Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Episode 436 (9-3-18): Labor Day, “Sandy Boys,” and the Big Sandy River

CLICK HERE to listen to episode audio (3:59)

Transcript of audio, notes on the audio, images, and additional information follow below.

All Web addresses mentioned were functional as of 8-31-18.


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of September 3, 2018.  This week is a revised repeat of the episode from September 2, 2013.

MUSIC – ~9 sec

This week, in honor of Labor Day, we feature a traditional tune associated with the river at the geographic heart of Appalachian coal mining and other hard work.  Have a listen for about 35 seconds.

MUSIC - ~33 sec

You’ve been listening to part of “Sandy Boys,” performed by Sara Grey, Kieron Means, and Ben Paley on the 2009 album also titled “Sandy Boys,” from Fellside Records.  The album’s liner notes state that the title refers to farmers and loggers in the valley, or watershed, of the Big Sandy River.  That river begins with tributaries in Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky and ends at its confluence with the Ohio River in Catlettsburg, Kentucky.

For centuries, the Big Sandy valley has served as a main transportation corridor for this difficult-to-reach southern Appalachian region—for walkers and horses, boats, railroads, and finally automobiles.  It’s also been the center of two natural-resource based industries—first timbering, then coal-mining—that underlie the region’s complicated history.  That history has featured tradition and change, labor and capital, unions and management, and poverty and prosperity—all part of the lives and labor of Big Sandy boys, girls, women, and men.

Thanks to Sara Grey and Fellside Records for permission to use this week’s music.  We close with three sounds of people working—pressure-washing a building, limestone work by stone masons, and a freight train—followed by a few more seconds of “Sandy Boys.”   Happy Labor Day!



Virginia Water Radio is produced by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, part of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.   For more Virginia water sounds, music, or information, visit us online at virginiawaterradio.org, or call the Water Center at (540) 231-5624.  Thanks to Ben Cosgrove for his version of “Shenandoah” to open and close the show.  In Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


This episode revises and replaces Episode 177, 9-2-13, which has been archived.

The 2009 album “Sandy Boys” is copyright by Fellside Records (online at http://www.fellside.com/), used with permission. More information about Sara Grey is available online at http://www.saragrey.net/.

The pressure-washing sound was recorded at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg in June 2018; the limestone work sound was recorded at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg in October 2013; and the train was recorded in Pulaski, Va., in August 2013.

Click here if you’d like to hear the full version (2 min./22 sec.) of the “Shenandoah” arrangement/performance by Ben Cosgrove that opens and closes this episode.  More information about Mr. Cosgrove is available online at http://www.bencosgrove.com.


Big Sandy River watershed, showing its three main forks, the Levisa, Russell, and Tug. Map by Kmusser via Wikimedia Commons, accessed at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Sandy_River_(Ohio_River_tributary)#/media/File:Bigsandyrivermap.png. Made available for public use according to Creative Commons License 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0).

Modern-day “Sandy boys” and “Sandy girls” play on a soccer field created on a reclaimed abandoned coal-mine (AML) site in Buchanan County, Virginia, 2004.  This area is on the watershed divide between the Levisa Fork and Russell Fork tributaries of the Big Sandy River. Photo courtesy Richard Davis, Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, received September 2013.

Worker pressure-washing a building on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, June 2018.


The following is taken from the U.S. Department of Labor, “History of Labor Day,” online at https://www.dol.gov/general/laborday/history.

Labor Day: What it Means
“Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.

Labor Day Legislation
“The first governmental recognition came through municipal ordinances passed in 1885 and 1886. From these, a movement developed to secure state legislation. The first state bill was introduced into the New York legislature, but the first to become law was passed by Oregon on February 21, 1887. During 1887 four more states — Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York — created the Labor Day holiday by legislative enactment. By the end of the decade Connecticut, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania had followed suit. By 1894, 23 more states had adopted the holiday, and on June 28, 1884, Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories.

