Letter from Claudius Crozet to the Board of Public Works Reporting the Condition of Work, August 2, 1853

Claudius Crozet explains what he thinks prompted the strike among the Tunnel workers in April 1853 for $1.50 a day wages.

To the Board of Public Works


In obedience to your resolution of the 11th of July last, I have the honor to lay before you a return of the force employed in the Tunnel, which will show that there was, on the East side, 86 men; on the west, 99: The reason of the difference is, in part, the additional force required, on the west side, to work at the pumps. The aggregate number of men 185, is even more than a full complement; But you will perceive that the number of laborers, each day, falls short of the whole force; Because, every day, some of the men fail to go to work, an evil without a remedy that I could suggest; and which is likely to increase, with the improvident, as wages rise Before the present year, we had numerous applications for work and could enforce discipline: But now, those men must be taken on their own terms, or else they will leave without ceremony.

I have also caused to be prepared an extract from the check roll showing that there has always been a full complement in the Tunnel, except in April last, at the time of the Strike: you will observe, that, in the early part of 1857, the number employed was less: then we had only two shifts; afterward, for the purpose of accelerating the work, we resorted to three shifts, which required of course, an increase: thus we secure more readily our complement; the hours of labor, being as important to the men as its price.

The progress, last month, has been less than at any time previous; owing to the excessive hardness of the rock on both sides, greater, indeed, than at any preceding period: we have now passed through it, and reached favorable materials, which will tell better, we hope, next month.

The water also has become suddenly very troublesome, but I expect that the large siphon, I am erecting will relieve us from that difficulty; and besides, save several men, a most important consideration at this juncture.

As regards Mr. Gallaher's force, I do not know why the return has not reached me: But the fact that he has excavated, during the month, 2,000 cubic yards of limestone rock, out of the deep cut at Waynesboro, shows as much progress as was reasonable to expect: when he gets through this rocky vein, he will advance more rapidly. He has in six months completed fully two-thirds of the high bank out of the harder materials, and will probably finish the other third in less than a proportional time; the material, we know, being much more favorable.

The Culvert & embankment over Lickinghole cr., near Mechum river, about the timely completion of which, skepticism expressed groundless apprehensions are nevertheless done; the centers removed from under the large arch, and the laying of the track towards the lower Tunnel in progress.

The 12th section, which had been abandoned by Collins & Baskins, and [relet] to Jonathan Browning; and which I myself feared might interpose an obstacle to the progress of the Ballasting, will not stand in the way: a few days will see its termination.

The Ballasting had been suspended, on account of the more pressing necessity to raise the embankment at Lickinghole cr, which induced me, hands being scarce, to unite the ballasting force to that of the contractor employed in raising the embankment The Ballasting will be resumed this week, and, I hope, keep ahead of the laying of the track.

The arch of the small tunnel is now so far secured; that I do not feel any longer any apprehension of danger under the awful impending mass as the eastern portal, whose enormous pressure had actually crushed timbers one foot square. That this dangerous work has been brought to a successful completion without the least accident, reflects much credit on the contractor Mr. John Kelly.

We began to experience difficulties in getting hands towards the close of last year: But it was not until last April, that this difficulty assumed a troublesome character. A man, Paul Stevens, who had been unfortunately employed by me to erect our ventilating apparatus in which he failed, left his undertaking abruptly, with no good will toward the work, and ultimately reached Cincinnati, whence he wrote glowing representations of the advantages our Tunnel men might find there, promising them $1.50 per day This statement, which I did not believe, produced the strike of April for $1.50, which was marked with circumstances of such a lawless character, that concessions were impossible. [Slay] force left; and though the Tunnel was soon filled again, it was, in a great measure at the expense of the outside works. The men who went away, as I understand, have been deceived; and, if I am rightly informed, this occasioned a later strike in Cincinnati of three weeks duration, which ended in their getting $1.25 per day in the Tunnel heading, just what they might have had here.

As soon as the April strike took place, I lost no time in advertising for hands, in Virginia and at the Worth; the only result of which was that I paid for the advertisements, and got a letter from George Weckerly Emigrants agent in Philadelphia, whom I answered: But not hearing from him in return I wrote gain; urging him to send me 150 hands To this letter there has been, so far, no reply. I applied likewise to other quarters, I even went in May to Harrisonburg, where I expected to obtain some of the Turnpike hands, who were discharged; but it seems they do not fancy railroad work, and I failed. All this, gentlemen, was anterior to your resolution of the 11th Ult.

