The navvies, or migrant workers, usually called “slusk” in this area, worked hard and long hours for very little pay and few days off. The work was risky and difficult in the steep terrain in Tyssedal and Skjeggedal. Much of the work had to be done hanging from ropes in the mountain sides. In 1 ½ years these 500 navvies were able to build a tunnel from Skjeggedal to Lilletopp, a power station, penstocks, a spillway tunnel in Lake Ringedal, quay, ropeway, office building, engineers’ houses, barracks, and a power line to Odda.
The Navvies - SLUSK. Photo: Kraftmuseet archives
The worst thing about the barracks was the wall lice. Anders Gavle remembers how the bed legs were placed in dry-milk cans filled with paraffin to keep the lice away. But the lice found a way: they climbed up along the walls, out on to the ceiling and dropped themselves into the beds. Gavle goes on to say how layers of lice skeletons were found behind the wall panelling when the barracks were torn down.
The barracks on the construction site on mount Oksla in 1907. Photo: Kraftmuseet archives
The penstocks were built at the same time as Tyssedal power station, and made history in several ways. It was the first time penstocks had been built for such high pressure, and in such steep terrain. Most of the installation was done in the winter, when the mountain was covered in ice and snow. At the steepest the mountain slants 60 degrees. The workers had to literally hammer themselves to the mountain on makeshift scaffolding, or hang from ropes along the mountainsides. They had to carry cement and wood for masonry and formwork on their backs. The rest of the materials were transported on the funicular which ran alongside the penstocks.
Hazardous working conditions. Photo: Kraftmuseet archives
By the fjord the granite foundations for the power station were drilled, split and carved by hand. Ships came with bricks, machines, steel constructions, and gigantic penstocks. The steep mountains were cleared, thousands of bolts were hammered into the mountain, and the penstock base was cemented. 7 ton penstock pieces were dragged up by hand, using pulleys and snatch blocks, and welded together using red hot rivets. The five penstocks were 720 metres long and had a vertical drop of 400 metres.
Working hours were twelve per day. Photo: Kraftmuseet archives