July 17, 2014

Now That's What I Call A Young Adult Book!

It's a dream come true. You know how there's a book you know exists but somehow you can never find it? Well, I am thrilled to say that thanks to the magic of Teh Intertubes and the vagaries of US copyright law, I have finally been able to read The Boy Troopers On Strike Duty, and it's a corker.

Let me back up and take a running start. Have you ever read any of the old Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew books, the originals I mean, not the weak tea retreads from the '60s and later? You may recall that the villains were generally swarthy "Dagos" or perhaps sinister Slavs, and our plucky WASP protagonists would best them with grit, strength and ingenuity.

There were scads of similar series, some a bit more proletarian in flavor, I have before me here as I type a copy of one of the volumes in Allen Chapman's Railroad Series, which starts with the delightfully titled RALPH OF THE ROUNDHOUSE Or, Bound to Become a Railroad Man.

I read, back in my teen years, one of the Boy Troopers Series, by one Clair W. Hayes, about two fine young fellows who serve as valued allies of the Pennsylvania State Troopers, one of the first such forces. The other titles in the series were listed and one was The Boy Troopers On Strike Duty. Decades passed and I never came across a copy of this promising title, until last night. An idle search for one prompted Comrade Google to direct me to a very nice scan of the original 1922 edition, all set up for quick reading, full screen.

My heart sank when I saw on the cover and again on the title page The Boy Troopers On Duty. What happened to the Strike part?  Happily, when the story starts on page 3, the title is there again with the fateful word restored and the second paragraph takes us to the streets of a Pittsburgh suburb, Wilmercairn, streets crowded with "foreigners."
Until the day before, these men--or a good many of them, at least--had been apparently faithful employes of the Wilmercairn Steel Tube Company.

Today they were strikers--a small fraction of the steelworkers in the Pennsylvania-Ohio-West Virginia Districts--who had joined a walkout for more money and shorter hours. The total number of men on strike in these districts ran into the millions.
I doubt I'm spoiling anything for potential readers when I say, with regret, that despite this promising start, the working class does not seize state power in the region by the end of the book.

However, the strikers make a good run at it, planning an armed attack to seize the main mill and deploying a couple of machine guns in carrying it out. Not, mind you, that these foreigners could have come up with this on their own. (And generic foreigners is what they remain until page 123, where we finally learn that the "firebrands" are "composed entirely of Hungarians, Slovaks and other foreigners.") No indeed, they were stirred up by homegrown American "professional agitators":
These walking delegates were enlarging on the supposed grievances of the foreign strikers.
Alas, we are introduced to only one of these splendid gents and get no idea of his organizational affiliation or political views.

The factory managers, however, come up with a strategy better than their initially planned army of strikebreakers with the help of the heroes, Dick and Ralph: pitting true blue American workers against the foreigners by promising them much better pay and benefits. Although "there are a hundred 'Hunkies' in the mill to every American," the lads succeed in breaking the strike, with the aid of their state trooper buddies, after any number of fist fights, gun fights and narrow escapes. And the boss's daughter for romantic interest

Even so, it is a close thing and one can dream (even if one is not among the "Boys 12-16 Years of Age," who were the author's target audience).

1 comment:

John said...

Remarkable!

"Wilmercairn" as the name of a suburb is obviously a fictional amalgam of Wilmerding and Pitcairn, both of which were situated more in the "Electric Valley" (where Westinghouse was) rather than the nearby "Steel Valley." The Electric Valley saw several violent strikes in 1914 and 1916, with assistance from the IWW; there were also steel strikes in McKees Rocks in 1909 and of course the big steel strike in 1919. The dynamic in all of these was not unlike that described in the book, with the strikers being mostly workers of Eastern European origin, and the few native-born sympathizers getting demonized in a way that, in retrospect, was pretty similar to the way "outside agitators" were denounced in the South a couple of generations later.