“John Henry’s Resume” by Dustin M. Hoffman

john henry
John Henry’s Mad, Dan Rico


John Henry
Height: 6’0  Weight: 200 (lbs)
Talcott, West Virginia


Seeking steel-driving work so brutal a normal man’s intestines would erupt right on the tracks. Give me work steam-bellied machines can’t stomach. Give me that heart-halting work. I’m dedicated, passionate, earnest, etc., about steel-driving. And if you don’t have steel that needs driving, tracks to stretch, mountains to crush? I assure you steel needs driving everywhere. Staples? Elevators? Office chairs? I’m more than just this steel and sinew. I am a critical thinker and creative problem solver, and many problems can be easily solved by the sledgehammer.

Professional Skills

  • Steel-driving, of course
  • Transportation Engineering: Proficient in block, bridge, Barlow and edge rails, as well as bullheaded, double-headed, flanged T, and vignoles. Groove and girder give me no problem, but I won’t mess with any goddamn, worn-out, snake-headed strap rail. 
  • Geological Expertise: I drilled fourteen feet in one day against that clunky Burleigh steam drill’s nine feet. Hammered my hole through granite, limestone, sheets of mica, flashes of quartz and garnet. No mineral can stop me, only this flesh.
  • Keyboarding: 35 words per minute, and each key struck so sincerely it’ll burn through ribbon and paper and platen to brand your oaken desk in scorched letters. 

Career History

C&T Railway Incorporated 1869 – 1872 

  • Planned and executed 327 miles of the smoothest tracks below the Mason-Dixon line, and then we punched right up through it, up into the prairies of the Midwest. Iowa, maybe. Nebraska, perhaps. We lost track of states, stopped tallying endless ties and pins and sleepers. The foreman bellowed out each sweet mile like he was counting the length of our lives. 
  • Thrived in teamwork environment. Seeing how I required three shakers at a time, each turned their drills fast as they could so I could pound more rock. Those shakers lined up each morning to work under my perfect aim. I never crushed a hand, always striking true and deep, a most satisfying ring. 
  • Surpassed colleagues in performance efficiency. Pounded pins faster than they could set them, proving ability to self-motivate. Hell, I am self-motivation incarnate. 
  • Embraced technological innovation, working alongside steam-powered mechanizations.  Nay, not just side-by-side; I surpassed, overtook, obliterated any thought of my sledgehammer’s obsolescence, to prove these muscles and sinews wired up to this gray brain don’t ever settle for second place. Only experienced mild death via intestinal herniation and myocardial rupture. My insides couldn’t keep up with what I got on the outside. Can’t blame me for God’s failed design. You should see the machine. Enough scraps to make a quarter-mile of rail. 

Smith’s Apprentice for Bob Smith 1865 – 1869  

  • Thrived in a fast-paced work environment, dodging sparks and forge surges, and only once burned my elbow so bad a white star shone through singed skin. 
  • Adapted to new skills quickly, studying advanced chemical properties and alchemical mathematics. Of course, Bob didn’t much care for measuring or computing or any kind of planning. Didn’t care much for me, didn’t care much for anything. His philosophy was every metal has a melting point. Let the fire decide. Let it tell you how to heat until you had a thing worth using. 
  • How do you think I made my sledgehammer? Through the forge, even steel shackles can become a thing worth using.
  • Showed perseverance against adversary. Bob Smith and John Henry—a pair of poorly named men who’d lost and lost and now burned all that losing in the forge. Bob never offered sympathy. Wife dead. Daughter dead. He knew me long as he knew them; his new family dead from one wicked spell of dysentery. I knew myself as John Henry, the name I picked, as long as I knew Bob Smith. No one knew anyone long enough. 

Before Steel-Driving 1846 – 1865 

  • Born into a time that stretched more slowly than the millions of pins I drove if you walked barefoot atop each point. This time was hardly time and yet a lifetime, and who gets to count it? Not you.


  • Ever heard steel striking iron? How about the ring of steel on steel? Listen for fifteen strikes per minute. Listen to nine hundred pings per hour. Listen to a day of 9,000 steel strikes, 63,000 per week. A month of a quarter-million swings and pings teaching you how metal sings and keeps singing to you even at night, shrieking against your pillow, a million ghosts hammering into you forever.


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Dustin M. Hoffman is the author of the story collection No Good for Digging and the chapbook Secrets of the Wild, both published by Word West Press. His first collection One-Hundred-Knuckled Fist won the 2015 Prairie Schooner Book Prize. He painted houses for ten years in Michigan and now is an associate professor of creative writing at Winthrop University in South Carolina. His stories have recently appeared in The Masters    ReviewWigleafBull: Men’s FictionRedivider, and Juked.