Interview with William F. Flanigan, 1960 May-July [audio](part 3)

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  • Rifle range for testing gunpowder; Going to work in the powder yards; Mail service and delivery; Powder yard offices; Whitewashing and painting houses; Wagoners at work in the powder yards; Sam Frizzell's grocery wagon accident
    Partial Transcript: "The rifle range was on the right-hand side of the old New Bridge Road -- it went straight out over the hill. That's where they tested the gunpowder for rifles -- shooting and all that." "The upper side of the barn is where the wagon shed was. There was one wagon shed that went along the side of the barn. "
    Synopsis: Flanigan talks about the location of a shooting range used to test gunpowder and says that he rarely had a reason to go there. Flanigan talks about vehicle storage in the powder yards and about a wagon used to take people from DuPont's office in the powder yards to the trolley depot on Rising Sun Lane. Flaningan talks about mail delivery and explains that the powder yards got mail service from Montchanin and Wilmington. He talks about the powder yard offices. Flanigan talks about whitewashing and painting houses. Flaningan talks about his fellow wagoners and their routes in the powder yards. He describes an accident that supposedly occurred when Sam Frizzell' s grocery wagon and a powder wagon collided as they were racing each other to a narrow bridge. He says that he cannot recall any local customers coming directly to the powder yards to buy powder.
    Keywords: Barns; Explosions; Gunpowder; Guns; Horses; Mail; Montchanin, Del.; Painting; Rising Sun Lane; Sam Frizzell's store; Shooting ranges; Stables; Street-railroads; Upper Banks; Wagoners; Wagons; Whitewash; Wilmington, Del.
  • Shipping gunpowder from the powder yards via railroad; Narrow gauge railroad in the powder yards
    Partial Transcript: The Reading Railroad had an inspector, and any car that would come in there to Montchanin that was in good shape, he'd sidetrack that and hold it for powder."
    Synopsis: Flaningan talks about shipping powder from the yards via a rail spur that came directly into the yard. He talks about the danger of fire and says that they put a "spark catcher" over the train's chimney. He recalls that the railroad used regular cars and used metal powder kegs loaded on their sides. He talks about the narrow gauge rails in the powder yards and describes their appearance and clarifies that the cars were all pulled by horses. He says that the car wheels were brass and that he is under the impression the wagons and wheels were made by DuPont. He talks about his daily work routines.
    Keywords: Kegs; Locomotives; Montchanin, Del.; Narrow gauge railroad; Railroads; Reading Railroad; Rolling stock; Trains
  • Working in the glazing mill; Italians working in the powder yards; The Ferraro family; Stonemasons
    Partial Transcript: "I don't know whether someone quit that was working on the rolling mills, but Joe Haley said he'd have to take Frank Ternato off the glaze and put him back in the rolling mill. And I told him, 'You can get a driver easier than you can get a glazing mill man -- I'll take the glazing mill and you can get a driver.' I had worked with an older man for a while, and liked the glazing mill so, I learned a lot that way." "There were more Italians in my time than Irish. The Italians started coming in here about 1903 or 1904 or somewhere along there."
    Synopsis: Flanigan talks about running the glazing mill. He says that after three years of driving wagons - he volunteered to work in the glazing mill. He describes how he got his job there. He talks about Italian Americans working in the powder yards. He says that by the time he started working in 1908 there were more Italians than Irish working in the powder mills. He says that many of the Irish left after a failed strike in the powder yards, rather than meet the workers demands, the powder yards shut down for the duration of the strike. He talks about friction between the Italian newcomers and the Irish powder men. He says that they mostly got along, but there were some language barriers because some of the Italians had difficulty learning English. He talks about the Ferraro family. He talks about stonemasons in the powder yards and the quarry in the Upper Yards. He says the quarry was near a packing house.
    Keywords: English language; Ferraro family; Glazing Mill; I.W.W.; Industrial Workers of the World; Irish Americans; Italian Americans; Italian language; Squirrel Run (Del.: Village); Strikes; Unions; Upper Yards
  • Frenchman who worked a powdermill solo; Taking over a glazing mill; Friendship with Benny Watson
    Partial Transcript: "There was a Frenchman came here right after the first World War broke out. He worked by himself -- he couldn't allow anybody near the mill with him. He rolled it, pressed it, corned it. And after he got it corned and all and put it in kegs, one morning I went to work and the Frenchman wasn't around."

    "The glaze mill I took over was in the Upper Yard -- just a small frame building -- they only had four barrels in that one."
