by Jef Burnham
A new American Originals series, now airing on History. Check your local listings.
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This 11-episode History series follows a virtually unknown group of men called the Sandhogs as they labor in one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. For nearly 150 years, the Sandhogs have been mining hundreds of feet below New York City. They are the city’s unsung heroes, without whom the people above would be deprived of not only their subways, but water and electricity, and risking their lives in the process. The shocking statistic is that an estimated one Sandhog dies on the job for every mile of tunnel, but do these guys ever love their job.
The series looks at four important projects underway beneath the city. In the premiere episode, we follow the Sandhogs of the Croton Water Filtration Plant, who are working to connect the tunnel they are building to a water tunnel built in 1890. Walking Boss on the 3 pm to 11 pm shift, Morgan Curran, is incredible to watch as he supervises the digging of two tunnels by two different means of excavation simultaneously. He knows every aspect of the job, and he is able to quickly sketch out a diagram for TNT placement and timing so that the tunnel doesn’t collapse when they blast.
It is something we take for granted—that the tunnels beneath our cities are just there. History opens the greater population’s eyes to the Sandhogs’ arduous work and the risk they take every time they punch in. If you’ve never heard of the Sandhogs… Or perhaps you just like explosions, I don’t know… Make sure to catch an episode of Sandhogs.
Jef Burnham is a writer and film critic in Chicago.
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