Saturday, January 1, 2011

John Henry Part 2

A hammer man always had a partner. The man who held the spike or drill when breaking large rocks was called a turner, shaker or "melon-head", because they were often the least intelligent men on the work crew. They were also called that because often the man swinging the hammer would miss and strike these poor workers in the head, bruising it like a melon. One of the reasons the men respected John Henry, besides his great strength, was the fact he had never struck a "melon-head" with his massive hammer. It was the rest of the crew who despised Jim Crodes when he arrived. John Henry was too good a man to sink to his level and simply returned the man's cruel barbs with kindness and respect, which of course only infuriated him further. His first night there he tried to make them men afraid of John Henry by pointing out the danger to the 'melon-heads' from John Henry's hammer.
"I see you brought your own hammer," Jim Crodes said. "But other than crushing a poor melon-head, what else can all those muscles do?" John Henry simply smiled at finished his meal of bread and beans. This continued, night after night, as John Henry worked to prove he was better than the Steam Hammer Robot. But even John was not without his limits and he began to tire, both of the pestering and the exertion. One evening Jim Crodes had stood behind John Henry as he worked, bragging about his intellect and taunting John constantly. Other men on the crew tried to shut Mr. Crodes up but John would shake his head no and the men would honor his request.

"You think you are so high and mighty with all those muscles, don't you boy?" Jim said. "But you are just a stereotype, another ignorant nigger who can't do nothin' but jump, swing and run, with no real brains in your head at all. Just another no-good cotton-picking nigger swinging a shovel and a pick or a hammer."

Well John Henry had finally had enough. Being called a nigger from white men was one thing, but to stand next to another black man like himself and hear those words was too much for his giant patience. John lifted his hammer high over his head and towered over Jim Crodes. The men gathered round expecting John to crush Mr. Crodes once and for all. Crodes threw up his hands, covering his head and kneeling on the ground, whimpering. John brought the hammer down on a tree stump next to the tracks beside Jim and it exploded into a shower of wooden chips. When the debris had cleared and Crodes stood up, all the men laughed when they saw the urine pouring down Jim Crodes leg. John merely smiled and walked away, but Jim swore that he would get revenge for being embarrassed, especially when the men nicknamed him Jimmy the Pisser.

It took a long time but eventually John and the Steam Hammer Robot arrived at the foot of the Appalachians in Virginia where the real challenge awaited him. The rail line had to twist north and follow the Appalachians north into Canada, beginning at the foot of a massive mountain known as Big Bend. John had outperformed the Steam Hammer by almost 20%, but getting through the rock, even with the help of a crew, was going to be a huge task.

Jim Crodes spent the early years of his life working on research for an "Iron Man Project". He was a laborer under Thomas Edison's "Steam Man" experiments on the prairies and had studied the works of scientist Frank Reade extensively. It was the stolen notes from Edison's "HADALY" research that got him the job with Chemical X Solutions in the first place. Edison had found a process, which Crodes perfected, of electrically imprinting instructions onto an artificial device that would then direct an attached machine to follow those instructions. It would take three years and a thousand men to complete the passage through the mountain, but only two years for the Steam Powered Robot. But by this point Crodes did not want to defeat John Henry, he wanted the big man dead and buried.

No comments: