Interview with Daniel F. Shields, 1958 March 19 [audio]

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  • His parents' early history and emigration from Ireland; his father getting a job in the charcoal house at the Upper Yard
    Partial Transcript: "My parents are of Irish descent, and my father settled in the West as a boy..." "Then he came back from there to see his brother who was working in the refinery up here in the Upper Yard." "He went in the charcoal - what they call the charcoal house or the charcoal building to burn the charcoal."
    Synopsis: Shields describes his father's first job after emigrating from Ireland as a station agent for the Union Pacific Railway in Wyoming. His father met his future wife in Wilmington while visiting his brother, Patrick Shields, who worked in the refinery at the Brandywine powder yards. His father then got a job in the charcoal house at remained there his entire career. Shields also describes the location of the three charcoal houses in the DuPont powder yards.
    Keywords: charcoal house; Du Pont, Alfred I. (Alfred Irenee), 1864-1935; Saltpeter refinery; Shields, Daniel F.; station agent; Union Pacific Railway Company; Upper Yard (Eleutherian Mills)
  • His father and uncle's experiences working in the powder yards; discussing the location of houses in the Upper Banks
    Partial Transcript: "They just worked every day and they seemed to be always a satisfied group of men." "He, as I recall, worked in the refinery on those kettles, cooking the saltpeter and boiling it." "I was born at the little house next to the first [du Pont] house."
    Synopsis: Shields recalls an anecdote of Charlie du Pont scaring a worker one night by pretending to be a ghost. He describes his father and other yard employees as hard workers who were generally satisfied, and he mentions that his uncle's primary job was to boil saltpeter in the refinery. He then discusses with the interviewers the location of former houses in the Upper Banks, informing them that he was born in a house that was torn down for stone during World War I which once stood next to the "First du Pont Home" on the Brandywine.
    Keywords: charcoal house; Dougherty, Dan; Du Pont, Charles I. (Charles Irenee), 1859-1902; Employees--Housing; Logan, Billy; saltpeter refinery; Spanish-American War (1898); Upper Banks; Upper Yard (Eleutherian Mills); Ward, Jimmy; Work environment
  • Working on the DuPont farm as a boy; education history
    Partial Transcript: "As a young fellow, I worked on the company's farm...Harry Collins was the superintendent - 50 cents a day from sun up till sundown." "Boys like myself could rake hay, and other boys the same age could cock it, but we weren't strong enough to pitch it."
    Synopsis: Shields mentions his birth in 1894 and his siblings. He then describes his first job as a boy raking hay on the DuPont farm, which supplied hay for the powder yard horses. He then gives his education history. He attended St. Joseph's school, followed by Alexis I. du Pont School and Beacom Business College.
    Keywords: Alexis I. du Pont School (Wilmington, Del.); Beacom Business College; Collins, Harry; company farm; Du Pont, T. Coleman (Thomas Coleman), 1863-1930; Saint Joseph on the Brandywine Roman Catholic Church (Wilmington, Del.)
  • Working for a Greenville, Delaware lumber and coal yard supplying lumber to the powder yards; another employee running away after seeing a ghost during a delivery to the Upper Yard
    Partial Transcript: "During World War I, Joe, we sold all the...construction lumber for the Upper Yard, Hagley Yard...and the Lower Yard." "I walked around the horses and there wasn't any Joe. Here I am down there by myself with a load of yellow pine..."
    Synopsis: Shields describes going to work for a coal and lumber yard in Greenville, Delaware. The powder yards were one of the yard's primary clients, particularly during World War I. Shields describes an incident in which he and another employee, Joe Empson, delivered a load of yellow pine at night for the Upper Yard grinding mill a week after an explosion. Empson ran away after thinking he saw a man who had been killed in the explosion with two black horses.
    Keywords: African-American employees; coal yard; Du Pont, Lammot, 1880-1952; Explosions; Ghost stories; Green and Flinn (Greenville, Del.); Green and McIntyre (Greenville, Del.); grinding mill; keg mill; lumber wagon; Lumber-yards; Upper Yard (Eleutherian Mills)
  • The 1917 packing house explosion occurring at the same time as a lumber delivery; finding Dan Toomey and Harry Kaseer after they were in an explosion, which they did not survive
    Partial Transcript: "J.M. Phillips was contracting in the yard for the powder company in World War I, and they were working on that building below the Iron Bridge where those 31 boys were killed." "Toomey died at midnight, and Toomey was talking to me just as well as we're talking here, but they said he had swallowed some of the flame."
    Synopsis: Shields describes the time an African-American lumber yard employee was making a delivery to the powder yard when the packing house explosion occurred. He then describes another explosion when he and Neil Dougherty found Harry Kaseer and Dan Toomey injured. Although they took the injured men to the hospital, neither survived.
