were a few hundred men and boys making the last drilling so
that the water from the Pacific side could move in nearer to
the locks, with Trypod drills loading holes with dynamite it
was a hot sunny day, just about noon, every body busy men and
boys working, something went wrong, and ther was a big
explosion; men boys and machines went up in different
directions some has not been found until today. when the
smoke cleared off, one could see human flesh dangling from
trees nearby.

After the completion of the niraflores locks, all the
switchmen and brakemen that had more time of service were pick
out and sent or transfer to balboa, to work on the dry dock.
after the completion of the dry dock, I secure a job at
paraiso on drill boat Torido, under the command of Captain
nabiteau. drill operator Messers Shelton, Lloyd, and Batten-
field, this is the nir-ht shift. we work 12 hours a day,
except sundays and holliduys the sailors take turn to stand
watch aboard Sundays and holidays, our rate was about 035.00
a month, thin was another dangerous job, drilling rocks at
the bottom of the canal, According to the different slides,
we drill by ranges, and we load between 20 to 30 sticks of
dynamites according to the size of the rocks through charger
rods. One evening I went to work and there was no drill boat
right at the foot of gold hill where most of the trouble were.
another explosion blew up torido number 1 that bold her over
that sent the captain and ;en to there death, shortly after
another boat w.as built and sent down Torldo number 2, I work
there for about-a year and quit. 1 got myself another job at
another department, there were no insurance those days, and no
time for safety, everything was in a hurry.

before closing the IrAna'nanian were call spickidee, and
a panamanian cop dare not cross the canal zone, sometimes a
panamanian cop would be chaseing a man that commit himself in








Waisome, Jeremiah p.


the republic and forgot t' '.t he is on the canal zone, he
would be arrested both mc t, and tried by judge blackburn,
and for 10 days in jail fc: dcliurbing the rpase. the rate
for water boy in 7 cents Yi hour, ;and labourer is ten cents.
I Got retired in 1957 lot! the quarters in December, I
plead to give mc a chance to enjoy the benefit on the civil
service, which would be ir cfective in about the next six
months but to no avail, 1 got to adopt my last child to
keep him in school, which he will be graduated from school
next February. I were co;.' ;el to tell a lie on myself by
signing a document dayinS that I am sick to get on the dis-
ability relief. I am getting i'55.00 a month and thank God
for this ard the canal zon 11 ovcrment. AlthoWgh its a
problem for me with ny boy graduation coming up, but in God
we trust.

