Cape Breton's Magazine

> Issue 44 > Page 35 - Working on the Sydney Coal Piers

Page 35 - Working on the Sydney Coal Piers

Published by Ronald Caplan on 1987/1/1 (297 reads)

Blocking hatches with coal; note the steel plates. Below, Hector Devison. the end of it. And that's the way they used to run it down to us while we were shovel? ling. (So you were mak? ing a kind of slide.) That's what it was. Just like a chute. In order to get the coal to go down to you. (When you go down into the hold, what do you see?) Nothing but dust! Oh, dust! There were times you wouldn't hard ly be able to see one another down there, ev? en with the electric lights. They'd have lights with long cords, and they'd have them plugged in on the dock. And they'd put them in the hatch for the trimmers. And you'd take them down and hook them up to the beams down below. Oh, you couldn't hardly see with dust. If the coal was dry, it'd be awful dusty. The way it was, you'd be spitting it up for days and days after. (Did you wear any? thing to protect yourself from the dust?) No, not at that time. But then when we started shipping on the new pier--the oth? er ones burned--they had masks to go on o- ver your mouth and nose. But oh, it was hard to wear them. It was no time and they'd be plugged up, you know. The filter in them--there'd be so much dust that they'd plug up. And you'd have to throw them off. You couldn't keep them on. They'd just smother you. And then different times we'd work down there with the coal almost too hot to work in. It'd be heating in the coal bank. Some? times it would almost go afire, it'd be that hot, Lots of times we had to work down in that. (Hot, and I guess kind of steamy.) Oh, steam--yes, very steamy. Es? pecially if the weather was cold. (Everybody would know what they were sup? posed to do, I suppose.) Oh yes, yes. There'd be so many right-hand shovellers, and so many left. So they could take out each side, like. Maybe if it was the star? board side of the boat, well the right? handers would go on the outside, and the left-handers go in the middle. They used to have like a bulkheading in the middle of the hatch, and it went so far. And that stopped the coal then from running one way or the other. And you'd have to fill in this side of it, in the wing, and in the middle. And then the other crowd on the other side of the bulkheading, they'd have to do the same thing, to trim out that end of the hatch. (Would you be shovelling most of 8 hours?) Yes, the best part of it. Like, you'd have a half hour for lunch. And then as soon as the half hour was up, you'd have to go back down again and shovel. You'd say a- bout 6% hours (shovelling) for sure. And then there were schooners coming there, too. And those fellows knew just every pound of coal that they could get in one of those boats. And if you didn't trim them out good, well, they'd be kicking up old blazes about it, that they'd be short of coal. You'd fill in where the first fel? lows would go out--you'd have to fill in those holes. And it wasn't very good on a fellow like me, because I was quite tall. And you'd have to get on your knees in that lump coal and trim them out, filling in around the hatch. Jimmy ("Bud") Gallivan, Whitney Pier, Shift Foreman: (Did your father want you to go onto the Coal Pier?) Long pause. I don't know. We had to live, I guess we had no choice. When you've got 10 or 12 eating, and one small paycheque coming in. So, no, I guess, if there was anything else. I don't believe any father'd want anyone be? longing to him to go on the Coal Pier. It's different today. But we had to eat, and damn glad to get it. My father never worked in the wintertimes. Like I say, he worked a few winters in the '20s or so, at the coal bank, or early '30s. But what I can remember most, in the '30s and '40s and '50s and that: after the middle of December, you might say there wasn't a cent coming in till March. March, the shipping wouldn't start--but they'd (35)
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