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Sand and Gravel and the American Dream

When Florida subscriber to Long Island Boating World Captain Harold Rudd wrote to me, commenting on my March 2018 tugboat article, his long letter gave me just enough in the way of interesting pictures, background information and facts about sand mining on Long Island and the tugboats that moved the sand that I could see article material – how a

Scandinavian immigrant family participated in the sand mining industry that built New York City and in doing so, became part of the American Dream. The mining of sand on Long Island started in 1865 with immigrants from Italy, Norway, Ireland, Poland and other Scandinavian and European countries hauling wheelbarrow loads of sand from the Port Washington area and loading trucks that would fill barges for tugboats to take close to the building sites in New York City. (The rule of thumb is that sand and gravel cannot be transported economically more than 30 miles.) The sand was not the fine white sand of Jones Beach and the Fire Island shorelines – it was the combination of fine and coarse grains left by the glaciers that, when packed together, made concrete of the strength needed to build the Empire State Building, the World Trade Center, the West Side Highway and bridges and tunnels that New York City was building. It was hard and dangerous work with miners sometimes buried under unstable work areas. The sand mining industry flourished as a consequence of time and proximity. The immigrants were trying to escape the potato famine and other problems back home at the same time New York City was in a high growth period. The sand that New York City needed was just seventeen miles away from Manhattan. From the late 1800s to about 1985 most harbors on the north shore of Long Island from Port Washington to Mt. Sinai Harbor had a sand mining operation of some sort, mostly moving the sand and gravel by tug and barge to New York City and other local ports including Stamford, Norwalk, Bridgeport and New Haven, Connecticut. Where there were dredging operations in Port Jefferson, Huntington, Cold Spring Harbor and Oyster Bay, there are now mooring areas and marinas. Immigrants found work in the building trades, working on bridges and tunnels, as carpenters, and many of the Norwegian immigrants became part of the marine world as seamen, tug captains and engineers and as shipbuilders. Our subscriber’s father, Harry T. Rudd, arrived in the US on a 4,000 ton sailing ship from Norway in March of 1916. His father and his father’s new wife had come to Nova Scotia in 1907. Eleven years old at the time, Harry came with his aunt, caught a cold on the way here and was almost turned back because Ellis Island officials thought he had TB. A kindly priest spoke up for him and he was able to stay in the US. As he grew old enough to work, Harry tried farming in Canada, laying tracks on the railroad, working on boats that moved grain on the Great Lakes and mining in Pennsylvania coal mines. By the early 1950s Harry had become an engineer on a tugboat, the Metropolitan No. 6, owned by the Metropolitan Sand & Gravel Corp. His tugboat moved sand and gravel around Hempstead Harbor with trips to New Rochelle, Port Chester, Mamaroneck and Cos Cob, Connecticut. He later worked as a tugboat captain for Colonial Sand & Gravel and was still working at 83, bringing the Delta Diamond No. 7 to Long Island from Louisiana. Harry married an American girl of Polish descent. No stranger to hardship, she was brought up, one of 12 children, in a small house with no electricity, no running water and the only heat came from a wood burning stove in the kitchen. Sophie worked at the George Washington Tavern in Roslyn with some of her sisters and later, for many years, she took care of people who needed help to live at home. Our subscriber was Harry and Sophie Rudd’s first son, Harold. He often went out on the tugs his father ran as a captain or engineer. In high school Harold worked for a steel yacht builder in Roslyn. Weekends and summers it was his job to varnish interiors. The boats had mahogany interiors and each boat got three coats of varnish. Harold also spent a lot of time at boat shows explaining the yachts’ construction, learned a lot and was given a lot of responsibility for his age. Some of the boats were rented out and had breakdowns. From the plant they would take Harold to the disabled vessel, they would repair it and leave him to run it back to Roslyn from Connecticut, from the south shore of Long Island and sometimes as far away as Albany. By the time he was 18 the company had financial problems and Harold went off to the State University in Farmingdale for a degree in Applied Science majoring in Mechanical Power Technology. During this time his parents owned a small boatyard and he helped out working there. Harold also worked for Jay Kaufman, repairing some of the rental boats which Kaufman took over. In the winter of 1962-63 Harold went to Florida and worked at the 79th Street Marina on North Treasure Island in Miami. He flew to Nassau to bring one of the Kaufman rental boats back but it needed so many parts he had to rebuild it. He waited in Nassau while the Captain went back to Connecticut to get the Palmer engine parts. Three weeks later he had the engine rebuilt and they ran the boat back to Miami with only a compass and the Bimini radio tower lights for navigation. The same Jay Kaufman became interested in Blackrock, a tugboat sunk off the Kings Point Merchant Marine Academy after hearing about it from Harold. He put up the $12,000 to finance the tug, knowing that Harold would be able to get the Buda diesel engine running. Harold repaired the engine, rewired, installed a larger towing bit, had the boat documented and surveyed to get it insured. In November and December of 1963 Blackrock’s first job was to tow barges carrying rock for Byram Harbor Breakwater to Byram, Connecticut. In the beginning they took towing on the Hudson River and Long Island Sound, towing construction barges, sand and bluestone barges. They also did contract dredging, spending five or six days at one location at places like Mystic, Connecticut or Mamaroneck, New York. For captains, conditions change by the minute when you’re out on the water – the boat traffic around you, the speed of the current under your vessel and the weather. As captain you are responsible for the safety of your vessel and your crew. I asked Harold what he liked most about being a captain and that was being on the water and the variability of the work and the hours. What he liked least was trying to out- guess the weather. In the 1960s there was no NOAA Weather, only local radio stations gave the weather. If the weather turned bad there were never a lot of places to pull in with a tug and a barge. Working on Long Island Sound without a cell phone meant Harold’s wife would take calls for the tug business at home and Harold would try to get to a public phone whenever he could. The arrival of the transportable cell phone in 1987, heavy as it was, was an unbelievable luxury for Harold and his wife. Until that time Harold’s wife, Dee, manned the phone at home during the day and worked in a restaurant at night. When the tug was hauled to be worked on she was there to chip the old paint off the steel hull and repaint the tug. In 1990 they sold the towing and dredging business. It was a good time to sell. In the 27 years he ran the tugboat, no one had gotten hurt, injured or killed. He was never sued and he had completed every job he started. In the 1980s he saw property he thought would be a good site for a marina and bought 300 feet of Apalachicola, Florida waterfront. He got the permit process started for a deep water marina, opened for business in May of 1991, sold the marina in 1995 and retired. Since he sold the dredging and towing business Harold has seen new regulations come through that have hurt the dredging business. He thinks the government is trying to make it idiot proof and his feeling is you can’t regulate common sense and people’s bad decisions. This is one family’s story – they had the courage to come to another country half way around the world, learn the new language, learn our ways and work hard. The people who step outside of their comfort zones, who see change as opportunity and go with it, are the kind of people who made the American Dream come true.

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