Frank Nead smiled, his shoes slapping hard on the concrete floor of the automobile shop.
He ran with all of the boundless energy of a nine-year-old as he chased his friend, determined to catch him. Frank’s legs ached and his lungs burned, but still he ran.
The boy could see his friend, occasionally glancing back over his shoulder as he ran, determined not to be caught. They dodged around people, cars, and equipment as they went, their noses filled with the smell of oil and grease.
Without warning, Frank felt wrenched off of his feet. As he rose into the air, he began to spin at a horrifying speed. He tried to fight, but whatever had him was just too strong.
Pain wracked his body as he felt himself struck over and over again until, at last, he felt himself thrown free for an instant, and then one last white-hot pain before all faded to darkness.
When police arrived a short time later, they were greeted by a grim-faced mechanic who told them to follow him. Together they walked through the shop toward a group of machines at one side of the shop.
There, sitting with a few of the other workers, was a small boy. It was obvious that he had been crying. Gently, they asked him what had happened earlier that day.
Looking up, the boy proceeded to tell the officers about how he and his friend, Frank, had been chasing each other through the shop. As they came over to where they now were, something had happened. The boy hadn’t seen what exactly, but he had turned around quickly when he heard his friend cry out.
Looking up, he saw that Frank was spinning around the line shaft that ran the equipment in that area of the shop. The machinery ripped all of his clothing off as it twisted him mercilessly, his arms, legs, head and torso slamming hard into any outcropping of gears, pulleys, or beams that it came into contact with.
His friend had reached up to try and pull him free of the machine, but the line shaft was far too strong for the young boy, who felt himself start to be pulled into the mechanism himself. Thankfully, he was able to break free without injury.
Frank wasn’t so lucky. With one last spin, the child spun free of the shaft, coming to a sudden, brutal stop against the concrete floor.
By then, workers had run to the area to see what was going on. When they saw Frank laying on the floor, they had immediately called for the police and a doctor.
Sadly, Frank Nead died from his injuries the next day, one more victim of the dangers of early 20th century industry.
Line shafts had originally come into regular use during the late part of the 18th century. In some ways, they were a technological marvel.
The shaft transferred power from one major source, which could be anything from a water wheel to some kind of engine, to several smaller ones. There smaller machines were used by workmen for various jobs, powered by pulleys and belts that connected to their machines.
The line itself ran along the ceiling of one end of the plant, with the workers being able to control the speed of the machines by moving belts to different sizes of pulleys.
Line shaft technology allowed a greater production output than had been possible before. While it did its part in ushering in the Industrial Revolution, there were serious drawbacks to their use.
The various moving parts required constant lubrication to run smoothly, which ended up splattering on nearly everything – the machines, products, people, and the floor. The machines were also extremely noisy and kicked up dust and other particles, causing some people to have breathing problems and early onset hearing loss.
Worst still was the physical danger the line shaft system imposed on the workers.
The shafts were unguarded, and nothing would prevent an unfortunate individual that was somehow caught in the machinery from being pulled into the deadly embrace of the line shaft.
In 1898, a man named John Ansberry was operating a machine at the Indiana Wire Fence Factory when the belt powering his machine slipped off of its pulley.
This was by no means an uncommon occurrence, and its likely Ansberry thought nothing of it as he reached up to slip the belt back into place. As he did, he was suddenly caught in the machine and sucked up onto the line shaft.
His fellow workers, some no more than six feet away, looked on in horror as Ansberry was slammed repeatedly into the overhead beams.
They quickly went to cut the power to the line shaft, but it still took a few minutes for the machine to come to a complete stop. Carefully, they took Ansberry down. As they did, the workers were able to see the awful extent of his injuries.
While his head was untouched, both his arms and legs had been completely shattered, with one of his legs having been torn off at the knee. The 22-year-old Ansberry succumbed to his injuries only a short time later.
Nine years later, in 1907, the owner of a roller mill in North Carolina named H.C. Miller was pulled into the line shaft at his mill.
Firemen nearby heard his screams and ran to help. They found him caught in the line shaft, spinning around it uncontrollably. The wounds caused by his injuries bled profusely, spraying blood everywhere.
Like Ansberry, the machine was stopped, and Miller was taken down, but it was too late to save his life.
Although line shafts were gradually being replaced by cleaner and safer developments in industrial technology, they were still very much in use in 1922, when one took the life of young Frank Nead.
Over the next several decades, more and more safety features began to be instituted into industrial settings. Perhaps most important among these changes was the active education of workers about the dangers of workplace equipment.
Loose-fitting clothing that could easily be caught in moving parts was banned. Personal protective gear, including hard hats and eye and ear protection became a standard, helping protect the workers from potential dangers.
While this certainly didn’t prevent all accidents in the workplace, it did help industrial workers to be aware of the dangers, stay safe, make it home to their families at the end of the day.
Met Tragic Death. The Courier, 4/25/1907
Boy of Nine Years is Fatally Injured. Stevens Point Journal, 3/8/1922
Halbert,Kelly. Artifact of the week: Line shaft. The Oskaloosa Herald
A Horrible Accident. The Weekly Argus News, 11/26/1898