Ga.) American Road Congress (4th : 1914 : Atlanta.

Proceedings of the fourth American Road Congress, under auspices of American Highway Association, American Automobile Association, Atlanta, Ga., November 9-14, 1914 online

. (page 27 of 78)
Online LibraryGa.) American Road Congress (4th : 1914 : AtlantaProceedings of the fourth American Road Congress, under auspices of American Highway Association, American Automobile Association, Atlanta, Ga., November 9-14, 1914 → online text (page 27 of 78)
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them we have no pay day drunks, no strikes, except now and then
an escape, and many of the irregularities connected with the attend-
ance of the free labor are avoided.

There are at work on the roads of Virginia about fifteen hun-
dred convicts. They are divided into forces varying in numbers
from forty to seventy-five, according to the class of work they are
engaged in. Altogether, there are twenty-seven of these forces,
each in a different county. While we may have some labor prob-
lems with these, the chief one is eliminated on the work on which
the convicts are placed, viz: that of keeping a sufficient amount of
labor. We are better able to keep good foremen on these jobs also
because they are kept going all the year round. While as a matter
of economy we have to close down free labor work during the severe
weather of winter, we find it economical to keep the convict work
going on continuously, as the men have to be cared for whether at
work or not. Certain classes of work can be found to be done in
winter, such as quarrying and heavy rock grading in mountainous
sections of the State and in the lower sections where no stone is
available, the climate is milder and sufficient work can be done to
justify the additional outlay for working when both men and teams


have to be cared for in any event. In January of this year 72 per
cent of possible working days was made, while in July 90 per cent
was made. These percentages are based on an eight-hour day in
January and ten-hour day in July. Among the convicts we not in-
frequently find men capable of running steam rollers, engines, drills,
etc., and a large percentage are made trusties and used as team-
sters, messengers, etc. The average cost of the convict labor per
ten-hour working day for the past three years has been 52 cents,
as compared with wages ranging from $1.25 to $1.50 for free com-
mon labor. To offset this discrepancy in cost to some extent, there
are some disadvantages in working convicts, the chief one of which
is the necessity of keeping them always immediately under the
eye of the guard, thereby in a measure crippling their usefulness;
sometimes, too, partially crippled men or semi-invalids are sen-
tenced to the roads, which reduces the general efficiency of the
force. Notwithstanding these handicaps, however, these fore-
men and contractors who have worked convicts under our system
very generally express a preference for them over free labor, and
I am satisfied they are fully 90 per cent as efficient as the average
hired labor. Recently we have had voluntary applications from
three contractors for convict labor to be furnished to them and
charged on their estimates at $1 per day per man, which is the
established rate when this labor is used by contractors. All felony
convicts, not considered too dangerous, and all inmates of the jails
are subject to duty in the State convict road force. This force is
fed, clothed, guarded and transported at State expense and is furn-
ished to the counties on the requisition of the State highway com-
missioner as one form of State aid, and is worked under the super-
vision and direction of the highway commissioner. Under our
statutes the convicts are at all times, whether working for contrac-
tors or otherwise, under the supervision and control of the State
prison authorities, which insures the proper food and treatment and
eliminates the possibilities of the many cruelties which have been re-
ported in connection with prison contracts in the past. The men
are worked in the open, well fed and housed in sanitary quarters,
with the result that they are greatly improved physically and cap-
able of earning a living when discharged.

After a close study of this question and seven years' experience
in the work, I am convinced that so far as they are available, the
use of convicts in road work under conditions as we have them
in Virginia solves the problem of labor in road construction and
also goes far towards solving the problem of what to do with our

THE CHAIRMAN: The discussion of this subject will be continued
by Mr. W. E. Atkinson, State highway engineer of Louisiana. I
take pleasure in introducing Mr. Atkinson to you.