Founder of Labor Day
“More than a century after the first Labor Day observance, there is still some doubt as to who first proposed the holiday for workers. Some records show that Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, was first in suggesting a day to honor those "who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold."
“But Peter McGuire's place in Labor Day history has not gone unchallenged. Many believe that Matthew Maguire, a machinist, not Peter McGuire, founded the holiday. Recent research seems to support the contention that Matthew Maguire, later the secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, N.J., proposed the holiday in 1882 while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York. What is clear is that the Central Labor Union adopted a Labor Day proposal and appointed a committee to plan a demonstration and picnic.

The First Labor Day
“The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City, in accordance with the plans of the Central Labor Union. The Central Labor Union held its second Labor Day holiday just a year later, on September 5, 1883.
“In 1884 the first Monday in September was selected as the holiday, as originally proposed, and the Central Labor Union urged similar organizations in other cities to follow the example of New York and celebrate a "workingmen's holiday" on that date. The idea spread with the growth of labor organizations, and in 1885 Labor Day was celebrated in many industrial centers of the country.

A Nationwide Holiday
“The form that the observance and celebration of Labor Day should take was outlined in the first proposal of the holiday — a street parade to exhibit to the public "the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations" of the community, followed by a festival for the recreation and amusement of the workers and their families. This became the pattern for the celebrations of Labor Day. Speeches by prominent men and women were introduced later, as more emphasis was placed upon the economic and civic significance of the holiday. Still later, by a resolution of the American Federation of Labor convention of 1909, the Sunday preceding Labor Day was adopted as Labor Sunday and dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement.
“The character of the Labor Day celebration has undergone a change in recent years, especially in large industrial centers where mass displays and huge parades have proved a problem. This change, however, is more a shift in emphasis and medium of expression. Labor Day addresses by leading union officials, industrialists, educators, clerics and government officials are given wide coverage in newspapers, radio, and television.
“The vital force of labor added materially to the highest standard of living and the greatest production the world has ever known and has brought us closer to the realization of our traditional ideals of economic and political democracy. It is appropriate, therefore, that the nation pays tribute on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation's strength, freedom, and leadership—the American worker.”


Used for Audio

Bluegrass Messengers, “Sandy Boys-Version 1,” online at http://www.bluegrassmessengers.com/sandy-boys.aspx.

Sara Grey, album notes for “Sandy Boys” online at http://www.saragrey.net/Recordings/SandyBoys/SandyBoysNotes.htm. This site includes the “Sandy Boys” album cover photograph of a commercial boat on the Big Sandy River in 1904.

John Hartford, “Big Sandy River,” in the West Virginia Encyclopedia, online at http://www.wvencyclopedia.org/articles/484.

Jane Keefer, “Folk Music Index,” online http://www.ibiblio.org/keefer/index.htm. This site lists several songs or tunes referring to the Big Sandy River, including “Boatin’ Up Sandy,” “Crossing the Big Sandy,” “Three Forks of Sandy,” “Gambler’s Song of the Big Sandy River,” “Sandy River,” and “Sandy River Belle.”

Andrew Kuntz, “The Traditional Tune Archive” (formerly “The Fiddler’s Companion”), online at https://tunearch.org/wiki/TTA. See https://tunearch.org/wiki/Annotation:Quail_is_a_Pretty_Bird for notes on “Sandy Boys.”

George D. Torok, A Guide to Historic Coal Towns of the Big Sandy River Valley, University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, 2004.

West Virginia Explorer, “Big Sandy River,” online at https://wvexplorer.com/attractions/rivers-streams/big-sandy-river/.

For More Information on Labor Day

History.com, “Labor Day 2018,” online at https://www.history.com/topics/holidays/labor-day.

U.S. Department of Labor, “History of Labor Day,” online at https://www.dol.gov/general/laborday/history.


