Sunday, March 30, 2014

Cold Day at the Roundhouse (Blogophilia 6.7)

Grey skies and a stiff breeze off the river greeted Hart as he left the building.  "Another nippy day at the Roundhouse", he thought as he took out his lunch. A strapping young man made bigger by the work on the rail cars, he was glad for a short break. Even at sixteen, he was known as "Big Man" for his 6 foot 8 inch frame and hard shoulders.  He'd only been working at the rail yard for a few months and Jack.Gilligan, the Foreman  had moved him from Boilerman to Switchman when he found out he could read. Most of the men didn't even know their numbers, much less whole words.

It wasn't that hard of a job. The Locomotives would pull into the Roundhouse, where other Switchmen would detach the couplings and push the cars back into the yard. Hart would then pull the rail switches to allow the cars to fall in place in the pattern required by the Yardmaster. Because he was such a strong kid, he was able to wrangle most cars where they needed to be. It wasn't the easiest job in Savannah, but it paid decently.  Enough to help the family in Bloomingdale through the bad crops for the year. The foreman assured him if he worked diligently, he could even be the Yardmaster someday.

Hart wasn't all that sure. He was just a country boy from a country family. Only reason he got this job was the farm sat just off the tracks and he had made friends with the Gandy Dancers as they made sure the tracks were good and one of them said he should come aboard and he could meet Mr.Gilligan. One thing led to another and here he was.

Pulling his coat a little closer to his collar, he noticed a newspaper on the table. He reached over and brushed the coal dust off and read. The headline stated: "Citizens Support New City Hall". Hart had heard around town the City Fathers had wanted a new building. Hart himself had been to the Savannah Exchange building to pay the taxes on Daddy's farm earlier in the year and marveled at how cramped everything was. It really was abut time. Maybe his brother Steve can get on with the construction crew? Lord knows, he needs something to keep him out of trouble since he got let go here.

The plans in the newspaper looked so grand. More than twice the space as the old building, but occupying the same space. Marveling at the artist's rendering, he wondered if the City needed any help? Then a whistle came from the center of the yard. Another train was due in.

He packed up the remains of his sandwich and he left


Some notes:

This nexus of this story is the construction of the current City Hall in Savannah, GA, which began in February 1903. The headline is from the Savannah Morning News, dated February 20, 1903.  The building was finished and opened to the public December 1906. 

Hartridge "Hart" Heath was my Grandfather and at the time of the story he was an apprentice at the Central of Georgia Railway terminal (also known as the Savannah Roundhouse). He would indeed become the Yardmaster in 1928, later working as the Overseas Freight Agent during the latter part of the 1930's, and finally retiring in Passenger Rail Operations in 1951. Sadly, he died 1955 a few years before I was born, so I never did get to know him. But the stories of his apprenticeship were well known in the family. 

A picture of the finished building:


  1. It was interesting even before the family connection, then doubly so... Felt like the start of a Louis L'Amour story... -David II

    1. I used to read a lot of L'Amour. My Dad was a fan. Anyway, when I was looking up headlines to use, I ran across the construction stuff. and remembered that was about the time Grandpa was an apprentice.

      City Hall is still one of the prettiest buildings in a town of gorgeousness.

  2. My grandfather worked on the railroads in his youth also. He had amazing stories for sure

  3. Very interestin piece here .. Love pictures .. :)


  4. Very cleaver - good story learned more about you and good prompts -- it didn't occur to me to look for headlines in the local paper

  5. Fascinating story! I find it so very interesting when an actual being, that is known by someone I know, has witnessed an event in history!

    8 points Earthling! :)


  6. This brought to mind some of the stories that a friend's father shared from his time of working in the railroad. :)


  7. Such an interesting slice of history. I love it!