State Highway Engineer

There has been a general awakening in Louisiana to the neces-
sity of better roads. Whether this awakening is due to the extended
use of motor vehicles, to the spirit of progressiveness which is now
sweeping through the State, or to the special activity of the State
through its highway department, it is hard to say; but the awaken-
ing has taken place and may be the result of a combination of all
these causes.

Nearly every parish in the State has voted a special tax for high-
way improvement or is about to do so, and twenty-one parishes
have applied to the State for aid out of the revenues of 1913. Ap-
portionments have been made to thirteen of these parishes and the
department hopes to be able to make apportionments to the others in
the near future. The apportionments already made embrace the
construction of about 215 miles of highways, to cost approximately
one-half million dollars. From January 1, 1913, to September 1,
1913, the department has completed four highways, representing a
mileage of 108 miles. There are at this time four highways under
construction, aggregating a mileage of about 95 miles.

The act creating the highway department is considered to be a
model of State road laws. It not only creates the department,
but provides the department with funds with which to operate and
with which to lend State-aid, and bestows upon the department such
powers and privileges as render the whole system most effective.

These general remarks are made simply to give you an idea of
the volume of work being accomplished on the highways of Louisiana
and the keen interest taken in this subject. As requested by this
Congress, I will now endeavor to tell you in detail concerning con-
vict labor as applied to highway construction in Louisiana and you
may draw your own conclusions as to its efficiency.

One of the most effective and interesting features of the act creat-
ing this department is the use of State convicts. With us, the
greater part of the State convicts are negroes, who, when properly
controlled, make very good laborers. They are treated with every
consideration, well fed, clothed and groomed, and are made to keep
regular hours and to observe all hygienic laws and regulations.

The penitentiary laws of this State are the best of their kind,
and permit the use of convicts on the levees and the roads, but
always under the care and supervision of the board of control, a
State institution. Those not necessary on the farms and planta-
tions owned by the State and operated by the board of control, are
sent to work on the public levees and roads. While at work on the
levees, they earn revenues for the board of control, as the work is


done under contract at an agreed price per cubic yard. However,
they earn absolutely nothing for the board of control when at work
upon the roads. The entire expense of their maintenance, while road
building, is paid by the parish employing them. With the gratis serv-
ices of the engineering corps of the highway department, the par-
ishes have an excellent form of State-aid in addition to that secured
in a monetary way.

The floods of the last two years caused much damage to the 1600
miles of levees in Louisiana and in consequence, the State found
it necessary to withdraw all convicts employed on the highways, in
order that the levees could be made safe as soon as possible. Now
that this work is completed, I do not think that it will be long before
the State highway department will be permitted to use a large force
of convicts for highway construction.

About 175 miles of highways have been constructed with con-
vict labor in Louisiana; most all of the roads so constructed were of
the improved earth and sand-clay type. While constructing these
roads, it was necessary to move camp frequently and the loss of time
occasioned thereby, together with other expenses in connection, made
the cost of construction just that much more. However, the saving
effected by employing convicts as compared to similar work let
by contract, is fully 40 per cent and in some instances 50 per cent,
and I am of the opinion that a greater saving could be effected in
constructing highways of a more permanent nature, which would
not require the moving of camp so frequently.

In addition to the cost of maintenance of the convicts, the prin-
cipal items of expense in operating a convict camp are the salaries
of captains, foremen and guards, which are paid monthly, as follows :
captains, $75; foremen, $40; guards, $30.

The following figures are taken from the official records of the
board of control, State penitentiary:

Average number of convicts employed on public highways 1909 71.8

Cost of maintenance, per man per year $68 .82

Cost of operating, per man per year 82.45

Cost of general expense, per man per year 16.91

Total cost $168 . 18

Average number of convicts employed on public highways 1910 147-8

Cost of maintenance, per man per year $68 .82

Cost of operating, per man per year 86 .71

Cost of general expense, per man per year 16 .91

Total cost $172.44

Average number of convicts employed on public highways 1911 140.0

Cost of maintenance, per man per year $63 .70

Cost of operating, per man per year 90 .85

Cost of general expense, per man per year 16 . 25

Total cost.. . $170.80


With proper handling and with the cooperation of the board
of control of the State penitentiary, there is no doubt in my- mind that
convict labor, properly organized and equipped, will prove efficient
and economical, as has already been demonstrated in my State. Of
course, I am speaking of conditions as they exist in my State, and
I am not prepared to say whether this class of labor would prove
profitable or economical in other States.

