Today the Point Pinole Regional Shoreline is part of the East Bay Regional Park District. But that site used to be the location of a dangerous nitroglycerin plant.
Previous disasters at its San Francisco and West Berkeley sites had forced the Giant Powder Co. to move to isolated Point Pinole.
In Giant's 23 years at Point Pinole, 16 workers were killed. The final explosion under Giant's tenure came in 1913 when the packinghouse exploded, killing four workers and leaving an 8-foot-deep crater where the building once stood.
The Atlas Powder Co. bought out Giant in 1915, and safety became the watchword under the new management.
Metal tools were replaced with rawhide-clad hammers and wooden shovels. Workers were told not to wear rings.
The same brooms were no longer nonchalantly used inside and out. Instead, there were now separate inside and outside brooms, because of the danger that gritty debris caught in a broom could cause sparks and the nitroglycerin would blow.
Workers were required to wear cuffless pants that could not pick up grit. Pockets were faced with a latticework to discourage employees from carrying matches and cigarettes. Elevated wooden walkways connected the buildings so that grit, nails or any other spark-causing debris would not be caught in shoe soles.
Bosses controlled what workers on the dynamite line talked about. Political and other distracting discussions were not allowed.
Only one disastrous explosion occurred while Atlas was in charge. It happened at 7:45 a.m. July 30, 1931, when a ton of blasting powder exploded. Fred Haynes, 30, of Albany, was killed. His brother, Elbert, 23, who was working nearby, escaped uninjured.
The only other fatality at the plant under Atlas happened on Dec. 18, 1938. Albert Ross, 25, of Richmond, was working alone in a shed when 1,400 pounds of black powder caught fire. There was no explosion, but Ross burned to death.
When Atlas acquired the powder plant at Point Pinole, it also got a village, a tiny community of 30 homes, which, not surprisingly, was called Giant.
Giant was a company town. The company owned all the homes and rented them out to workers, who had to be "on call." At times the village population reached about 100.
Rent was cheap, ranging from $10 a month for a spot in the bunkhouse to $17 for a two-bedroom home, including the drapes.
Giant had its own post office. Children attended Sobrante Grammar School. High school students hopped on the train at Giant Station to go to Richmond High School.
In the 1950s new developments in the explosives industry spelled the end of the dynamite industry on Point Pinole. Ammonium nitrate, the kind also used as fertilizer, worked well as a blasting agent and didn't blow up if it was carelessly handled. The Point Pinole plant, which had been designed solely for the manufacture of dynamite, became obsolete.
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