Letter from Claudius Crozet to the Board of Public Works, Reporting the Progress of Work for November, 1853

Claudius Crozet reports on labor costs and the national labor market as it affects the Blue Ridge tunnel project. He encourages the Board to consider a mixed labor force of white and enslaved black workers as a means to keep both in check.

To the Board of Public Works

This is a generally important period of the year, when preparations are usually made for the operations of the ensuing one; and, although I have handed in, very recently, my annual report, to which I will make a general reference, it appears expedient that I should, at this time, submit to your consideration, more in detail, several matters pertaining to the Blue ridge railroad.

1st Of the labor.

I am credibly informed that the price of labor has fallen lately, both in the West and at the North; and, probably, the difficulties we labored under, during the year now nearly elapsed, may be lessened by this cause. Still the question presents itself, whether we must continue to carry on the work of the main tunnel with white hands, as heretofore, or resort to the hiring of a black force, which must be done at this time.

I do not think that we could employ exclusively black labor; nor would it answer to work both kinds in immediate contact; but we might, I believe, hire One hundred negroes, who could be advantageously employed on work distinct from that of the Irish hands, as for instance, in attending to the pumps, a matter of importance, in case of a suspension in consequence of a strike, as occurred in case of accidents; a provision, however, merely nominal, there being but little danger in this Tunnel; but it will satisfy the owners.

Should the Board determine upon this plan, a general Superintendent of this force and a member of foremen must also be engaged, to direct and protect them. —This being the hiring Season, I would suggest that instructions be given to a proper agent to proceed at once in this business, and to select, as much as possible, such men as have been employed in coal pits.

As regards contingent work, such as training and ballasting, it has been done all along by a black force regulated on the amount of work to be done at the time. During the past season, the object intended was merely to complete the road up to the Greenwood Tunnel; and, as the operation of laying the track, on account of the gap at Lickinghole creek, could not begin before mid-summer, the force hired was regulated accordingly. But the late introduction of the Temporary track made it desirable to increase the number hired; unfortunately the very cause which rendered it desirable stood in the way of the execution: the large number wanted on that track, and the higher wages paid prevented our getting but a few additional negroes, though Mr. Sclater, our manager, searched the country for some distance.

In order, therefore, to guard against future delay, I would respectfully suggest the expediency of securing, at an early day, a sufficient gang to complete, shortly after christmas, the Temporary Sections of the Blue ridge railroad; I mean by this about four miles of track, in detached sections, which intervene between the parts of the temporary track, and which can be laid in about one month, without ballasting, in a temporary way, for the use of the Central railroad.

These Sections can be ballasted afterwards by the same gang; which may also proceed to prepare the road for the final completion when the tunnel opens. There is per mile about 1,800 years of ballast: this, together with trimming of banks, removing of slides [?] will occupy, on each mile, 60 hands about one month; so that, such a force would have work for 7 or 8 months in this way, besides its being available for other purposes. By this means, at the end of the year 1854, every thing will be in readiness, and a few weeks will see the trains through the tunnel after its final opening.

In order to save time, I have directed Mr. Wm. M. Sclater, who is a good manager, industrious, honest and reliable, to secure hands as soon as he can; and I herewith submit his bid, either as superintendent or contractor; in the first case, the hands would be hired for one year in the name of the Board; in the second, he would hire them upon his own responsibility, and they would cease to be a charge on the day of the completion of the work they have to do. I would recommend the first course, and I respectfully request the instructions of the Board, that I may lose no time in transmitting them to him.

Present Condition of the work.

Beginning at Waynesboro, the deep cut there is far advanced; it was calculated to furnish materials for the long embankment; and, consequently, is to be viewed only as a borrowing pit; though I have had it made so that it may suit the track of the Central railroad. —The material swells so much that the cut may exceed the embankment for which it was calculated; it was my intention to have raised the surface enough to allow for settling, as it is generally done; but, here, having to lay the track so soon, I cannot do it; and thus the surplus mentioned may remain in the cut to be wasted: this surplus, if any, cannot be much, and it is to be regretted that it cannot be applied to its intended purpose, as it would save borrowing afterwards.

The embankment is now closing up, and will be completed soon enough for the bridge at Waynesboro, and consequently for the Temporary track.

The Bridge itself is now being hauled to its site; and will be raised immediately. It might be up in one month; but, at this time of the year, it will be safer to allow six weeks: so that embankment and bridge will be ready together.

The track is about to be laid on the long embankment, but without ballasting; both to hasten the use of the road, and because the probability of its settling much would make it, at present, a premature expenditure.