    Synopsis: Flanigan tells a story about a Frenchman who worked a powdermill by himself at the start of World War I. He says that he did the nitre [saltpeter / saltpetre] manufacturing process by himself and left just as suddenly as he appeared. He says that after he left the company disposed of the powder this man had made claiming the powder was very potent and that a barrel when lit on fire left a crater the size of a house. After that the company decided to wash the powder down the Brandywine Creek. He talks about his job in the glazing mill and provides a step by step description of operating a glazing mill. He says that the mill could switch between water and electric powder. He talks about a powder yard worker named Benny Watson. He says that the milling process took three to four hours and while he was waiting he sometimes used a telephone to call "Yaba" Buchanan. If he wasn't talking to other people he'd make sure the mill was in good working order. He says that when switching between power sources he called the power plant so they'd be aware of the changing energy demands on site.
    Keywords: Brandywine Creek; Electrcitiy; Powdermills; Telephones; Waterpower; Watson, Benny; World War (1914-1918)
  • Safety and explosions; Wages and work in the yards; Night watchmen in the powder yards
    Partial Transcript: "I wasn't working here, but I was home in bed that morning that Lindsay Whiteman's father was killed. That was about seven o'clock in the morning. I don't know what happened, I never did know. But I know that was an awful explosion -- we lived in Squirrel Run and that was right over the hill very near the back of it."
    Synopsis: Flanigan talks about safety and explosions in the powder yards. He talks about wages and job hierarchies. He says that the most well paid men worked in corning mills who earned $1.80 per day compared to an average of $1.50. He describes night work in the powder yards and how glazing mills, rolling mills, and the saltpeter refinery ran night and day. He talks about how his mill was lit by electric lights at night. Flanigan says there were night watchmen in the powder yards and he briefly held that job.
    Keywords: Explosions; Glazing mills; Night watchmen; Rolling mills; Safety; Saltpeter refining; Wages
  • Ghost stories; du Pont family members in the powder yards; Pranks; "Rebel shanty"; Organizing buildings in the powder yards
    Partial Transcript: "One night, It was just about a month after an explosion, Jimmy Haley and I left the old blacksmith shop gate locked up -- we had a lantern -- it was in March, around the end of March, blowing a gale. We got up there on the other side of where the big packing house was and something came along and the lamp went out. So we both stood there. Jimmy said to me, 'I wonder what that was?''
    Synopsis: Flaningan talks about hearing an unexplained noise in the powder yards during a gale. He says that he and another man went to inspect it and discovered a piece of sheet iron had been blown around by the wind. He talks about du Ponts in the powder yards and says that he has memories of Alfred I. du Pont, Lammot du Pont and "Frank" du Pont working in the powder yards. He says that a member of the du Pont family had a lab in the powder yards and that the lab had a skeleton,the skull of which he used to prank an Italian powder man. He talks about some other pranks. The interviewers ask him if he is aware of a building called the "rebel shanty" where, according to legend, two Confederate spies were caught during the Civil War. He talks about numbering and organizing the powder mills. He talks about Birkenhead mills.
    Keywords: American Civil War (1861-1865); Birkenhead mills; Du Pont, Alexis I. (Alexis Iré né e), 1869-1921; Du Pont, Alfred I. (Alfred Irenee), 1864-1935; Du Pont, Francis Gurney, 1850-1904; Du Pont, Lammot, 1880-1952; Exlposions; Gales; Ghost stories; Organization; Powdermills; Pranks; Spies; The Confederacy; Weather
  • Glazing mill and barrel sizes; Dry house explosion
    Partial Transcript: "We used what they called a quarter keg..." "A fireman was supposed to be there at the time -; I knew if he was there he was killed, for it blew the boiler room down. There was an old well in the boiler room -- that's where they got the water from for the boiler."
    Synopsis: Flanigan talks more about glazing mill operations and describes measurements and barrels used in the mill. He talks about adding graphite to the powder and explains what it means to "sweat" or remove moisture from powder. He further details what happened when he switched between using electric and water power in the mill. Flanigan talks about a dry house / boiler explosion. He says that he could not find Jack Meredith, the man who was supposed to be working there, and later found out he was home in Free Park and hadn't gone to work. He says that particular dry house was never rebuilt.
    Keywords: Barrels; Electiricty; Explosions; Fans; Free Park (Del.: Village); Graphite; Kegs; Measurements; Sweating powder; Water power; Wells
  • Switching between the glazing mill and the packing house; Joining the military in World War I
    Partial Transcript: "About 1914 or 1915 I was driving what they called 'on the run.' That was a string team of powder cars. Later I worked between the glazing mill and the packing house." "Everybody I ran around with was gone. Of course, I was exempted -- they told me that at the draft board when I went. I thought, 'Well, everybody else is gone, I'm going too.' They told me at the draft board I was foolish for enlisting 'cause I was exempted as a powder man. Well, I went anyhow into the Marines."
