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Old way of cutting railroad rail


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#1 EWCTool

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Posted 07 December 2009 - 10:54 AM

Does anyone know how the rail workers would cut railroad rail while on the job back before torches were around and way before gas powered chop saws? I seem to remember a conversation that I had with someone and I believe I remember them saying they used to use huge cold chisels and hammers and just chisel the top and eventually the rail would break. This conversation might be a figment of my imagination but if any one has any knowledge of this I am curious to know. It is tough to cut rail with modern technology but they did it back in the day I am sure so how did they do it?

#2 Kendrick

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Posted 07 December 2009 - 11:04 AM

A coworker of mine's father retired from the railroad a long time ago. (He's 94) He said they would just score the top of the rail and drop it across another rail section and it would break off. Not sure how they scored it, though.

#3 gazilla

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Posted 07 December 2009 - 11:10 AM

I heard the rails for a streetcar were cut all around with a cold chisel, and next the piece was given (a few) tap(s) with a sledge. Other option is sqaing it with two people, saw a pic of two chinese workmen doing so. Tried it once and it works, but takes a lot of time... (oil helps).

#4 Blacksmith Jim

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Posted 07 December 2009 - 11:18 AM

I think this has been discussed here before. You might be able to find the topic if you dig through search results a bit. I seem to remember the scoring method discussed, and also talk about a huge handled cold chisel..
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#5 monstermetal

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Posted 07 December 2009 - 11:21 AM

Im not sure about cutting it but I have seen first hand a "C" frame punch that used rifle casings as power to punch holes for the tie plates, You put the blank in and smacked it with your hammer... and BANG you got a bolt hole....
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#6 ThomasPowers

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Posted 07 December 2009 - 12:38 PM

You can still find sledge handled RR cold cuts fairly easily. Many folks try to sell them as splitting mauls but they have too small an eye to be good for that and a fairly narrow cutting end.
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#7 John B

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Posted 07 December 2009 - 04:02 PM

I have a couple of these in the shop, Rod handled and a cutting edge about 1/2" long, tough little beggars

#8 forgemaster

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Posted 08 December 2009 - 05:44 AM

Hand powered hacksaw on a frame with a lever handle to wank them to and from, we have some still at work, I'll try to remember to photograph some and post them here.

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#9 David Einhorn

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Posted 08 December 2009 - 08:10 AM

A local tool dealer sometimes has what he calls rail cutters, basically large handled chisels that he says were used to cut rail road rails.

#10 Rick C

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Posted 08 December 2009 - 08:59 AM

A coworker of mine's father retired from the railroad a long time ago. (He's 94) He said they would just score the top of the rail and drop it across another rail section and it would break off. Not sure how they scored it, though.


I work track maintenance for a railroad and the old heads say take a cold chisel and score a cut line across the top and sides of the rail. Set it up on a cross tie hang the end over and hit the end down with a sledge. I bet the workers could do this very quickly. The old heads said it was a clean cut also. Have to remember the rail was a lot smaller back then only in the last 35 years they have using big rail. I'm talking small rail as being 90# and 100# now the big rail is 133# 136# 141#
Remember back then the rail was jointed every 39' to 40' so if a rail broke the would change to the hole rail no cutting needed. Where they may need to cut rail would have been in a switch. It is cool how back in the good old days they had thing down to a science. The trains run just as fast then as they do today. But on time.
When scraping rail today all you have to do is cut through the ball and down into the web a inch or so and pick it up with a crane and it snaps straight down from the torch cut.
Hope I made this so it is understood.
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#11 SGropp

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Posted 08 December 2009 - 03:04 PM

So is the fact that you can basically cut the rail by scoring and snapping supposed to make me feel better when I watch those long trainloads of liquefied propane or chlorine gas rolling through town?

#12 Rick C

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Posted 08 December 2009 - 03:17 PM

For that very reason the railroads spend a lot of money on Ultra sounding rail for internal defects and derailment prevention. They test the rail on gross tonnage over the rail.

#13 flyinhigh

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Posted 08 December 2009 - 03:24 PM

sgropp, you have to remember what the purpose of the rail is.
it is meant for two things.

1: to not deform under extreme pressure
2: distribute that pressure to the ties that are under it

when you think about it like that you realize that the rail is not supporting the train the ties are.

feel better? :D

#14 GobblerForge

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Posted 08 December 2009 - 04:40 PM

Im not sure about cutting it but I have seen first hand a "C" frame punch that used rifle casings as power to punch holes for the tie plates, You put the blank in and smacked it with your hammer... and BANG you got a bolt hole....


I have a box of those cartridges in my collection. I would like to see the tool that does this job. Sounds frightening. I've only seen drawings of it..
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#15 781

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Posted 08 December 2009 - 05:39 PM

One of the locals here who is only 50 said when he worked in New Mexico every mornig they stopped and got a chest or two of ice.
They went out to the location where they needed to cut some rail.
Scored all the way around with the handled cold cuts and spike hammers
They then used jacks and put pressure on the rail which was spiked in place on the side of the rail they did not want to cut.
The then packed ice on the warm or hot rail and it broke were it had been scored.

As for drilling holes there was a manually operated drill similar to the drill to make timber frame mortouses. (SP) These were double crank like bicycle pedals but hand operated.

I have a single crank one. It bolted in one hole and there was a crank that was turned to drill with a blacksmith made flat bit make out of a file. Operated similar to the hand drill that was sold with a vise. You turned the handle for a while then tightened down the bit to continue drilling. Looks like a lot of work but then labor was cheap.

#16 bruce wilcock

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Posted 08 December 2009 - 06:56 PM

i have broken old worn rail using a ,jim crow, rail bender whilst making fenders for a pier ,they snap when you dont want them to ,a lot difrent than cutting where you have to . I think they used 6 ins junior hacksaws ln a relay teams one team on the top side and another team on the bottom side .
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#17 Sam Thompson

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Posted 09 December 2009 - 08:58 AM

There are several light gauge rails (from the mining/quarrying industries) around here that have been bent, on edge almost to right angles for use protecting the corners of buildings. I now don't know anyone within 50 miles who has the equipment to do this. Isn't progress wonderful.
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#18 GobblerForge

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Posted 10 December 2009 - 06:24 AM

Localised heat and bent by hand I would think.
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#19 John B

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Posted 10 December 2009 - 03:14 PM

Bruce Wilcock mentioned a Jim Crow used for straightening railway lines, I have attached pictures for anyone who is not quite sure of what that tool is, also attached are pics of a rail cutting chisel

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#20 EWCTool

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Posted 10 December 2009 - 05:17 PM

Back during the war of northern aggression, as some reffer to it, haha when Sherman was marching to the sea his men would pull up the rail and make huge fires to heat the middle of the rail up and then the men would wrap the rail around the tree. They were called Sherman bow ties. So just get a bunch of your buddies and build a big fire and you could bend the rail, easy as pie.




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