I know from actual results obtained that our department would
be able to double the mileage of State highways constructed if
we were to use convicts exclusively. Believing that the State would
receive indirectly greater benefits and value from roads, I would, if
this matter was left to me to decide, place every able-bodied male
convict to work on the public roads, until the proposed system, em-
bracing the construction of 4500 miles of State highways now con-
templated by the highway department, is completed.

If the convicts were available, and with proper organization
and equipment, I believe that 70 per cent of the parishes would avail
and tax themselves to maintain a camp of fifty men each, until the
roads in their respective parishes were built.


Now, as to force account labor and contract labor, and to state
which is the better, is, in my opinion, a very difficult question to
decide. My experience with both methods has taught me to judge
each project on its own individual merits, taking into consideration
the character, extent and available equipment that could be used in
its construction.

Both force account and contract labor have their advantages and
disadvantages, and the question of deciding which is the most eco-
nomical and practical, should, as a general rule, be determined by the
engineer in charge.

Work performed under force account oftentimes results in the
better and more permanent construction and at a less cost than under
contract, and again, in some instances, resulting in more expensive
construction, yet invariably as good or better and more permanent
than that done under contract. Better work because you are not
restricted as a contractor would be to the specifications, but would
if you so desired, do extra work and add extra or better material as
the conditions require. While employing force account labor, the
question of using inferior materials, the desire to rush the work to
completion and not giving the proper attention as to workmanship,
is almost eliminated.

If the contractor and his equipment are employed under force
account, he would not have any motive for substituting inferior
material or workmanship, so long as he is getting paid for services
rendered. Again, if a contract is taken at a low figure and the con-
tractor sees that he is going to lose money on the job, you will in-


variably have more or less trouble in having the work done according
to contract and specifications. Yet, on the other hand, if the work is
undertaken under force account with poor or inadequate equipment
and inexperienced labor and the work to be done is not sufficient in
extent to warrant the purchase of additional equipment or justify the
organizing and establishing the necessary discipline, then in that
case, contract labor is unquestionably the most economical and

Therefore, I reiterate that each project must be studied and de-
cided by the engineer or owner as to which method is the more suit-
able and economical.

A contractor bidding on a small project will be inclined to bid
higher for the same class of work than if he were bidding on a large
project, and notwithstanding the increase in the price bid, it is in
many instances advisable to award the contract, for the reason
that the amount that would be saved in employing force account labor
would not warrant the delay occasioned in equipping an outfit to do
this work.

The act creating the highway department in my State is very
broad and covers more or less this phase of labor and force account
construction. We have in my State, construction work that is being
prosecuted under free labor, parish prison labor, force account labor,
and contract. All free and force account labor is classified; that
is, we place skilled labor on work requiring such and common labor on
work requiring this kind, and so on. The State owns a road outfit,
consisting of teams, wheelers, scrapers, road machines, traction en-
gine, ballast cars, etc.; in connection with this outfit, we are em-
ploying day teams, giving us a larger equipment.

In the parish of Sabine, where the State's outfit and force account
labor is in operation, we have a road that is being constructed
under contract, also, this work being of the same character and
practically the same in extent. The road that we are building under
force account, free labor and parish prisoners is being constructed
at less cost than the other road of the same character under contract.

