The Swinging Chains
As told by Roy Gruber of Fosters Crossing (near Kings Island in Cincinnati, Ohio)
[Transcribed and taped by Adeline Johnson May 23,1980]
Mr. Gruber: "This is the absolute truth, this was my experience."
Mrs. Gruber: "This is true. I'll vouch for that"
Mr.G: "This little old guy, he wasn't any bigger n' Addie is, a little short guy. He could never get any overalls with legs short enough. And he'd roll them overalls- sometimes they'd be up that far- pull the legs up that far, and double 'em on his legs, and he always walked around, he'd always carried a handkerchief and he always carried a bunch of rags. All engineers do- carry a bunch of rags or something in their pockets, we used rags. And he took care of the engine room, oiled the engine and checked out the generators. And I was firing boilers for 'em. He had a habit ? we went down to the boiler room. Oh, the boiler room was over a 100 foot long, we went down to the boiler room, past the four boilers and the pumps and the water heaters, and in the back of the water heaters, we used to wash our clothes, our work clothes, and hang em up on the line back there, because it was warm and they dried fast.
This old guy, he walked by there. He said something as he went by. But in front of each boiler there was chains, oh, they was big, heavy chains, hung down from coal bins was up overhead, with six carloads of coal above that boiler room at all times. These chains shut the gates off to let the coal come down through ten-inch pipes, two pipes at each corner, and there was eight chains hangin' down. This old guy, just as he went by, he hit ?well, his head didn't hit the chains, but he'd take his hand and make those chains swing. But when I went by, I had to duck 'em.
Every time, he had a habit, every time he went by he'd hit those chains, hit 'em with his hand. He liked to get 'em all swinging. I don't know why he did it. But he went back of the water heaters. I didn't know what he was doin' back there, washin' clothes or what. I was sittin' there at the table, and I kept waitin', waitin' and waitin'. And he didn't come back, and he didn't.
So I had to go and do somethin' else, an' I don't know, check the boilers or somethin', pumps. "What the hell happened to that old man, time for him to be oilin' the engines, he ain't here."
The old man was layin' back there dead! He died, he went back there and died! He had his hand on a, around a overflow pipe come down from a heater, you know. And it was hot. At first, I though he was burned to death, but, then I seen there wasn't a mark on him. I didn't know what to do. I got up and called the chief engineer and said,
"something's happened to the old man," I said, "I don't know why, he's layin' in back of the heater."
The engineer said, "I'll be right down." He said, "mean time", he said "I'll call the doctor, Dr. Brown, and get him down there." So he called Dr. Brown, and both of em' came down together.
Meanwhile, I thought, "Hell, maybe the old man needs air." We had double doors, and part of 'em was on the second floor, we had big double doors, they was about four feet wide and ten feet high. You open one of these doors and if there was any breeze, you had it. I dragged the old man out there, but he was dead as a doornail. Well, I had to go oil the engines, 'cause the engines have to be oiled every so often, so I oiled the engines up. And about that time, I heard somebody push the bell on the outside of the power plant, and I went down there. There was doc Brown and the chief engineer.
Well, doc Brown he went and examined him and he said, "He's gone!"
I said "Well I coulda told you that before you come over here".
He said: "I guess he just had a heart attack and that was it."
I said: "He went by me, an' he must have had a heart attack when he went by."
And the chief engineer says, "Well" he said, "I don't wanna stay down here rest the rest of the shift." he said "I'm gonna call somebody." And he couldn't get nobody. So he said "I'll stay here, I've got some paper work to do" He said, "Can you run both places?"
And I said, "Well" I said "I done it before". I said, "I do it every Sunday."
I want you to run the engines and take the boilers too. I didn't have long to go, maybe three hours. So the chief engineer, he sit in the office, and I took care of the whole thing.
But old Bert, he was a goner! You know, after that, you'd sit there and you'd see them chains swinging. You'd see the first one swing, then the next one, and the next one, clear on back. And I'd say;" There goes old Bert again!" You know, there was no reason why them chains would ever swing unless you touched 'em. Cause they were heavy chains.
Ms. Johnson: "Did you ever see his ghost, or did you just see the chains?"
Mr. G: No, I thought once I saw him disappear around the back, but I couldn't be have been sure. Maybe it was my imagination, cause the way he was dressed all the time, them damned rags hanging out, an' he was short anyway, them damned overalls that way...
Roy Gruber was born in June 1906 and lived on a farm in Fosters Crossing in his childhood.