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By J.H. Reeder
General Tie and Lumber Agent
Canadian Pacific Railway ties at the Ashcroft treating plant - 21 Jun 2002 William Slim.
 Internal link   Introduction

      Many years ago Canadian Pacific published a series of ten books named the "Foundation Library". One particular book in this collection, published in 1937, is named "Factors in Railway and Steamship Operation". It contains many short stories and articles dealing with the company during that period. This month's article is from that book, "Sixty Million Canadian Pacific Ties", written by J.H. Reeder, General Tie and Lumber Agent, and reprinted here for your enjoyment with the addition of some appropriate images.

 Internal link   The 1937 Article

      There are approximately sixty million ties in the tracks of the Canadian Pacific Railway and its Canadian subsidiaries. Practically all of these ties were produced along the lines of our railway.

      The requisites of modern track demand that ties must be resilient, require no insulation, be light and easy to handle, not shatter in service, permit simple and easy rail renewals, and resist the forces tending to disturb the line, gauge, and surface of the track. Tie material must be relatively inexpensive and available in large quantities.

      Wood has always furnished, and probably will continue to furnish, the ideal tie. Hundreds of patents have been taken out for steel, concrete, and other substitutes for wooden ties, but no railway on this continent has adopted substitutes, for they cannot compete economically with wooden ties.

      The replacement of the sixty million ties in our tracks would cost over one hundred million dollars at to-day's prices, practically as much as the Company has invested in its ocean and coastal steamships. Yearly replacements up to 1930 required the annual purchase, inspection, acceptance, and distribution of six million ties. Since 1930 the number of ties required for renewals has been decreasing each year due to the effect of treated ties in service, and to the depressed business conditions which made it essential to keep expenses as low as possible, consistent with safety.

      At present, our annual requirements are approximately three and one half million ties. To procure, treat, and distribute this quantity of ties requires the handling of ten thousand carloads, equivalent to 250 - 40 car trains, practically five train loads per week.

      Nearly all of the ties produced in Canada are used by the two large Canadian railway systems. The number of ties exported is negligible when compared with those used for domestic consumption. Since we are able to obtain our requirements along our own lines, we do not buy any off-line ties and do not pay any foreign freight charges.

      Tie production is carried out to a greater or lesser extent on all the Company's lines, except those through the thickly populated sections in the East and across the prairies of the Western Provinces.

      The Company has its own operation in British Columbia which produces one million ties annually. The balance are purchased from independent producers. With the exception of a few species, all Canadian merchantable woods are used for ties. On Western Lines, fir, larch, and lodge pole pine from British Columbia and Alberta are used locally, and distributed over the Western portion of the prairies. Jack pine ties secured from Western Ontario and Eastern Manitoba are used locally, and distributed over the balance of the Prairie Provinces.

      On Eastern Lines, Jack pine ties are secured on the Western section of the Algoma District, used locally, and distributed over portions of the Ontario and Quebec Districts. Hemlock, hardwoods (i.e., beech, birch, and maple), tamarack, and cedar ties, are procured in south-eastern Ontario, Quebec, and New Brunswick, and are used locally. On the Quebec Central Railway, cedar ties are used to a large extent, on the Dominion Atlantic Railway, hardwood, pine, and hemlock ties are used.

      All ties must be made from sound, live, straight timber and must be entirely free from all imperfections which would impair their strength and durability. They must be well manufactured with ends sawn square and cut exactly 8 feet long.

      Track ties may be sawn or hewn on two or four sides. The Company's specifications provide for three grades of track ties.

      Number 1 ties are 7 inches thick. If flatted, they must have from 7 inches to 12 inches face. If squared, they must be 9 inches wide, with one inch of wane permitted on two corners on one side only.

      Number 2 ties are 6 inches thick. If flatted, they must have from 6 inches to 12 inches face. If squared, they must be 8 inches wide with one inch of wane permitted on two corners on one side only.

      Number 3 ties, or merchantable culls, are larger or smaller than specified above, which, due to improper manufacture or excessive wane, requires that they be excluded from the number one and two grades. In practice, Number 3 ties are accepted when their face measurement is not less than 5 inches.

      All ties are inspected by trained inspectors before they are loaded, by the manufacturer, into cars for shipment.

      A rough general outline of the uses of the various grades is as follows:

  • Number 1 ties are used on main lines and on curves on first-class branch lines;
  • Number 2 ties are used on tangent tracks of main lines, on branch lines, and on sidings;
  • Number 3 ties are used on sidings and spurs.

