TALCOTT, W.Va. -- John Henry, the legendary steel-driving man, got a helping hand from wheelbarrow-driving and shovel-wielding Boy Scouts here on Tuesday, during the final day of community service work at the National Boy Scouts Jamboree.
Tuesday marked the fifth day that 120 Boy Scouts traveled from the Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve to Talcott to spend time building trails and clearing brush at John Henry Historical Park on the edge of this Summers County town.
The 26-acre park is located next to the entrance to the 6,000-foot-long Great Bend railroad tunnel where Henry, in 1870, is said to have outperformed a Burleigh steam drill. The feat provided guaranteed three years of job security for a small army of black and Irish tunnel drilling crews working here.
Talcott was chosen by the U.S. Postal Service as the setting for a 1996 release of a postage stamp series commemorating John Henry, Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill as "American folk heroes." But Bill Dillon, a member of the park's governing committee, and a number of other historians are convinced Henry's story is much more fact than fiction.
"The contest took place right over there," Dillon told the Scouts as he pointed to the south portal of the Great Bend Tunnel, during an assembly that preceded Tuesday's work project.
"John Henry hammered out 14 feet in the same time it took the stream drill to make 0 9-foot hole," Dillon said. "There were no steam drills in the tunnel after that. Eight crews all worked by hand for the next 39 months to finish the job."
Dillon said John Henry's wife, Polly Ann, is buried in a cemetery in Talcott's Pie Hollow, and invited to show Scouts the site after their day's work was done.
At John Henry Historical Park, Scouts are grubbing out, draining and placing crushed rock atop nearly 8,000 feet of trails, which lead visitors past a creek, a wetlands area, and an abandoned rail trestle, while also connecting the park to Pie Hollow and the town of Talcott.
An 8-foot-tall metal statue of Henry now stands atop a pedestal near the entrance to the Great Bend Tunnel. Last year, the statue was moved to the site from a vandal-prone roadside park along W.Va. 3 atop the tunnel.
"I didn't know there was a real place where the contest happened," said Brandon Oblazney of Indianapolis, Ind., who was among the contingent of Scouts from Indiana, Illinois and Nevada working at the park on Tuesday.