What Is A Gandydancer?


What Is A Gandydancer?

The piece below is a segment of a larger picture.

People I know with a railroad background have wondered what the railroad term Gandydancer pertains to?  There’s even a song about the gandydancers ball.

My grandfather’s name was Dietrich Sr.  This is a story about how I as a ten year old boy with his grandfather in ‘the box cars, learned what a gandydancer is.

Dietrich Sr. and the Grand Trunk

At the beginning of his career Dietrich Sr. had something to do with bridge building in some engineering capacity.

Later toward the end of his career, I went with him to the box cars where he investigated injuries or misconduct where the traveling gandydancers lived, 25 to 50 men sleeping in box cars, traveling place to place where their strength and manpower was needed. A rough bunch mostly immigrant workers finding their foothold in the new country and ‘no goods’.

I don’t know where the actual word “gandy’ came from I think it came from eastern Europe but I know what the term ‘gandydance’ means.

Dietrich Sr. told me the actual gandy ‘dance’ is the motion of 50 or more gandy’s each equipped with an iron bar with a dull point on the end, placed under the rails, pulling their bars on command, quick pulls in unison to re-align the rails after doing maintenance on the tracks replacing ties or rails, building crossings or working derailments.

From a distance their movements, seen through the shimmer of heat rising from the stone beds and fumes rising from the creosote in the ties and the the glare from the polished rails appear with a strange, shimmering snake like motion since there’s a split second delay from one man to the next pulling on their bars.  In other words, they don’t all pull at the same time.

This strange, shimmering, almost otherworldly motion is, according to Dietrich Sr. the gandy’s dance making them, the gandydancers!

Later that day I watched him interview some rough looking guy in the dining/kitchen box car about some fight the guy was in.. The rough looking guy kept looking at me like he resented my presence and wanted to kick my ass.

It was all very formal. Deac Sr. was straight forward with the questions at times pointed in his desire for the truth.

I had one big meal with them. Lots of meat and potatoes. Good food was one of the incentives for being a gandy in the first place. That and you could hide from the world.

It’s not a bad job if you’ve got no skills and are willing to work hard at different locations, if you don’t mind sleeping with a bunch of men who snore and fart in their sleep, immigrants who don’t speak English, making new lives for themselves and the ‘no goods’a bunch of foul mouthed drunks who talked about sex constantly like they were having a contest to see who could refer to it in the most vile terms possible.

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