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By Ethan Canin

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Liam Metarey worked much of his life, I think, to compensate for that deference; and Henry Bonwiller worked to harness it. By the time I was eleven, I’d already witnessed the Senator’s shows of solidarity more than once: the men, my father included, taking off their caps to shake his hand, and now and then the Senator inviting a few of them to sit down at his table. His shining, well-pleased face glowed in the light of the bar lamps. The Labor Relations Act of 1966, as everyone knows, was almost entirely his doing.

When I was a boy the coal train still blasted its two-note whistle at eight, four, and ten, approaching the drop-gate on Bridge Street, and you could board a passenger train at Saline Station and not get off till Baltimore. But five years ago the last of the rail bed was converted to bicycle path, and all the mines are long sealed. For most of the seventies and eighties, the economy around here provided wood and coal and rock, but not much else. People scraped by. Which is one reason, I think, that Henry Bonwiller was so loved, even though he was a social and economic liberal in a county of close-lipped lowlanders.

It sat at the apex of a hundred-thousand-acre triangle of land—almost a quarter of the county. Eoghan Metarey had been born to a village farrier, but by the age of thirty-six he’d already laid the railroad linking Albany with Washington and had mined the richest coal seam in Nova Scotia. This was at a time when coal powered most of New England’s industry and would soon power all the new electric plants for New York’s growing train-stop suburbs. Shortly before the first settlement boom in our part of the state, he’d built his three lumber mills between Saline and Lake Erie and bought the forests to supply them.

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