Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Gandy dancer

In 1952 and 53 my summer job was working as a sectionman on the CN railway. The official title was a Maintainence of Way employee and the job was to maintain the track and right of way in good condition. The jobs included correcting the inevitable heaving of track on the mainline due to winter and summer extremes, changing deteriorated ties, and constant inspection for track defects. It was hard and heavy work and in that era the bulk of workers were of middle European origin. The job was critical to the smooth running of the railway and the track was aligned by educated eyeball at that time.Though some of the workers were married, many were not, and lived in bunkhouses in the small prairie towns we lived in. The wage was small but adequate for bunkhouse living, if that was your fate. I of course, was still living with my mum and dad and brothers so I had a family and all my needs met. I tried sharing the bunkhouse for a few days at the start, since it was more convenient to the workplace but I guess I was spoiled. I was content to walk the 5 miles back home after work.To call the railway track workers, gandy dancers, seems to me a derogation provided by someone who never did such a job but wanted to give it a romantic spin . It seems it arose in an earlier time for black railway workers in the south and Chinese workers in the west. Neither of those groups would have believed the job had a romantic spin. For me it served a useful purpose in that I knew what I didn't want to do. Why is it we try to color the reality a brighter picture than it really was? It may have been part of Jump Jim Crow originally. It may have been part of John Henry, the steel driving man. Gandy dancer indeed!

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