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Gandy Dancing on the Rock Island, McFarland, KS

-by Greg Hoots-

McFarland, Kansas was a railroad town, literally.  The town was located, designed, and platted to accommodate the intersection of various lines of the Chicago, Rock Island, & Pacific Railway, also known as the Rock Island Railroad.  At one point in time, most of the people who lived in McFarland worked for the Rock Island or provided services to Rock Island workers. 

The McFarland section crew traveled to the worksite on this flatbed car.

At various stations along the rail line, groups of maintenance workers were organized into “section gangs” who repaired and maintained the tracks along a specific length of track. The section workers were often referred to as “gandy dancers”, a term derived from the synchronized “dance” that the men performed to lift the heavy sections of track for repair and replacement. The term “gandy” was perhaps derived from the name of the manufacturer of the hand tools used by the section crew men.

McFarland section crew memebers perform their “gandy dance” on tracks near McFarland, Kansas.

McFarland, Kansas was a major hub for the Rock Island Railway, and its rail yards contained a roundhouse, coal chute, and a maze of rail lines which allowed trains to be directed to various lines, and individual rail cars could be switched within the yard. 

The McFarland section crew work on the CRIP rails near McFarland, Kansas.

In the summer of 1953, the late John Henderson landed a seasonal job with the Rock Island Railway, working on the McFarland section crew. Henderson, who had just graduated from Alma High School, was lured by the railroad’s good wages paid for summer work, and during his stint with the Rock, John Henderson took a number of photographs of the workers on the section gang.  The Flint Hills Special is pleased to present ten of John Henderson’s photos from his time on the Rock Island Line. 

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