    Synopsis: Flanigan talk about his job around 1914 and 1915. He says that he switched between working in a glazing mill and a packing house depending on need. He talks about powder yard operations on the eve of World War I. He says that the yard made mostly fuse powder and smokeless powder. He says that when he left in 1916 there were no women working in the mills. He joined the army even though he was exempted due to his job in the gunpowder industry. He says that he never went to Europe, but was a guard at a submarine base in New London, Connecticut. He talks about leaving the military in fall 1918.
    Keywords: Fuse powder; Glazing mills; Hagley yard; Lesmoke; New London, Conn.; Packing houses; Wagoners; World War (1914-1918)
  • Returning to Hagley after leaving the military; Getting a job at the American Viscose Company
    Partial Transcript: "I fooled around then -- I didn't know whether to go back to the Brandywine. Of course, my sister and all were living in Marcus Hook then, so I went up there and fooled around, and finally I wound up in the oil works. It was the old Union Petroleum Company -- they sold out to Sinclair. I was a night guard." "Finally, about 1920 I came back. There was enough running here that I worked up in the magazine for a while with a man by the name of Brown. I was only here a couple of months, though."
    Synopsis: After briefly working in Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania, Flanigan says that he returned to the Hagley area in 1920, but he only stayed at work for a few months. He describes the surrounding area as being like a "ghost town" and that there were very few young people left. He says that he left because he thought the powder yards were going to close soon. He went back to Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania and got a job at the American Viscose Company. He describes his job there, he started in the spinning room and ended his career in a department called "reclaim" which was involved in increasing the quality of rayon produced there.
    Keywords: American Viscose Company; Marcus Hook, Pa.; Rayon; Union Petroleum Company
  • Last job at the powder yard magazine
    Partial Transcript: "To get back to the Brandywine, they had a side-track that came in off the Reading track that goes down at Rockland Paper Mill, and they had one that came all the way down to what they called 'Rocks' -- that's down past the old coal house. And they had a switch so they could run right in along the magazine and another so they could run in down to the soda house. The railroad company had a man out here at Montchanin and any good boxcar that came in, he'd hold it for powder. "
    Synopsis: Flanigan talks about his last job at the powder yards, loading finished powder onto railroad cars. He talks about how the train came into the yard and the process of loading the boxcars. He describes the safety precautions they took to make sure that the powder kegs did not move in transit.
    Keywords: Packing; Powder magazines; Railroads; Safety; Shipping; Storage
  • Amusing anecdotes from the powder yards
    Partial Transcript: "One day I was on this side of the creek when I was running the glazing mill, and I saw a lantern on the other side. Meredith, he was fireman over at the dry house, so I thought, 'I guess that's old Jack down fishing.' I knew where a pile of stones was up along the road, so I went up and got a nice stone -- it wasn't quite as big as a baseball."
    Synopsis: Flanigan recalls some amusing anecdotes from his life on the Brandywine Creek. He talks about accidentally hitting his coworker, Joe Meredith, in the head with a rock. He says that he and Meredith eventually became friends. He pranked Meredith again by putting a cat in one of his box traps meant to catch rabbits. Flanigan says that he and Meredith also trapped muskrats, and once caught a long necked crane. He talks about a raccoon that stole some fish they caught in a trap. He recounts a scaring an Italian powder man with a human skull on a stick.

    He talks about a man he calls "Mr. Saucepan" who everyone thought had died, but didn't. He says they bathed him to get ready for his funeral and he came around the next morning to thank everyone for giving him a bath. Mr. Saucepan refused to leave his home when he was told to leave, so someone put up a locked gate on the nearest bridge to make movement difficult for him, but he somehow had a key for the gates. He tells a story about the powder yards stable master trying to sell a troublesome horse. When a prospective buyer came he recognized the horse and said he wasn't interested because he'd had enough problems selling that horse when he'd owned him. A brick company eventually bought the horse, which caused a massive accident. They got rid of the horse after that.

    He talks about working with an Italian newcomer whose lunch kept getting stolen by Jack Meredith's dog. He kept the dog from returning by using a corncob and some turpentine.
    Keywords: Anecdotes; Brandywine Creek; Cats; Chicken Alley; Corn cobs; Fishing; Haley, Joe; Horses; Lathers, Jack; Long necked cranes; Meredith, Joe; Mr. Saucepan; Muskrats; Oberly Brick Company; Pranks; Rabbits; Skeletons; Squirrel Run (Del.: Village); Stables; Stones; Stories; Traps; Turpentine