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The day book. (Chicago, Ill.) 1911-1917, November 01, 1913, NOON EDITION, Image 20

Image and text provided by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library, Urbana, IL

Persistent link: http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045487/1913-11-01/ed-1/seq-20/

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feet from the ground and just above
the railroad tracks, ready for a gate
to be opened to be let into the waiting
All the way down these long slant
ing chutes the lumps of coal tumbled
and slid and felt; -the clatter and
shuffle of the endless rushing black
stone over the sheet iron lining of
the long trough drowned even the
sound of the whirling machinery and
the crunching of the mighty iron
teeth that ground the large blocks
into little bits while, above all, an
overhanging cloud of dust from the
sliding coal covered the black build
ing and the black young children
with an everlasting pall.
Over the top of the slanting chutes
was nailed a row of little planks like
wide steps on a mighty ladder. John
ny was told to sit on one of these lit
tle planks and put a foot on each
side of the chute and then, as the
lumps of coal ran swiftly down be
tween his legs, to snatch out the
pieces of slate as fast as his hands
and arms could move, and throw
them into another pitching trough at
his side. From the top of the great
breaker, down almost to the bottom,
sat this stairway of little boys, each
grabbing at a chunk of slate as the
coal rushed madly by until it passed
the last boy and tumbled clean and
free from slate into the iron pockets
above the tracks!
It took Johnny but a little time to
become a breaker boy. He had only
to learn the difference between slate
and coal and he had known this from
a child. True, it took some skill to
snatch the stone from the madly
rushing black flood covered with its
dense black cloud of dust; but httle
eyes are sharp, and little fingers are
nimble, and it was really remarkable
to see how this long line of little
hands would unerringly grasp the
slate and let the coal pass by. The
rich man who owned the breaker,
whose name was Fox, used some
times to stand and watch these little
hands, lost in admiration of their
dexterity and skill; their rapid move
ments and machine-like precision
seemed to him the beauty and rhyme
of a poem of perfect meter.
8 O
Mr. Fox had a daughter whom he
dearly loved. He fancied that she
had musical talent, and he found
her the most skillful teacher that
money could procure. Sometimes he
stood by the piano and watched the
girl take lessons in finger develop
ment, and he marveled at her dexter
ity and skill; but when he paused for
a few moments beside the great, long
chutes and saw the black diamonds
rushing down into his great iron
pockets, and watched the little, deft
hands of the breaker boys, he could
not help thinking that the piano was
not the only place to develop finger
movement. Still, that was about all
he thought. Mr. Fox was not a bad
man. He was really good. He loved
his daughter and he intended to send
her to Paris and Vienna to complete
her studies when she was old, enough,
and, really, every lump of coal that
rolled down the chutes proved how
fondly he loved the girl.
In a few weeks Johnny was a full
fledged breaker boy. His mother
woke him at six in the morning. He
put on his dldest clothes, ate his
breakfast and went to the breaker.
Morning after morning he climbed
the long flight of stairs to the top of
the breaker. Morning after morning
he went down the ladder until he
found his little flat seat, nailed across
the chute. Then he sat down on the
rough board, placed one foot on each
side of the trough and waited for the
flood of coal to come rattling down.
In front of him and behind him and
at the side of him were other little
boys, covered with the same black
pall that ever hung vabbve his head.
No one spoke, or looked up in the
gloom; they simply picked, picked,
picked, while the black flood moved
down. The constant stooping made
his back lame and sore. And often.
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