Friday, September 23, 2011

Historical question - rail and ballast

From: "B.F.G. Gabe"

I have a language Arts assignment that I am supposed to ask a question about a historical event that isn’t asked very much. I live out here by Golden Spike National Historic Site. My dad worked one summer when I was a little kid as a fire tender/track repair/ and locomotive operator for the locomotives. So I thought about what he does and thought something I hadn’t heard about was how did they make and where did the railroad workers get ... the ballast for the transcontinental railroad to put under the rails and where did they get the stuff for the rails and how were the rails made.

I have been looking on the internet and haven’t found much on this could you please provide the information you have available to you on the matter? ...

—Ammon Wendel


Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

Also see,



9/23/2011 9:11 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Wendell Huffman"

Initially, the ties on the CPRR were backfilled with local material found adjacent to the roadbed to hold the track in alignment and surface. Fortunately for the railroad, "local material" in the Sierra often meant decomposed granite. But out in Nevada and Utah this was probably poor quality material. Not until the road was complete was there any effort to improve the track, and I'm sure it was years before the track was actually jacked up and ballasted with free-draining gravel. Fortunately, Nevada and Utah doesn't get a lot of rain. The Annual report of the Commissioner of Railroads to the Secretary of the Interior for 1878-79 indicates that less than half of the CPRR was ballasted.

In compliance with the terms of the Pacific Railroad Act under which authority it was built, the CPRR's iron rails were all made in America. As there were no rolling mills in the West until late 1869, all of this rail had to be shipped to California. Then it was hauled to the front by trains – roughly 48 rails to the flat car, eight flat cars to carry a miles' worth of rail. At the front it was all reloaded onto small tracklaying cars to be delivered to the end of track for laying. The rails were manufactured in rolling mills. I think if you do some creative googling you will learn how they were made. All the other iron – spikes, chairs, fish bars – also came from the east. The ties were cut more or less locally. For the first few miles the ties were sawn from redwood logs over on the coast. Later they were hewn or sawn at mills in the Sierra.


9/24/2011 2:11 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Kyle Wyatt"

Ballast was the dirt that was already there. No special rock ballast. Rails were US made (by rules of the Federal Pacific Railway Act), from the East coast – several sources. CP rails had to be shipped around Cape Horn by sailing ship.


9/24/2011 2:14 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

Thanks for your help and information.

—Ammon Wendel

9/24/2011 10:44 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Recent Messages