yours truly.
J]EF LIAH WAlSGIRE




Full Text
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Waisome, Jeremiah; P.O. Box 1172, Colon, R.P.
This is my story of life in Fannma and the Canal Zone.
I was born in 3luefields Nicc agua :in the year 1895, my mother
brought me in p-anama when I was 7 months old, when I did had
sence enough I knew that we were living on the lines they call
Rio Grande, just across were from where .my mother was living
the french was still digging the canal, at the time they had
some small french locomotive the 700 type with a few cars,
mostly looks like a western dump, but much smaller than the
American western dump. and there locomotive had no safety
valve, at times the locomotive would blown to pieces with
engineer fireman and all, first to begin with the french had
no system in their organization. A man can work on 5 differ-
ient jobs a day, and when the week ended you collect for those
5 jobs, there timekeeping system was poor, during these
days we had all kind of revolutions, especially when voting
for President, should one party won, the opposition side
claim its a fraud, then the shooting start, men life did not
mean much -those days, the cheapest thing to buy those days is
gun and bullets, they were sold in chinks shops or in any
stores, no restrictions in buying a gun. they were all Amer-
ican made. at those days every man owns a gun. when ever
time the voting is to get under way all the natives would move
all there belongings to the interior, because most of the
fighting are in the city, before the election my Mother would
stock up supplies in her home in preparation for the elections,
when the shooting start we had to lay flat under our bed
pretty near a week, you coud hear the bullets rolling off the
roof tops when everything cleared off perhaps they runs out of
shots, when my Mother comes out in the morning you could see
bullits holes through the side of the buildings, and a lots of
corps laying around, to m..'ake things short my M'other move
over to panama, ju;-.t we] e the local rate service center was
just at the foot of Tivoli hotel, there was a lot of wooden
building faceing the railroad track, that place was called
Volvo nuevo, .my stop father was a fireman on the panama
railroad then he promoted to locomotive engineer.
I could remember when I started to go to Arts Officio
school in panama, in the morning we go into class, lunch
tine at 11 oclock and at noon say 1 oclock we return to school
each boys will find there place In different shops, what ever
trade you selected, such as mechanic, cabinet, or any other
trade. our teachers were mostly from spain, and they were
very polite, during the t-ime goin to school, .the construc-
tion of the panama can:.l .ere underway, I saw many of my
2 image0046.jpg
VWalsome, Jeremiah p.2
friends on pay day with a lots of big balboas the temptation
were too groat to resist, unknown to my Mother one morning
instead of going to school, 1 went to Galboa to look myself a
job, I was about the ;-o of 12 or 13 years, there was no
regulation on age. at that time most of the dirt dug from
the canal were sent to dump the sea from balboa to flamenco,
I approach a boss one rornino for water boy job, I said good
morning boss, he retorted good morning boy, at this time he
had a big wad of tobacco chewing I ask him if he needs a
water boy he said yes, he ask what is your name I told
him, I notice that my name did not spell correctly as
Jeremiah Waisome, so I said excuse me boss my name do not
spell that way, he gave me a cow look, and spit a big
splash, and look back at me and said you little nigger you
need a job, I said yes sir, he said you never try to dic-
tate to a white man, take that bucket over there and bring
water for those men over there, the kind of work the men
were doing is to ballae the track, every time a loded train
unload the dirt and rock into the sea. they pulls away back
to gorgona or to culebra, to be loaded, a locomotive stand-
ing by with a spreander, thin op cader sl a flat car is con-
verted with a mechanical frame built on top with wings like a
bird on both side Pct on a 0'5 degrees angle, dirt can be
spread on either Orlde if it had to, the spreader has got air
hose connection from the locotive to operate it, the conduc-
tor operate the spreader with leaves to lover and lift by
notches, the brak the wings to put a pin every time the conductor lower and
raise the wings, according to notches, to spread the dirth, I
were too young for that kind of work, because condition out
their were. too rou::h, every now and again the spreader would
turn over and men get kill. so I left and get myself a job
at the balboa hotel under a angerr with an alias name
tanglefoot. I work there for a few months, and left again
and got another job at miraflores as a switch tender, things
were mighty rough out there too, but I stick it, it means
nothing to see men Fet kill daily, either by train, accident,
or explosion by dynamite, the locks fate were built by the
Mcclintic marshal partly every day you could hear the scarfle
would cut away with drill, ieamers and other equipment with
white & black gone down to 75 feet to the bottom of the looks
to there doom. there 'wee no safety these days, one morning
we left F.anma on a labor train en-ine no 318, engineer
Healy was at the trottlc, just little beyond the new corozal
railroad station noin towards iirt.aflores, there was a dead
3 image0047.jpg
Walsome, Jeremiah p.3
end track left open by some careless night hustlers, the loco-
motive was goin at full speed with a labor train of about 10
cars, run through the switch where there was abot 5 loded
western dump cars with sand, and the morning was dark, no
switch lights, and Ait those c.rs the engineer jump, the
fireman got hill, and ;;ny workers got kill, one could hear
the morning and the hollering, that morning it was awfull. to
see the dead scattered around, God was with me that morning,
this happens between corozal and miraflorea, this happens
about 545 AM, there were no switch lights. Another accident
happens in the canal between Miraflores and Corozal there
were a few hundred men and boys making the last drilling so
that the water from the Pacific side could move in nearer to
the locks, with Trypod drills loading holes with dynamite it
was a hot sunny day, just about noon, every body busy men and
boys working, something went wrong, and ther was a big
explosion; men boys and machines went up in different
directions some has not been found until today. when the
smoke cleared off, one could see human flesh dangling from
trees nearby.
After the completion of the niraflores locks, all the
switchmen and brakemen that had more time of service were pick
out and sent or transfer to balboa, to work on the dry dock.
after the completion of the dry dock, I secure a job at
paraiso on drill boat Torido, under the command of Captain
nabiteau. drill operator Messers Shelton, Lloyd, and Batten-
field, this is the nir-ht shift. we work 12 hours a day,
except sundays and holliduys the sailors take turn to stand
watch aboard Sundays and holidays, our rate was about 035.00
a month, thin was another dangerous job, drilling rocks at
the bottom of the canal, According to the different slides,
we drill by ranges, and we load between 20 to 30 sticks of
dynamites according to the size of the rocks through charger
rods. One evening I went to work and there was no drill boat
right at the foot of gold hill where most of the trouble were.
another explosion blew up torido number 1 that bold her over
that sent the captain and ;en to there death, shortly after
another boat w.as built and sent down Torldo number 2, I work
there for about-a year and quit. 1 got myself another job at
another department, there were no insurance those days, and no
time for safety, everything was in a hurry.
before closing the IrAna'nanian were call spickidee, and
a panamanian cop dare not cross the canal zone, sometimes a
panamanian cop would be chaseing a man that commit himself in
4 image0048.jpg
Waisome, Jeremiah p.
the republic and forgot t' '.t he is on the canal zone, he
would be arrested both mc t, and tried by judge blackburn,
and for 10 days in jail fc: dcliurbing the rpase. the rate
for water boy in 7 cents Yi hour, ;and labourer is ten cents.
I Got retired in 1957 lot! the quarters in December, I
plead to give mc a chance to enjoy the benefit on the civil
service, which would be ir cfective in about the next six
months but to no avail, 1 got to adopt my last child to
keep him in school, which he will be graduated from school
next February. I were co;.' ;el to tell a lie on myself by
signing a document dayinS that I am sick to get on the dis-
ability relief. I am getting i'55.00 a month and thank God
for this ard the canal zon 11 ovcrment. AlthoWgh its a
problem for me with ny boy graduation coming up, but in God
we trust.
yours truly.
J]EF LIAH WAlSGIRE


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