This section is from the book "Scientific American Reference Book. A Manual for the Office, Household and Shop", by Albert A. Hopkins, A. Russell Bond. Also available from Amazon: Scientific American Reference Book.
If one were called upon to name the field of engineering in which the vast scale upon which things are done in this country is most strikingly shown, he would be safe in pointing to the colossal railroad system of the United States. In respect of the total length of track, the total number of locomotives and cars, the veritable army of employees, and the gross value of capital invested, our railway system is so huge that it stands absolutely in a class by itself among the railroad systems of the world. It is equally true that in respect of the character of its track, rolling stock, its general equipment, and methods of operation, it is marked by national characteristics which distinguish it far more sharply from the great European and Asiatic roads, than they are distinguished from each other.
In attempting to impress upon the mind the magnitude of the properties and the operations represented by the statistics of such huge interests as the railroads of the United States, where the figures run into the millions and billions, it is necessary to translate these figures into concrete terms and refer them to some widely known standard of measurement, whether of distance, weight, or bulk. On the following pages, our artist has endeavored - and we think very successfully - to transform the statistics of our railroads into concrete form by taking as a unit of measurement the greatest single constructive work of man, the great Pyramid of Egypt, with whose dimensions every voting American citizen is perfectly familiar, or, if he is not, ought to be. From time immemorial the great Pyramid, being one of the original seven wonders of the world, has been a favorite standard of comparison with other great constructive works. It measures some 756 feet on the base by 481 feet in height, and contains about 91 1/2% million cubic feet. Now, before we can use even this well-known standard and be sure that it will convey its full impression to the average reader, we must compare the Pyramid itself with some big and well-known structure, and for this purpose our artist has drawn the Capitol of Washington at the side of the Pyramid, both on the same scale. If it were possible to take a shell of the Pyramid, composed merely of the outer layer of stone, and place it over the Capitol, it would practically shut it out from view, and the apex of the Pyramid would extend 200 feet above the highest point of the Capitol dome.
The total length of the railroads in operation in the United States at the close of the fiscal year 1901 was 195,-887 miles, this total not including track in sidings, etc. If these railroads could be stretched out in one continuous line, they would be sufficient to girdle the earth at the equator more than eight times; or, if started from the earth and stretched outward into space, they would reach four-fifths of the distance from the earth to the moon.
Now, to arrive at an estimate of what it has taken in material to build this length of railroad, let us assume that a fair average size of rail is one weighing 75 pounds to the yard. Much of the track in the Eastern States weighs 80, 90 and 100 pounds to the yard, while most of the track west of the Mississippi weighs 70, GO and in some instances as low as 56 pounds to the yard. On this basis it is an easy calculation to determine that the total weight of these rails is over 25,000,000 tons; and if the mass were melted and cast in solid pyramidal form it would contain 105,540,-000 cubic feet, and would be over 15 per cent larger than the great Pyramid itself. If the rails were cast in one rectangular block, it would form a mass 436 feet square on the base and equal in height to the Washington Monument, which towers 550 feet above its base.
The railroad ties used in this country vary in size from a tie 8 inches wide, 6 inches deep and 9 feet long to ties as much as 12 inches in width and 8 inches in depth. A fair average would be a tie 10 inches in width and 7 inches in depth and 9 feet long, and a good average spacing would be 24 inches, center to center of the ties, or say 2,600 to the mile. On this basis we find that, could all these ties be gathered together on the Nile desert and piled one upon another into a pyramid of the same proportions as that at Gizeh, it would form a mass twenty-four times as great as the Pyramid of the Pharaohs, measuring 2,200 feet on its base and reaching 1,390 feet into the air.
*Reprinted from the "Transportation Number" of the Scientific American, Dec. 13. 1902, therefore the figures and the comparisons are for that year.
Copyright, 1902, by Munn & Co.
Comparisons Showing Length of Railroads and Bulk of Track. The Great Railroad System Of The United States.
Copyright, 1902, by Munn & Co.
Comparisons Showing Bulk of Equipment. The Great Railroad System Of The United States.
After the ties and rails have been laid in the construction of a railroad the ballast cars pass over it and unload their broken rock or gravel, which is tamped beneath and filled around the ties to form a solid but well-drained foundation. On some of our Eastern roads the depth of the ballast will exceed 18 or 20 inches; on the other hand, some of the Western roads have none at all, although of late years a vast advance has been made in the ballast-ing of the more cheaply constructed systems. Assuming an average depth of 12 inches of ballast, we find that if the railroad builders of the United States had concentrated their efforts, as did the Egyptians of old, on a single structure on the banks of the Nile, they would, in a period of years not much greater than that required to build the Pyramid, have raised a pyramid of their own 135 times greater in bulk than the tomb of Cheops. This vast pile would measure 3,900 feet on each side at the base, and would lift its head nearly half a mile into the air, or to be exact, just 2.500 feet. Were the spirit of the great Cheops to return to earth, and attempt to pace off the distance around the base, it would have to step out some 5,000 paces, or say three miles, to make the circuit; and should it climb to the summit, it would have to make a journey of about three-quarters of a mile. So much for the roadbed and the track. Now let us turn our attention to the equipment.