In addition to these two roads, we are having constructed in the
same parish, another road some eleven miles long, under force ac-
count and free labor. We have employed a road grading outfit, pay-
ing the contractor so much per day for his teams and labor, but be-
fore proceeding with the construction of this road under this method,
the department advertised for bids for the work to be done under con-
tract. The price bid on this work was 32 cents per cubic yard. This
price being too high, and out of line, the Department rejected all
bids and proceeded under free labor and force account, feeling con-
fident that the work including re-inforced concrete bridges and
culverts could be done at less cost than the price bid.

It is true that free labor and force account labor creates more
work for the department and more worry and also makes it necessary
to employ more engineer assistants, time-keepers and superintendents.


The department places on each job an engineer assistant and any other
necessary assistants that may be required, and he is looked to for re-
sults; he in turn looks to the foreman. If the foreman does not
deliver the goods, "Out he goes." So far, however, we have had very
little trouble with foremen and superintendents, as all of our work has
progressed satisfactorily under this method.

The highway department of Louisiana was formally organized
February 1, 1911, and although we have studied and solved many
problems relative to highway construction, there still remains a num-
ber which will require more time and study for us to arrive at a satis-
factory solution.

In conclusion, I will state that force account labor and contract
labor are both good and it is a question of judgment as to which
should be employed. You will note, gentlemen, that we in Louisiana
are using both.

THE CHAIRMAN: The subject is now open for general discussion.

MR. W. P. EIRICK: There are just a few of us here and we are
here because we are interested. If you will permit me, I would
like first to explain why I am here so that you may know that I
am interested and that I know what I am talking about. I was
county commissioner in Cuyahoga County, of which Cleveland is
the county seat, for eight years. During my term of office, almost
all of the brick roads in Cleveland were built. I am not going into
a discussion as to which is the best kind of pavement; that is for
you to consider and determine yourselves. I do not care whether
it is a gravel road, a macadam road, a bitulithic road, a concrete
road, an asphalt road, or a brick road what you are interested in is
good roads and everyone of them is good, but some are adapted for
a better purpose than others. Now we are discussing economics.
I say that the question of economics comes in at this point if you
build a good road, Do you get your money back? That is the ques-
tion of economics. I do not think the question of economics is,
Is the money well spent? That is a question for you as taxpayers
to demand of your elected officials. The question of graft in public
improvements should be set aside, and if it is not set aside, it is your
fault as taxpayers. You should elect, as officials, men who transact
your business honestly and give you a hundred cents on the dollar
for every dollar they spend for you; so the question of economics
comes back not what are you going to do about pavements? If
you pave roads, Do you get your money back? That is the econom-
ical question. It is the question that comes up before the people of
every State on every bond issue. What do we do in our county?
When I was commissioner in 1904, Cuyahoga County had a tax
valuation of $240,000,000; it has got a tax valuation now of $1,000,-
000,000, not caused by good roads entirely, don't misunderstand
me, but on that account also. Cleveland has grown rapidly and


the suburbs have also grown; it has grown out in the country, but
what do we do about pavements and the absence of it? I am not
here to argue for a brick pavement because we put brick pavements
in. You may like macadam pavements or a concrete pavement,
it may be more adaptable for your particular purpose or location,
but the question involved is, Do you get your money back? as I
said before, and I will show you how you get it back. "Back to
the farm" is the slogan. The rich man in the city says "I will go
out in the country and buy a farm and live there and go home in
an automobile;" and a man who stands on this platform and tells
you that an automobile is a damage to a good road, makes a serious
mistake. It is the automobile owner principally who pays the high-
est part of your taxation for good roads. He is the man that comes
along at the crucial moment and says, if he has made some money
in the city, "I will buy me a farm out in the country." And what
does he do? Does he buy a farm for $50 an acre? No, he goes
out on an improved road and takes an old piece of land that sold
for $50 or $60 an acre and pays $300 for it and it raises the valua-
tion out in that district, and along comes his friend and buys some
more of the land. That is economics in road construction. I say
that the question at stake in your good roads convention is this,
Do you get your money back if you spend it for road improvement?
There is no reason in the world why your money should not be
honestly spent, but you should nevertheless look over your tax du-
plicates. I went into the commissioner's office as a layman. I sold
logs for a living. I knew nothing about road improvement; I learned
it after I was there. My thought was, as a business man looking
after the interests of my constituents, Can we get our money back?
Not what kind of a road I was not interested in that side but,
if we improve this road, Can we get our money back? And I said
to this man and there was an engineer from that county who spoke
to you today. Give us the road that we need, that is the point
involved. Somewhere in the State you want a water bound mac-
adam and should have it. Somewhere in the United States you
want a gravel road and should have it. Somewhere else you want
an asphalt pavement and should have it; different conditions merit
different kinds of pavement, but the serious thought should always
be, Do we get our money back? I can take you to Cuyahoga
County and show you from the tax duplicates while I was commis-
sioner there for eight years and I am only out of office two months
to go into business we can show you that we got our money back
tenfold before the ten years expired that they paid for these improve-
ments, the tax increase, together with the levy, brought back more
than the county put in the road. That is my idea of economics in
road construction.

