Charles Reade has asserted that workmen are a dirty set and a reckless set. Is this true of American workmen? His observations have been confined to English workmen; would he have occasion to modify the general character of his statement were he to visit and inspect American shops?
Candidly we must say there would be too much in the general want of cleanliness and order in our workshops to justify the assertion. The shops in which cleanliness and order prevail are rather the exception than the rule; and the individual workman who, in the midst of all the carelessness which prevails in this regard, maintains a scrupulous care for personal cleanliness, order in the arrangement of tools, and method in the performance of his work, may be regarded as a rising man.
In 1838 I was 14 years of age, and then in the wilds of Maine. My father lived four miles from the city of Bangor, and his farm, then nearly all covered with forest trees, bordered on the banks of the Penobscot, a stream with many old-style sash saw mills, all run by water power. My father’s land was well covered with fine timber. The rift timber my father would fall, and with a cross-cut saw we made it into blocks, which we hauled into a back shed, where we split it into shingles with a froe, then with shingle-horse and drawing-knife my father shaved the shingles smooth. My own business then was to rive (that is, split) the bolts up for shingles, and keep up a light by throwing shavings on the fire in the old fireplace.
About two bunches was a good evening’s work for winter. I also bunched the shingles ready for the market. Each bunch was 22 inches wide, 22 courses high, and four of these bunches made 1,000 shingles. These we hauled to market and sold for about $2 per thousand. In the other room my mother was either spinning wool on the large wheel, or weaving wool cloth on the old loom that set up in one corner of the room, or on her little wheel for spinning flax, the sound of which, whiz, whiz, whiz! I imagine hearing to this day. Then there was the old fireplace with the andirons and the rock maple or yellow birch back logs. With these good-sized back logs, a fore-stick, and wood piled on to make a roaring fire, here were my happiest days.