Friday, September 19, 2008

Gandy Dancers--Not What You Think

My brother told me one of the items I found in my dad’s shop was a gandy. “Haven’t you heard of gandydancers?” I knew they were railroad workers and that’s about all. The tool looks like a giant crow bar with a cow’s hoof on the end. It is 68 inches long, solid iron and weighs 35 pounds. It was all I could do to lift it. Since ancestors on both sides of my dad’s family were in the railroad business---even helping push through the first narrow-gauge rail from Ogden, Utah over Monida Pass to Butte, Montana in 1881—I decided to keep the huge bar. I can't be certain my grandfather or father actually used it, (Dad may have bought it at a farm sale), but I consider it part of my heritage.

Now what are Gandy Dancers? I go to the all-knowing Wikpedia. Gandy dancer is a
slang term for workers who maintained railroads in North America. Hand crews used specialized hand tools known as gandies to lever rail tracks into position. Oral history from some railroad towns has it that the term originated from the gandydancer's original job of positioning rails to be nailed to ties. These were carried by the crew straddling the rail at intervals and reaching between their feet to lift and carry it into place, in the process looking like a line of waddling geese. They became known as ganders and the process as gander dancing, ultimately corrupted to gandydancing.
For each stroke, a worker would lift his gandy and force it into the ballast to create a
fulcrum, then throw himself sideways using the gandy to check his full weight so the gandy would push the rail toward the inside of the curve. Even with all impacts from the work crew timed correctly, any progress made in shifting the track would not become visible until after a large number of repetitions.
(Using our cat to establish relative size was probably a bad idea. He weighs 23 pounds)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Buckets of Rust

I ended up with the task of emptying my father’s tool shop. I was assisted by Hubby and a brother and his wife. The guys went through the tools and recognized most. “Look, a chamber reamer for a diesel engine!” “Hey, a railroad gandy’s bar.” They rejected almost all the items and divvied up the rest. Now we were left with a lot of trash and plenty of junk. The suggestion was made to take the metal items to be recycled. Everyone left me with the job of sorting. I picked out the brass and aluminum from the iron with the result of heavy buckets of nails, staples, bolts, tools, engine thingies and unidentified parts. The recycle place was in the next town so Hubby took pity on me and loaded the stuff in the pickup. Pacific Recycling took the bucket of brass and the bucket of aluminum and sent us around back with the buckets of iron. There we saw a construction crane the size of a brontosaurus. It had an electro magnet big as a Volkswagen that was picking up scrap iron out of the back of a truck. A rusty colored guy took our buckets of bolts and sent us around to the office to be paid. We had to wait in line with some of unwashed hippie-types who had also brought in their aluminum cans. The bottom line was 380 lbs. of scrap iron, 12 lbs. of brass and 3 lbs. of aluminum. We were handed $20.80 for our efforts. That was just enough to pay for two combo meals and fifty miles worth of gasoline. The experience was the freebie.