Well, Do You Know


How do you think you would like to live, fearing every moment to be blown up, not daring to speak loud, or to jar anything, for fear of starting an explosion that would send you in an instant into eternity?

You don't think it would be very pleasant? Well, it isn't, yet hundreds of men live in just that state work, receive pay, and live year after year in the very sight of death, as it were all that the world may have gunpowder. You can easily guess that those men go about quietly, and never laugh.

'You know that gunpowder is very dangerous in a gun or near a fire, but perhaps you don't know that it is equally dangerous all through the process of making. A powder mill is a fearful place to visit, and strangers are very seldom allowed to go into one. They are built far from any town, in the woods, and each branch of the work is done in a separate building. These houses are quite a distance from each other, so that if one is blown up, it will not destroy the rest. Then the lower parts of the building are made very strong, while the roofs are very lightly set on, so that if it explodes, only the roof will suffer. But, in spite of every care, sometimes a whole settlement of these powder-mills will go off almost in an instant, and every vestige of the toil of years will be swept away in a few seconds.

But, though you feel like holding your breath to look at it, it is really a very interesting process. Gunpowder is made, perhaps you know, of charcoal, salt petre, and brimstone. Each of these articles is prepared in a house by itself, but the house where they are mixed is the first terrible one. In this building is an immense millstone, rolling round and round in an iron bed; and under this stone are put the three fearful ingredients of gunpowder. There they are thoroughly mixed and ground together. This is a very dangerous operation, because if the stone comes in contact with its iron bed, it is very apt to strike fire, and the merest suspicion of a spark would set off the whole. The materials are spread three or four inches thick in the bed; the wheel, which goes by waterpower, is started, and every man leaves the place. The door is shut, and the machinery left to do its terrible work alone. When it has run long enough, the mill is stopped, and the men come back. This operation leaves the powder in hard lumps or cakes.

The next house is where the cakes are broken into grains, and, of course, is quite as dangerous as the last one. 

But the men cannot go away from this; they are obliged to attend to it every moment, and you may be sure no laugh or joke is ever heard within its walls. 

Every one who goes in has to take off his boots and put on rubbers, because one grain of the dangerous powder, crushed by the boot, would explode the whole in an instant.

The floor of this house is covered with leather, and is made perfectly black by the dust of the gunpowder.  It contains a set of sieves, each one smaller than the last, through which the powder is sifted; and an immense laboring mill, where it is ground up, while men shovel it in with wooden shovels. The machinery makes a great deal of noise, but the men are silent, as in the other houses. The reckless crashing of the machinery seems even to give greater horror, and one is very glad to get out of that house.

The stoving house is the next on the list, and there the gunpowder is heated on wooden trays. It is very hot, and no workmen stay there. From there it goes to the packinghouse, and is put up in barrels, kegs, and canisters.  Safely through all these houses, it goes at last to the storehouse. One feels like drawing a long breath to see the fearful stuff safely packed away, out OF the hands of men, in this curious house.

In none of these powder-houses is any light ever allowed, except sunlight. 

The wages are good, the day's work is short, ending always at three or four o'clock. But the men have a serious look that reminds one every moment of the danger, and makes him glad to get away.

 American Sportsman.