Men Who Really Built the Subway (1904)
The New York Times · Sunday, November 6, 1904
Here are the Hardy Sub-Contractors Who Grappled with the Innumerable Difficulties of the Actual Construction-- Pen Pictures of the men and Facts About the Problem That Each Had to Solve-- Only Two Firms Had To Quit.
While the public of New York has read pages about the great engineer who designed the Subway, the far-seeing financier who backed it, and the hardy contractor who never doubted its practicability, the men who did the actual work of construction are almost strangers to the thousands who now are enjoying the benefits of their labors.
The sub-contractors-- they were the quiet, untiring, sturdy workers who undertook the direct responsibility of building the tunnel block by block, who saw to it that every inch was bored accurately and quickly, who ruled the men with the drills, picks, and shovels, and these sub-contractors required hardly less nerve than did those who backed the undertaking as a whole. Each separate job was a monster in itself. Each had its enormous difficulties and its uncertainties that might have meant ruin if tireless watchfulness and unbounded energy had not brought success and fortune.
As soon as the contract for the Manhattan-Bronx Subway had been given to the Rapid Transit Subway Construction Company-- August Belmont, President. and John B. McDonald, contractor-- the company called for bids on the different sections into which the work had been divided. There were fifteen of these divisions. The boldest contractors of the city, and some from out of town, made their offers with hesitation and after much thought. Never before had the contracting business of the East faced possibilities of so much promise or of so much doubt.
Out of all the firms which became engaged in the work, only two have failed to make handsome profits. It is a singular coincidence that both of these firms came from other cities.
The McCabe Brothers, who undertook the deep tunnel under Washington Heights north of One Hundred and Fifty-seventh Street and the section just south of that point, had made a reputation in Baltimore, chiefly because of their work as sub-contractors under John B. McDonald in building the Baltimore and Ohio tunnel beneath that city. The firm of Holbrook, Cabot & Daly had won its spurs on the subway in Boston. They tackled Section 3 of New York's tunnel, including the Union Square rock blasting. Like the McCabes, they miscalculated and put in too low bids, though they did not go to the wall and were able to finish their work, while the Baltimore firm succumbed to its troubles in less than two and a half years after the tunnel was begun.
Degnon's Giant Tasks. The man who had most sub-contracts and the most extraordinary problems of construction was Michael J. Degnon. The sub-contracts for Sections 1, 2, and 5A of the tunnel were bid in by the Degnon-McLean Contracting Company, but the firm was dissolved later and the Degnon Contracting Company took over all the work. In that company there is practically one working member-- Mr. Degnon. The Directors, whose interest is comparatively small, include Gov. Myron T. Herrick of Ohio.
The Degnon contracts under the Subway Construction Company have aggregated $8,500,000, but that figure includes the lower Broadway part of the Brooklyn extension tunnel. The three sections of the Manhattan-Bronx line represented something less than $6,000,000. No. 1 extended from Ann Street and Broadway to Chambers and Centre Streets, including the City Hall loop. No. 2 was from Chambers to Great Jones Street. No. 5A was the job that began at Forty-first Street and Park Avenue and ended at Forty-seventh Street and Broadway, embracing the tortuous Forty-second Street work.
Michael J. Degnon is not only one of the great contractors of the country, but he is about the biggest of them in actual size. He towers up six feet and four inches and is proportionately broad. His capacity for work is unlimited, but it's no greater than his good temper, his tact, and his genial manners. He may be solving a problem that figures into the millions, but he never gets excited or bad-humored. His employees tell you that they don't want to work for anybody else as long as he is around.
It was after many visits and much argument on the part of the reporter that Mr. Degnon consented to talk about himself. Finally he agreed to "say just a little."
"I was born in Geneva, near Cleveland, Ohio, in 1857," he began. "My father died when I was a child, and I lived with my mother on the farm and attended the public schools till I was eighteen years old. Then I started to work on a railroad. Before I was twenty-two I did all sorts of work, from laborer up to Superintendent of Construction. After that I began contracting. and I've been at it steadily since 1880. I've done jobs for a dozen railroads in different States, among them the New York Central, several roads in Ohio and Michigan, the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul in Iowa, the Atchison in Illinois, Missouri, and other States, and various electric lines of the West.
