According to legend, he was born with a hammer in his hand. He and some other freed slaves are building the railroad until a man with a machine comes along claiming the machine can drive more railroad spikes. When the driver burns up the contract in the machine's furnace, John stops the enraged workers from toppling the machine. Instead, he makes the driver a wager: if John beats the machine in constructing the railroad by sundown, the promised land would be given to the workers. He wields two sledgehammers to do double the work. They end up tunneling through a mountain. John prevails, but he suddenly collapses from experiencing too much pressure while racing the steam drill. As Polly rushes to husband, she hands John his sledgehammer just as he lets out his last breath. Thus John died with a hammer in his hand just like he vowed, but his legacy continued to live on.