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SharePrint Media File

Type: Video

Series Title West Virginia: A Film History

Filmmaker Mark Samels

Company West Virginia Humanities Council

Format DVD


Narrator: Pick and shovel crews burrowed a six thousand-foot tunnel, then the longest in the country, through Big Bend Mountain. The tunnel was dark and crowded. Frequent cave-ins crushed many workers; others became sick in the foul air and died.

Ronald Eller: The companies placed greater value often times on the mules than the workers themselves. It was said that a mule was hard to find, a man could be hired off the street. So value on human life and human labor was often very low on these construction crews. Disasters occurred almost nightly in many of the tunnels along the lines of the Chesapeake & Ohio and in some cases the bodies were literally dumped over the hillside and covered over with rubble. We will never know how many workers were killed in the construction of that line.

Narrator: One black, steel driver claimed that he could break rock faster than a new steam-powered drill. He did, creating the legend of John Henry.

John Hankey: John Henry was probably a real character and he very well could have beaten that steam drill, once or twice. Even John Henry couldn’t stop progress. He could stop that one steam drill, maybe, but not the next behind it or the one behind that.

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