Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Workin' on the railroad

I've twice had opportunity to lay and remove railroad track. The first came in 1983 when my reserve unit, Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 2's Detachment 0402, built a 880-foot rail spur at McClellen Air Force Base in Sacramento.

I should've come away from the five-month project with a new found appreciation for the heavy physical labor required by track workers. But it didn't happen that way.

I worked a desk job during the years that I drilled with Det. 0402. As the detachment career counselor, it was my job to convince the young Seabees to stay in the Naval Reserves when their first enlistment came to an end.

During those years, I often held counseling sessions on the tailgate of my pick up truck at the job site. While I spent many hours at McClellen as the Seabees removed the old spur, built a new loading dock and lay the ties and rail, I pushed paper instead of driving spikes.

I did drive several spikes at the insistence of some of the Seabees on the project. As a life-long rail enthusiast, I eagerly joined in. I can say that driving a spike with the long, pointed spike maul is not easy. It takes years of experience to hit the spike square on its head.

My newest experience started Saturday. The crew of the El Dorado Western Railway is removing the track on the old Southern Pacific Placerville Branch right-of-way east of Missouri Flat Road in Placerville, California.

The crew is relocating the track, along with the switches, joiners, joiner bolts, spikes and tie plates from the old Diamond Springs yard to the site of the proposed El Dorado County Railroad Park in the town of El Dorado. A contractor is currently expending the El Dorado Trail a long the old right-of-way from Placerville to Missouri Flat Road.

I have a new found appreciation for the work of the old section gangs. It took two four-hour days for the crew to remove the joiner bolts on approximately 1,000-feet of mainline and siding track.

Using early twentieth century track tools, our crew of six unbolted the joiners that were spaced every 30 feet on Friday and Saturday. A four-man crew removed spikes on 300 feet of track on Sunday afternoon.

I realized Sunday that track work gives you a good, healthy cardio workout. My pulse approached 130 beats per minute after I had pulled spikes for an hour. I felt good despite a few aches and pains Sunday night. I belive my evening walks helped.

The track relocation is a project of the El Dorado County Historical Museum. As volunteers of the museum, the El Dorado Western Railway is providing labor and technical assistance to the museum as it moves forward with the railroad park in El Dorado.