Saturday, April 23, 2011

April 7, 1914 - Tracklaying Solutions

April 7, 1914. We continue our celebration the 97th Anniversary of Grand Trunk Pacific driving the Last Spike at Fort Frazer, British Columbia.

Photographs of the tracklaying machines used by the Grand Trunk Pacific totally fascinate me. Written accounts by various observers told of hearing the cacophony of racket these "mantis-like" machines created, long before they hove into view!

In my previous post, I cited an example of how "Cart and Wagon" tracklaying, with a good crew, could lay a mile of track in two days! Well, with dozens of railroad projects going on in both Canada and the United States, by necessity, systems began to emerge for speeding up the tracklaying process to span long distances.

From various sources, we learn that the speed with which these "machines" advanced was influenced by a number of factors, including how well the laborers worked with each other, logistics of supplies, the number of bridges or trestles required, and, of course, the terrain.

Last Spike Plaque Promontory Utah 1869

One famous "speed" record for tracklaying - the one everyone remembers - the 10 mile laydown accomplished by the Central Pacific in 1869. Ten miles of track laid in one day. The reality is, materials were pre-positioned, with more than 4,000 workers on site. I consider the "feat" a publicity stunt, one of many to promote the first transcontinental crossing.

It did not represent the reality of track laying.

At the height of construction on the 832.5 mile Prince Rupert to Wolf Creek, Alberta Mountain Section, employment momentarily peaked at 3,000 over the entire project. The spike was due largely in part to two labor-intensive stretches:
  • The troublesome Kitselas Canyon area on the Skeena River east of Terrace, which called for hard rock tunneling and the building of a spectacular bridge over the Skeena.
  • The four crossings of the Fraser River east of Fort (Prince) George, where temporary spans were constructed to allow access of bridge building crews. Moreover, construction engineers were confronted by unanticipated destruction of temporary structures by ice flows.
Engineers struggling with ice and snow on the 3rd Fraser Crossing

Laydown over those bridge construction sites was measured in feet, not miles, per day!

The reality of economics was that for the entire campaign from Winnipeg to Prince Rupert, the average speed of tracklaying was 2 to 3 miles per 10-hour day. This was made possible by employing the Robert's Steam Tracklaying Machine.

Early tracklaying machines were, in reality, material handling systems. They advanced construction material from a string of flat cars to the leading car, where laborers grappled and placed ties and rails. They did not actually construct the final rail structure. I was able to identify at least seven rail material handling solutions:

Drummond System
The Drummond System shows the features of moving material forward onto a boom, which, as we shall see, becomes refined and mechanized.

Harris System

The Harris System featured a "railroad on a railroad." Rail carts moved loads of ties forward to be unloaded at the leading edge.

D.F. Holman System
The D. F. Holman Railway Tracklayer Company, Chicago, was dissolved in 1913. Look carefully at this material handling system, and notice that the ties and rails are being shoved along manually to the head of the machine. The rails are being man-handled off the car onto the ties.

If you mechanize this system, the result is very similar to the Robert's Steam System.

Smith's System
Patented in 1885. Smith's Railway Tracklayer was the invention of George A Smith of Los Angeles California. This drawing was published to entice investors, offering for sale his patent or interest in it.

As I study this design, the question becomes one of; How do the ties get to the forward conveyor? And how did the rails get there?

It is not clear that this machine was ever manufactured.

Two systems that totally avoided man-handling ties and rails included:
  • The Wescott System
  • The Hurley System
The Wescott System

Charles Oscar Wescott of Puyallup, Washington. The Track-Layer & Manufacturing Company, of Tacoma. As can be readily seen from the accompanying illustration, the machine consists essentially of a steel truss, mounted on a flat car, provided with the necessary pneumatic hoists and conveyors to advance ties and rails.

The machine handles both the rails and ties; the ties are distributed by hand, but the rails are laid on the ties in position for spiking, by the machine without re-handling. On the Pacific Traction Company's system the machine laid from two to two and a half miles per day with the following crew:
  • Four men to operate the machine and feed ties and rails
  • Four strappers
  • Eight spikers
  • Four nippers
  • Six tiemen to distribute and space ties
  • One peddler
  • One foreman.

The Hurley Self Propelled System

As with the Wescott system, the Hurley System reduced human handling of ties and rails. Ties were carried forward on a mechanical conveyor, dropping them ahead of the machine for rapid alignment. Study the Hurley system closely. It resembles the Wescott System. The Hurley System was totally self-propelled.

Of interest to us in the building of the Grand Trunk Pacific, the F.P. Robert's Steam Tracklaying System, manufactured in Seattle Washington.

Robert's Steam Tracklayer

Reading through dozens of patent applications, I discovered several joint patents filed by Westcott and Robert's on various material handling - tracklaying - systems. And I discovered they both lived in Puyallup, Washington. I am curious as to the relationship those two men had, but will leave that to others to share.

See Also:
April 7, 1914 - The Tracklayers
April 7, 1914 - Last Spike Grand Trunk Pacific

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