The dog days of August are upon us, and that means hot and humid weather. This is the time I like to find a cool spot under a shady tree, a bottle of water, and a good book to spend some time with.
The book I am reading now is The Powder Monkey: A History of the Hercules Powder Company, Kenvil, NJ, 1912-1996 by Harry F. Pascoe. It is not only a story about a company, but also a personal look at the people and families that worked and grew up in the communities around the plant.
What is a powder monkey? According to the book, “he was a person, usually a young man, working with the blaster or powder man. His duties were to support the blaster by supplying boxes of dynamite to the area that was being drilled and handing the blaster the sticks of dynamite to load the holes.”
The book is full of interesting stories, some funny and some not, that will keep you saying to yourself, “Wow, that happened here?” The book is chock full of pictures, and you may see your relatives or yourself in them. Over the years, I have met many former employees of the plant, and all had one or two interesting tales to tell about working there. Harry has put many of them into one fascinating and accurate account of Hercules in Kenvil. Here is one story that is not in the book, but told to me by the author.
“There was a powder monkey whose job was to deliver nitroglycerin to the lab building every day. He would load up a small wooden cart (called the angel’s cart), go from his building across a path to the lab, and deliver a small bottle of nitro to each lab technician. One day as he was making his run, an employee for whom he had gotten a job at the plant the week before saw him walking the cart to the lab. The new employee thought he would get his friend’s attention by throwing a snowball at him. The snowball missed the powder monkey, but hit the angel’s cart with the highly explosive nitro on it. We did not find enough of the two bodies to bury.”
At the time of Harry’s death, he owned the last remaining angel’s cart.
So, where can you find this gem? Well, that is where your treasure hunt begins. Harry, who was born and raised in Jefferson Township, finished the book just before he passed in 2015. As an employee at Hercules for more than 46 years (1961-2007), he saw all the happenings at the plant. He gave copies of the book to his closest friends, and I am proud to say I was one of them. You can check out a copy from the Jefferson Township or Roxbury public libraries, or contact his friends and relatives to see if they have one. No, I will not lend you my copy! Whenever I do that, I never get the book back. The Powder Monkey is good summer reading.