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John Henry The Ultimate Steel Driving Worker

The Legend of John Henry is known today by man people. Although the events of the story took place in the latter half of the 19th century, the memory of John Henry's accomplishments is still being passed on. John Henry's amazing ability to drive steel into rock is unprecedented, but to really appreciate the legend, one should fully understand the daily chores of a railroad worker in the late 1800's.

The job of steel drivers was very demanding, dangerous, and exhausting. Tunneling through rock consisted of two people working together. One was a hand driller, the other was the shaker. Each worker had to trust the other due to limited visibility. The only light they had was from burning lard and black strap oil.

The tunneling process included the use of cross bladed point that ranged from 2-14ft in length, and weighed nearly 10 pounds. The shaker held a cross bladed tipped drill between his legs. The hand driller would then pound drive the steel spike into the rock. After each blow the shaker gave the drill a quick shake to clean out the rock dust.

The average worker:

John Henry:

John Henry's Remarkable ability sparked a man versus machine race between himself and the steam powered drill. The reult of this competition is what made John Henry into a legend. The story says that at the end of the day Henry drilled 14ft to the steam powered drill's 9ft. And, although it's not certain, he supposedly died of exhaustion after the race.

Links To Other John Henry Pages

Lessons From a Steel Driving Hero
The Man - Facts, Fiction and Themes
John Henry-The Steel Driving Man