    Keywords: African-American employees; delivery trucks; Employees--Death; Explosions; Industrial accidents; International truck; Kaseer, Harry; Packing House; prismatic powder; Toomey, Dan
  • Upper Yard grinding mill explosion happening while he and other local boys were swimming in the Brandywine; spending free time in the summer playing baseball and swimming
    Partial Transcript: "We were taking a rest on this dock. All of a sudden there was a flash that went out of that mill I never saw anything like it in all my life. I never forgot it and never will." "...little pieces of aluminum were hot on your bare feet." "...somehow or other we always had time to practice playing ball after supper."
    Synopsis: Shields describes the grinding mill explosion which killed John Mott. He and other local boys witnessed the explosion as they were swimming and had to dive under the water to try and avoid debris. He also mentions his summer schedule of working for the DuPont farm and playing baseball and swimming in the evenings.
    Keywords: baseball; canoes; dams; Du Pont, Eugene E. (Eugene Eleuthè re), 1882-1966; Employees--Death; Explosions; Grinding mill; Hercules Experimental Station; Industrial accidents; Mott, John; Outdoor recreation for children; Seitz, Charles; swimming; Upper Yard (Eleutherian Mills)
  • Local boys being allowed in the powder yards; explosion routines; moving to Wilmington in 1914 after his father was pensioned; borrowing canoes from Eugene du Pont
    Partial Transcript: "Native boys were allowed in there 'cause we were taught the dangers. We were as particular as our parents." "Just before World War I it got very slack in the powder yard." "In those days nobody wore bathing suits."
    Synopsis: Shields states that local boys were allowed in the powder yards and that there were rules in case an explosion occurred. He mentions that the powder yard fire hydrants were supplied by a nearby reservoir. After his father was pensioned off from DuPont Company before World War I, he went to work for Alfred I. du Pont, first doing gardening and later as a gatekeeper at Nemours. Shields also describes an incident as a boy when he had to hurry to return a canoe after borrowing it from Eugene du Pont.
    Keywords: cannon house; canoes; Du Pont, Alfred I. (Alfred Irenee), 1864-1935; Du Pont, Eugene E. (Eugene Eleuthè re), 1882-1966; explosions; fires; Footbridges; Hydrants; Pensions; Sand Hole; swinging bridge; Trapshooting; Upper Yard dam
  • The glazing mill being used as a community weather dial; getting rescued by Jimmy Haley, who ran the glazing mill, after getting stuck in thin ice while ice skating
    Partial Transcript: "That used to be the weather dial for all the natives there - that glazing mill. When the wind turned to the east, it had a different hum." "I looked and I could see Jimmy Haley in the door of the glazing mill, and man, I started to holler."
    Synopsis: Shields describes how the sound of the glazing mill changed depending on the weather. He then details how Jimmy Haley, who ran the glazing mill, came to his rescue after he had gotten stuck in thin ice while ice skating underneath the swinging bridge over Brandywine Creek. He then discusses with the interviewers the bridges near the Upper Yard.
    Keywords: breeches buoy; Footbridges; Glazing mill; Haley, Jimmy; ice skating; swinging bridge
  • Storing wet clothes in the abandoned Eagle glazing mill and one day starting it up while playing; a powder yard worker who died after hitting his head on the mill after falling from a cherry tree
    Partial Transcript: "It was old, and it hadn't been running for years and years." "They cleaned all this out and started it up, but not as a glazing mill. They operated it in World War I as a composition mill and then she blew."
    Synopsis: Shields describes how he and other local boys, while playing in the old Eagle glazing mill, started the mill up one day. The mill was cleaned up and used as a composition mill in World War I and eventually blew up. He also tells of an Italian powder yard worker getting killed after losing his footing reaching in a cherry tree, hitting his head on the corner of the Eagle glazing mill.
    Keywords: cherry trees; childhood mischief; composition mill; Eagle glazing mill; Employees--Death; explosions; Industrial accidents
  • Listing Upper Yard buildings; an incident when a boy fell down a manhole while playing in the coal house
    Partial Transcript: "They had their furnaces, their pits on the inside where the rolls were put, and next to that they had their furnaces. Then beyond that they had their coal storage - arches with a whole manhole...up on top." "Well, we were playing chaser this night and you know how boys will forget..." "Then we went down there and pulled him out of the soft coal...he wasn't hurt or anything."
    Synopsis: Shields lists the powder mill buildings in the Upper Yard beginning above the Iron Bridge. He then tells a story about a boy who fell down a manhole and had to be pulled out of a pile of soft coal while they were playing "chaser" in the Number 2 coal house.
    Keywords: charcoal house; childhood mischief; composition mill; Eagle Dry House; glazing mill; grinding mill; Jones, George; packing house; press room; saltpeter refinery; soda house; test house
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