As regards the main Tunnel, you will notice, in the return of this month, that the progress, on the East side, has been good; but not so on the West side: there, on the 14th of November, the roof fell in from a considerable height; three men were caught by the fall, though, fortunately, not materially hurt. This occurrence, the first of the kind in this tunnel, where for a long time, the rock had been sound & solid, naturally enough frightened the hands away; for one week, they would not return to work: we set immediately about timbering, and the men at last, returned; But, as may be expected, no progress forward has been made yet; all the labor since having been expended in securing the roof by timbering, and increasing the width for the purpose of making room for the timbering and for the arch, here indispensable.

The rock being compact and hard on the east side, and having been of this character heretofore on the west, it may be expected, and appearances already justify the conclusion, that this bad place will not continue long; and that we will soon resume the regular progress forward.

From the main tunnel to Goodloe's hollow, about two miles, the road has been ready long ago for the track, if it were of any use.

At Goodloe's hollow, the Temporary track drops on the State work, that is just as the point where the main difficulties of the Blue ridge railroad commence here, an embankment is in progress, from both sides, to close up the hollow, which may readily completed as soon as the small new tunnel just below.

This new Tunnel has been substituted to the deep cut, for the purpose of facilitating the Temporary track, and as, every way, more expedient. The rock is excessively hard and, had we continued the deep cut (here measuring 64 feet) through such material, it would not have been completed in less than 10 months; whereas the Tunnel, though through excessively hard rock, will be ready in January until it is open, the temporary track cannot be used; no additional force is admissible in this contracted opening.

It might be supposed, without explanation, that the Goodloe's hollow embankment might have been made long ago; but it was designed to be raised out of the deep cut; and it was only lately, when it appeared expedient to substitute the tunnel to it, that orders were given to raise the embankment at once, by borrowing: The contractor has not had here a full force, as repeatedly urged to employ, but the matter will be remedied at christmas; and too little remains to be done, the two parts of the embankments having met for sometime past, not to secure a completion as early as that of the short tunnel adjoining.

The long cut at Robertson's hollow and the embankment formed therewith are progressing as well as could be expected, and new arrangements at christmas, will enable the contractors, [Mesrs] Gallaher & M Elroy, to open it for the use of the Central railroad early in 1854; at present the temporary track goes round it.

From Robertson's hollow, the bed of the road is ready for the track for a distance of half a mile, which reaches to the 2d Tunnel.

East of the 2d Tunnel, is Dovespring hollow , where the contractor is exerting himself, as he is interested to do, to complete the cut and embankment; I have some apprehension that he may not be ready to pass the temporary track through the cut; he might readily raise the embankment by borrowing, but it would not avail much, if the cut stood in the way: he has yet, as near as I can estimate, probably 6,000 cubic yards of rock to remove, and can work only a limited force, there is not, however, a more energetic man & better manager than John Kelly.

From Dovespring hollow to the Greenwood Tunnel, the track will soon be laid omitting, of course, for the present the ballasting.

The Greenwood tunnel is completed; the various tracks and the heavy work at that station in use, and the travel passes regularly now over the section thence that station is use, and the travel passes regularly now over the section thence to Mechum River: with some trifling improvements, now being made, it may be considered as good a track as any in Virginia; being all laid on ballast, firm and smooth; and it is my desire to make the whole Blue ridge r.r. equally good.

Past progress

I beg a few moments of your attention, gentlemen, to this subject. I will not speak of the main Tunnel; any one who shall visit this work, will return satisfied that it is not the work of a day. It has not progressed the past year quite as fast as before, owing to labor having become, about last spring, both scarce and capricious; but this will be obviated, I trust, next year.

The railroad to reach it has progressed, until recently, under circumstances, which have been altogether changed by the late design of the Temporary track. It was understood, until, I believe, the month of August last, that the Greenwood tunnel would be the eastern terminus of the railroad, with a postage thence to the west side of the mountain, until the opening of the main Tunnel. It was then unnecessary and, indeed, inexpedient, to burden, so far in advance, the treasury with the cost of worth that could not be used, until the tunnel was finished. It was my duty to take this view of the question. I was consequently urging forward the section from Mechum river to Greenwood, with a force regulated upon this particular work, when the Temporary track was suggested.

The large culvert over Lickinghole creek had been completed in June; the high embankment over it, and across the valley (45 ft high), was up in August; then, I hurried the track towards the Greenwood depot, a distance of 8 miles, which took until some time in November, nearly three months. Recollect, gentlemen, that this was not the common laying of tracks, but that we had in addition 1,800 cubic yards of ballasting per mile, to be procured, broken, spread and rammed in. The force here employed had been engaged without any reference to a Temporary track; and prosecuted steadily for three months its legitimate work, which was to accommodate, as speedily as possible, the traveling public, up to the then intended terminus.

