As I turn the clock back in time…. The year is 1947, when my dad, who was working at the Dredging Division on one of the tugboats, suffered a serious accident that severed his right leg, resulting in him being an amputee. The accident was caused by an ‘oiler’ who worked on the tugboat, and witnessed by Mr. Cornelius Gillings (aka Gunner), and other workers. My dad was released from the hospital after two months and remained at home until the medical staff at Gorgas Hospital and the U.S. Government were able to fit him with a prosthesis that allowed him to work.
A year after he returned to full duty, he was assigned to work at the Motor Boat Dock as a Launch Dispatcher. In the beginning, when my brother Butch and I dropped off his food, the security guard would call my dad, and he rode his bicycle to the guard station to pick it up. Since he worked rotating shifts, (11PM – 7AM and 7 AM – 2PM ), Mom gave us scheduled days in the evening, where we took turns taking Dad’s food to ‘the gate’. Over time, and after numerous trips, one of the guards, “Limpy” (uncle of “Bandido”), came to know us as well as our routine, so he allowed us to walk to the dock on our own.
My recollection of “the guard house” was getting the OK to enter a secure area, where only employees were allowed. Since we no longer had to stop at the gate, we looked forward to these trips that allowed us to enter the Dredging Division and walk directly to my dad’s office area.
Impressive for me at that age, as I approached the Dredging Division, were the huge cranes, “Ajax” and “Hercules” that loomed over the water’s edge. Our next door neighbor, Mr. Dan Hebbert, worked on the crane boat-Atlas. We saw large containers enclosed in metal buildings, and passed a variety of other equipment that were being warehoused. Dad took the time to give us a mini tour of his work area, and a surprised “bird’s-eye-view” of the Governor’s boat ! (Shh, no one knew that). We also stopped and stared in amazement at the large ships passing in both directions on both sides of the canal. I remember the Elliot brothers- Roy, Bobby, Eddie; Mr. Dunn, Mr. Ellington, Mr. Barber”Chippy”, Mr. Sampson, Mr. Wade, Mr. Brathwaite “Bammy”, to mention a few who also worked at the Dredging Division.
Sometimes I would have to wait at the railroad crossing gate. I purposely timed my trip to Dredging Division to coincide with the arrival of the evening trains, so I could wave at the passengers. Butch’s vivid recollection is of stopping on the way home to look at the “Whites Only” swimming pool. We were not allowed to swim there until much later (around 1959), when Mr. Jose French (Gym Teacher), finally made it possible.
As I reflect on this experience, I have a better appreciation for the privilege afforded me at the age of 8 or 9 to get a scenic view of the Dredging Division. … Back in the “good old days”, walking from ‘Dust Bowl’ as a child to ‘Front Street’ to get there, seemed like forever. What made the difference, was being allowed as young children to go anywhere in the Santa Cruz community without supervision. The village that raised us kept watchful eyes and ears, no matter where we were. I thoroughly enjoyed reflecting on the Dredging Division as a little girl growing up in the fantastic, special “Silvertown” of Santa Cruz Canal Zone. …I thank The Gamboa Reunion Group for asking me to recall, reflect and reminisce. … What an unforgettable journey !
NOTE: My brother, Butch devised a shortcut when we left building #276 to walk under the clothesline of building #281 (Thorne, Bellamy, Sobers, Wilson, etc.), pass the Stennet, Nurse, Rodney, Cox building, through Church Square, pass McFarlane Parkway, the dispensary, fire station, post office and commisary.
Reva Richards Marcellin