Museum seeks Gandy dancer history


First Posted: 3/23/2012

The National Railroad Museum and Hall of Fame, in Hamlet, recently framed two newspaper articles as part of an exhibit on Gandy Dancers.

The articles, both from 1972 editions of the Charlotte County (Fla.) Chronicle, were donated to the museum by a Mr. W.K. Russell.

“Gandy Dancers are the men who used to lay the railroad tracks by hand,” said Bill Williams, museum director. “I remember seeing them years ago. Of course, in those days you didn’t think to much about it. They were just out there doing their job. But you could hear them singing while they swung their hammers.”

No one seems to know for sure where the term “Gandy dancer” originated, though it has been speculated that “Gandy” is a reference to a tool company that supplied the workers, and the “dance” is the rhythm the men kept as they worked their way down the tracks.

“The term ‘dancer’ comes from the rhythm of the hammers on the spikes,” said Tim Levinger, museum director. “The railroads were built on those men’s blood sweat and tears.”

Part of what made the Gandy dancers unique was their ability to use worksongs as a pacemaker for their work. Callers would chant out tunes, and workers would keep pace with the rhythm.

The museum has other artifacts that would have been used by Gandy dancers, such as spike hammers and tongs used to move cross ties.

“We would love to find more information, old newspaper articles or artifacts related to Gandy dancers,” said Levinger.

The museum is also seeking to find any former Gandy dancers still living, or relatives who might know more about the culture and history of the workers.

The museum is located on Hwy 74 business, across from the Hamlet City Lake, and the phone number is 910-582-3555.

Gandy dancer song lyrics from Maggie Holtzberg’s documentary film Gandy Dancers.

I don’t know but I’ve been told

Susie has a jelly roll

I don’t know…huh

But I’ve been told…huh

Susie has…huh

A jelly roll…huh

Also:

Up and down this road I go

Skippin’ and dodging a 44

Hey man won’t you line ‘um…huh

Hey won’t you line ‘um…huh

Hey won’t you line ‘um…huh

Hey won’t you line ‘um…huh

Well I’ve been out East

And way out West

I believe I like

Alabama the best

Been out East…huh

Been out West…huh

I think I like…huh

Alabama the best…huh

Recipe for Gandy Dancer Biscuits, as recorded in Charlotte County (Fla.) Chronicle’s 1972 article Seaboard Railroad Cook Feeds Ten Hungry Men, Four Days a Week, for $50

“Serves ten hungry men or 20 ordinary people”

3 cups sifted flour

2 cups non-fat dry milk

6 tablespoons baking powder

5 1/4 tablespoons salt

2 cups lard or 3 cups cooking oil

4 1/4 cups water

Combine flour, milk, baking powder and salt in mixing bowl. Blend in lard or oil, beat until mixture is course in consistency, while gradually adding water. Place dough on floured board, knead until dough is smooth. Roll out to 1/2 inch or more thickness, cut in circles with cutter and place biscuits on greased cookie sheet or pan. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 or 20 minutes, until golden brown. Remove and butter immediately, and serve piping hot.

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