I understood this resolution to be an authorization to incur, if necessary, additional reasonable expense, in the procurement of hands, and accordingly wrote to Mr. Weckerly that I would pay, under certain conditions of insurance, the fare of the hands to the mountain. But, as yet, not one has been sent.

That hands are very scare [sic] is a widely known fact; and more strikes may be shortly expected. Mr. C. R. Mason, as honest a man as there is in Christendom, and who is extensively employed by the Central r. r. co., assures me that that company is greatly in want of hands; he himself is now engaged on the temporary track over the Blue ridge, and has only 50 hands with him; he is trying every thing to get additions, but without, so far, any success: Mr. Ellett himself has gone to the north to get some, and I have authorized him to get a number also for me.

A gentleman, Mr. Rob. P. Smith, assures me that he can get me a force of 50 or 60 negroes to work at the Tunnel, if I will allow him for them Irish wages, and insure them employment for the year of their hire, which I have promised, subject to your ratification He is to be in town to-morrow, and will lay the matter before you.

We might also call upon Gregory Dillon President of the emigrants' Society 51 chamber street, New-York. if your honble Board thought proper to step forward in business, which would give it a guarantee calculated to secure the result But this depends on the quantity that may be wanted on other works under the control of the Board; my number is too limited to venture applying to so many persons, with the implied pledge of retaining the hands sent.

This is a very trying time, to myself especially, as I hold a position which is the key to a long line of operations; and public impatience does not stop to inquire into causes; results are all it is willing to know. I have done all that was in my power and must now depend on the assistance of your Board in devising farther measures: we might certainly obtain a plentiful supply by advertising high prices; but it would affect all the public works and prudence rejects this plan

It must be recollected that our old contractors regulated their bids on the daily price of labor of 75 cents, which it is now 1.12, with an upward tendency we could not force contractors to adopt our prices, without making it good to them, a measure fraught with great objections or declaring their contracts forfeited, if they refused to increase their force, at ruinous prices: but, besides its not being equitable, we must give them 30 days notice; and then advertise for new contracts, which would, of course, be at extravagant prices: so that, we should lose both ways, besides ruining men, who have contracted in good faith, Probably, if prices continue to increase, as I fear, and contractors find themselves in the impossibility to increase their force, without being ruined, it were a more liberal policy to allow them a proportional increase of prices.

I merely hazard suggestions, and will leave now to the matter to consideration and wisdom of your honorable body.

I am somewhat prompted to present the foregoing to your deliberation the purpose can be achieved; I have, however, combined the parts so that, in case of failure, we may use the pipes and air vessel, for a forcing pump worked by horse power: besides, the C. r. r. co. want the pipes; so that the experiment will cost little.

The scarcity of mechanics in that neighborhood, had induced me to employ Wm. F. Crous, a very intelligent and skillful mecanician [sic] of Waynesboro, who made two horse-powers & kept our machinery for pumping & ventilating in order: but it was not without great cost, and frequent interruptions which resulted in additional cost; because he could not always be had & the work suffered: the castings obtained at Waynesboro were besides of inferior quality. Under those circumstances, I applied to Mr. J. R. Anderson, who recommended to me Mr. F. B. Clopton, son of Judge Clopton, who has served his apprenticeship with him; and I have engaged him as a mecanician at $2.50 per day: I have every reason to congratulate myself on having obtained his services; he is well informed practically & theoretically as a mecanician; he has already been the means of procuring us horse powers of superior efficiency & durability, at a much reduced price it is besides, a condition of his engagement that he will supervise the construction of the Second Tunnel, during its timbering & arching, whenever called upon to do so.

Since your examination of the work, the embankment across Lickinghole cr. has been completed; and we have laid about 4 miles of track, from Mechum river towards the Depot at the small tunnel; so that the lower section, a little upwards of 8 miles, may be in operation, before your next meeting, though more probably, shortly thereafter.

