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Laying Track in Calgary

Edmonton Bulletin

1 September 1883, p. 3

rack was laid on the bridge across Bow River, two miles below Calgary, on Thursday, the 9th inst., and the Elbow River was reached on Saturday evening. Work on the bridge was prosecuted all day Sunday, and it was finished on Monday. Tracklaying was then continued, and on Wednesday night it was finished to Shaganappi Point. The line there cuts in close to the high bank of the river and keeps on the south side for five miles further. The grade is finished nearly to the bridge.

On Wednesday a telegraph office was established a little west of the police barracks, the end of Langdon and Sheppard’s contract. Side tracks and a Y were laid down at the station on Wednesday and Thursday. It is said that eight miles will be laid down to this station. Tracklaying has not been proceeding as rapidly since the Bow River was crossed, as the grading was not sufficiently far advanced. Three miles per day was the average until that time, but eight miles per day were laid one day. This is two miles less than the record on the Union Pacific, but in the present case the material was not distributed in advance while in the former it was. The men employed directly in tracklaying at the present time number about sixty, with six or eight teams, and the rate is about a mile a day. The telegraph line is erected at the same time and keeps pace with the tracklayers.

The process of tracklaying is something as follows: a train carrying a mile of material, rails, ties, and telegraph poles, comes as near the end of the track as possible where the ties and rails are unloaded on each side. The telegraph poles are dropped as the train moves along. Six or more teams of large horses or mules take up the ties and haul them ahead on the grade and throw them off as nearly as may be where required. The ties are piled lengthwise in the wagons, and a man assists each driver unloading. The teams continue hauling one ahead of the other all the time. A gang of ten men follows along the track as the ties are distributed by teams placing the ties in position, fifteen or twenty inches apart. The rails are taken from their position alongside the track where they were left by the train and loaded on a hand car by a gang of twelve men, all hands lifting at each rail. A horse ridden by a boy is hitched by a long rope to a corner of this car, and as soon as the car is loaded the horse starts up the track as fast as possible with it in tow, he walking along the edge of the grade at the end of the ties as on the tow path of a canal.

When the car arrives at the end of the rails that have been laid a hand spike brake stops it, and, the gang of men who have followed the car, station themselves half on each side. Some of them take one rail on each side, roll it over onto two rollers which are at the extreme outside of the car, run them rapidly out full length on these rollers, then take hold of them and let them drop on the ties as near the proper place as possible. Another part of the gang place them correctly, and while they are doing so two more rails are made ready to be dropped by being run out about half way on the car.

The car is then taken forward the length if the rail that has first been laid and the operation repeated until the car is unloaded. The fish plates and bolts are distributed at the same time as the rails. As soon as this is done the horse is attached to the end of the car down the road, is put on the full run as soon as possible, the gang is sitting on the car. As soon as sufficient speed has been attained the rope by which the horse pulls is cut loose and the car finishes its journey on its own account. It is reloaded and the operation is repeated. This work is hardest on horses of anything on the road. As fast as the rails are laid a man goes along with a bag full of spikes which he distributes at the proper intervals. He is followed by a gang of twenty men who drive in the spikes and put on the fish plates. Spikes are only driven however in every second tie, the rest being driven by a party which comes on later. The laying of the rails and the driving of the spikes are apparently the hardest work that requires to be done on the road.

A train of boarding cars with blacksmith shop, store cars, etc., are kept standing as far up the track as possible for the use of the men employed in the tracklaying. At the same time that track is being laid a gang of about a dozen men are strung along digging holes for the telegraph posts. The tools used are a crowbar and a long handled shovel with the shovel part turned up very much like a salt spoon. The holes are about one foot in diameter and four feet deep. The posts are spruce, ceder and tamarac. As soon as they are distributed men follow nailing on the cross brackets for the accomodation of two lines; others set up the posts and fill in the earth around them. A light handcar having a coil of wire on a reel follows up, and two or more climbers put up the wire as it is reeled off the car. The telegraph handcar can be lifted off the track to make way for passing trains.

Everything connected with the tracklaying goes ahead like clock work. The greater part or all of the grading has been done by subcontractors who receive from 16 cents a cubic yard upwards, according to the nature of the soil to be worked and other circumstances. Very many of the men employed are Swedes and Norwegians who prefer to take what is called station work to working by the day, and mostly use the pick and shovel. They could make from $3 to $3.50 per day at the rates paid.

Source: Edmonton Bulletin, 1 September 1883, p. 3.