Date: Fri, 6 Mar 1998 09:56:58 +0000
From: Jim Rader jrader[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]M-W.COM
Subject: jerry; gandy dancer [lengthy]

RHHDAS and DARE have done the first documentation of _jerry_ "section
worker," which is missing from general dictionaries as far as I have
looked. The date of the first RHHDAS cite, "ca. 1867," is
misleading, though. Lighter has taken it from a long extract in the
book _Makin' track: The Story of the Transcontinental Railroad in the
Pictures and Words of the Men Who Were There_, edited by Lynne Rhodes
Mayer and Kenneth E. Vose and published by Praeger in 1975. The
extract in Mayer and Vose is attributed only to "reporter Cy Warman,"
with no bibliographical citation. I believe the source of the quote
is Cy Warman's book _The Story of the Railroad_ (New York: D.
Appleton & Co., 1898). The passage in question (p. 95-96) is worth quoting in

- The average grader can take care of himself in a rough-and-tumble
- fight, and the boss will not resort to pick handles, as sea-captains
- do to marline spikes, according to sea stories. To be sure, there
- are exceptions in men and circumstances. There have been times when
- the "Jerries" and "Dagos" have got mixed, when the boss and his
- assistants have been obliged to face the rioters and quiet them with
- a formidable display of firearms; but if there are no "foreigners,"
- but just Irish and ordinary labourers, the boss rules his subjects
- with comparative ease.

Warman was born in 1855 (according to _Who Was Who in America_) and
started his railroad career in the 1880's; he could not be considered
a firsthand source for railroading language of ca. 1867, and the date
of the cite should be 1898.

The second cite in RHHDAS is from Norm Cohen's _Long Steel Rail: The
Railroad in American Folksong_ (Urbana: Univ. of Ill. Press, c1981).
In this case, the date of 1888 is documented. Cohen quotes from a
broadside ballad, "The Hand-Car That Never Returned" by Alexander
Malin (a parody of "The Ship That Never Returned" by Henry Clay
Work), copyrighted, according to Cohen, in 1888:

- On a Winter's day, as the Train was whistling through the
- "Transcontinental" Gate,
- A Hand Car started, with its burden laden, over Section
- seventy-eight.
- There was many a joke among the "Jerrys," for their thoughts were
- unconcerned,
- They little knew 'twas their last sad voyage on the Hand-Car that
- never returned.

This is quibbling, but I have run across a number of cites in the
first two volumes of RHHDAS that are like the above two: secondary
sources are cited, and you can only get at the original authors--in
this case Cy Warman and Alexander Malin--by running to the library
and looking up the secondary sources. Every historical dictionary
does this to some degree, but RHHDAS a bit more than others, I think.
I suppose this is a consequence of the project having been a
one-person operation for many years; Lighter simply could not have
taken the time to track down every reference. There is also the
problem of dating by the period the author was referring to, on the
assumption that s/he was an eyewitness--another device resorted to by
other historical dictionaries. In some cases it works; in the case
of Cy Warman, who was twelve years old in 1867, it doesn't.

RHHDAS defines _jerry_ as "a section worker, orig. one who is Irish,"
though nothing in the cites justifies "orig. one who is Irish." The
Warman quote I give above could be read as equating _Jerries_ with
"Irish and ordinary labourers," but that's as far as it goes.

While on railroad language, I can't help mentioning the better known
expression for a section hand, _gandy dancer_. Neither RHHDAS nor
any other source I have run across dates this any earlier than 1918.
It seems like it should be antedatable, at least from the first
decade of the century. One of Lighter's cites gives the hypothesis
that the source of _gandy_ was a Gandy Manufacturing Company in
Chicago that made tools for section gangs. When I worked freelance
out of the University of Chicago library, I once spent an afternoon
in the basement of Regenstein looking through railroad trade journals
of the period 1890-1915. There were lots of equipment ads, but no
Gandy. Chicago city directories for the period also did not list a
Gandy Manufacturing Company. This etymology is cited as "probably"
the source in DARE and Webster New World, but as far as I'm
concerned, it's bogus pending new evidence.

Jim Rader