"Since forming the Degnon Company in 1896 we have completed some large contracts, including the pneumatic caissons and towers and anchorages on the Brooklyn side of the Williamsburg Bridge, the foundations for a railway bridge over the St. Lawrence River, the Norfolk terminals for the Southern Railway, the Dismal Swamp Canal in Virginia and North Carolina, and Sections 1 and 2 and 5A of the Manhattan-Bronx Subway. We are now at work on the lower Broadway section of the Brooklyn extension of the Subway, the Long Island Railroad terminal in Brooklyn, and the Gould-Wabash tide water railway and terminals in Maryland."
"How much money do your present contracts represent?" he was asked.
"Something more than $10,000,000," was the reply. "All the work will be completed in less than a year."
Mr. Degnon said that during his twenty-five years of contracting he had finished every job, and in all his hundreds of contracts with railroads and others he never had a lawsuit or any litigation. He said he considered the Subway work of his firm as difficult as any contracting task ever undertaken in America.
"How do you expect to come out of it all?" he was asked.
"Well," he said, "it will depend largely upon how the Rapid Transit Commission, its engineer, and the Subway Construction Company treat us in the matter of final adjustments and settlements. I have implicit confidence in the board, Chief Engineer Parsons, and the President of the company, and I'm satisfied they will be willing to give us fair treatment and a just return for the work we've done."
Solved Many Problems. Mr. Degnon's most difficult Subway tasks were the excavations under Park Row, where be had to keep four trolley tracks fit for operation, as the earth was scooped and the tunnel built beneath them, the City Hall loop, whose course necessitated burrowing under the foundations of the old Times Building and bisecting several Post Office vaults; the digging through the quicksands where a lake once existed in the Canal Street neighborhood; the supporting of Forty-second Street's heavy traffic over excavations in almost continuous rock, and the handling of many underground obstructions, such as pipe lines, elevated railroad supports, and sewers.
Holbrook's Fourth Avenue Work. Section 3, from Great Jones Street and Lafayette Place to Fourth Avenue and Thirty-third Street, went to the Boston firm of Holbrook, Cabot & Daly. Frederick Holbrook was the working member of the firm, and despite his financial reverses, he did his work well to the end.
A miscalculation as to the expense of the rock work on the east side of Union Square is said to have been the chief cause of the firm's loss, and then there was the suit won against the contractors by the Everett House, whose proprietor claimed damages on account of the noisy power plant in front of his doors. After the firm got into difficulties there was a reincorporation. The Holbrook, Cabot & Daly Construction Company, with added capital furnished in the nick of time, continued the work. Later, when the building was nearly over, there was another reorganization, the company becoming Holbrook, Cabot & Rollins.
Mr. Holbrook and Mr. Bates, proprietor of the Everett House, continued warm friends through their legal controversy, and the sub-contractor had luncheon with his opponent in the latter's hotel nearly every day.
"Tisn't a personal scrap," they explained one afternoon, when a mutual acquaintance found them laughing at each other's jokes.
Shaler Contract a Money-Maker. Contrary to the popular impression, the contract of the late Major Ira A. Shaler-- the deep tunnel from Fourth Avenue and Thirty-third Street to Park Avenue and Forty-first Street-- turned out to be a profitable one. Major Shaler was killed by a falling boulder in the tunnel after a series or unfortunate accidents that entailed heavy losses. First there was a dynamite explosion, then the cave-in near Thirty-seventh Street. After the sub-contractor's death the work was carried on under the supervision of the general contracting company in the name of the Ira A. Shaler estate.
The Belmont interests had to buy up a lot of property damaged by the cave-in, and there were other costly settlements, but despite this the company came through safely. The cave-in was due to a change in the plan by which the tunnel was made to run nearer to the foundations of buildings on the east side of Park Avenue. Charles T. Barney's suit to recover damages, after passing through several courts, is now in the Federal tribunals, but there is no apparent chance that they will upset the several decisions holding that the engineers were within their rights in making the change of route.
