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The Toughest Railroad Job
That I Ever Had

ca. 1940's or 50's; photographer unknown

Instead of tamping ballast, these gentlemen appear to
be pounding spikes, sorta overkill for a task that any
competent maul-swinger could manage in two or three strokes.
When I recently ran across these blurry old photos, which could have come from anyman's railroad, I was reminded about just how hard work in the track department was. The activity depicted here was what I regarded as the toughest job of any, tamping ballast with a jackhammer weighing 90 pounds. I had previously used these monsters to break up concrete, which was not so bad, because you could lean upon them while the fracures developed. Not so with tamping ballast, which displayed the characteristics of a fluid, discouragingly. If you leaned upon the darn thing, it would instantly sink nearly inextricably into the right-of-way.

Luckily, my stay in the track department occurred during a furlough from train service, so my exposure to this machinery was relatively brief. As it was, I lost 25 pounds during my first month of doing real work.

Track workers are under-paid and under-appreciated for what generally is the most strenuous work on the railroad. I know.