March 2003

New York Central Roundhouse

I have just returned from the 2003 trade show at Gibsonton, Florida. The show is known as the Gibtown show to all showmen. I will be writing about this show in the next issue, and have pictures of our display that featured the Mighty Americana organ owned by our marketing manager, Mr. Skip Doyle of Sarasota, Florida.

Each year we rent a tent to protect part of our display, and as I watched the tent man driving the stakes to hold the tent down it reminded me of part of an initiation process suffered by some of the new apprentice boys at the old New York Central roundhouse. There were several forms of initiations, and some cannot be mentioned in a respectable magazine such as the Carousel Trader, but the one brought to mind while observing the tent man was called the hammer test.

When reporting to work in the steam days, the standard items of clothing for many were the coveralls and always some type of cap. After being on the job for a few days, the new apprentice would come in view of a group of the old men standing along the side of the work pit. They would be counting very loud trying to attract the attention of the new apprentice boy. When the new boy walked up, he saw a man down in the pit with a blindfold tied over his eyes and a sledgehammer in his hands. There was a large knuckle pin at the edge of the pit, and he was swinging the hammer to see how many times he could hit it with out a miss. He would miss it many times until the new apprentice walked up and asked what was going on. At this point, the old guys knew they had him just where the wanted him and explained they were counting every swing with the hammer to see how many times out of 100 he could hit it.

Some of the old boys told the apprentice he would be lucky if he could hit it five times out of 100, and the boy would always brag he could do better. It was at that point they would agree to give him a chance to do his turn at the big steel knuckle pin. They let the boy in the pit, and told him they would hold his hat and put the blindfold on him. They placed the hammer handle in his hand, and placed the other end on the pin to give him the first guidance where to swing. After that, they started counting, and the new boy would usually be able to hit most of the time. As they counted up around eighty-five the men would start to disappear one at a time until the final stroke. When the boy reached 100, and removed his blindfold, not one man was in sight and his new cap, which had been placed on the knuckle pin, was completely beaten out with his sledgehammer. This was called the Hammer Test, and new apprentice boys trying to do their best to show how good they were with a sledgehammer ruined many new shop caps.

And, so it was in the old New York Central

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