Monday, January 16, 2006

Pile Driving Equipment

From: "Larry Mullaly"

In reading accounts of early western railroad construction, my impression is that the work of earth moving and preparation of the roadbed could take weeks to accomplish, whereas rail laying was done quite quickly, often at the rate of a mile or more per day. A question arises about trestle building, which inevitably required the driving of piles. If pile driving depended on railcar-mounted equipment would this not have brought track-laying to a halt every time a watercourse or canyon had to be crossed? The alternative is that pile drivers were brought forward ahead of track laying by wagon – something difficult for me to imagine. Any help with this would be appreciated.



Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "John Snyder"

It is quite possible that pile drivers on timber frames could have been skidded into place using the prepared roadbed, prior to the laying of rails.

This method was often used in early 20th century highway building.

—John Snyder

1/16/2006 8:35 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...


In original Central Pacific construction I don't recall any examples of pile trestles. Most of the trestles were of fabricated construction – a little more easily done in advance of track. Also, pile drivers depend on small portable boilers, engines and winches, and my sense is out West (at least) these didn't become common until the 1880s (note the development of the Dolbeer donkey in the 1880s for logging).


1/17/2006 10:00 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Wendell Huffman"

A pile driver was used in construction of the CP bridge across the American River in 1863 (it actually was in operation on that project prior to "ground breaking"). Also, driven piles were used in various bridges across the Sacramento River at Sacramento – I believe used as early as the very first bridge at that location, well before railroad. And, the foundations for the various railroad shop buildings at Sacramento were laid on top of driven piles. Clearly construction on river bottom land (read "swamp") required an approach different to that taken in the mountains. I do agree with Kyle that the CP's railroad trestles in the mountains were not built using driven piles. The bents seem to have been erected on stone foundations. The sweeping curve that ran from Front and I around to the north levee (replacing the original line out I street) was undoubtedly laid on a pile trestle.

I would expect that pile drives were in use very early in San Francisco in extending the city waterfront out into the bay. There was a steam excavator in use there in 1850 and I'd venture that pile drivers were already there by that date.

It seems to me that there were likely animal-driven pile drivers, though I admit to complete ignorance on that score. I woud think that steam was applied to pile drivers sometime in the early 19th century. But I'm guessing ...


1/17/2006 11:58 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Larry Mullaly"

This evening I came across a reference that suggests that brige building preceded track laying. Central Pacific Superintendent of Bridges, Arthur Brown was "Known for having bridges built in such a timely fashion as to never delay the grading and track laying work of the road. Pp. 86, 90-91 of John D. Galloway’s "The First Transcontinental Railroad." I found this in notes taken from the overview of the small collection of Arthur Brown papers at CSRM.


1/17/2006 9:38 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I'm doing some research on the potential length of timber piles that would have been used to support old railroad trestles built in the 1800s in soft soil conditions. I'm guessing the lengths would be controlled by the pile driving equipment capabilities rather than the length of trees, but I have not been able to find any references in the library or through on-line searches.

12/17/2008 5:33 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Bob Pecotich"
Subject: Pile Driving Equipment

The length of the pile had to do with the distance to bedrock below the surface into which the pile was being driven. The 2-story brick shop buildings at Sacramento Shops, for example, sit on Douglas fir (now petrified) piles 40 to 60 feet tall that are still in the ground. They were driven below the surface of what was then Lake Sutter. Fill was dumped to the level of the piles that had been topped just above the surface water level. The topping was Rocklin Sierra granite blocks 2 feet thick, on which the brick walls were erected.

Same general rule holds true for trestles erected in soft soil conditions. The soil being soft, there would be noting to hold the pile from sinking further into the ground under load, leading to a swayback trestle.

Some of the piles used for piles could have been in excess of 125 feet long. Availability of virgin growth Douglas fir timber of this length was not uncommon in the 1860s and 70s.

E.G., the Secrettown trestle. ...

—Bob Pecotich

12/18/2008 12:54 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...


According to Dave Joslyn's 1948 history of the Central Pacific/Southern Pacific Sacramento Shops, the original 1860s buildings were built with foundations set on piles. The 2-story brick Car Shop was typical. It rested on 1500 cedar piles, sawn 12 inches square, 30 feet long, driven down to bedrock [this is questionable - bedrock is MUCH lower in this area, I think - KKW] with their tops just below the water line. On top of this was laid a granite masonery foundation up to the surface grade, and the land filled to match. Brick work started on this foundation. The area where these shops were built was old river bed, aluvial slough and lake, and was filled on average 15 feet from the historic surface to the new surface grade.

This of course relates to building construction, not trestling, but may well be typical in terms of the timber piles used.


12/18/2008 12:56 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...


... As to pile driving the experience of the Central Pacific and the Great Salt Lake is certainly an example of the evolution of techniques. This includes the UPRR as they looked at crossing Bear River entrance to GSL in 1869 and then building north on the west side of the Promontory Peninsula. However they didn't have a pile driver capable of handling the long piles that were needed. Then we move to 1902 when the CP successfully crossed GSL on fills and trestles because they had pile drivers that could handle the long poles. I would suggest you find an engineering report for that period of time as they surely would report an episode of such great magnitude. Also if you can find them I remember reading in the SP Bulletins about the GSL construction. ...


12/18/2008 6:39 PM  

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