Friday, August 05, 2005

Question: gandy dancers?

From: "Jessica Pierce"

I'm writing an article on gandy dancers for Alabama Heritage Magazine, and I'm wondering if you can help me out with a bit of research.

While trying to track down the source of the phrase, I came across this page.

This states the belief of Charles Albi, director of the Colorado Railroad Museum, that the term comes from the fact that railroad workers used tools made by the Gandy Manufacturing Company. This is a theory I've seen elsewhere as well, but I have yet to see any proof that such a company actually existed. This lack of proof has often been cited as a reason the term must have originated some other way... but I certainly haven't found an explanation that makes any more sense!

Jessica Pierce


Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Wendell Huffman"

I believe John H. White Jr was working on this once and pretty much determined that there is no record of there ever having been a Gandy-whatever-Company having anything to do with railroads.


8/05/2005 9:10 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

" ... The idea that it referred to a Chicago business named the Gandy Manufacturing Company—which supposedly supplied a variety of tools to railway workers—seems to rest on a reference in a book called Railroad Avenue by Freeman H Hubbard, published in 1945. Several people have searched for this business, but have failed to find any trace of it in railway trade journals or Chicago city directories of the period. However, a number of otherwise reputable works continue to give this as the source. ... "

From World Wide Words by Michael Quinion.

8/05/2005 9:57 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Don"

This link has a very interesting comment on gandy dancers, and might actually be the right answer.

This from the Oxford English Dictionary
1923 N. ANDERSON Hobo vi. 93 A 'gandy dancer' is a man who works on the railroad track tamping ties.
1929 Amer. Speech V. 172 Gandy dancing is not considered a very honorable profession.
1933 Ibid. VIII. 26/2 Gandy dancer, section hand. (From the rhythmic up-and-down motion of workers pumping a handcar.)
1957 J. KEROUAC On Road (1958) III. vi. 215 Working in a railroad gandy-dancing cookshack.
1959 J. THURBER Years with Ross iv. 63 They discussed the parlance of railroading deadhead, highball, whistle stop, gandy dancer.
1970 F. MCKENNA Gloss. Railwaymen's Talk 35 Footplatemen have a great regard for gandy dancers, the men who keep the rail safe for the train to run over.

8/07/2005 1:41 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

Until and unless someone is actually able to locate the much rumored "Gandy Mfg Co" in Chicago or somewhere else I'm inclined to believe the origin of "Gandy Dancer" lies somewhere else.

The Oxford English Dictionary definitions only go back to 1923, and I somehow thought the term was rather older. I think I'd look for "gandy" as a slang term separate from the railroad, maybe related to "dandy," then applied to the track workers in some secondary association.

But that is just speculation, not based on any actually concrete knowledge.

Kyle K. Wyatt
Curator of History & Technology
California State Railroad Museum
111 "I" Street
Sacramento, CA 95814

My work address is:
My personal address is:

8/07/2005 9:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was a Gandy dancer for two summers during the years 1958 and 1959. Our job was to replace bad railroad ties over long stretches of track. With a team of 12 we would replace from 250 to 700 bad ties per day depending on the type of track bed and how far apart the bad ties were. We had two names that I recall, tie gang and the more poetic, Gandy dancer. The name Gandy dancer comes from the huge machine that pulled the new tie under the tracks after the old one was removed; it was called the Gandy. There were workers in front of, on and behind the Gandy doing various jobs, (dancing) to get a bad tie properly replaced. I worked primarily at three of those jobs while there: spike puller, tamper and spiker. Occasionally, we were deployed on an emergency basis to repair and replace full sections of track where train wrecks had occurred. I worked on two of these wrecks.

A full Gandy dancer crew moves down a section of track performing several jobs to replace bad ties. Prior to the Gandy dancers entering the scene, another crew will have marked the ties needing replacement and dropped off new ties along one side of the tracks. The first job is spike pulling. Next the old tie is sawed on the inside of each rail leaving it in three pieces. The center tie piece is pulled out and a hydraulic device called an end butter is dropped into the hole, expands and pushes the two ends out from under the rails. The ends are then pulled away, and the gravel on one side, (where the new ties are) is dug out enough to feed a new tie just under the rail. The new tie is then manually dragged into place with an ice tong like tool and inserted a few inches under one rail. The Gandy, a heavy machine on steel train wheels, is now driven over the new tie. The Gandy driver lets out a steel wench cable positioned just above the rail. A worker grabs a long handle connected to a hook at the end of the cable, pulls it out and hooks it around the far end of the new tie. Working together, the Gandy driver begins to wench the tie under both rails while the worker uses the long handle on the hook to guide the tie up and down, or left and right as needed. Next two workers with shovels tamp gravel under the new tie until it is up tight against the rails. The old tie plates are then retrieved and inserted between the rails and the new tie. This is done by hand using a huge lift bar to pick the rail up off of the tie just far enough to slide the tie plate under. The same worker then starts four new spikes by hand using a small sledge hammer. This is followed by a spiker who pounds the spikes in using an air hammer. The final job is to redress the track bed by hand shoveling and grading the gravel.

I don't know who manufactured the Gandy or why it had the name. During my second year on the job it was replaced with a more complicated machine that did the end butting and removed enough gravel to start the new tie, as well as pull the new tie under the rails. At first, the new machine had many bugs and was slower than the old setup so our foreman decided to use it to do only what the old Gandy did. I left the job about then. A year or two later, while driving one day, I saw the dancers working and the new machine was doing the end butting.

Best Regards,

Martin R. Marshall

7/19/2007 8:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My Grandfather and my father both worked for many years on the railroad. They work the section where they fixed the ties, rails, rock,crossings and whatever else needed done. My father competed in Gandy Dancing competions where they time you driving 5 spikes then time you pulling the same five and combine the score. My fathers best time was a combined total of just 32 seconds. I never saw anyone do better! He is passed away now but his legend lives on.

7/19/2012 10:19 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

The story of the Gandy Dancers has always bothered me because my family's Irish Crest is Gandy as so is my last name. My father came from Ireland and worked on the railroads as so did my grandfather. I have been told that the name stemmed from the original group of Irishmen that were my greats. But I've only read that the true origination of the name has never been known. Heres where the truly unfortunate lies, my father was already very old by the time I was born. He was born in 1913 and I was born in 1978. I had a few lucid years with him before his mind started to deteriorate because of the drink. In 1993 he passed away and I only knew my aunt and uncle briefly before they too passed away. Now of course with everyone being very old I had never met my grandparents and there wasn't much to pass along to me. My great uncle Winifred, my father, my mother and a few cousins passed along this information. We have been the Gandys since the beginning and I will be a Gandy until I die. My family helped build the railroads and died by the railroads. I also forgot to mention that they all immigrated to Georgia, Pavo and Thomasville to be exact and that's where I was born. I know my family were extremely tough people and when one couldn't work on the railroads then they roofed. I just wish I could've known them

8/14/2016 12:47 PM  

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