Monday, August 29, 2005

Track walker

From: "Wendell Huffman"

I had a question from a friend about the track walker. I know such individuals existed, and I imagine the position is as old as railroading. But I realize I know little of the matter.

I presume he was assigned to a section crew. Did he walk halfway to the next section and then walk back (so two walkers would cover a full section)? How long was they typical section? The track walker was essentially an inspector of the fixed railroad property. Was it considered a position of responsibility and (some) rank, or was it the lowest rung on the totem pole? Did he carry any tools, or just (perhaps) a flag, torpedos, and maybe a lantern. Was it a position given to a greenhorn, or was it given to a railroader otherwise disabled from his customary calling?



Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Larry Mullaly"

Some time back, I did a close reading of the 1880 US Block Census data of the SP in Kern County. Here are some conclusions I penned at the time. The comments describe what the trackwalkers did as well as provides some social information.

Across the Tehachapis, section quarters were maintained at ten mile intervals along the route under the direction of a section foreman ("section boss") assisted by trackwalkers. In 1880 all foremen and trackwalkers were Irish born. Of the eight section foremen listed in Kern County, four were married and had children. The ability to maintain a wife and family was a considerable achievement in a fraternity where all trackwalkers and the Chinese laborers were unmarried.

Trackwalkers played an important role in the maintenance of the line. A contemporary manual admonishes foremen to "send an experienced and reliable man every morning to walk over the whole section, to examine carefully all joints and rails, and to look for broken rails and burned joint-ties."[1] The tracks and tunnels of the Tehachapi grade posed an extra burden and it was reported that "track walkers patrol the mountain by night and day with signal flags and lanterns."[2] Trackwalkers typically lived with the foreman’s family in the “white mens section house”.[3]

[1] William Huntington, The Road-Master’s Assistant and Sections-Master's Guide, (The Railroad Gazette, New York, 1878), p. 219.

[2] Colton Semi-Tropical, August 10, 1878

[3] For the railroad to utilize Chinese workers to the extent it did, distinctions based on race were standardized early on. As early as 1868, all employees with the exception of deck hands and Chinese had access to the Southern Pacific’s hospital in Sacramento. The railroad developed standard designs for a "white mens section house," as well as a "white man’s bunkhouse," a "Chinese bunkhouse," and a "Mexican bunkhouse."

8/30/2005 5:20 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Wendell Huffman"

I'd bet the wife played some role. 1) I can imagine the company more likely to promote a man with a wife to section foreman over a man without a wife, hoping the wife's cooking will keep the crew happier and less prone to wandering off to town. 2) Perhaps the railroad even paid a man more if he had a wife to cook for the crew. 3) Even if 2 is true, a section foreman might also charge his crew for his wife's cooking.

Even growing up in a somewhat more enlightened era, I was once not hired for a job (on a dairy farm) because I didn't have a wife, and on another occasion was not given time off work to attend to some business matter – because that was what I had a wife for. And on a remotely related note, when my station agent grandfather lost his helper to the 30s depression, the Santa Fe told him to make his kids work if he couldn't handle the two stations for which he was responsible by himself.


8/30/2005 5:23 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...


Here is an article in The Bakersfield Californian of December 4, 1914 (p.3, col. 4):

"Two million and a half miles are covered each year by the track walkers of the Southern Pacific Company. Each day every one of the 7000 miles is gone over piecemeal. Roadbed, tracks, switches, bridges, culverts, signals, everything is carefully scrutinized so that trains may move along quickly and with safety. On straight tracks, where there is no danger of being struck by trains, the track walker rides on a velocipede.

"Where there are many curves or train service is especially frequent, he walks on foot. The inspector is fully provided with red flags, lanterns, torpedoes, spike mauls, tacks, wrenches and extra bolts, so that he can take care of whatever emergency situation that may arise. The automatic block system by the position of its blades will show any interruption in the continuity of the rails, and the work ot the track walker is an added safety precaution."

Page 267 of Beebe's The Central Pacific and the Southern Pacific Railroads has a Richard Steinheimer photo of a track walker.

—John Sweetser

9/03/2005 8:11 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

Also see: Lewis Hine photograph, "Joe, the Track Walker (Italian)," 1922.

9/03/2005 8:18 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Larry Mullaly"

I came across a a little more information on trackwalkers. The source is:

Southern Pacific Co. (Pacific Systems), Rules and Regulations for the Government of Employes of the Operating Department, July 1st 1892.

"308. Each foreman (or his track walker) must pass over the section or sections under his charge every day, taking with him a track-wrench, two red flags and four torpedoes, and carefully examine the track to see if it is safe for the passage of trains; and if any place is found unsafe he must at once fix red signals on both sides of such place, at a distance of ninety (90) rails (or fifteen telegraph poles). The flag-sticks must be firmly driven into the ground, and a torpedo fixed on the rail on the engineman's side. ...

310. The foreman must have his track walker or wood piler pile up the wood left scattered in front of woodsheds and wooding places, and clean up all bark and rubbish in front of the same. This must be attended to daily."


9/10/2005 9:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

dietz lantern Co made a kero lantern called the " TRACKWALKER" It had a red lens on the backside so as to be seen by approaching trains. Trackwalkers, the person, existed into the 1950 s on the PRR .[ I knew one ] They were replaced by Hi-rail riding inspectors who did periodic checks.More often in extreme weather conditions. 30 yr . RRvet. Stu

12/26/2009 7:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a photo of a track walker in the NYPL Digital Gallery.

Very interesting!

3/03/2012 9:15 PM  
Anonymous AOL said...

My great great grandfather is on the 1880 Census as a trackwalker in Caliente, Kern County California. I have also found him on California voter registrations as a tracker walker in Tehachipa. How can I find out more info on the area etc. My ancestor was Bryan McNulty, 1880 Census for Caliente, Kern, Ca, he was born in Ireland abt 1846 naturalized in Hamilton County Ohio 1872 thank you for any assistance. Theresa

11/30/2012 11:24 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

See, Caliente & Tehachapi, California

11/30/2012 1:00 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

Also see, information about researching an ancestor.

11/30/2012 1:02 PM  
Blogger DL Burkhead said...

My grandfather was listed as a trackwalker for the ICCRR when he went to war in 1917. He lived in Dyer County, TN

2/11/2013 6:07 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

You guys are amazing! Thanx to all who posted here! I am looking for a friend, but this was more then I expected and pictures!!!

1/17/2014 4:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From: "Michelle Beretsky"

... I would like to know if you have records / payroll accounts of the people who built the railroad. I have two or three records of my great great grandfather, Bryan McNulty, in California listed as working for the railroad.

6/20/2014 8:49 PM  

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