      The Number 3 tie, since it is produced by accident (no producer deliberately manufactures Number 3 ties), would represent a direct loss to the producer if it was not purchased by the railway. Consequently, the railway takes these ties off the producer's hands at a reduced price, and since they replace Number 2 ties, they prove to be very economical. On Eastern Lines during the past ten years, 1,675,000 Number 3 ties have been used and the difference in cost between this quantity of Number 3 ties and Number 2 ties, during this period, represents a saving of $950,000. In my opinion, the Number 3 tie is the best tie purchase we make.

      Track ties are produced by hand or by mill, depending usually on the size of the stand of timber exploited and its location. Hewn ties are made by skilled woodsmen with axes and saws. Hewn tie production requires little in the way of capital expenditure, one of its big advantages is that it can be produced at locations along the Company's lines where sawmills are not practical, by farmers and settlers, and thus the Company can make local purchases and spread its expenditures for ties over a large territory. Until a few years ago the Company obtained a very large percentage of hewn ties, but on account of the waste of timber, more sawn ties are now being manufactured by mills. Due to the waste of timber, the provincial governments charge a higher price for timber licences for the manufacture of hewn ties than for licences for ties manufactured by a mill. The hewn tie, contrary to general opinion, does not have a longer life than the sawn tie. Hewn ties are not uniform in thickness or width and to some extent may be the cause of rough tracks in the spring, due to the uneven release of frost from the ballast.

      Hewn ties, when made in fairly large quantities, are usually floated down rivers or towed across lakes to the railway in the spring, where they are inspected, graded, and loaded into cars.

      Sawn ties are more easily inspected than hewn ties, and approximately 20 percent more squared sawn ties can be loaded per car. By the manufacture of sawn ties, waste of timber is greatly reduced. Track equipped with squared, sawn ties, due to their uniformity, presents a more attractive appearance than if it is equipped with flatted hewn ties.

      Sawn ties are produced from round logs either 8 feet or 16 feet long, which are driven by water or hauled to sawmills. A sawmill necessitates a large investment by the manufacturer since it is used not only to produce ties, but lumber, timber, lath, etc., as well. No sawn tie production can be operated independently. That is, there must be a market for the lath, lumber, and other products of the mill or a sawn tie operation is not economical. The railway also benefits from the freight traffic from the lumber produced at the mill.

      Tie prices are governed:

  1. By the density of timber stands;
  2. By ease of logging. Ground conditions have a large bearing on logging costs;
  3. Accessibility:  that is, the distance which supplies and men must be transported to the woods operation;
  4. Length of drive:  that is, the distance from point of production to point of delivery at mills or along the railway;
  5. Cost of production. In the case of hewn ties, this depends mainly on the cost of labour and supplies. In the case of sawn ties, it depends on the cost of labour and supplies, quantity produced, market for lumber, slabs, etc., investment in and maintenance of mill, and efficiency of the equipment;
  6. Competition by other forest products. Price and demand for mining timbers and pulp wood have a decided bearing on tie prices;
  7. Cost of stumpage:  that is, cost of standing timber.

      The above factors may vary considerably in the same territory. In general, there is at the present time no acute shortage of tie material, although from time to time prices may increase or decrease due to several of the factors mentioned.

      The two determining factors of tie life are decay and mechanical wear. The life of untreated ties, with the exception of cedar, is definitely determined by decay. If the tie is treated in such manner that decay is prevented, its life will be determined by mechanical wear:  hardwood ties, due to superior wearing qualities should, therefore, give longer service life than soft wood ties.

      When traffic and wheel loads were lighter, cedar made excellent ties, as it was highly resistant to decay and gave a life which averaged in excess of 20 years. As traffic became more dense, and the weights of our engines and cars increased, it was found that cedar ties wore out quickly, and that protection in the form of tie plates was necessary to obtain the maximum use of the cedar ties.

      For many years, the railway continued to use all the cedar ties it could procure. Eventually, practically all the large stands of cedar were cut off and the company had to use ties of other species. Ties of these other species, not being as resistant to decay as cedar, give a service life of only about 10 years.

      Railway demands for ties are fairly uniform regardless of business conditions. Faced with the necessity of purchasing increased quantities of ties and with rising prices, our Company began early the study of the use of preservatives to increase the service life of ties.

      The primary purpose of preservative treatment is to increase the service life and retain the strength of the tie, since nothing reduces the strength of wood more quickly than decay to which it is subject.

      Decay results from the action of certain low forms of plant life called fungi which depend for their sustenance on various substances in the wood itself, and as those substances are dissolved the structure of the wood is broken down until the stage of rot is reached. If, therefore, the wood itself, the food of the decay producing fungi, is poisoned by impregnating it with a toxic preservative, it will be impossible for decay to develop as long as the preservative remains.

      Although ties can be made more resistant to decay by preservative treatment, such treatment may not always be economical, even though the tie may be subject to severe fungus attack. If ties are to be in service for a short time only, durability is not important, and any kind of preservative treatment would be waste of money. If, on the other hand, the ties are to be used in a permanent location, it is easy for preservative treatment to show large savings.

