Story type: Essay
Men were working on the roof of a Pennsylvania ferryhouse, overhanging the North River on the Jersey side.
The passengers on one of the big ferryboats watched with admiration the work of the fearless young mechanics.
The men stood on a board not more than a foot wide. They had nothing to hold to. Sixty feet below them was a mass of rough piles. A misstep would have meant death.
One of the men, standing perfectly at ease on his narrow ledge, swung a heavy sledge-hammer, while the other held in place the bolt to be driven home in the iron-work. —-
The work on that bolt was finished, and one of the young men, a wiry giant over six feet tall, picked up in his arms a small wooden keg which stood on the board beside him. It was a keg such as nails are packed in. About forty feet away from the bridge, up among the iron beams, a smith was at work heating the bolts red-hot.
This smith saw the young man on the narrow board holding the wooden keg in his arms. He knew that another bolt was needed.
The bolt, white-hot, was seized with a pair of tongs, thrown violently through the air, sending off a shower of white sparks as it went.
As the white bolt shot toward the metal worker, he held out the wooden keg in a matter-of-fact way, caught the bolt, picked it out of the keg with a pair of pincers, and soon the heavy sledge- hammer was at work driving the metal, still white-hot, into the hole. —-
Passengers who make their living in a less exciting way watched with great excitement as one after another of these heavy red-hot bolts came flying through the air, each in its turn caught by the mechanic standing on the narrow board.
If the bolt had struck or burned him, he must almost inevitably have fallen. He must have fallen had he made a misstep reaching out the wooden keg to catch the flying iron.
Among those who watched him were very prosperous men come in from the seaside on the flying express, bound for Wall Street. These men were sorry when their boat pulled out, so deeply interested were they in the skill and courage of the mechanics working so high up on so narrow a footing.
If their opinion had been asked then and there they would have said that no reasonable rate of pay would be too high for such mechanics, and that eight hours of work catching red-hot bolts and driving them home, on a narrow plank sixty feet in the air, ought to be considered a fair day’s work.
We trust that if these men read in the future that the structural iron-workers or the house-smiths are striking for a little more pay and for eight hours’ work they will remember those men working on the ferryhouse, and remember that all of these iron-workers, like all miners, and many others, earn their bread at the risk of their lives.
We hope that those who watched the red-hot bolts flying through the air will remember their sensations when they hear of a strike among those men, and not say, as they usually do:
“The impudence of union labor must be suppressed. The men are lazy; that’s what’s the matter with them. It is all nonsense to talk about working eight hours. Union labor, if it keeps on, will ruin this country’s commercial supremacy.” —-
The trouble with human beings is that their lives are widely separated and sympathy is killed by ignorance.
The banker does not see, therefore cannot appreciate, the courage of the man working on an iron beam at the top of a steel frame 300 feet in the air.
The mechanic cannot understand, and therefore cannot appreciate, the worry, the mental stress of the money man, who must make ends meet, pay bills, arrange mortgages, find tenants and settle his union troubles at the same time.
Better acquaintance with each other is what human beings need.
It would be well if more very rich men had seen that young mechanic catching his red-hot bolts.
It would be well if more young mechanics who like their beefsteak and onions could see John D. Rockefeller sipping his glass of milk and seltzer (his whole dinner), or know what Rockefeller feels when he lies awake half the night. He has found pretty well-paid employment for a hundred thousand men who sleep soundly while he tosses and turns and feels the weight of a ton on his chest.
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