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Chicago & Alton: 1901

Circa 1901. "Coaling station and water tank, C. & A. R.R., Mazonia, Illinois." 8x10 inch dry plate glass negative, Detroit Photographic Company. View full size.

Circa 1901. "Coaling station and water tank, C. & A. R.R., Mazonia, Illinois." 8x10 inch dry plate glass negative, Detroit Photographic Company. View full size.


On Shorpy:
Today’s Top 5

Mind Bending

Thanks for the video "Archfan". I had never seen anything like that before nor thought it possible.

But how?

A second to Captivated's comments. But one wonders how two rails held in place by 6-inch spikes can withstand the force of bending what appears to be a stack of 50 rails. Could it be the gradualness of the bend?

The sometimes surprising mechanics of railroads (such as how they go around curves without axle differentials) is a reminder that railroads are the birthplace of engineering.

Tons of rail

Never knew rails came in quarter mile lengths. Doing a little figuring, if there are 50 rails there at 130 pounds a yard that would be approximately 2,860,000 pounds.

A video worth a thousand words ... or more

What a remarkable illustration of the flexibility of steel rails. I had no idea.

Another example of how this website can be entertaining and educational.

Thanks to "archfan".

Curve comments

I love Shorpy. Such depth and breadth of knowledge, especially in the railroad dept. Thank you very much to alcosteam, Phare Pleigh, fdzug, jimboylan, Timz, and archfan for helping me understand how curved rail is laid. The video provided by archfan fairly blew my mind – I really couldn’t believe my eyes as all that straight rail slowly bent around the curve.

Curves ahead

Here's a video of a train with a quarter-mile of Continuous Welded Rail going around a curve:

Curved rail

Ever seen a trainload of rail on its way to where it's to be laid? They used to carry quarter-mile lengths of rail-- maybe they're longer now. Dunno what's the sharpest curve they can bend around, but must be less than 500 ft radius. So the rail is at least that flexible, and doesn't need to be rolled to fit a particular curve.

Dunno what the speed limit is for rail trains rounding curves, but they don't just inch around them. Maybe 20 mph on a ten-degree curve?

Curving rails

Railroad rails are slightly flexible, but for a sharper curve, there are tools to bend the rails, either pre-ordered or on-site.

No bendy trick

Although made of steel, rail are quite (relatively) flexible. They lay out the ties on the ballast, and then, with tie-plates and spikes, make the rails conform to how the ties are laid. There are any number of videos on line which show the track-laying process.

Tracks Curve

Rail is actually quite flexible - has to be to stand up the the pounding of hundreds of tons exerted by each car or locomotive. Crews would use large lining bars to push the rail over into the right position and then spike down.

Laying track

Rail especially in slight curves such as in this photo are not an issue as the rail is for lack of a better term, flexible in sideways bending. At curvatures not achievable by manpower alone there are portable rail benders, they are a triangular tool with a screw jack in the middle that hooks over the top of the rail and the jack pushes out in the middle and you move it up and down the track to get the desired effect of bend. The modern portable rail benders are hydraulically driven, or more likely the backhoe the rail gang is using works well also.

Curvatures are also never made abruptly from a straight tangent of track or at a joint, instead they transitionally start out, gradually increasing to the necessary curvature to get where they are going to. The higher the intended speed in a location the larger the transition and the less the overall curve.

At the time this picture was taken train weights had not increased to the point of needing tie plates to protect the wood ties from being cut into by the rail. That would change in the next decade or so as tonnage and size of the equipment increased. Its possible the mainline in the distance already had tie plates installed.

Illinois Coal Handling

Mazonia was the name of a railroad junction point. This was not a normal railroad coaling tower designed for supplying coal to locomotives, but the main function was for the handling and distribution of Braidwood Illinois/Coal City strip mined coal, some of which was re-loaded and RR shipped locally for local steam locomotive fuel, and some of which was shipped and distributed further out elsewhere. Note the "D-rail" in track, located near stairway which can be lined to protect mainline (out of sight on left) as coal is loaded into RR cars to haul to local RR coaling facilities for local RR locomotive fuel use. Water tank spout is out of sight on mainline side of tank.

Curving tracks

I’ve got a question for the railroaders. How do they make the rails to fit the exact curves of the specific location? Are the specs figured out in advance and the rails made to order and brought to the installation site? Or is there some on-site bend-y trick?

Construction photo?

Everything looks new! (Coal towers would get dirty quickly from coal dust.) And I don't see any spout or water column from the water tank. That makes me think the work at this location is not complete.

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