Most of the rail was old chair iron, short, and consequently more time was used in making the change than would have been required had our work been on fishplate rail. Our sections here were about eight miles long, and we arranged our men on the basis blocked out by the committee, viz., 24 to 26 men to the section, consisting of 6 spike pullers, 4 throwing rails, 12 spikers, 2 to push the cars and carry water.
We soon found 5 ft. cars useless, and threw them into the ditch to be picked up at some future time.
The men were spread out so as not to be in each other's way, and when the organization was understood and conformed to, it worked well. One gang changed 5 miles in 5 hours and 10 minutes, including a number of switches. We found, however, and it was demonstrated still more strongly on later work, that after 5 or 6 miles the men began to lag.
We believed we had the best results when we had sections of about that length.
It was arranged that two sections, alternately, commenced work together at one point, working from each other and continuing until the force of another section was met, working from the opposite direction.
The foreman in charge was expected to examine the work and know that all was right. The push car which followed was a good test as to gauge.
A work train was started from each end with a small force (20 or 25 men) to run over the changed track. This train, of course, had been changed on a previous day to be ready for this work.
If a force was overtaken by this train with its work not done, the men on the train were at once spread out to aid in its completion. This done, the train ran on.
Not until this was done was a traffic train allowed to pass over the track. The same rule was followed upon all the work.
Upon the final day it was required that upon all high trestles and in tunnels the track should be full-spiked before being left or a train let over. This took extra time and labor, and possibly was not necessary; but it was a precaution on the side of safety.
Upon the day of the change of the Alabama Central Division (Selma to Lauderdale), superintendents of other divisions, with their road masters, supervisors, master mechanics and many section foremen, were sent over to see the organization and work and the preparations that had been made. Many of them lent a helping hand in the work. They saw here in practice what had only been theory before.
About a week before the general change that portion of the road between Rome, Ga., and Selma, Ala., about 200 miles, was changed, and again men from other divisions were sent to see and aid in the work. So when the final day came, the largest possible number of men were able to work understandingly.
On the last day of May the Memphis & Charleston, Knoxville & Ohio, and North Carolina branch were changed, and on June 1 the line from Bristol to Chattanooga and Brunswick.
Other roads changed their branch lines a day or two before the 1st of June; but the main lines, as a rule, were changed on that day.
It was a small matter to take care of the cars and arrange the train service so there should be no hitches. It was not expected that connections would move freight during the 48 hours prior to the change, and these days were spent in clearing the road of everything, and taking the cars to the points of rendezvous. All scheduled freight trains were abandoned on the day prior to the change, and only trains run to such points.
Upon the East Tennessee system these points were Knoxville, Rome, Atlanta, Macon, Huntsville, and Memphis, and to these points all cars must go, loaded or empty, and there they were parked upon the tracks prepared for the purpose. Passenger trains were run to points where it had been arranged to change them, generally to the general changing point.
Most of the Southern roads have double daily passenger service. Upon all roads one of these trains, upon the day of change, was abandoned, and upon some all. Some, even, did not run till next day.
We were able to start the day trains out by 10 or 11 o'clock A.M., and put them through in fair time. Of course, no freights were run that day, and the next day was used in getting the cars which had been changed out of the parks and into line. So our freight traffic over the entire South was suspended practically three days.
The work of changing was to commence at 3:30 A.M., but many of the men were in position at an earlier hour, and did commence work as soon as the last train was over, or an hour or so before the fixed time. Half-past three A.M., however, can be set down as the general hour of commencement.
For five or six hours in the cool morning the work went on briskly, the men working with much more than ordinary enthusiasm. But the day was warm, and after 9 or 10 A.M. it began to lag. All was done, however, before the day was over, and safe, so that trains could pass at full speed.
The men all received $1.50 for the work, whether it was finished early or late in the day, and were paid that afternoon as soon as the work was done. Tickets were given the men, which the nearest agent paid, remitting as cash to the treasurer.
On some lines it was deemed best to offer prizes to those who got through first.
Reports showed some very early finishes. But the facts seem to have been that under such encouragement the men were apt to pull too many spikes before the change and put too few in while changing. They were thus reported through early, but their work was not done, and they took great chances.
It was by most considered unwise to offer such prizes, preferring to have a little more time taken and be sure that all was safe. Such lines seemed to get their trains in motion with as much promptness as others. This, with freedom from accident, was the end sought.
It was found after the work had been done that there had been little inaccuracies in driving the gauge spike, to which the rail was thrown, probably from various causes. The rail to be moved may not always have been exactly in its proper place, and then the template in the hurry may not have been accurately placed, or the spike may have turned or twisted.