Claudius Crozet's Monthly Report for December, 1853

In his report Claudius Crozet explains the high costs of white labor and the difficulties of securing enslaved labor.

To the Board of Public Works

Gentlemen,

The report I have to make about the main Tunnel this month is unfavorable and, indeed, rather discouraging. The excavation on the West side continues to be very dangerous; after the accident, which, last month, came very near costing the life of two men, much time was employed in widening with a view to arching and constructing a strong shield to protect the hands: at last, the work forward was resumed and it was then reported to me, that the rock appeared more favorable; in consequence of which, I went last Thursday to verify the fact; when, instead of a safe roof, I was witness of an enormous fall of large loose rocks; and another, still more considerable, took place on Friday. Progress, under such circumstances, is necessarily very slow; I have recommended (and I have every reason to believe, it is faithfully attended to) not to blast with holes deeper than one foot: then, before progressing any farther, a strong shield must be built over head; not, as in excavations through clay, but strong enough to resist the fall of rocks from above and the concussions of the blasts. I am in constant dread of a serious accident, which would, in all probability, irretrievably disperse the hands. Those who are now engaged on this hazardous work are entitled to high credit and I have advanced their pay to $1.50 during the continuance of this danger. The rock continues to be tinged with wet red clay, which proves fissures to extend to the very top and so long as it exhibits this appearance, we cannot expect much improvement: the rock is very hard.

This cause of slow progress on the west side is sufficiently evident: On the east side, you will perceive that the advance is not as much as might be expected: There it is owing to a deficiency in the number of drillers what is particularly discouraging in this is the fact that the cost is not diminished, by any means, in proportion to the reduction of the work done. There are, besides the drillers and strikers, many hands employed, as dumpers, drivers, loaders, drill helpers & who occasion a permanent expenditure: the cost of a few additional drillers & blasters, therefore, does not very materially enhance the expenses, while they add much to the progress.

To procure a sufficiency of white hands for a full complement appears decidedly impracticable, except at enormous prices, while there is so much demand for labor in less exposed situations. In April of last year, I advertised, & did not obtain one man by that means; I then raised their wages; In September they were again raised; lately a farther addition was made in the western heading, as already stated. Notwithstanding all this, our force remains too small for fair progress.

The expediency of hiring negroes has consequently been admitted and authorized by your Board; but even this is not as easily accomplished as I had expected; I applied here to Messrs Foler and Cook for the purposes; and I am informed by them, that masters, generally, object to hiring for the Tunnel; they did so, while there was no danger, and will do so still more now, if the danger lately discovered is made known to them, as I would certainly feel bound to do; only a few negroes were mentioned as likely to be obtained at a price of $200 but even, at that high price, the measure would be inefficient; for drilling & blasting, we must have all negroes, or none; that is, we must have at once 120 hands for both sides, or else the number hired would have to mix with the white hands, which is about impracticable or they must be employed otherwise.

Being pressed by time, uncertain about the result, and Mr. Sclater reporting to me that almost every master made it a condition that his negroes should not go into the tunnel, I thought I could do no better than to close with Geo. A. Farrow & David Hausbrough a contract for the hire of 40 or 50 negroes, to be hired by the day, to work in the tunnel at every collateral operation, but not to be employed in blasting: the price is higher than I would have wished to give; but I found nobody else willing to engage in the same way; and I was apprehensive that an attempt to hire negroes simply, for this purpose, at this time, might result in a failure, and we might be thrown back upon the old inefficient force and system. Fifty negroes in the tunnel will relieve the white hands, and enable us to have a full force at the drills, thus producing virtually an economy in the way of progress. The contract herewith submitted is, of course, subject to your approval.

There remains now about 1800 ft to excavate; which, if the bad rock does not continue, which is probable, may be easily done in 2 years with a full, permanent force.

Until the month of April last, the cost of excavation in the tunnel was about $5 per cubic yard; since the last increase of prices and, with the accumulation of water, which combines with it, it is now in the neighbourhood of $7.50 per yard; but will be less with an adequate force of blasters, making the progress more proportionate to the general & independent expenditures. There is, in the section, without arch, 32 yards of excavation; but, where arching is required, the section measures 45 square yards. For an estimate of the work remaining to be done, it will be proper to count 600 yards in length, with the smaller section; as the bad rock, requiring arching, will probably be very short: or in other words about, in round numbers, 20,000 cubic yards, and a cost, at present prices, of from $140,000 to 150,000. I make this statement, because calculations, predicated on the returns, would be erroneous; as they introduce much that belongs to the 1st section outside, several expenses for machinery and other outlay, not only, not to be incurred again, but that will appear at the close as assets and also the Portal and a section of arching and the whole, besides, at different prices from the present.