MR. LYMAN: I just want to ask a question, how they take care
of those prisoners in the State of Utah? We use prison labor on


the roads, but our camp equipment is so expensive that I don't see
how we could move as frequently as these people seem to move,
and I would like to know how they take care of those prisoners, what
kind of camp they have?

MR. ATKINSON: We have small houses or cages built on four or
eight wheel log wagons and we also have cheaply constructed stock-
ades built of rough lumber and logs. The prisoners are also guarded
at night. The small houses or cages and the stockades are provided
with ample openings and are screened so as to afford plenty of venti-
lation and be free from flies, gnats and mosquitoes. The work that
has been performed under the convict system has been principally
improved earth highways. This requires the movement of camp
more or less frequently, thereby increasing the cost per cubic yard
in grading above what it might cost if the work was of a more per-
manent nature and the yardage greater, thereby not requiring the
movement of camp so frequently.

MR. SMITH (of New Jersey): Do you use the guards to any
great extent or merely as a matter of form?

MR. ATKINSON: Yes sir, re have guards and we have to be on
the alert at all times. We have trusties among the convicts used
as teamsters and drivers in hauling gravel and material; they are
also used around the camp as "flunkies" and cooks.

MR. SMITH (of New Jersey): About what percentage do you
lose in the way of runaways?

MR. ATKINSON: Why, we lose one occasionally, but the per-
centage is very small, I would judge about 5 per cent.

MR. SMITH (of New Jersey): In some places they are dropping
the striped suits altogether and putting the convicts "on trust."
In the South we had to use the guards because the State law com-
pelled it, but in Colorado they even take their stripes off and put
them entirely on honor, except in a few particular cases.

MR. ATKINSON : Most of our prisoners are negroes and it is abso-
lutely necessary to have someone to watch them. It is true that
we have a few trusties among them, but as a whole, if they are not
guarded, they will run away.

THE CHAIRMAN: I might say that in Colorado, they have, of
course, been selecting the convicts that they put on the public road.
They allow them a certain number of days commute their sentence
so much per month according to the work they do and work them
without stripes and without guards. They now have certain con-
victs that are trying to become available for work in these convict


camps. In a talk with the superintendent at Canon City, who has
charge of the convict camps, I was told that they have had six or
eight men try to escape but only one or two ever succeeded. Four
of them came back of their own accord, and in the end they got all
the men back. If a man attempts to escape, he is taken away from
the camp and put back in the penitentiary and all the time that
has accumulated toward reducing his sentence is taken away; and
he has to serve out his full sentence. Now, if we should try to
inaugurate any such plan in the South, we would have to do the

Online LibraryGa.) American Road Congress (4th : 1914 : AtlantaProceedings of the fourth American Road Congress, under auspices of American Highway Association, American Automobile Association, Atlanta, Ga., November 9-14, 1914 → online text (page 27 of 78)