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Black Tie: 1943

Black Tie: 1943

March 1943. Albuquerque, New Mexico. "At the Santa Fe R.R. tie plant. The ties made of pine and fir, are seasoned for eight months. The steaming black ties have just come from the retort, where they have been impregnated with creosote for eight hours." 4x5 Kodachrome transparency by Jack Delano. View full size.


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Note the narrow gauge

The creosote trains, center and right foreground and middleground, are running on narrow gauge track, while the flat cars on the left and the gondolas and crane (right background) are on standard gauge track. Hard to tell, but the narrow gauge could be 3 feet, possibly less (30 inches?). It doesn't look like there is any dual-gauge trackage in the photo, but this was not uncommon in industrial settings such as steel mills.

The superb quality of the photograph (view full size!) is cause yet again to lament the demise of Kodachrome, the finest color transparency film ever produced, bar none. Although K-chrome in cut film sizes such as 4x5 had not been produced for many years, 35mm size was made right up to the end of production in 2009. It is missed by all serious film photographers. Kodachrome images, properly stored, will still be vivid and true a hundred years from now. I wouldn't bet a nickel on anything digital lasting one-tenth as long.

[Nonsense. - Dave]

Smells like ... Progress!

There are still a few historic rail lines where you can immerse yourself in that old-time railroad smell. The Colorado narrow gauge lines, like Durango & Silverton, Cumbres & Toltec Scenic, and the Georgetown Loop come to mind. Ahhh, the heady perfume of coal smoke, hot grease, and of course, creosote.


My wife grew up on Terre Haute, Indiana, where they had a creosote factory that made railroad ties. Some days we could smell Terre Haute seven miles east on I-70 before we got there. I can only imagine how nasty it would be to work with the chemical.

Blue puddles

I work as a trackman for a Northeastern railroad. We still put in wooden ties all the time. Creosote is a real nasty little chemical that not only burns, but causes a slipping hazard as it will ooze out of the tie in high heat and will make the wood feel like a newly waxed floor. And if it rained the day before, look out for those nasty little blue puddles all over the place.

Where's Godzilla?

You'll need him when those caterpillars hatch!

Train Smell

Always loved the smell of the old railways. Of course, the old telephone poles smelled the same on a hot summer day.

The only place to really immerse yourself in the scent is a railway museum. The Museum of Science and Technology here has a big room filled with cars and engines. When I worked there, it was my job to dust these babies. The job was a pleasure only because of the smell of trains.

Smells not unlike my car does, at the moment, because of a slipped brake pad.

If you believe Google Maps

Acto the address given in the various SuperFund papers this is in the vicinity of the current autorack terminal, but there s a lot of empty land there.

Concrete ties are used in high-speed service and in some nasty places where wood ties don't last long, but for the most part creosote-treated ties are what get set under almost all freight rail in the USA. So if you want to know what creosote smells like, the trackside is the place to go. Unless you like sniffing telephone poles.

Save the trees!

Now they make them out of concrete!

Like Cookies from the Oven

Mmmm the smell of creosote. I used to buy it at the hardware for dippin' the bottom of fence posts. Not for sale to the general public anymore. The environmentalists took that simple pleasure away from us. Rotten.

Air Quality

I'm trying to imagine how pungent those aromas would have been.

Not surprisingly

This became a Superfund site. It's just south of the GE aircraft engine plant.

I love

the smell of creosote in the morning!

If toothpicks were dollars

this would just about cover the national debt.

Railyard Park

Is this the area that's now Railyard Park? Definitely interesting to see what it looked like back in the day.

Creosote steaming!

I wouldn't like walking there in the clouds of creosote!
Anyway, this is an interesting photo. Thanks for sharing it here!

Black Tie, forsooth

I know I've said it before, but I'll say it again: the only thing better than these excellent photos is the delicious titles you come up with for them. This level of cleverness is a sort of high-wire act and I constantly marvel at your surefootedness way up there ...

Donkey Engine

The small shed in the center of the photo appears to house a steam "donkey", a steam-operated winch, used to pull the narrow-gauge tie cars in and out of the various sidings. The two men in the center seem to be wrangling the donkey cable, and the large round objects on the ground near them are probably large pulleys, used for changing the direction of travel of the cable.

My old job

I had a summer job unloading those creosote-infused railroad ties. That was a nasty, nasty job. The ties are very hot and creosote vapors burn, so you have to cover all exposed skin with calamine lotion. But it’s the middle of summer and it’s hot, so anywhere your sweat lands on you, it washes away the calamine, and you get a burn.

Not a happy summer.

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