The Legend |
Facts, Fiction and Themes |
John Henry in Alabama? |
What is a Steel Drivin' Man?
By Dan Shaver
Less than a decade after the Emancipation Proclamation, the
insatiable appetite of the railroads drew former slaves into work crews to
create the tunnels needed to expand their sprawling tracks across the
American continent. Living under conditions scarcely better than their
days in slavery, they labored in hard, dirty, cramped and life-threatening
circumstances to drill through the living granite heart of the
A steel driver worked with a partner. The partner held in place a steel
shaft with a cutting head that the "driver," often working from awkward
angles, forced into the native stone with repeated strikes of his hammer.
Once the shaft had cut a hole sufficiently deep, a blaster would pack the
hole with explosives and blow another notch into the tunnel. From the
isolated, brawling. death-defying life of these camps, stories arose -
some true, some imaginary - to inspire, amuse and entertain the workers.
The most enduring of these, in song and myth, is the Legend of John
Last updated: December 1998