The Gandy He Broke Even

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

In a small ND town in the fifties, a young girl is carried away by gypsies and rescued by a gandy

Gandy dancer aka gandy:  a railroad section worker


Back in the 50's, everything in this small midwestern town revolved around the railroad.  In the middle of the town was a depot. It was a long low brick structure with a large flat rock platform covering the area between the depot and the railroad.  There were three sets of rails.  One was for the main traffic, the next a sidetrack for trains going in the opposite direction and the third for the stockyard, elevator and ice house.

In the summer the ice house was filled with sawdust and large chunks of ice.  There were also large tongs to handle the ice.  

There were always one or two cars parked at the grain elevator sidetrack waiting to be filled with wheat to ship to the west coast.  Around the cars were large grain doors to be inserted as the cars were filled with wheat.  The grain doors made very good roadblocks on Halloween.

The stockyards were only used a few times a year.  They were an excellent place for young boys to play because they had wide boards across the top to balance on.  You could also put pennies on the track and watch them get flattened.  Or you could test your bravery by sitting under the bridge as the train rummbled over or by seeing who could stand the closest to a speeding train.  Speeding trains would also toss out large bags of mail without slowing down and would reach out a long arm to snatch the outgoing mail bag from a the device wher it was hanging. 

The depot consisted of living quarters for the agent and his family. It was a challenge to sleep fifty feet from the sound of the passing trains.  The depot agent was responsible for everything from selling tickets to loading freight.  The depot also had a passenger waiting room, an office area and a large warehouse.  Farm kids would bring in 8 gallon cans of cream to be shipped off to be made in to butter or ice cream.  There was a wide flat cart where the cream cans would be carried from the farm pickup to the depot and from the depot to the train.

It was on the third rail where the gandy cars would park.  They looked like freight cars with a couple of small windows on each side.  There was no electricity and no running water.  No place to shower or wash clothes. Facilities consisted of the outdoor biffies at the depot.  

The gandies were men, but ocassionally they brought along a family.  They were usually deeply tanned and unshaven.  Their clothes were dirty from the type of work they did. They would head out early each morning in their little carts to repair or replace spikes, ties infused with creosote or the rails.  Some times they worked on the rock base supporting the rails.  About the only contact they had with locals was at the local watering hole or the grocery store.  On many weekends they would go back to their home communities. They would work in one town for three or four weeks and then move on to the next town.  

Little girls were warned not to go near the gandy cars.

On this particular September morning, there were four gandies living in two separate cars.  Three of them lived in one car and the other lived in the second car with his wife and his five year old daughter Alice.  His name was Joe Deshno.  Deshnos had little or no contact with the community. They did their grocery shopping at home over the weekend, and went to church in their hometown. Joe did not go to the local bar.  Although the crew had been in town for three weeks, no one in town other than the depot agent had ever spoken to Joe or his family.  Alice could be seen playing outdoors during the day.

Six year old Linda Morse lived one block from the depot.  Linda's dad, Nick, operated a bar/restaurant and the family lived behind it.  In order to get to and from school, Linda had to go by the gandy cars.  She had always been warned about the gandies, so she would run as quick as she could by the cars on her way to and from school. It always made her apprehensive.  On this day, on the way hopme from school, Linda saw Alice and the two girls stopped and looked at each other, both wondering about the other. 

Late that afternoon, a caravan of gypsies came in to town and parked near the bar.  Everyone had heard about gypsies, but they were still a rare sight.  There were two covered trucks and one was pulling a covered trailer.  The trucks were brightly colored and the music was loud.  The women all wore brightly colored long dresses.

A couple of the gypsie men and women went in to Nick's bar.  There were 3 regulars in the bar at the time--a farmer, the local elevator operator and the custodian maintenance man from the drug store down the street.  Their attension was drawn to the gypsies.  One of the gypsie women started an argument with Nick that she had given him a $20 bill, not a $5 bill, and she wanted her change. Nick nodded to his wife and she went out the backdoor of the bar and called the local constable.  Within ten minutes there were three deputies outside of the bar standing behind their vehicles and watching.  Inside, Mrs Morse made all of the children keep away from the windows. 

Joe Deshno was watching the whole affair from just outside of his railcar.

The Sheriff entered the bar and approached the gypsies. After a short conversation, they left the bar, got into their trucks and headed out of town.  

No one noticed that Linda Morse was no longer in the house.   That is, no one but Joe Deshno.  He immediatly ran north two blocks because he knew the trucks would have to stop there and turn to go west on the highway leaving town.  He got to the stop sign before the trucks did.  As the second truck pulled out, Joe darted across the highway behind the truck and with his left arm reached out and snagged Linda from the back of the truck.  They rolled on the side of the highway.  Linda got road rash on her leg and arm.  Joe's face was bloodied.

Linda got up screaming loudly and ran toward home. She would run and then slow down and sob. Joe walked behind her.  About one half block from home, Nick heard the cries of his daughter and came running out  toward Joe.  You could see the anger in his eyes.  He scooped up Linda and glared at Joe standing there, Alice now hugging on to his leg.  

Nick set Linda down and approached Joe. Joe looked back at him with a calm quiet demeanor. It was then that Nick realized that Joe was not responsible for Linda crying.  The two men never said anything to each other.  Nick nodded to Joe and Joe nodded back, recognizing that Nick was expressing his appreciation as only a father could.  It was not until later that Nick found out from a man at the service station exactly what Joe had done.  

The next day on the way to school, Linda stopped and played ring-around-the-rosie with Alice.  For Nick, it was one of those things that a father thinks back on from time to time and thinks about what could have been.  To Joe, it was one of those things that a guy thinks back on and just smiles. 



Submitted: September 14, 2016

© Copyright 2020 M Maus. All rights reserved.

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