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Historical Perspective on "You Think Your Job is Dangerous:" 1915: Teamster dies clutching 2,200-volt line

 

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Teamster dies clutching 2,200-volt line

By Kathleen Powell, Special to Postmedia Network

Saturday, November 7, 2015 5:07:33 EST AM

John Boyd / Library and Archives Canada Teamsters were important to the early years of construction of the Welland Ship Canal. They were responsible for handling the teams of draft animals (usually horses) that were used with wagons or in hauling other equipment on the construction site. The men and their teams were gradually replaced by large mechanized machinery. While being a teamster could be considered one of the safer jobs on the Canal, there were still hazards that endangered lives.

John Boyd / Library and Archives Canada Teamsters were important to the early years of construction of the Welland Ship Canal. They were responsible for handling the teams of draft animals (usually horses) that were used with wagons or in hauling other equipment on the construction site. The men and their teams were gradually replaced by large mechanized machinery. While being a teamster could be considered one of the safer jobs on the Canal, there were still hazards that endangered lives.

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The Welland Ship Canal construction site was a chaotic place. In the early years it could include large digging machinery, derricks, cranes, railway tracks and train engines and cars, equipment of all sorts, including piles of wood or iron and hand tools.

Most of the sites would also include hydro wires that fed electricity to the equipment being used to carry out the work and to the buildings located nearby. Prior to the First World War, the construction images also prominently feature the use of horses to carry out some of the heavy moving. This use of animals also necessitated hiring teamsters whose job it was to drive the teams of horses.

Estafy Eliashevich was a young Russian immigrant who was working for the Dominion Dredging Company as a teamster. He was accidentally killed on the job after coming into contact with a live electrical wire. Details of the accident are summarized in an accident report submitted at the time by the resident engineer -- Charles Hays -- as well as from the witnesses who testified at the coroner's inquest.

On Jan. 12, 1915, Eliashevich had just brought up a load of coal and according to overseer Edward McCarthy, who witnessed the accident, Eliashevich was backing up to get a load of cinders and stepped down from the wagon to turn his horses around. A live 2,200-volt wire was lying in the way. Though it was burning on the end, Eliashevich grabbed the wire with his left hand to remove the hazard, but immediately fell to the ground while grasping the deadly object. McCarthy knocked the wire aside and began to provide assistance but to no avail, Eliashevich had been killed instantly. McCarthy had not seen the wire hanging down from the pole, but the cause of death was obviously electrocution.

A great deal of time at the inquest was spent trying to ascertain why the main electrical wire would have broken and who had been aware that it was hanging down from the pole. The electrician for the site was brought in and noted that there was no reason for this wire to break as the wire was of sufficient size to carry the load.

In addition, there were a couple of other workers who had noticed the wire hanging down. One of these, George Vale, had made a comment to Eliashevich to be careful, but did not keep an eye on what happened afterwards. Based on evidence provided by his brother-in-law, Andrew Zebrun, Eliashevich did not speak English and likely did not understand Vale's warning.

In any event, the coroner's jury did not lay fault in the case, but did censure George Vale for his actions stating it was his duty to stay near the live wire until someone could take charge of turning off the power.

Eliashevich is buried in Victoria Lawn Cemetery in an unmarked grave in the Zebrun family plot. This plot belonged to the family of his sister, Sophia, and his brother-in-law, Andrew Zebrun.

This article is part of a series highlighting the men whose lives were lost in the construction of the Welland Ship Canal. The Welland Canal Fallen Workers Memorial Task Force is a volunteer group established to finance, design, and install a memorial to recognize workers who were killed while building the Welland Ship Canal. For more information about the Memorial or to contribute to the project visit www.stcatharines.ca/CanalWorkersMemorial

 

 

 

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Historical Perspective on "You Think Your Job is Dangerous:" 1915: Teamster dies clutching 2,200-volt line

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