Naughtons Finished First. The first sub-contract to be completed was Section 5B, Naughton & Co.'s job along Broadway, between Forty-seventh and Sixtieth Streets. The three members of this firm are Daniel F. McMahon, Tammany district leader, who is President; Bernard Naughton, Secretary, and Major George W. McNulty, civil engineer.
Major McNulty, who was in direct charge of the tunneling, is a graduate of the University of Virginia. He is fifty-three years old. In the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge he was an assistant engineer. Later he became chief engineer of the Metropolitan Traction Company. He belongs to the Democratic, New York Athletic, Hardware, Engineers', and other clubs, and to various learned societies here and abroad.
Bernard Naughton-- "Bashful Barney," who hates to talk about himself and tells you he never did anything worth while-- is a Harvard man, a member of the Democratic, Engineers, and various smaller clubs, and is prominent in Tammany Hall. What he don't know about practical contracting, they say, is hardly worth the knowing, and he likes nothing better than hard work. He and "the Major" made it their object to get through the Subway work ahead of all rivals. They won out by about a year.
The Two Bradleys. William Bradley's bid for Section 6A-B of the Subway was approximately $500,000. The work included many of the "binding points" of the tunnel line-- engineering tasks and annoyances that made the contract a dangerous one to undertake. There was not a single bidder against Mr. Bradley, and though he made money on the job, there were times during the early stages, as he admits, when he wished some bolder rival had stepped in ahead of him.
While William made the contract, his active share in the work was no less than ' that of his brother, James. Both of them are hard workers. Their father before them had big contracts In New York, and the sons are "chips off the old block"-- sturdy, workaday, straight-to-the-point business men, not afflicted with much sentiment, and with an eye to the profit they are accustomed to reap from every venture.
William is fifty-one years old; James, forty-three. As their pictures show, they look enough alike to be twins. They were born right here, and both of them say they would rather not live at all than live anywhere else.
While this same Bradley family has been connected with big contracts hereabout since before William was born, the two present representatives are far more widely known than their predecessors. There are scores of tall buildings for which they have laid the foundations, and one of their latest undertakings has been the removal of snow from our streets in the last two Winters. They have a great plant and a complex establishment, with engineers at big pay for each job and hundreds of employees of all grades, but it is said that either of them knows enough engineering to be the real head of every contract and has enough experience to do the actual work, from the shovel up, if you'll give him the time.
The great tunnel-building plant of the Bradleys in the vacant plot bounded by Eighty-sixth and Eighty-seventh Streets, Broadway, and Amsterdam Avenue, is a good illustration of the complexity of the tunnel work that has upset the city for more than four years. Here were installed rock-crushing machinery, blacksmiths' shops, repair yards, wheelwrights' layouts, supply and storage houses, and all the other adjuncts of the burrowing task. Then there was a compressed air plant on the river front not far off, whence came through long pipes the power that operated the rock drills along the section. All the machinery of the section, stopping neither by night nor day, was operated by compressed air.
Farrell Pierced Central Park. Edward J. Farrell, formerly John B. McDonald's partner, is the "working member" of the firm of Farrell, Hopper & Co., who obtained the sub-contract for Sections 7 and 8. No. 7 was the first division of the east side branch of the Subway, beginning at One Hundred and Third Street and Broadway and ending at One Hundred and Tenth Street and Lenox Avenue, after going under a corner of Central Park. All the work was done by underground tunneling through rock. Section 8 extended up Lenox Avenue to One Hundred and Thirty-fifth Street.
Mr. Farrell's partners are John J. Hopper, brother of the Commissioner of Buildings, and John C. Rodgers. Mr. Hopper is a Dartmouth College man, a Democrat of local importance, and a clubman of varied connections. Mr. Rodgers, besides his interest in this firm, is mentioned below as individual contractor on Section 9B.
