Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Wrong Side Of the Tracks

Weese made a comment on my post about the family from the other side of the tracks. She wondered why there was such a divide in so many towns. It seems that historically the railroads serviced industry. In the instance in my home town there was a steel mill that manufactured wheels and brake systems for trains. Trains came to drop off scrap metal and take away newly manufactured products.

This steel mill built homes for many of its workers. They looked exactly like what one would imagine a company house to look like. They were two story houses with few if any closets, two or three small bed rooms and one bath room. There were about a hundred homes like this in our town.

These homes were for the working class people and were by no means luxurious. It was luxury that the company gave you a place to live in the first place. Their proximity to the plant was close and this was vital to people having a short walk to work. All the houses were on the same side of the tracks as the plant.

The other side of the tracks was where the people who were not working class lived. These were the bosses that didn’t walk to work. Eventually the Unions became the great equalizer. The working class eventually made enough money that they could buy their company home or better yet buy homes on the other side of the tracks. Even better yet, they bought company homes, rented them out and bought and lived in homes on the other side of the tracks. There were many people who owned several homes in my old town. I have a relative back there that owns probably seven. My father owned two homes there.

Sadly, it was the poor that ended up in the company homes. They were those who could never get up a down payment. Back in the old days you needed to have at least 10% on hand before you could even be considered for a mortgage. The poor either made less money, or had addiction problems where their money was squandered. They needed a place to live and support their habits and they were generally good about holding back enough cash each month to pay their rent.

So when you hear of someone coming from the wrong side of the tracks it was due to an entire economic sub culture that still exists today, though today it often looks different, especially on paper. Some people make a good income, but they are buried by debt or they fund dead end projects like boats (and horses).


Blogger Jaggy said...

Lebanon has two sets of tracks that join in the middle of the town. I grew up on the north side away from the trains, but when I was eight, my family moved to south central Lebanon (as opposed to southgate, there's a difference). South central Lebanon is on the other side of both sets of tracks. No matter which way I'd walk home from school, I'd have to encounter mill housing or run-down shanties. The irony is that nestled deep within all the "other side of the tracks" poor housing areas is one of the nicest, cleanest neighborhoods where everybody knows everybody and kids play on all the lawns...

Yeah. I came from the other side of two sets of tracks. That should explain a lot.

8:19 AM  
Blogger Uncle Walt said...

There's another explanation for "the wrong side of the tracks", that comes from the days of the big cattle drives post-Civil War.

The stockyards were usually on the other side of the tracks from the town. The cowboys often wouldn't be allowed past the tracks to go into town, for fear they'd cause too much trouble. Probably rightly so, since they had months of pay to blow after the drive. Naturally, this quickly resulted in businesses catering to the needs of the cowboys to blow off steam to prop up on the "wrong" side of the track. Since these businesses were saloons, gambling halls, and whorehouses ... they reinforced the townies' stereotypes of anyone from the "wrong" side of the tracks.

Since whorehouses also hung out red lanterns, probably stolen from the railroad, this is also where we get the phrase "red light district".

12:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Uncle won't let me post anon on HIS blog, and I am much too modest to post my comment w/my name. But the comment you left on his blog today was just plain nasty! Or, maybe I am just dense as a doorknob and its been the joke of the last eight years! and here I've been missing out on a whole slough of nasty witticisms! Dang, I am dense!

The nice thing about having train tracks running alongside of the river is that there is only one side of the tracks to be born on, unless we are counting those hicks borned over in Warshington.

2:50 PM  
Blogger loopymamain06 said...

hey guy.........i am still enjoying your posts, i havent commented lately because i've been TPTPOP....that's Too Pooped To Post On 'Puter
loopymama of michigan

4:09 PM  
Blogger The Guy Who Writes This said...

Anon, It just seems that the we lost the constitution when warrantless wire taps, warrantless search and seizure, holding uncharged people in prison for years without charges or a trial all began to happen, and then we can get into the Geneva Convention violations. This government is in anarchy.

Loopster, no biggie, I read every post you post and I don't comment often either.

Walt, you are right on the history there, but it seems each town has a little different definition.

Jaggy, and you turned out OK, didn't you?

4:39 PM  
Blogger weese said...

ok so now i know. thank you for this.
but riddle me this.
my house...where I live now...has no closets. yet there are no train tracks anywhere around...hmm...

7:42 PM  
Blogger The Guy Who Writes This said...

Was your house originally a vacation home or a servant's home? Also a lot of homes built in the 1800s and earlier had no closets. People had furniture that acted as closets.

I grew up in a Federalist Period house built is 1861. Each room had a deep narrow closet.

10:21 PM  
Blogger weese said...

its a farm house. guess they just hung their overalls on a hook.
i would actually prefer to just have a pair of two of overalls and call it a day.
but this desk job keeps getting in the way of my wardrobe.

10:23 AM  
Blogger The Guy Who Writes This said...

Let's not forget their Sunday best wear. They had wardrobes (furniture closets) they moved when they moved to a new house.

10:43 AM  

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