As regards the balance of the work, I have had the track from Mechum river improved, at all the places which had been laid in a somewhat temporary way, especially the embankment which had settled; though it might have been questionable whether this was to be done by us, or the Central r. r. co., by which the use of these embankments was urged, before they were in a condition to receive a permanent track. Unless, otherwise instructed by your honble [sic] Board, I do not think that any thing farther can be expected by the company on the section of the track up to the Greenwood Tunnel; except the clearing out of some ditches and a little additional ballasting, which I postponed, in order to attend to the more pressing work of grading to meet the temporary track at Kelly's work. as soon as the black force returns to work, I will complete finally these lower 8 miles.

The track has been laid through the Greenwood tunnel and, by this time must be very near Kelly's work: it is, of course, laid temporary without ballast.

Kelly's big cut is not yet completed, nor is the Temporary track proper: and I do not believe that there will be much difference in the time of completion of both the Temporary & the State work. At your last meeting, I expressed the opinion that there would be no great difficulty in preparing the State work, for its new visitor. Better acquainted than the Engineer of the Company with the character of this mountain, I was not as sanguine about the early completion of his work; and thought, indeed, that we might precede it. The excavation they have encountered has proved more favorable than I had anticipated; but notwithstanding this, we do not despair of completing our part nearly as soon, if not quite as soon as theirs.

My track layer is probably by this time crossing the mountain to lay the track towards Waynesboro', in a temporary way, of course.

The small new tunnel is through and only about 40 ft of the bottom remain to be removed, together with a short distance of the bottom of the rock cut.

The greater delay may be occasioned by the raising of the bridge at Waynesboro; because, notwithstanding the application made to your Board for the privilege of strengthening the service bridge to be used in connexion [sic] with the temporary track, you will readily admit that such a measure would be inexpedient and would necessarily cause the travel to be ultimately interrupted, whenever it shall become proper to substitute the permanent to the temporary bridge: It is consequently far preferable, in my opinion, to raise the iron bridge at once, and avoid the suspension of the travel hereafter.

I had expected the bridge to be up by this time, and so reported last month; but by some, to me, unknown cause, the pieces which were delivered at the Richmond Depot before December, did not all reach Mechum river until christmas eve: indeed Mr. Chs. Hagan, the builder, had to go down to collect a number of them which had been dropped along the line of the Central railroad. He had, when I left to come down, raised already the towers on the abutments & piers and, if no piece is missing, may yet be ready in time for the use of the temporary track.

The sections over the mountain are very nearly completed & may now be used: the long embankment, in some places 27 feet high is closed, but not up to regular grade; it has settled in places; and I cannot but regret that it has to be used before it can be made perfectly even & regular and brought up to its grade; not only because I always like to complete work in a creditable manner, but also because the raising of a bank, with a track on it, is a troublesome and more costly operation than the entire laying, after the embankment has been properly prepared.

In regard to the simultaneous laying of tracks on both works, much confusion has arisen in to crossties, spikes & chairs, which I have got mixed evidently, and it is proper I should report the fact to your Board. I ordered up to November the 12th 5,729 chairs from J. R. Anderson I must have used up to Greenwood 4,697 and should have had 1,032 left whereas only about 300 were found at Mechum river, which, together with 212 the Engineer of the Co., told me he had used on the state track, leaves about 500 to be accounted for, allowing for breakages, which at 35 [cts] is $175.00 I had also ordered 667 kegs of spikes of which only 501 were calculated to be used up to Greenwood Tunnel: but not one keg could be found when we resumed the laying of the track; this makes to be accounted for 166 at $4.75-788.50 Total $968.50

This produced some embarrassment when we started the track above Greenwood Tunnel; I lost no time in sending a new order down; and Mr. Anderson kindly exerted himself to keep us going; but it being Christmas time, the supply was not readily obtained; and I fear the contractor will have been delayed and may charge for it. The orders had been calculated by me to lay the whole eastern part of the state work. My new order includes the west side also.

It will be impossible, until the tracks are all laid, to know exactly the quantity that may have been used by both parties; the above account is consequently but an approximation to be recollected to her accounts of freight are settled with the Central railroad company. In addition to that, there is also a pump with frame, which proving useless in the tunnel, was handed over to me to the Co.; cost $95. to be added to the above.

I should not omit that the employment of Mr. Clopton, who for intelligence and activity has not his superior, saves, in the cost of machinery and the removal of water, not less than $5,000 annually, not including the incidental cost resulting from the diminution of work in case of accidents to the pumps and ventilators. Very respectfully submitted.

Very respectfully submitted
C. Crozet
Chf Engr. B. r. r. rd.

About this Document

  • Source: Claudius Crozet's Monthly Report for December, 1853
  • Author: Claudius Crozet
  • Extent: 6 pages
  • Citation: Archives, The Library of Virginia, Richmond, VA, Virginia Board of Public Works, Entry 125 "Blue Ridge Railroad", Box RG 57, Box 216, Folder 3
  • Date: January 4, 1854