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Chapter 14

CHAPTER XIV


PICKAXE AND TROWEL


The same evening Barbicane and his companions returned to Tampa
Town; and Murchison, the engineer, re-embarked on board the
Tampico for New Orleans. His object was to enlist an army of
workmen, and to collect together the greater part of the materials.
The members of the Gun Club remained at Tampa Town, for the
purpose of setting on foot the preliminary works by the aid of
the people of the country.

Eight days after its departure, the Tampico returned into the
bay of Espiritu Santo, with a whole flotilla of steamboats.
Murchison had succeeded in assembling together fifteen
hundred artisans. Attracted by the high pay and considerable
bounties offered by the Gun Club, he had enlisted a choice
legion of stokers, iron-founders, lime-burners, miners,
brickmakers, and artisans of every trade, without distinction
of color. As many of these people brought their families with
them, their departure resembled a perfect emigration.

On the 31st of October, at ten o'clock in the morning, the troop
disembarked on the quays of Tampa Town; and one may imagine the
activity which pervaded that little town, whose population was
thus doubled in a single day.

During the first few days they were busy discharging the cargo
brought by the flotilla, the machines, and the rations, as well
as a large number of huts constructed of iron plates, separately
pieced and numbered. At the same period Barbicane laid the
first sleepers of a railway fifteen miles in length, intended to
unite Stones Hill with Tampa Town. On the first of November
Barbicane quitted Tampa Town with a detachment of workmen; and
on the following day the whole town of huts was erected round
Stones Hill. This they enclosed with palisades; and in respect
of energy and activity, it might have been mistaken for one of
the great cities of the Union. Everything was placed under a
complete system of discipline, and the works were commenced in
most perfect order.

The nature of the soil having been carefully examined, by means
of repeated borings, the work of excavation was fixed for the
4th of November.

On that day Barbicane called together his foremen and addressed
them as follows: "You are well aware, my friends, of the
object with which I have assembled you together in this wild
part of Florida. Our business is to construct a cannon measuring
nine feet in its interior diameter, six feet thick, and with a
stone revetment of nineteen and a half feet in thickness. We have,
therefore, a well of sixty feet in diameter to dig down to a
depth of nine hundred feet. This great work must be completed
within eight months, so that you have 2,543,400 cubic feet of
earth to excavate in 255 days; that is to say, in round numbers,
2,000 cubic feet per day. That which would present no difficulty
to a thousand navvies working in open country will be of course
more troublesome in a comparatively confined space. However, the
thing must be done, and I reckon for its accomplishment upon your
courage as much as upon your skill."

At eight o'clock the next morning the first stroke of the
pickaxe was struck upon the soil of Florida; and from that
moment that prince of tools was never inactive for one moment
in the hands of the excavators. The gangs relieved each other
every three hours.

On the 4th of November fifty workmen commenced digging, in the
very center of the enclosed space on the summit of Stones Hill,
a circular hole sixty feet in diameter. The pickaxe first
struck upon a kind of black earth, six inches in thickness,
which was speedily disposed of. To this earth succeeded two
feet of fine sand, which was carefully laid aside as being
valuable for serving the casting of the inner mould. After the
sand appeared some compact white clay, resembling the chalk of
Great Britain, which extended down to a depth of four feet.
Then the iron of the picks struck upon the hard bed of the soil;
a kind of rock formed of petrified shells, very dry, very solid,
and which the picks could with difficulty penetrate. At this
point the excavation exhibited a depth of six and a half feet
and the work of the masonry was begun.

At the bottom of the excavation they constructed a wheel of oak,
a kind of circle strongly bolted together, and of immense strength.
The center of this wooden disc was hollowed out to a diameter
equal to the exterior diameter of the Columbiad. Upon this wheel
rested the first layers of the masonry, the stones of which were
bound together by hydraulic cement, with irresistible tenacity.
The workmen, after laying the stones from the circumference to
the center, were thus enclosed within a kind of well twenty-one
feet in diameter. When this work was accomplished, the miners
resumed their picks and cut away the rock from underneath the wheel
itself, taking care to support it as they advanced upon blocks of
great thickness. At every two feet which the hole gained in depth
they successively withdrew the blocks. The wheel then sank little
by little, and with it the massive ring of masonry, on the upper
bed of which the masons labored incessantly, always reserving some
vent holes to permit the escape of gas during the operation of
the casting.

This kind of work required on the part of the workmen extreme
nicety and minute attention. More than one, in digging
underneath the wheel, was dangerously injured by the splinters
of stone. But their ardor never relaxed, night or day. By day
they worked under the rays of the scorching sun; by night, under
the gleam of the electric light. The sounds of the picks against
the rock, the bursting of mines, the grinding of the machines,
the wreaths of smoke scattered through the air, traced around
Stones Hill a circle of terror which the herds of buffaloes and
the war parties of the Seminoles never ventured to pass.
Nevertheless, the works advanced regularly, as the steam-cranes
actively removed the rubbish. Of unexpected obstacles there was
little account; and with regard to foreseen difficulties, they
were speedily disposed of.

At the expiration of the first month the well had attained the
depth assigned for that lapse of time, namely, 112 feet. This depth
was doubled in December, and trebled in January.

During the month of February the workmen had to contend with a
sheet of water which made its way right across the outer soil.
It became necessary to employ very powerful pumps and
compressed-air engines to drain it off, so as to close up the
orifice from whence it issued; just as one stops a leak on
board ship. They at last succeeded in getting the upper hand of
these untoward streams; only, in consequence of the loosening of
the soil, the wheel partly gave way, and a slight partial
settlement ensued. This accident cost the life of several workmen.

No fresh occurrence thenceforward arrested the progress of the
operation; and on the tenth of June, twenty days before the
expiration of the period fixed by Barbicane, the well, lined
throughout with its facing of stone, had attained the depth of
900 feet. At the bottom the masonry rested upon a massive block
measuring thirty feet in thickness, while on the upper portion
it was level with the surrounding soil.

President Barbicane and the members of the Gun Club warmly
congratulated their engineer Murchison; the cyclopean work had
been accomplished with extraordinary rapidity.

During these eight months Barbicane never quitted Stones Hill
for a single instant. Keeping ever close by the work of
excavation, he busied himself incessantly with the welfare
and health of his workpeople, and was singularly fortunate
in warding off the epidemics common to large communities of
men, and so disastrous in those regions of the globe which
are exposed to the influences of tropical climates.

Many workmen, it is true, paid with their lives for the rashness
inherent in these dangerous labors; but these mishaps are impossible
to be avoided, and they are classed among the details with which
the Americans trouble themselves but little. They have in fact
more regard for human nature in general than for the individual
in particular.

Nevertheless, Barbicane professed opposite principles to these,
and put them in force at every opportunity. So, thanks to his
care, his intelligence, his useful intervention in all
difficulties, his prodigious and humane sagacity, the average of
accidents did not exceed that of transatlantic countries, noted
for their excessive precautions-- France, for instance, among
others, where they reckon about one accident for every two
hundred thousand francs of work.

Jules Verne

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