Editor’s Note: The following is the second in a series articles leading up to the 2023 Folsom Handcar Derby. In this article, author Sara Shadrick Sales takes an inside look into the many local residents that have been a vital part of the event during its 30 year-run, many of which are still actively involved today an invite the public to get involved. If you missed the first segment in the series last week, you can read it by CLICKING HERE.
The Folsom Handcar Derby is fast approaching. Slated for May 6,7 this event has taken place for 30 years and is truly a treasure and a celebration of railroad history. The first handcars were created and used to carry workers, tools and equipment to repair the rails. The very distinct difference was these handcars were pushed, pulled, moved with polls using only manpower.
The workers used tools made by the Gandy Manufacturing tool Company to sometimes lean on for a little break however it looked like they were dancing with their tools. The bosses would insist go back to work but they started calling the workers Gandy Dancers. This name stuck until someone decided there must be a mechanical way to move the handcars on the rails. The actual date this change took place is unknown but it was a welcome change.
For Gary Putman it all started when he borrowed a handcar from the California RR Museum to duplicate it. There was such an interest and demand for the handcar races. At the request of Bill Timmons with the California RR Museum, Gary Putman with help from Elzie Jackson successfully introduced handcar events all over the US. Gary built the handcars and was one of the race directors in Portland, Seattle, Anchorage, San Francisco, Omaha, Stone Mountain, Green Bay, Boulder City, Seward Alaska, Ogden Utah, Roseville, Ca, Shingle Springs and Folsom California. Bill and Sharron Anderson helped to make the Handcar Derby in Folsom an annual event.
The Handcar Derby came to Folsom through the efforts of Gary Putman and Doug Hayes. Doug had a railroad gift shop on Sutter Street. Doug also found the original footing of the railroad turntable and was able to get the city to build the duplicate that is below Sutter St.
The first year & every year Bill and Sharon Anderson have been a big part in the Folsom Handcar Derby. In fact, Bill started the Santa on a handcar about the same time the handcar races started. Bill did Santa on a handcar for many years bring joy to many children.
Each year there is a committee of Bill & Sharron Anderson, Stan Wilkens, Greg Heberling, Carmaine Cotham, Dan Bocinski, Marty Donahue and Gary Putman. Through many meetings and long hours, the handcar Derby becomes a reality!
Over the years the Folsom Handcar Derby has introduced many first in Handcar racing events. #1, Handcar Tug-A-War, two handcars tied together with a rope trying tug the other one a cross a line! #2, The Gandy Dancer Walk, Women carry two 75LB pieces of rail as far as they can carry two 150 pieces of rail as far as they can. #3, Quadripede racing, which is two velocipedes bolted together. A two-person team. #4. How many people can we get on the handcar? 48 people is the record.
The Handcar Derby has divisions for men. Women, co-ed, over 40 years old and seniors. Plus, the Quadripede race for men, women and co-ed two person teams.
The Folsom Handcar shows up throughout the year at many events sponsored by the railroad historical groups. In recent years over 500 hundred families have experienced a ride on the interpretive handcar as well as ring the locomotive bell at these events. Of course, safety has always been the first concern for the participants. Using the proper shoes, clothing and helmets are required. If a family is riding for fun the safety rules are given to all and each ride has a qualified and experienced Handcar volunteer.
If you have been fortunate enough to participate in any of the handcar experiences, you know the thrill of flying down the track just as the early workers did when they could pump the handcars down the track. Sadly, fewer people are showing interest in this historical linked event. Sign up today and help continue this historical treasure at www.handcarderby.com
No non-profit organization can continue year after year without the support of the community. Every year businesses and residents donate to this organization to keep the railroad history alive. Many work together to sponsor teams to support the Handcar Derby.
We always want to remember that Folsom had the first railroad in the west. ”The Sacramento Valley Railroad”
A look back at just a few memorable moments of the Folsom Handcar Derby. Photos: Gary Putman