In completing that part of the road, I take for granted that it is your intention to transfer it, at once, to the Central railroad company; though, were it not for public impatience so strongly manifested, I would object to using a road with so high green banks, before they have had time to settle over the embankment at Lickinghole cr. I have on this account laid heavy longitudinal subsills, which will obviate the rocking of crossties, incident to irregular settling, and make the running of the cars more steady and safe: yet this bank, just completed, will certainly be troublesome for some time.

The foregoing remark applies with greater force still to the very long bank across the low bottom, opposite to Waynesboro; indeed to the whole western side of the mountain there, slides after frost and a considerable settling of the embankment must be expected , which will be a serious source of danger and interruptions: the material, though hard and requiring blasting, is detached in large masses by the action of frost, and crumbles in the course of time; I have increased the slopes of the cuts, in consequence of the discovery of the character of this rock; but no reasonable slope will retain it; it is unfortunate that there was not frost enough last winter to give it a full trial. Though the public feeling cannot be resisted in this matter, it were better to wait; but I mention the subject merely because I conceive it my duty to give the warning; the most watchful precautions will be required here for a long time; indeed more so than the East side of the mountain, though this is apparently the worse.

Indeed, this road will be dangerous and call for the most prudent measures & regulations: notwithstanding late & numerous examples, I am not in favor of steep grades which reduce the business capacity of a road and it was reluctantly that I was forced to adopt even [7o] ft per mile In addition to this, it was with great difficulty that I reduced the curves to a minimum radius of 819 feet. Trains going rapidly down such an incline and pressing hard against curves, together with the rocking consequent upon irregular & considerable settling, will be in great danger of breaking axles, springs, or wheels, or jumping the rail.

Accidents can be prevented only by moderating the speed; making the play of the wheels in the track as little as possible keeping the brakes in order; and using deep flanges Step henson introduced at first a depth of flange calculated for 15 miles an hour; such flanges are unsafe at 30 or 40 miles; and it is not a little singular that, at the north, they use flanges shallower than at the south, though going with such extreme velocities.

The danger arising from increased velocity is, in my opinion, in proportion to the 4th power of speed: that is, 16 times greater at 40 than at 20 miles, in regard to Collision: and as the square for jumping the rail, it being the ratio of the centrifugal force, pressing round a curve.

One of the most to be-feared accidents is that of cars being detached from behind the engines in going up the long ascent of the mountain, when they would descend with rightful speed towards Mechum river: too much dependence should not be placed upon the breaks; and a chain, just slack, on each side of the coupling hooked while going up, would seem expedient couplings too strong are objectionable, but not in this case.

As regards to the Temporary track, I have the honor to lay before you a letter of Col. Fontaine, which I did not exactly understand; but I had it explained by Mr. Ellett. he proposed using our rail, 63 ft per yard, and replacing it by rails of a new pattern, to be cast by J. R. Anderson, of 59 lbs per yard, such as the company will use. Though the pattern I have furnished is calculated for heavy grades & short curves, seeing that this is ultimately to be the work of the company, I cannot see any great objection to the substitution, if it has your approbation.

I have omitted to mention that on so steep a grade, and where frosts are to be expected, ballasting the road is an indispensable mode of security. It keeps the cross-ties dry and in better preservation, and obviates the action of the frost on sills bedded in clay such sills in wet weather, will get looses & rock, which is a cause of the breaking of axles, springs & wheels; Ballasting gives them a more solid bed. But, independent of these considerations, ballasting seems indispensable on strong grades, especially with short curves, to keep the track from sliding forward or being pushed outward, by rapid & heavy engines, going down reversed & with breaks down; producing thus an enormous amount of horizontal & lateral friction tending to shove the track out of place: these have been my motives for this addition to the usual mode of laying in flat counties.

The last subject I have to bring before you is the improvement map: I could not obtain the services of Mr. Peppercorn, who is retained by the [Js.] river & Kanawha Canal Co.; and, in consequence of an advertisement in the railroad Journal, I have written to a Mr. Blandowski a pole; but have had as yet no answer. I have received two letters from Professor E. H. Courtenay which are herewith submitted. I am, Gentlemen, your most obdet servt [sic]

C. Crozet

About this Document

  • Source: Letter from Claudius Crozet to the Board of Public Works Reporting the Condition of Work, August 2, 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: August 2, 1853