The classic book, “Pages from a Worker’s Life,” by William Z. Foster has inspired other workers to write about their experiences. These stories make fascinating reading. We are launching a new column to share these stories with our readers. Got your own stories? Don’t hesitate to write them up and send them to the People’s Weekly World. About 500 words is the right length.
We begin with Foster’s 1907 story. It’s about old-time teamsters …

Hard line skinners

I was a teamster of experience in logging and grading camps and in general hauling and ranch work. My driving philosophy was to make friends with my animals, and it worked well, horses and mules being quick to appreciate a considerate driver. So when I was given four mules, I applied my regular formula and everything went fine.

I had driven my team a few days when, to my surprise, I learned they had the worst reputation of any animals in the outfit. They had been “spoiled” by ignorant and cruel drivers, and no less than eight skinners had tried in vain to drive them during the week before I got them. Considering my success with this team, I began to flatter myself that I was a real skinner.

But the boss thought otherwise. One night, after I had driven the mules three weeks, I overheard him violently criticizing my driving. He said the mules had done as they pleased since “Slim” (that was me) got hold of them. What they needed, said he, was a damned good “tail-boning” (to be beaten over the tail-bone with a club), and by God he was going to see they got it. Now all this was a jolt to me, as I thought I was doing a very good job with the four “spoiled” mules.

Next day the stable-boss, equipped with a stout “sap,” came up and had me turn over the “lines” to him. He would show me how mules should be driven. Now, mules have a great cunning, and skinners universally consider them uncannily intelligent. It is a never-failing source of wonder when, regularly as clockwork, grading camp mules set up an infernal braying a few minutes before noon knock-off time. They seem to know just what time it is. So no sooner had the boss, brandishing his club, taken hold of the lines then the intelligent mules sensed trouble in the air and prepared to fight.

We were working on a grade fill, and to unload our broad fresno scrapers two of the mules had to go over and down the side of the grade. One had to plow through the soft sliding earth knee-deep.

Usually the skinner stood on the solid ground as the mules went through the difficult dumping process; but the boss, club in hand, followed the off-mule over the side, viciously “tail-boning” the animal as it struggled desperately to clamber through the loose earth. The second time around the boss repeated his stunt. But this time, the off-mule suddenly stopped and lightning-like, lifted a hind leg and dealt him a crashing blow full in the face. Without even a moan the boss collapsed and rolled head over heels to the bottom of the fill. Half a dozen men scrambled down and picked him up, dead to the world. His face was all bashed in. The doctor said his skull was fractured but he would probably live. I never knew what finally became of him for, in accordance with good skinner tradition, I had quit my job the moment the boss took the lines from my hand to teach me to drive. But I thought that perhaps my system of skinning mules was the best after all.

— William Z. Foster, “Pages from a Worker’s Life,” International Publishers.

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