When the Temporary track began, we had, of course, no force to spare and were taken unawares; and the scarcity of labor, increased, as mentioned above, by this new work, did not allow of our meeting any section of it at any point.

The Temporary Track

From the preceding account, you will perceive that there are only three points which may not be ready as soon as the Temporary track is expected to be so. 1st. the bridge at Waynesboro 2d. The new tunnel now being made by Gallaher & McElroy. 3d. Kelly's cut. Every thing else can be done in time for these, with the arrangements I have suggested. The two first will not be far behind the time: of Kelly's work, I cannot speak with as much certainty, though I know his energy; and he is interested by his new contract.

The intervening sections, over which I have to lay the track, amount in all to only about 4 miles; and, if we laid 8 miles with ballasting in less than 3 months, we can certainly lay 4 miles without, in about one month, and in time for the three points just noticed.

Sixty hands, under the management of Mr. Sclater, will soon put things in order. [Is] regards track-laying proper, it is agreed with Mr. Mason, the tracklayer of the central r. road co., on the Temporary track, that he will do it for me, if Mr. Carpenter whom I employ, I declined doing it, on account of the inconvenience of connecting with those short sections; so that the track itself will present but little difficulty. The difficulty of procuring hands has been our chief drawback and it has been so generally felt that, even Col. Fontaine, as late as the 16th. Of November, called upon me to loan him the force under Mr. Sclater, which I was obliged to decline; it being impossible for me to spare them, however much I would have been pleased to accommodate him. My tracklayer, Mr. Carpenter, himself lost many of his hands, who left him for the temporary track, though he had paid their fare from Richmond up.

In conclusion, gentlemen, I think that about the first of February, weather permitting, every thing will be very nearly, if not quite, ready; and I do not conceive that the public will be much inconvenienced, at that time of the year, for waiting until then.

Surrender of the work to the Central r. r. co.

I submit to your consideration the two annexed letters, which are of some importance, and call, I believe, for instructions on the subject: In order to assist you in forming your opinions, I subjoin the following remarks, referring, by the same numbers, to those of the Engineer of the Company:

1. The embankment at Mechum river, being green has settled very much and needs raising & Now, Gentlemen, it is customary to raise an embankment above its level enough to allow for settling; and the track is to be laid when that has nearly subsided. But here, at the earnest solicitation of the Company, I could not do it, but had to lay the track at once; The embankment has, of course, settled much since; and I have had it raised three times already; a costly operation when each cross tie must be brought up to grade, and earth or ballast rammed under it. Whether it should have been our work or that of the company, I did not inquire closely into; and sought only to be accommodating: but there is evidently some limit to the obligation.

2d. the ballast was incomplete, on some short sections; this coincides with my opinion; but as no part of the central r. road is ballasted, we have no criterion to go by.

3d. another embankment, half the way up to the tunnel has also settled The same remark as No. 1

4. The ditches generally need opening: I have opened them already twice, and every rain will cause slides into them.

5th. The banks, in some places, have not been made of full width & need widening . What is the required width? Those of the Central railroad do not exceed 10 ft, and are frequently not more than 7 ft wide; ours are generally 15 feet wide; and, I believe, never under 12 ft, and then only for a short distance.

6th. The ballasting, in some places, is too narrow and the cross ties project over it. this seems to be covered by No. 2; it was left so, for the present, to hasten the use of the road.

7th. there is a small culvert at Mechum river & it has been repaired.

8th. the track in places is warped. Settling does it, and will continue to do it.

9th. To drain the cuts properly there is some rock to be removed, this is the same thing as stated at No. 4. rock cuts are generally made narrower through economy, and ditches will answer there better with less width, then wider ones through clay.

Finally, Fencing, is suggested.

On these points, I respectfully solicit your instructions; that I may do justice to the business, without exceeding my duty to the Commonwealth and your Board. It has been all along any desire to give to the company a road, alike creditable to the State and myself; but to what extent I am authorized to carry the expenditures cannot altogether be regulated by myself.

Very respectfully submitted
C. Crozet
Chf Engr. Blue ridge r. road.

About this Document

  • Source: Claudius Crozet reporting upon the condition and progress of the work for the month of November, 1853
  • Author: Claudius Crozet
  • Extent: 8 pages
  • Citation: Archives, The Library of Virginia, Richmond, VA, Virginia Board of Public Works, Entry 125 "Blue Ridge Railroad", Box RG 57, 216, Folder 2
  • Date: December 6, 1853