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 PETER WOODLAND was a Dane. He had been in this country nine
years and was foreman of some workmen who were helping to
build the first tunnel under the Hudson River.
This tunnel was more than a mile in length, extending from Jersey
City to the opposite shore of Manhattan. It was so deep down
that its roof was beneath the bed of the river.
Day after day, month after month, Peter Woodland and his
companions worked in this tunnel. Above them glided tugboats,
ferryboats, steamships, and even mighty battleships; and but few
people dreamed of the busy men who were toiling silently at the
risk of their lives a hundred feet beneath the surface of the great
river. The light of the sun never reached these men at their work;
the roar and rumble of the city streets never disturbed them.
The work was begun at the Jersey City end. A great shaft or well
was sunk straight down to the desired level, and then the tunnel
was dug through
 mud and ooze and solid rocks and treacherous sand. As fast as
it was dug, it was walled overhead and on the sides with bricks
and stone and plates of steel. The masons kept close behind the
diggers, and the wall was never more than a few feet from the
farthest end of the excavation.
As the workmen slowly pushed their way out under the river, why
did not the mud and rocks above them fall in before the protecting
wall could be built? This was prevented in part by roofing the
unwalled portion of the tunnel with strong iron plates; but the roof
of itself was not sufficient to support the great pressure above.
Every boy knows how air when forced into the tire of a bicycle
will expand the rubber tubing and enable it to sustain a very great
weight. Similarly, compressed air was forced into the unwalled part
of the tunnel, thus helping to support the vast pressure of mud and
water and rocks upon the temporary roof. Had it not been for this
device the whole thing would have collapsed and the tunnel would
have been impossible.
Fitting closely inside of the walled part of the tunnel there was an
iron chamber fifteen feet in
 length. This chamber was called the air lock, and it was moved
along as fast as the wall was completed. It was made to fit so
closely that no water or air could pass between it and the inner
surface of the wall.
At each end of the air lock there was a heavy door, and in the
center of each door there was a round pane of very thick glass
called a bull's-eye. Both the doors opened toward the unfinished
end of the tunnel.
At midnight, every night, Peter Woodland and twenty-seven other
men went down into the tunnel to work. They entered by means
of a ladder, through the deep shaft in Jersey City. They went on
through the finished portion till they came to the air lock. This
they entered, the farther or lower door being already closed.
When all were in, the upper door was closed and air was forced
into the chamber until it was of the same density as the
compressed air in the unfinished portion of the tunnel below.
Then the lower door was opened, and the men passed out to
It was not possible for them to work long in such air. After a few
hours they would return into the
 air lock. The compressed air would be drawn off. They would
return to their homes for rest, and twenty-eight other men would
take their places.
One night Peter Woodland and his men had been at work as
usual for nearly four hours. It was about the time for their early
morning lunch. A few of the men had already dropped their
picks and were starting for their dinner pails. The lower door
of the air lock was open.
Suddenly there was an ominous sizzling and a rushing of water
between two of the iron plates in the roof.
Peter Woodland sprang forward.
"All hands to stop this leak!" he cried.
But it was too late. The water poured through in a torrent.
There was no possible way to stop it. One of the iron plates
Peter Woodland stood upright, trying if he might be able with
his two hands to stanch the flow a little.
"Quick, men!" he cried. "Into the air lock, every one of you."
"QUICK, MEN! INTO THE AIR LOCK!"
He himself might have been the first to go. But, no; he
stepped aside and pushed the others in as fast as they came
 Seven men had entered; but as the eighth reached the door, the
heavy iron plate above it fell upon him. He dropped down as though
dead, while the iron plate rested against the door in such a way as
to close it within a few inches. Not another man could pass
Peter Woodland and nineteen others were caught as in a trap,
and the river was pouring in upon them.
The seven men in the air lock were also entrapped; for the
pressure of the air against the upper door was so strong that
they could not open it. The water was pouring through the
lower doorway over the body of their dead companion.
"Stop up the doorway with your coats!" shouted Peter Woodland.
They had left their coats with their dinner pails in the air lock
when they went out to work. These they seized and thrust into
the opening of the doorway. They pulled off their shirts and
pushed them in also. The flowing of the water into the air lock
was checked, although the chamber was now almost half full.
 Unless they could open the upper door, their respite would be
but short. They would still be drowned like rats in a hole.
Then they heard the voice of Peter Woodland again, "Break
the bull's-eye in the upper door! Kick it out!"
The men saw him. The water was already to his chin. The nineteen
men behind him were in the same sad plight.
"Break it!" he cried. "It's your only chance. If you're saved, do
what you can for the rest of us."
These were his last words.
They broke the bull's-eye. The compressed air escaped. The
upper door was easily opened. The seven men rushed out, the
water following them as they ran. They gained the great shaft
at the entrance. They climbed the ladder in breathless haste.
At the top they turned and looked back.
The tunnel was full of water. Of the twenty-eight men who had
gone down at midnight, twenty-one would never return. The
seven who were saved owed their lives to the presence of mind
and unselfish heroism of humble Peter Woodland.