I must have been somewhere between six and eight years of age when my dad took us walking to the Gamboa train station. I believe there were only four of us siblings at the time ( We are a family of seven children ). It was after dark and as we stood on the train station platform, Dad pointed out the dredge vessel on which he worked. It was docked inside the chain link fence that bordered the Dredging Division. I later learned that his title was that of a “Boatswain” (pronounced Bo-sun). In layman’s terms, he was a Leading Seaman in charge of a small crew. I suspect he was recently given that title and was proudly showing his children the vessel on which he worked. As a young boy, I was delighted to be taken anywhere, but I remember being frightened by the loud clanging of the heavy metal forming parts of the dredge’s mechanisms. These industrial noises gave me the sense that my dad’s job at the Dredging Division was a dangerous one.
Dad worked rotating shifts. One week, 3PM to 11PM, the following week, 11PM to 7AM, then, 7AM to 3PM. My favorite was the 3PM to 11PM shift. Why ? Because, as a very mischievous child, punishment for most misdeeds would be delayed (“stay of execution”). I would leave for school while Dad was still resting and when I returned from school he would be at work. … Oh the torture, “waiting for the shoe to drop”. .. He would sometimes forget .. wink-wink.
It wasn’t long before my fears regarding work at the Dredging Division were validated. When I was eleven years old one of my friends lost his dad to a fatal work related injury. When I was sixteen, another friend and classmate lost his dad. Again at age seventeen, two of my friends’ dads were killed on the job. The Dredging Division in Gamboa was the primary source of employment for descendants of the Caribbean- born Panama Canal Builders work force. This employment allowed them to provide better lives for their children and on through to the fourth, fifth and sixth generations. They modeled a sense of duty in spite of unfair labor practices and racial injustices. .. without complaining to their families.
The Dredging Division was relocated from Paraiso Canal Zone to Gamboa Canal Zone in the year 1936. Eleven years later, in 1947, Mr. Clyde Richards became an amputee in a work related accident. In 1950 Mr. Lester Joshua’s head injury from falling debris, influenced the enforcing of rules regarding the use of hard- hats (helmets). In 1952 Mr. Augustus George was fatally injured. In 1958, two more community members lost their lives. They were, Mr. James “Tommy” Joshua and Mr. Oscar Jones. Seven years later (1965), Mr. Charles Mussa was fatally injured and seven years later (1972) Mr. Leroy Alleyne Sr. (My dad) lost his life. The following year ( 1973) Mr. Alvin Burnett died.
This year (2016) marks eighty years since the Panama Canal Company’s Dredging Division was established in Gamboa and the Silvertown of Santa Cruz continue to honor the memory of these men and their families.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Cynthia Winter-Pond

    Hi Carlos, thanks for sharing. I had no idea so many fathers in the community passed away due to work related injuries. The phrase “the longer you live, the more you learn” is so true.

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