Thursday, September 15, 2016

How tracks were laid - 10 mile day - Research for New TV Documentary

From: "Vikki Cox"

My name is Vikki Cox and I am contacting you from Twofour Broadcast an award winning TV production company based in the UK. We are currently in production for series 3 of our specialist factual series Impossible Engineering. ...

I have been looking back at the history of rail track laying around the world ... about the great race of 1869 and the amazing achievement of CPRR laying over 10 miles in one day. ...

I would really like to try to understand the way in which the tracks were laid, basically the whole process of the construction of the rail. ...

So my questions are:

1. Was the method of laying the track also known as the "cart and wagon" method of track laying. If not- did this process have a name?

2. The description of how the track was laid for the famous 10 mile challenge - is that basically the same method used on normal working days, just less continuously?

3. Was the train that brought the materials running along the freshly laid track? - is that the single track that is referred to when describing the crew jumping off and lifting the empty carts to that the full ones can pass underneath?

4. Would it be true to say that as the track foreman H.H. Minkler was the driving force behind these continuous process, which was then kept in motion and supported by the 4,000 strong workforce?

—Vikki Cox, Assistant Producer, Twofour


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"A light car, drawn by a single horse, gallops up to the front with its load of rails. Two men seize the end of a rail and start forward, the rest of the gang taking hold by twos, until it is clear of the car. They come forward at a run. At the word of command the rail is dropped in its place, right side up with care, while the same process goes on at the other side of the car. Less than thirty seconds to a rail for each gang, and so four rails go down to the minute ... close behind the first gang come the gaugers, spikers, and bolters, and a lively time they make of it. It is a grand 'anvil chorus' ... It is played in triple time, 3 strokes to the spike. There are 10 spikes to a rail, 400 rails to a mile, 1,800 miles to San Francisco — 21,000,000 times those sledges to be swung: 21,000,000 times are they to come down with their sharp punctuation before the great work of modern America is complete." –Dr. William Abraham Bell, Newspaper, 1866

9/15/2016 4:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Track Laying

Grand Anvil Chorus

Union Pacific

9/15/2016 4:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


You need to speak to Wendell Huffman, Curator of History at the Nevada State Railroad Museum in Carson City. He has studied how the Central Pacific track laying techniques evolved, and how they learned new techniques, and who taught them.

Grading was done long before track was layed... Materials were brought up to the "front" on 4 wheel track cars, pulled by horses, unloaded, then derailed to allow the next car carrying supplies to pass, crews were on hand to place tied, then rails in place, joining the rails, and initially setting and driving a few spikes to hold the rails to gauge, as new car loads of supplies arrived.

Periodically, derailed cars would be put back on the track to be returned back to be loaded with new supplies of ties and rails.

Additional crews would follow the initial crews, driving spikes on every tie... later other crews would follow to ballast the track, and "harden it up"

Randy Hees, Director,
Nevada State Railroad Museum, Boulder City

9/18/2016 4:18 AM  
Blogger rayhosler said...

Many newspaper accounts described the process. California Digital Newspaper Collection (CDNC) has newspapers from the period online. Here's one example: (and on this site -
I used it extensively for my novel about the transcontinental railroad. As for Minkler, he had an important role as track foreman, but James Strobridge is generally acknowledged as the big boss who worked on-site day in and day out. Ray Hosler

9/21/2016 5:39 PM  

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