When John B. McDonald was doing the Hoosac Tunnel Railway job in Massachusetts, Mr. Farrell was Superintendent of Construction on the tunnel itself. It was the firm of Ryan, McDonald & Farrell that built the Baltimore and Ohio tunnel under Baltimore-- a work which brought Mr. McDonald a wide reputation before he bid for the New York Subway. After that Mr. Farrell was associated with John C. Rodgers in building part of the Speedway and a section of the Croton Aqueduct, and the firm of Rodgers & Farrell constructed the Lachine Canal in Canada, as well as the Pittsburg, Bessemer and Lake Erie Railroad tunnel. These are only a few of the big contracts in which the Central Park tunneler has been interested.
Mr. Farrell was born in New Brunswick on May 6, 1859, and managed to get a public school education before he went to work. He was still a young man when he began to take contracts for himself in a small way, and his rise to the front was rapid. He is prominent in Tammany circles here, and belongs, among other organizations, to the Heights Club, American Society of Civil Engineers and Scientific Alliance. Both he and Mr. Rodgers are Trustees of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
There's Only One McBean. Those who were on the inside knew as soon as the contract for the Harlem River work was awarded that Duncan D. McBean was going to boss the job. The firm of McMullen & McBean, with Arthur McMullen officially recorded as senior partner, put in the winning bid, $1,500,000 in round figures, but the senior member never had anything more to do with the actual work on Section 9A than if he were a thousand miles away.
There is no more picturesque character in the contracting world than Duncan McBean. He happens to have made a fortune and to hove finished successfully some of the biggest jobs on record, but that isn't why everybody has heard of him. He originated the new method by which the Harlem has been tunneled, he made the engineers take his plans in preference to the ones they had drawn, he bossed those who were supposed to boss him, and more than once he treated them so unceremoniously that they threatened drastic legal proceedings. Contractor John B. McDonald, it is related, once told his secretary to telephone to Mr. McBean, requesting the sub-contractor to come down town for some instructions.
"You tell him to come up here if he wants to see me," responded McBean, ringing off.
And yet the Harlem tunneler is the kindest-hearted man in the world "when you strike him right." Beware his "off days," don't mind his rough talk, and you'll find him as square and as fair as the day is long.
Born in Canada fifty-nine years ago, Mr. McBean began to make his own way in the world at the age of eleven. His first job was carrying buckets of water for workmen on the Grand Trunk Railroad near his home. From that day to this he has shifted for himself. When he was barely twelve years old his parents moved to the United States, settling in the West. The father, a poor builder, never was successful financially, but he taught the boy how to work, how to "spend a little and save a little more."
After rising until salaried jobs were too small for him, McBean began to take contracts for himself, but before that he had held such important positions as Superintendent of Construction on the La Salle Street tunnel in Chicago and on the Detroit River tunnel at Detroit. His first big contract was the Siskiyou tunnel on the California-Oregon border line. Later he built the section of the Northern Pacific Railroad from Cheney to Spokane Falls, Wash. He sunk the foundations for the Ainsworth Bridge over the Snake River, in Washington, and among his other contracts in the same State was the road between Texas Ferry and Colfax.
Then he started East, as many another Western contractor has done. He was first with the firm of Brown, Howard & Co., who built the northern thirteen miles of the Croton Aqueduct. His list of jobs around New York since that time would fill a book. He was one of the contractors for the Riverside Viaduct, the One Hundred and Forty-fifth Street Bridge over the Harlem, and the One Hundred and Fifty-fifth Street Viaduct.
The McBean system of tunneling, as seen in the Harlem River Subway work, has been a marvel to the engineering world. When it was first started a well-known London engineer visited the contractor, who explained the plan.
"Impossible," said the Londoner, and later he wrote for an English periodical an article expressing his disbelief.
The McBean Methods. Much has been written about McBean's working chamber of wood beneath the river and how he later improved on his first plan by building the top half of the tunnel in a pontoon-- a floating uncovered box-- and used the top half of the tunnel as a roof for the chamber in which he built the lower half. Tho tunnel under the water is nearly finished. It is the first subaqueous tunnel ever built with a pile and concrete foundation to support it.
