Rail gang highlights heritage week events

May 11, 1997


Staff Writer

Braving the apparent return of winter, supporters of the Hagerstown Roundhouse Museum let a group of former railroad workers take them back in time - back before machines replaced the lining bar gangs.

As part of the museum's Railroad Heritage Week, The Buckingham Lining Bar Gang, from Buckingham, Va., demonstrated the work they did years ago - lining and maintaining train tracks.

"By trains running every day, every few days the tracks were knocked left and right," said re-enactor Charles W. White Sr., 66. "They needed constant work. These men lived on the tracks."


The six men, dressed in jeans, black jackets and blue and white striped caps, agreed that railroad life was hard.

"Young people should know that what little work they do today for $20 an hour, we did five times as much as that for $3 a day," said E. J. Holloway, 77, a retired Pullman porter and track builder, who worked for railroads for 25 years.

Holloway is recognized by his vocal cords. He's the "caller" of the group and his chants start the men working:

"Reason I love my baby so - she makes five dollars and gives me four."

"Captain, captain, you're so mean - you won't give me time to eat my beans."

"Don't mind working from sun to sun - but I want my money when payday comes."

Each chant is repeated by the other men as they lift and push the track at the same time.

They also showed how spikes were driven, using rotating wrist motion and increasing striking speeds.

"Chants helped relieve the monotony and the drudgery of work," White said.

"But the main purpose was to get the men in sync. If one was pushing and the other wasn't, nothing would happen. Everybody had to heave on that bar at the same time. It was teamwork."

The 16-member Buckingham Lining Bar Gang performs nationwide, "demonstrating how old railways used to be," White said. Most of the men are retired railroad workers age 60 and up.

"We do have a railroad heritage in Hagerstown," said Rick Eyler, chairman of 1997's Heritage Day committee and member of the museum's board of directors.

"At one time, the railroads employed 75 percent of the people in Hagerstown."

"I have two kids that want to see the trains," said Hagerstown resident Bob Stine, who came with his sons Sam, 1, and Joe, 4.

"It's Joe's birthday. He's having a ball. This is not his first trip here."

Stine, 38, said that he enjoyed the lining gang's chants.

The museum's hours today are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Buckingham Lining Bar Gang will do one demonstration at 1 p.m. Admission is $2.50 for adults and $.50 for children ages 3 to 12.

The exhibits include photographs, films, models, railroad equipment, an antique fire engine and a trolley that once ran in Hagerstown.

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