The Panama Canal Review - May 4, 1954

Joseph Edwin thinks that the $15 he spent almost 47 years ago was to good purpose. That $15 was the cost of his passage aboard the SS Solent from Grenada to the Canal Zone; for it he got a place to sleepon the Solent's deck and meals for seven days.

Now Joseph Edwin is going back to Grenada. After working for almost 47 years in the Canal Zone he will leave with his wife about February 15 to return to Grenada, a picturesque and mountainous little island which lies 90 miles north of Trinidad and is the southernmost of the Windward Islands. The Edwins this time are not paying their own way; they are being repatriated as he has requested.

He does not know how he will find things in the island or whether he will like living there. But he believes that he should return to his native island.

Reminiscing, he told The Panama Canal Review he would like to say goodbye and thanks.

"I'm thankful for my days here," he said. "I'm thankful for the bosses I worked with. I'm thankful that I'm going home without scratches."

He was working in Grenada with his father, a pipefitter, when he learned of the Panama Canal construction. Workmen were not being recruited in Grenada at that time, but he thought that the opportunities in the Canal Zone might be worth the $15 he would have to pay for passage. And $15 was a lot more money in 1907 than it is today.


En route to the Canal Zone, the Solent picked up 300 contract workers from Barbados and 700 from Martinique. The day after they arrived here, he had a job on the Gatun spillway, where he was to work for the next 5 years. He remembers Col. W.L. Sibert, who was in charge of the Gatun work, and Maj. George M. Hoffman, his more immediate boss, but Col. George Goethals was someone whom he saw only occasionally, "running from one end to the other."

From the spillway he went to work laying electrical lines along the railroad and then he was transferred to the Cattle Industry, where he built fences and cleared pastures near Mandinga and Las Cascadas. He remembers one time when cattle were being brought through the Canal on barges. Two of them jumped overboard and swam for shore. For all he knows, their descendents may still be living there.

In 1918 he left the Panama Canal service to work for the Army on a rock crusher near Empire. His boss on that job was Nelson Magner, now Chief of the Maintenance Division's Northern District. Seven years later he returned to the Canal organization; he has worked with the Maintenance Division, or its predecessor, the Municipal Engineering Division, ever since.


When Madden Dam was being built, he was a foreman for a gang clearing the area as far as San Juan Viejo, and the saddles near the dam itself.  One of the Americans working at the dam was "that same man Lerchen" who now heads the Maintenance Division.

One incident there, Joseph Edwin remembers well. He had to blast a goodsized log out of the Chilibre River. Wading in, he tied dynamite under it, retreated to the shore and set off the blast. When the log blew up, so did an outsize alligator which must have been lurking nearthe log all the time.

Most of his work for the past 27 years, however, had been at Sosa Hill Quarry. The shape of the hill had changed a great deal since he went to work there. Blasting has so eaten it away that even he finds it hard to believe that 27 years ago the side of the hill was very close to themain quarry buildings.

He is proud that he's leaving something of himself behind at the quarry. The stone and concrete ramp, at the foot of the Sosa Hill rise, is his work. People will remember it, he likes to think, as "Joe's wall."  And they probably will.

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December 21, 1998
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