"My experience on public work," to quote the contractor's words, "has taught me sufficient knowledge of strength of material and of force and its effects to utilize them, and how to make use of one to withstand the other. Instead of unwatering the site of the Harlem River tunnel with the use of a coffer dam, thereby resisting the force of the water, as heretofore was customary in doing such work, I used the force produced by the weight of the water above the bed of the river to maintain under the water an air space in which the tunnel was built."
Mr. McBean said the other day that he had made additional discoveries.
"I shall soon announce." he added, while refusing to explain in detail, "an improvement to lessen cost, simplify methods, and render unnecessary the working platforms which were necessary in my other plan. This new plan will obviate the temporary obstruction to navigation. It will make it practicable to build, instead of small cubby-holes (shield-driven tunnels) a tunnel across any river as wide as a street and of any desired shape or form."
"What did you make out of your contract?" Mr. McBean was asked.
"Now, now!" he remonstrated. "Well, I didn't make as much as I ought. I didn't put in a big enough bid."
When Mrs. McBean is in town the contractor lives in his handsome home near Riverside Drive, but she is in Europe now, and he is staying at the Waldorf-Astoria. His rise to fortune has not brought with it a particle of affectation, and any one who calls upon him at his office, home, or hotel is sure to find him fondling a short pipe of the same general appearance as those his workmen smoke after their noonday lunch.
John C. Rodgers, War Veteran. Where Mr. McBean's contract ends, at Gerard Avenue, Bronx Borough, begins Section 9B. The sub-contract was awarded to John C. Rodgers, who later made a deal by which he added to his personal subway work the greater part of Section 8, which is the Lenox Avenue division, extending north from One Hundred and Tenth Street and Central Park, and which had been undertaken at the start by Farrell, Hopper & Co., the firm to which he himself belonged.
Mr. Rodgers was born in Ireland about fifty-five years ago. When he was eight years old his family came to America. He had a common school education, and was preparing to make a living when the civil war began. He enlisted. With the Fifth Cavalry he fought under Gen Phil Sheridan, but the loss of an arm at Shenandoah ended his military career, and he returned home to engage in the contracting business.
Besides many railroad construction contracts, he has built bridges, tunnels, dams, sewers, and buildings beyond count. His first big job was the extension of the Delaware and Hudson Railroad along Lake Champlain. This was in 1873. It included a long tunnel through rock. Two years later he made a record by completing in four months a section of the Lachine Canal, while other contractors on the same undertaking took years to complete their shares. In fact, he afterward finished another section after three firms had failed on it.
Then he built a tunnel more than six miles long on the South Penn Railroad, and before it was finished he was interested with others in a five-mile section of the Croton Aqueduct. Not long afterward he was building the Niagara Falls Power Company's tunnel, 7,000 feet long, an undertaking that is familiar to the contracting and engineering world. In this city he built Section 2 of the Speedway and completed the Willis Avenue Bridge over the Harlem River after the failure of the Philadelphia firm that had spent $200,000 without being able to "make good."
Mr. Rodgers's Subway section is not far from finished, but some months will pass before trams are running either through his or Mr. McBean's division. The work on the Rodgers section has been distinguished for its deep rock cuts and the tunnel under the Central Railroad tracks near Mott Avenue. The section ends at Brook Avenue, where the tunnel railroad tracks emerge, to continue for the rest of their way upon a viaduct.
Boyhood Chums Now a Big Firm. This viaduct, with its northerly terminus at Bronx Park, is known as Section 10. The sub-contract was let to the same firm that secured Sections 12 and 15. which are, respectively, the Manhattan Valley viaduct and the elevated extension from Hillside Avenue to King's Bridge. The contractors are Terry & Tench, now incorporated as the Terry & Tench Construction Company.
Of all the tunnel workers this firm of young men-- they are even younger in contracting experience than in years-- has had the most phenomenal record for making money in a hurry. Ten years ago they came to New York with $2,000 between them. Today they have behind them a record including the building of the Central Railroad's drawbridge near the mouth of the Harlem River, the steel frame of the Grand Central Station, the Atlantic Avenue tunnel of the Long Island Railroad, the Central National Bank Building, at 320 Broadway, and numerous steel bridges in different parts of the United States.
