Sketches from an earlier time

Back in July 2020, Louisville Water Customer Service Representative Jowana Clayton’s phone rang. But this call was not the usual customer service call — Katherine Tanton was on the other end of the line, calling from Texas. Tanton’s grandfather, Roy Ernest Metcalfe, worked for Louisville Water at the Crescent Hill Pumping Station and created a sketchbook of his fellow employees. She wanted to know if Louisville Water was interested in having it. Clayton was excited about the potential of this book and informed Louisville Water’s communications team, who contacted Tanton to get this extraordinary slice of our history.

“Ms. Tanton’s call was far beyond an average call –she told me about her grandfather’s sketchbook and its contents,” said Clayton. “I believed it would be valuable addition to the historical information of Louisville Water. I’m proud to be a part of the “pipeline” for the sketchbook.”

While we had the names of many of the employees in the sketchbook, now we have caricature sketches, drawn by Metcalfe, along with photographs and personal information on them. Metcalfe, who went by his middle name Ernest, was a coal pusher at the pumping station and worked for the company for more than 30 years. Metcalfe retired from Louisville Water before he died in 1969.

Metcalfe was an amateur student of human nature. In the preface of the sketchbook, he wrote, “Every individual on earth has a characteristic seldom recognized by himself but plainly visible to others.” He considered his co-workers a “big family.” And includes the caveat, “There is jest here and there to make sure the reader realize (sic) this is no classic.” His insight into his coworkers, even sympathy for the electric clock that hung on the wall, gives us the human stories that were never known, making it a “classic” source of insider information that would have otherwise been lost to time.

The title page of the sketchbook with an illustration of Uncle Sam. The second edition with photos of the workers is included in the same notebook.

In the waning days of Prohibition, there seems to be a preoccupation with beer and alcoholic spirits. Whatever happened between Harry George and Jake Ossman may never be known; perhaps George accidentally cut Ossman, and it became an inside joke.

Many of the caricature sketches include comically oversized tools of the trade.

George Breckenridge and Lee Waters were the two janitors, also known as porters, at the pumping station. The building in the background appears to be the back of the lavatory building before it was expanded.

Metcalfe’s own page includes a sketch and photo of him at work, shoveling coal in the coal yard outside the Crescent Hill Boiler House.

Metcalfe even gives the electric clock human motions.