Posted by Ellen

How the cooks dried the silverware in a Minnesota lumber camp, summer of 1937.

Posted by Ellen

"Women in essential services," reads the original caption from February 1943. "Two women railroad workers enjoy a moment of relaxation from their new job in the yards of the Southern Pacific Company in San Francisco."

Posted by Ellen

There's laundry in the yard here at the old Savage house, but only a few items; most of the clotheslines hold only empty clothespins. So we'll call it a Tuesday instead of a Monday.

The house was built in 1861, only two years after discovery of the Comstock Lode, which set off a silver rush to Nevada, much like the gold rush to California a decade earlier. Administrative offices of the Savage Mining Company occupied the first floor; a succession of mine superintendents and their families lived above the offices, on the second and third floors.

The office and house were on D Street in the very young town of Virginia City, Nevada. The first Savage mine shaft was on B Street. Although the town was barely a year old in 1861, it already contained 42 saloons, 42 stores, 9 restaurants, 6 hotels, and a couple of thousand miners, many of whom had already spent years prospecting in California.

All the trees for miles around were already cut down, mostly for use as mine timbers.

The Savage mansion had 21 rooms and was probably the largest structure in town. The company provided a housekeeper for the superintendents in residence, and for many years the housekeepr was a Mrs. Monoghan, whose husband had died in one of the Savage mines. 

In 1918, when Savage shut down its operations in Virginia City, after years in which mines thereabouts produced less and less good ore, the house, furnishings, and D Street property were deeded to Mrs. Monaghan. By the time this photographer happened by in 1940,  the silver bonanza that built the house and the city had been over for a long, long time.

Recently, Virginia City is gentrifying, attracting tourists. The Savage Mansion is now completely restored and painted yellow. The building is still privately owned and serves as office space.

Posted by Ellen

The truth is not hard to believe: these guys were in fact trying for a world record in 1893 when they loaded the sled with more than 36,000 board feet of virgin white pine logs from Ontanagon County in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

How did they pile up the load so high? The horses actually did much of the work. The men would lay each log on the ground longside the sled and affix ropes to it that went up and over the load and then back down to the ground on the other side of the sled. That's where the horses were waiting; they would be harnessed to the ropes, and as they were led away from their side of the sled, the ropes would pull the new log up to the top of the heap, guided up the side by angled tracks made from small logs. When the new log reached the top, the men would snag it into place.

How come the sled didn't just sink down in the snow? An ice road had been specially prepared, with the snow sprayed repeatedly with water and allowed to freeze rock-hard. The horses had special shoes with crampons that bit into the ice surface.

Usually, logs hauled this way were taken to a frozen river, awaiting spring, when they'd be floated downstream to a sawmill. But this particular load was pulled for just half a mile by these two horses, to a railroad siding, where the logs and the sled were loaded onto freight cars and shipped to Chicago.

There, at the Michigan pavilion of the 1893 Columbia Exhibition, the load was reassembled, sled and all, treating fairgoers to a glimpse of logging activity in what was then the world's busiest lumber region.

Did they make it into the Guinness Book of Records? We have no idea, but they did claim this was the largest load of lumber in the history of the world.

Note that most of the men here had no gloves, and of course none of them had hard hats.

Posted by Ellen

Joe and his friend Beau pose for a picture last spring in Beau's new food truck, Local Roots, which plies the streets of Tuscaloosa serving an international menu that features locally grown foods.

Posted by Ellen

One of the first professional assignments undertaken by Gordon Parks was a 1942 photo essay featuring Mrs. Ella Watson, a "government charwoman" who cleaned federal office buildings at night, after the clerks went home, and supported her family, including an adopted daughter and three grandchildren, on her annual salary of $1,080.

Parks's other photos of Mrs. Watson and her family, along with explanatory captions, can be viewed online, via the Library of Congress Farm Security Administration archive.

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In the fall of 1898, these men were hard at work in a cotton gin in Bolivar County in north Mississippi.

1898 was a depression year; cotton was selling for barely 5 cents a pound. Out in the fields, the wages for cotton pickers had dropped from the going rate in the early 1890s of about 50 cents per  hundred pounds, which was what an average adult could pick in a day, down to 42 cents.

But most cotton in those years was grown not by wage laborers but by tenant farmers or sharecroppers. Tenants paid plantation owners about 2 bales of cotton (1,000 pounds) each year for a 40-acre plot; sharecroppers split the crop with the landowner, 50-50 or 25-75, depending on who provided the mule and who provisioned the family till the crop came in.

This lazy researcher was not readily able to learn how much the gin workers were paid, but we can be sadly certain that it was not much.

Posted by Ellen

This crane has been caught in the act of growing itself. The object it's lifting into the air is a 20-foot section of crane-tower that it is about to swing into place to lengthen its own neck and make itself taller. The new section will be inserted at the top of the neck, which is currently at a level near the top of the building, where a sort of cage structure surrounds the tower.

This cage is called a climbing frame, and it costs $60,000 to rent for a weekend. For a crane that wants to grow itself, the climbing frame is the secret to the whole pulling-itself-up-by-its-own-bootstraps thing. 

The climbing frame is installed around the top of the crane's neck, just  below the horizontal part of the crane, which does all the heavy lifting. The horizontal arm, with its gears and motor, has to be unbolted from the tower and settled onto the top of the climbing frame. Hydraulic jacks in the frame then boost it up, leaving a gap in the tower. The crane simply picks up a new section of tower and slips it into the gap.

Over the course of a few hours on Monday, this crane grew by six sections, 120 feet. We're told it's now as tall as it needs to be for the project–condos, of course, along the Schuylkill riverfront. In June, the crane guys say they'll be back to dismantle the whole thing and move it to its next job.

How will it ungrow itself? It can't. It's not a cannibal. Sometimes the crane will haul up a second, smaller crane onto the roof of the finished building, and the smaller crane will then lower the pieces of the big crane. To get the second crane down, they sometimes have to use a third, even smaller crane, which can be disassembled into pieces small enough to go down the elevator.

Posted by Ellen

José Stein, our man in Havana, shares a street scene with us. "Random people," he says, "who've seen a lot of history."

Posted by Ellen

In January 1943, Australian truck gardener and food packager Edgell & Sons Ltd opened a new cannery in Cowra, New South Wales, for the war effort; by January 1944, these women and other employees working in shifts around the clock had shipped off one million cans of tomatoes and other vegetables.

The cannery at Cowra stayed in operation till 2013, by which time Edgell had shifted over mostly to frozen foods, and every other cannery in Australia had already closed down. Birdseye now owns the company, though Edgell survives as a brand for the Australian market.