Not only have they built the three elevated sections of the Subway Road, but they held sub-contracts under the sub-contractors of all the underground sections north of One Hundred and Fourth Street for supplying whatever steel was used. The aggregate of their contracts, including what they did underground, was $1,250,000 in round numbers.
Edward F. Terry was born in Concord, N. H., and is forty-six years old. His parents died when he was eleven years old, and since then he has gone it alone. The year 1878 found him working as a carpenter in Wisconsin, whither he had gone impelled by a "travel West young man" fever. Frederick Tench, who is four years younger, is a native of Ontario, Canada. He began life as a workman on a railroad when a boy.
The two met at Winona, where they went to work for the Union Bridge Company, Though barely grown men, both had become known by that time as quick, competent, and earnest workers. They were fast friends almost from their first meeting, and since then the story of the one has been practically the story of both, as they followed one another from job to job, always making it a point to be together and waiting for an opportunity to strike out for themselves.
With the Union Bridge Company each had held an important position. A little later both had jobs as Superintendents with the Union Pacific Railroad, which was building its lines westward. Terry branched out occasionally on other jobs, and at one time or another he superintended seven bridges across the Mississippi River, but most of his work, like most of Tench's, was with the railroad for the next few years.
To New York with S2,000. They had talked it over often, and finally decided to "make a break." To New York they came. Their savings, as Mr. Tench said last week, aggregated about $2,000. That was in 1895. In the same year the New York Central gave them the contract for its drawbridge.
"Who the devil are Terry & Tench?" asked the contractors of New York.
They were not long in getting an answer, for contract followed contract, and within five years the firm was one of the greatest in its line-- steel construction. The story of how it got its first contract gradually leaked out. The late Major Ira A. Shaler, who was killed in his Subway section under Park Avenue two years ago, had backed them, along with other friends. It was not their $2,000 that counted. It was not a drop in the bucket, but the friends they had relied on accepted their judgment.
In addition to their work on the viaducts of the Subway system, they have fulfilled side contracts for 5,000,000 feet of lumber used by other sub-contractors, and they have laid all the rails of the road above One Hundred and Fourth Street. The most complicated single piece of work they did was the moving of an entire section of steel tunnel frame between One Hundred and Thirty-fifth and One Hundred and Thirty-sixth Streets, the lower end of the McCabes' section. This block had been finished for a two-track railroad. The Rapid Transit Commission changed its plans and authorized three tracks at that point. Terry and Tench moved the whole roof and one side of the steel frame far enough to give the extra room, and they didn't break a rivet or bend a beam. It was a task unheard of in engineering, and the sliding of the thousands of tons of intricate steelwork required several days.
Neither Mr. Terry nor Mr. Tench belongs to any clubs. Both of them live in modest Harlem apartments.
Three Sons Helped Shields. John Shields, another rugged Irishman and veteran of the civil war, had the work on Section 11, the first section of the west side branch, from One Hundred and Fourth to One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Street and Broadway. His oldest son, John, Jr., was the practical head of the job, superintending the details daily, while the father exercised a general supervision, and the two younger sons, Robert Emmet and Henry Grattan, were junior assistants.
Mr. Shields ranks as one of the leading New York contractors in heavy work. He has had big jobs on the Pennsylvania, Lehigh Valley, Philadelphia and Reading, Baltimore and Ohio, and other railroads, and has done bridge and tunnel work in Canada and the West since 1866, when he was retired from the army with honor, having achieved the rank of Captain.
The Subway work on Section 11 consisted of boring through rock almost entirely. Had it not been for a change of plans, Capt. Shields would have been one of the first to complete his work, but when the commission ordered a third track above One Hundred and Fourth Street he had to tear to pieces 400 feet of tunnel he had already completed. Several other minor changes, too, interfered with the work, which nevertheless was over well within contract time, except for the station roughnesses now visible at One Hundred and Tenth and One Hundred and Sixteenth Streets.
Rufus P. Hunt, Superintendent. When the Baltimore firm of McCabe Brothers got into financial difficulties their contract for Sections 13 and 14, extending from One Hundred and Thirty-third Street and Broadway to Hillside Avenue, beyond Fort George, was taken by the general contractors, but the actual work devolved upon their superintendent, Rufus P. Hunt.
