Sleepers Through Time

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Published on: Oct. 2, 1996

Last revision: Oct. 25, 2010

a tie and lots of chips, but men were paid for ties only, not the chips.

Railroad ties were 8 feet, 6 inches long. Switch ties, cut on special order, ranged from 9 to 16 feet in length and supported multiple rails at the switch assemblies. Until the 1940s most ties were hand hewed and, in Missouri, tie hacking represented a significant farm income.

Men worked as a pair until trees had been felled and cut to tie length. Then, working individually, they hand hewed a tie out of the logs. A tie hacker might say, "lay'er out and just knock off the juggles." However, skill and a sharp, focused eye guiding a razor sharp axe were required to successfully hew ties.

Once a tree was down, workers measured logs to length using one of several methods. A pre-measured, 8-foot-long stick about 1-inch square, an 8-foot-long hickory sapling, an 8-foot string or an axe handle marked in 2-foot increments could be used. On the tie scantling, workers cut axe handle grooves for gauging the 6- by 8-inch and 7- by 9-inch dimensions of the two sizes of ties that were hewed. The tie hack's traditional method of measuring log length continues with some log cutters today.

A tie hacker notched a log slightly, to prevent rolling as work progressed, and laid it across two poles to elevate the work. If the log was not perfectly straight, it was laid with the "hump" up so the work cleared the ground. Next the hacker scribed a line with the broad axe by cutting along the length of the log, down its length. The cut line established the dimension of the tie. The double-bit axe was used to score to within one half inch of the line and at the same time to break off chips (also called juggles). A slight twist of the wrists, as the axe stroke scored the log, allowed the juggle to split off.

The hacker stood so that his eye focused on the leading edge of the broad axe as he cut. The broad axe was used to hew to the line and to smooth the face. Hewing began at one end and moved backwards along the log. The hard part was getting the first two sides of the tie parallel.

There was a tendency to undercut and ruin the tie. A gauge, marked on an axe handle, showed the widths of ties and

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