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Eighty years ago, New York City needed another tunnel under the Hudson River. The Holland Tunnel and the George Washington Bridge could no longer handle the mounting traffic between New Jersey and Manhattan. Thus began construction of the Lincoln Tunnel.

But this is not a story about the Lincoln Tunnel. This is about the men who made it. The Sandhogs.

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[Courtesy of Port Authority Archive]

“Sandhogs were the urban miners who worked on a variety of underground excavation projects in New York City. They worked in tight, small chambers that held back water and silt, and they breathed condensed air.

Digging a tunnel was not only uncomfortable, it was dangerous, and there was a high likelihood that workers could get decompression sickness—also known as the bends. In fact, during the construction of the Pennsylvania Railroad tunnels, the bends claimed the lives of fifty Sandhogs.

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[Courtesy of Port Authority Archive]

Still, this was during the Great Depression, when jobs were scarce. A job was a job. This radio story is a portrait of the Sandhogs that built City Water Tunnel #3, a project to add to the New York City water supply.

Sandhogs” is part of producer Dan Collison’s American Workers series. Dan Collison and Elizabeth Meister are Long Haul Productions. This might be my other favorite Long Haul piece, “The Lord God Bird” featuring Sufjan Stevens and a giant woodpecker once thought extinct.

More resources:

History of New York City Rapid Transit
A chronology of the history behind today’s underground subway system in New York City.

New York City Subway Resources
News, events, maps, technology and history of the underground transportation system.

Tunneling to the Future: The Story of the Great Subway Expansion That Saved New York
by Peter Derrick
Documents the importance of underground expansion due to the vast population of New York City.

The Building of Manhattan: How Manhattan Was Built Overground and Underground, from the Dutch Settlers to the Skyscrapers
by Donald A. MacKay
A detailed account of the growth of New York.

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