All Water Radio episodes are listed by category at the Index link above (http://www.virginiawaterradio.org/p/index.html).  See particularly the “Rivers, Streams, and Other Surface Waters” subject category.

For another Virginia Water Radio episode on the Big Sandy River, please see Episode 419, 5-17-18, featuring the tune “Three Forks of Sandy.”

Following are links to some other episodes on Virginia geography.
A Walk across Virginia – Episode 110, 5/14/12.
Exploration of the Chesapeake Bay – Episode 140, 12/10/12.
Geography in general – Episode 265, 5/11/15.
Water and settlement of Roanoke – Episode 181, 9/30/13.
Water and the Civil War – Episode 101, 3/5/12; Episode 164, 6/3/13; Episode 201, 2/17/14; Episode 223, 7/21/14; Episode 318, 5/30/16; Episode 412, 3-19-18.
Water and the Revolutionary War – Episode 168 – 7/1/13; Episode 273 – 7/6/15; Episode 390-10-16-17.
Water origins of Virginia Declaration signers – Episode 220, 6/30/14.
Watersheds – Episode 156, 4/8/13; Episode 209, 4/14/14; Episode 251, 2/2/15.
Virginia's Western or Alleghany Highlands | EP379 – 7/31/17.


The episode—the audio, additional information, or information sources—may help with Virginia 2013 Music SOLs at various grade levels that call for “examining the relationship of music to the other fine arts and other fields of knowledge.”

This episode may also help with the following Virginia 2010 Science SOLs.

Grades K-6 Earth Resources Theme
4.9 – Va. natural resources, including watersheds, water resources, and organisms.
6.9 – public policy decisions related to the environment (including resource management and conservation, land use decision, hazard mitigation, cost/benefit assessments).

Grades K-6 Living Systems Theme
6.7 – natural processes and human interactions that affect watershed systems; Va. watersheds, water bodies, and wetlands; health and safety issues; and water monitoring.

Life Science Course
LS.11 – relationships between ecosystem dynamics and human activity.

Earth Science Course
ES.8 – influences by geologic processes and the activities of humans on freshwater resources, including identification of groundwater and major watershed systems in Virginia.

The episode may also help with the following Virginia 2015 Social Studies SOLs.

Grades K-6 Economics Theme
2.8 – natural and capital resources described.
3.8 – understanding of cultures and of how natural, human, and capital resources are used for goods and services.

Virginia Studies Course
VS.1 – impact of geographic features on people, places, and events in Virginia history.
VS.10 – knowledge of government, geography, and economics in present-day Virginia.

United States History to 1865 Course
USI.2 – major land and water features of North America, including their importance in history.
USI.5 – factors that shaped colonial America and conditions in the colonies, including how people interacted with the environment to produce goods and service.

World Geography Course
WG.2 - how selected physical and ecological processes shape the Earth’s surface, including climate, weather, and how humans influence their environment and are influenced by it.
WG.3 - how regional landscapes reflect the physical environment and the cultural characteristics of their inhabitants.
WG.4 - types and significance of natural, human, and capital resources.

Virginia’s SOLs are available from the Virginia Department of Education, online at http://www.doe.virginia.gov/testing/.

Following are links to Water Radio episodes (various topics) designed especially for certain K-12 grade levels.
Episode 250 (1-26-15) – on boiling, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Episode 255 (3-2-15) – on density, for 5th and 6th grade.
Episode 282 (9-21-15) – on living vs. non-living, for kindergarten.
Episode 309 (3-28-16) – on temperature regulation in animals, for kindergarten through 12th grade.
Episode 332 (9-12-16) – on dissolved gases, especially dissolved oxygen in aquatic habitats, for 5th grade.
Episode 403 (1-15-18) – on freezing and ice, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Episode 404 (1-22-18) – on ice on ponds and lakes, for 4th through 8th grade.
Episode 406 (2-5-18) – on ice on rivers, for middle school.
Episode 407 (2-12-19) – on snow chemistry and physics, for high school.