Gandy Dancers-1952

By Keith Gibson

School was finally out for the summer and a bunch of us kids were down at the Nevada Northern depot, waiting to find out if we would be hired.  We slowly filed in the office and filled out the necessary forms and luckily were all hired.  We had to fill out a form  for a Social Security number.  Two weeks later to my surprise I got two letters from the SS.  Each one had a SS card.  I called them and was told that once a number was assigned it could not be revoked, and that I was warned to only use one of them.  About every 10 years I get a letter telling me the same thing.

After getting signed up at the office, we went out onto the tracks to meet the big boss.  We were to lay a new section of track to be used as an inspection siding.  Ore cars would be held there before going into the repair shop.  I think the boss was a Mr. Mattioni (sp) and our lead man was Gene Tognetti.  Work started at the exact second the whistle blew and stopped at the second the whistle blew again,  with a 10 minute break in the morning,  It was very hard work and all new to us. We learned  how to use the small shovels to stick in a tie and pull it into position and then tamp it down securely.  We were also introduced to the tongs that were used to carry rails around with.  Each tong was held by two men and with 3-4 pairs on each end of the rail, lifting at the same time, we packed them into place.  The tie plates were put in place and the spikes driven in.   The rails were joined together with a large steel plate on both sides and bolts put in and tightened.  Then the boss would get down and sight along the rail and have us tamp the ties some more to raise the track up to level.  It was hot hard work, but we were young and adapted to it quickly.

One day someone suggested that we have some fun.  He had noticed that the police were stopping cars at the west end of Ely for a spot safety check.  We decided to have a safety check ourselves.  The overpass was right above us.  The plot thickened.  There was a wooden sawhorse close by that had the words-“car inspection” on it.  It was for the new siding we were putting in.  We took it up on the overpass and proceeded to stop cars.  Gene had an official looking white hard hat and a clipboard, so things did look official.  The rest of us, asked the drivers to turn on lights etc, and then Gene would let them pass.  This sham lasted only about 15 minutes.  Someone heard several sirens coming our way and so we high tailed it down under the overpass.  A local cop came down and asked us if we had seen anybody stopping cars and of course we all played dumb.

The work was very hard and some of the older kids would play pranks on the younger ones, like asking them to go get a rail stretcher or a rail bender.  There is such a thing as a bender, but no rail stretcher.  All in all it was an exciting summer of work and the pay was good.  The experience came into good use years later when we went to work at KCC and started on the bull gang and then moved up to the track gang.  It felt good to be qualified for a real man’s job.