Another job opportunity came at Boathouse Row, located on the Schuylkill River in Fairmount Park. The oarsmen’s rowing club was looking for a boiler operator to replace their current fireman. The boiler room was located at a level below the river. It was a dank and musty place. It reminded me of an underground dungeon for muskrats. I made sure to check the ceiling and walls for any signs of mold or water seeping in.
I was familiar with the establishment because of the 4th of July events that originated there. During my youth it was an annual event that my family and I attended. There were multiple boat races including: canoes, motorboats and eight-oared men crews with coxswains.
Over the several years I attended, there never were motorboat accidents—such as boats flipping and tumbling in the air, or running ashore and moving down a half a dozen spectators, such as is commonly seen in news clips. The celebrations were capped off in the evening with a fireworks display.
The hiring manager introduced me to the current fireman who was some black dude, who was trained on ships while in the Navy. He seemed anxious to trash the job for something better; and I couldn’t blame him. I figured if I couldn’t work in a new clean environment like Society Hill, then I wasn’t going to degrade myself to work in this dingy hole in the ground. The equipment looked historical—like it was built in the late 1800s. At least the boilers were oil fired, instead of coal fired. I figured if the walls in that place had collapsed on me, I’d drown like a sewer rat, because I couldn’t swim.
Even though I was offered the job, respectfully I informed the hiring manager that I wasn’t interested. Even though it was a union job, I assumed that no respectful IOUE (International Union of Operating Engineers) member would desire such a position in that underground rat hole. I guess this low-class dingy job was all that could be expected for blacks, no matter how qualified they may be.
Even though this was only my second attempt at employment, I was already getting discouraged. Again I felt like I was the subject of union corruption and/or racial prejudice.