Sunday, December 2, 2007


Prince Rupert BC, September 12, 1959. So there was a lot of track maintenance going on the Skeena Subdivision that fall. I spotted this Spikemaster machine on a flat, brought into Prince Rupert as part of this maintenance update.

We’ve all seen photos – perhaps films – of track workers wielding mallets, pounding spikes into the wooden ties thereby securing the steel rails. This machine is faster, more accurate, and able to do the job of several track workers. Be though not oblivious, there is an entire body of science behing the bland railroad spike!

When I took this photo in 1959, little did I realize that two years later, in 1961, I would become VERY personal with the common railroad spike – actually just a big damn nail!

As a recent high school graduate, June 1961, I landed a job at Bethlehem Steel in Seattle. I worked at the so-called “Nut House” down on West Marginal Way, just south of the Spokane Street bridge. The plant was right on the Duwamish River, and the Northern Pacific Railroad bridge was directly adjacent. This facility manufactured nuts and bolts and railroad spikes, hence the name “Nut House.”

Being in the “casual labor pool” summer time hires, I got moved around to wherever there was a shortage, usually guys off on vacation or sick. On one of my assignments, I was assigned to the Railroad Spike Machines. These were giant drop hammers that smacked out a railroad spike from a cherry red-hot bar, fed into the die by yours truly!

It was hot, noisy, and freaking scary! My job was to use a foot peddle to open a furnace door, grab a cherry red-hot iron bar with tongs, and yank the bar out of the furnace across three feet of open space into a die in the Railroad Spike Machine. Once engaged, there was a worm drive that pulled the cherry red-hot bar into the machine where upon a huge die would slam down, making the railroad spike, which would flip out into a hopper.

And even though I was standing on an inch thick rubber pad, the slamming was bone jolting!

The bars were twenty feed long, and the spike machine made 60 spikes a minute, and I had three dies to feed. If I yanked a bar across the gap from the furnace to the die, and missed the oval opening, all hell would break loose, as the cherry red-hot bar would snake up and whip around ‘till it cooled. Then I had to call in a “burner” to cut and clear away the wrecked bar, and my supervisor, to make my flimsy excuse to, in that order.

On my way home, riding the Delridge Bus, my body would still be reacting to the “bam-bam-bam-bam!” of the Railroad Spike Machine.

It would probably NOT surprise you to learn that there is life after death for the railroad spike. Once abandoned, this individual makes art out of a common railroad spike, in this instance, Great Northern Railroad spikes:

And yes, there is “mojo” in those spikes, folks, they can become part of a magical spell, which can help nail down your house or property, so that no one can take them away from you. Especially helpful in today’s turmoil in the housing and finance market!

That summer I worked at Bethlehem Steel was not only interesting - sure beat flipping burgers, and paid a lot more money - but also fun! And I did learn a lot about the ubiquitous railroad spike at the rate of sixty spikes per minute – “bam, bam, bam, bam!”

0 Comments - Click here:

Post a Comment

"Comment" is for sharing information related to this article. "Anonymous" comments are not published.