Though only a salaried official, Mr. Hunt has won a reputation by his handling of the job. The bid of the McCabes was $3,000.000 in round numbers, and their work included the deep tunnel under Washington Heights. This section alone, all of which was excavated by subterranean boring in rock far below the surface, is longer than any railroad tunnel in America. The troubles of the contractors and several accidents delayed the work, but the last excavating will be done this week.
Mr. Hunt is first of all a man of action. With him, superintendent is everything that the word means; there's not a man working on the tunnel whose place he could not take at a minute's notice or to whom he could not teach many valuable things. Though he has been all over the world, building railroads and boring tunnels, he says he doesn't see why anybody should see anything interesting in his career.
All the education he got came from a private school in his native State, Kentucky. The school was kept by a Yale graduate, "Pat" Shields, and it was there that the future tunnel-builder got his knowledge of civil engineering. When he was twenty-one years old he left school, because he didn't have money to pay his way any longer, and began to carry the chain for a company of surveyors. From a chain carrier he rose to be a full-fledged surveyor. His first big job was the building of a long line of railroad in Alabama.
About six years ago Mr. Hunt went to Southern China at the head of the party of surveyors who laid out the railroad from Han-Kow to Canton, China. Altogether he spent nearly a year in the great empire and walked some 750 miles, because it was the only way to get about. In 1900 he went to the high Andes in South America to take charge of the construction of a railroad for James P. MacDonald & Co. The road was the Guayaquil-Quito. While he was there he made reports on a drainage tunnel from two enormous mine systems. One of these drainage tunnels-- the one for the Juanchaca Mines-- was seven miles long.
Mr. Hunt had never done any work in New York before he came here to be Superintendent of Construction for the Washington Heights section of the Subway. Since then he has taken charge of the Jerome Park Reservoir for John B. McDonald, and he now oversees both of these big jobs simultaneously. The tunnel he is building is three miles long, two and a quarter of them being entirely underground work and the other three-quarters of a mile open-cut work.
Roberts, Layer of Foundations. One of the few college graduates among the sub-contractors was Evelyn P. Roberts, consulting engineer of this city. His job was to lay concrete foundations for the viaduct sections. Though the smallest of all the sub-contracts, it presented some novel difficulties. Each of the concrete bases for the elevated steel pillars had to be imbedded with the greatest care, and there were places where Mr. Roberts struck subsurface pipes and sewer lines that caused long delays.
Mr. Roberts is a Yale man and a member of many clubs here, including the Calumet and several engineering societies. He was born at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., on Christmas Day, 1848. For years he has been prominent as an engineer. His interest in the contracting fields started when he became President and principal owner of the Mohegan Granite Quarrying Company, with quarries at Peekskill.
Keeping the Profits Secret. To compute the exact total of all the subcontracts is impossible, for some of the men will not tell the figures, and the Rapid Transit Subway Construction Company has never let the public into the secret of its profits. The original fifteen sub-contracts, however, are known to have aggregated something like $27,000,000, leaving an $8,000,000 margin for the general contractors. Since then there have been many changes of plans and additions, and there have been fluctuations in prices of supplies. The first bids provided that the figures to a certain extent were to be dependent on these fluctuations. As one of the sub-contractors said last week:
"I couldn't tell you the exact amount of my job if I wished to. It has not been adjusted yet. Nor could the general contracting company name its exact profits. It had to spend millions besides what it paid to us sub-contractors. The terminals and stations, for which an extra allowance was made at the start, have cost much more than was planned. The incidental expenses have mounted up faster than any one could have guessed."
Altogether, though, both general contractor and sub-contractors, except for the two out-of-town firms, have made a "good thing" of their ventures. Considering the extent of the work, the profits of the general organization have not been great, but they have been something. The big earnings for the syndicate are to come from the operation of the road, and that the Directors expect large revenues were proved when they agreed to build the Brooklyn extension for $3,000,000, when it was known that the actual cost would be nearly $10,000,000.