NYC Section Crews and the CCC&StL Book

rhensley_anderson Nov 10, 2020

  1. rhensley_anderson

    rhensley_anderson TrainBoard Supporter

    Section Crews

    How did the prototype do it back then? What is a Section Gang, what did they do and what tools did they use?

    Let’s look at a CCC&StL/NYC section gang about 1900. For many years, a crew would be assigned to maintain a section of track and most of the work was done by hand with hand tools. They would walk from job to job and then they rode to the job site by horse and wagon and then the hand-car and then the speeder, but still they walked the rails caring for their section of track.

    Their primary job was to inspect and tighten the nuts and bolts of the joint bars that held the rails together and to inspect switch points and frogs and linkages. Also, they were to pound spikes back in that had worked loose or to drive new spikes in through unused holes in the tie plates to tighten the rail. They might even replace an occasional tie but that generally was left to others.

    Their main tools were track bolt wrenches, sledges, shovels, pickaxes and pry bars. All of these tools were heavy and heavy duty and had to be stored somewhere. Since the section crew didn't take their tools home, the railroads build small sheds or tool houses along the railway in every section to house the tools. Later the tool house was expanded to include a handcar or speeder storage room. Sometimes the hand-car or speeder would be in a separate small structure near the tool house.

    The bottom line is that these men, indeed, are working on the railroad in every sense of the word. They worked to keep everything tight and straight and if major alignment was needed, the Gandy Dancer crew would come out with their pry bars and chants and align the track, especially after a large number of ties had been replaced.

    I have published a limited edition Railroad Book. It's a 192 page edition with many in-color photos. In fact most of the info is in the form of photos with a substantial amount in the form of text by Maurice Lewman. It's available at the Madison County Historical Society in Anderson, Stop in and take a look or give us a call at 765-683-0052 for more info.The book is $99 + $6.93 tax and $10 shipping.

    Madison County Historical Society
    Rail Book Purchase
    P O Box 696
    Anderson, IN 46015-0696

    BNSF FAN and Doug Gosha like this.
  2. Doug Gosha

    Doug Gosha TrainBoard Member

    Thanks, Roger. That stuff is all very fascinating. My maternal grandfather, whom I never knew because he died 12 years before I was born of tuberculosis caused by mustard gas exposure in WWI, was a section gang foreman but I'm sure started out as a regular worker in the early part of the twentieth century.

    Even after handcars existed, one would think they would have already have been exhausted just getting to a location.

    My grandfather's section was from Taopi, MN to McIntire , IA on the CGW.

    Last edited: Nov 10, 2020
  3. fitz

    fitz Staff Member

    Thanks for the description of your book, Roger (and LEW).
  4. Dave1905

    Dave1905 TrainBoard Member

    A 'section" was just that, a piece of track, several miles long to which a crew would be assigned to maintain. They traveled by hand car or speeder mostly, truck wasn't until the 1950's or 1960's. A section gang was typically a foreman and 2-4 workers.

    They normally worked under traffic and patrolled using a general line up. The dispatcher would every 3-4 hours put out a list of where trains were or where they had waits and the section gangs would obtain a copy from the operator. They would use that to patrol and maintain track. They would stop, get they hand cars off the track and then tamp or replace ties (a LARGE part of their job), line track, tighten bolts, dress ballast, repair broken rails and repaired/adjusted switches. If they made the track unsafe (e.g. removed a rail) they would put out flags to stop a train. Otherwise, tamping, replacing ties, etc could be done without slowing or stopping trains.

    In the 1970's gangs became more mechanized and were given trucks and hyrails. More and more maintenance was done by larger division or system gangs, the "section gangs" got increasing territory until they, for all purposes, went away.

    In addition to section gangs there were also B&B gangs that worked on bridges and buildings, signal gangs and maintainers that worked on signals, and welders that repaired frogs and switches.
  5. Dave1905

    Dave1905 TrainBoard Member

    Back in college I rode the Septa Norristown line, the former Philadelphia and Western high speed line a third rail interurban line from West Philadelphia to Norristown. There was a track walker who would get on a car ride out a couple stations and then get off and start walking along the track with a wrench and maul, tightening joint bars and spikes. He would walk along for a couple stations, then get on a car and ride for a couple more, get off and do it again.

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