~~ ICRR Section Gang. ~~

The Rockport IC Railroad Section Gang.

As the name suggest, a "Railroad Section Gang" is a crew of men, with a foreman, that maintains a section of the railroad. In the first half of the twentieth century these "Gangs" also took care of the bridges and trestles for a certain section of the railroad. Later on, two different crews were organized to take care of this part of the railroad. A "Bridge Gang" maintained the bridges and trestles while the "Section Gang" took care of the rails and railroad bed. This was probably in the late seventies and by this time, this work had become mechanized. In the "Fifties" when this picture was taken, these men maintained their section of the railroad with very few mechanical tools. They used mostly hand tools and the work would have been difficult even if the weather was not considered. Add the "Hot and Dry" conditions of summer and the "Cold and Wet" conditions of winter, and this job was not for the "Faint-at-heart". It was a physically demanding job that a lot of men just could not do.

Same view of Rockport taken almost sixty years later.

When I first received this picture of the Rockport Section Gang, I recognized the crew and was able to name all of the men. Then, I looked a little closer and was thinking that the person taking the picture was standing with his back toward the river and looking at the old overhead bridge. Then it hit me-What was the Presbyterian Church doing "Across Town"? Also, what were those six white post just to the right of the church? Hum, I was confused and just could not pick up on where the picture was taken. The more I looked, the more that I became confused. I was sure that, in the time frame the picture was taken, no church was located "Across Town". Also, the white house on the right was not the house across the road from Peck Harris' old house. I had all of the people identified, but I was not able to identify the buildings and the six tall post in the background. I needed help.

I made up a packet and sent it out to a few people that I thought would know and I had good results in just hours. I sent the packet to Shirley Smith, Betty Sublett, Harold Welborn, Hilma Stewart and Gary Durham. Those people got on the ball. Shirley got with Jimmy Smith, Betty worked with her brother Kelly, Hilma enlisted Jimmy's help, and Gary pick up an old pro and Rockport Historian, James Barnes. It did not take that bunch long to establish that the picture was made with the photographer's back to the old Rockport Depot and once that was established, everyone agreed that the church, in the back ground, was the old Rockport Presbyterian Church. Gary actually got with James Barnes and they journeyed down to the old depot site and verified their answers. The six white poles were actually windows in the old Redman Building. The large building, to the left of the church was the old City Hall/Firehouse that was build above the old jail. It was located next to the overhead bridge. The other house to the left of City Hall is two streets over, and is next to the old Rhule House that Conard Barnes lives in today. The old Presbyterian Church was located on the same street. The Redman Building is located on Main Street. Sometimes, it just takes a team to sort out things. Thanks to all that helped in solving this unknown. Now, for the main part of the picture; the men in the section gang.

Oh, you say that I have not identified the white house on the right. Well, that is where the problem comes in. Of the answers and agreements on all of the other buildings, the white house on the right has not positively been identified or at least, there is a disagreement. There are three different answers for the identity of this house. Some think that it is Dave and Flossie Wilson's old house. Some think that it is Jamie Reid's house and some, including me, think that it is the Zeke Graves House. Mr. & Mrs. James Fuller lived in this house in the early fifties. I think that the Wilson house would be out of the picture and more to the right. The Wilson house was also a two story house and it was laid out in a North-South direction where the Redman Building sits East-West. I don't think the rear of Jamie's house looked like the one pictured. Others have said that the Zeke Graves house did not have a basement. Oh well, the fun of trying to visualize the past some sixty years later. If you will notice, there is an extra picture below the picture of the "Section Gang". I tried to position myself where the photographer of the "Section Gang" stood and tried to get as close to possible to the exact scene some sixty years later. Hopefully this new picture will help anyone in trying to identify or confirm the identity of each of these buildings. Come on back at me if you have any comments or ideas. Just click on my name below and feel free to state your opinion.

Jerry R. Durham

Now, back to the Section Gang. As stated, this was a tough bunch of men. Clarence O'Brien was the foreman and lived near the Rockport High School. He raised a large family and his younger son is now living in the house he grew up in. Of course, the school building is gone. Some of the men are sitting on a railroad car. This car was used to transport material and men to the work site. This gang had a "Tool Shed" just to the left of the picture. The tools and the car were stored in this tool shed. Each morning they would meet at the tool shed, prior to starting work. Mr. O'Brien would pick up any special work orders each morning, or he would continue on projects that they were working on the day before or a week or more before. They would select the needed tools and off they went. A motor car was used if they were going to be traveling any distance. Crossties were situated on a bed of gravel. A large metal plate sat on top of each crosstie and the rails sat on top of the plate. Rail and plate were secured to the ties with large spikes. The most common type of work was making the rails more firm. This correction consisted of "Tamping In" more gravel under and around the ties. Of course, ties always seem to have to be replaced and spikes, nuts and bolts, and plates always seemed to become loose and had to be retightened. Even the rails, on occasion had to be realigned. In the summer time, the rails would expand and in extreme temperature days, they could actually detach from the ties. This problem was critical enough that trains would have to actually be flagged until a repair was completed. Their work was a never ending process. Talk about job security!

Ray Smith, Roy Smith, Russell Smith, Oakley Bratcher, and Manse Jones lived in Rockport. All lived near their work station and probably most walked to work. Manse Jones and Roy Smith just had a few hundred yards to walk to the tool shed. Clarence O'Brien, Oakley Bratcher, and Ray Smith had a little further distance to get to work and Bill Jones and Sam Farris lived in Echols. This was some work crew and all were liked and respected in the towns of Rockport and Echols. I knew them all well. Yeah, back then, the old timers had time to talk and associate with the younger generation. It was great. As I have mentioned before, this crew could furnish "Railroad Washers" that were nearly three inches in diameter. These washers usually came from a trestle or a bridge. Take four of these washers, dig two holes in the ground about twenty feet apart, and one had a ready made game of "Washers". We played for hours. This game was usually played on the river banks and when a player got hot and sweaty, all that was needed was to take a plunge in Green River. Thanks, Railroad Men, for all of your washers. We certainly enjoyed your generosity.

Hope you enjoyed..........

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