      Since we know the average life of untreated ties and their cost in place in the track, we can easily compute the annual expense of the untreated tie. For example, the average life of an untreated tie is 10 years and its cost in place is $1.30. Figuring interest at 5 percent, the expense of the tie is 17 cents per annum. A treated tie costs $1.90 in place in the track. Therefore treated ties must give an average service life of between 16 and 17 years if the annual expense of the treated tie is not to exceed that of the untreated tie. Any additional life over 17 years will result in an annual saving in the cost of our ties. It is customary to speak of the service of ties in terms of their average life.

      In 1906, Western Lines officers of the Canadian Pacific, anticipating an ultimate tie shortage and faced with the rising tie prices, selected 300 ties made from local woods - Jack Pine, spruce, poplar, and tamarack - from the vicinity of Kenora, Ontario, and sent them to Sommerville, Texas, where the Santa Fe had just previously opened a tie-treating plant. Records indicate that 150 of these ties were returned. They were treated with 4 3/4 pounds of creosote oil per cubic foot after they had been thoroughly air seasoned. These ties were installed in the main track West of Virden, Manitoba. For the first three years after installation no tie plates were used. The rail has been changed several times since these ties were installed. These ties will have an average life of between 30 and 31 years.

      In 1909, 246 spruce ties were creosoted at Minneapolis and put in the track near Rugby Junction, Manitoba. Of these ties, 69 had been removed after 25 years of service. This indicates an average life of about 31 years.

      A conservative estimate of the average life to be expected from our ties is 26 years. Assuming this life and using the 1937 cost of treated ties in the track, of $1.90 each, the saving due to the treated ties now in service amounts to one and one-half million dollars per year. This saving is easily explained. The cost of the untreated ties, with 10 years' service in the track, is $1.30 each, and the cost of the treated ties, in the track, is $1.90 each. Therefore, by the expenditure of 60 cents more on the untreated ties we have increased their average life two and one half times. Since our tracks are equipped with a large number of treated ties, they are from two to three times stronger than they were when no treated ties were used. There is also a large saving in labour due to fewer renewals required per mile, less surfacing, lining, and gauging, and fewer derailments. These are indirect savings which cannot be accurately estimated, but they amount to a very appreciable sum each year.

June 2002 - Ashcroft Treating produces over 600,000 treated wooden railway ties and 1.4 million board feet of bridge timbers per year for a number of different railways. Their main customer is the Canadian Pacific Railway but other railways and rail construction companies also use their products. Ashcroft Treating is located approximately 3 miles east of Ashcroft, British Columbia, sandwiched between CPR's mainline and the Thompson River.

      Ties were first treated in Canada at Transcona, near Winnipeg, in 1911. To-day there are plants located at Truro, Nova Scotia, Delson, Quebec, Trenton, Ontario, Sudbury, Ontario, Transcona, Manitoba, Calgary, Alberta, and New Westminster, British Columbia, which treat ties under contract with our Company. At the present time the Company's programme provides for the treatment of about one and three-quarter million ties annually.

      Approximately 40 percent of the ties used on the Dominion Atlantic Railway are treated. No treated ties are used on the Quebec Central Railway, as this road is still able to obtain its requirements in cedar.

      Practically all the ties used on Eastern Lines are treated. On Western Lines approximately 45 percent of the ties used are treated.

      From time to time, many substances such as various salts of mercury, sodium, copper, arsenic, lead, and zinc, and inorganic derivatives of petroleum and coal tar have been proposed for preservatives, but only two have stood the test of time. They are zinc chloride and creosote.

      Zinc chloride is a water soluble salt which is very toxic against wood destroying fungi, offering about the same resistance as creosote. Its chief fault is its solubility in water and this property makes it inadvisable to use it in wet locations or where the annual rainfall exceeds 20 inches. The cost of zinc chloride is small, being about 5 cents per pound and ties treated with half a pound of this preservative per cubic foot of wood will have their service life extended about 75 percent. On Western Lines, approximately 300,000 ties are being treated annually at Calgary with zinc chloride.

      Creosote oil is derived from coal tar produced by the destructive distillation of bituminous coal to coke. Creosote is distilled from tar in a metal retort or still and the vapours are condensed and collected. The temperatures at which creosotes are obtained generally range from 375 degrees Fahrenheit, to 600 degrees Fahrenheit.

      The creosote as a whole is antiseptic, insoluble in water, and fluid enough at the temperatures used in the treating plant to offer no great resistance to entrance into wood.

      Tests and experience have shown that from 4 to 5 pounds of creosote per cubic foot of wood will protect it from decay, if it is properly distributed, but when this small quantity is used, it is mainly concentrated on the outside and at the ends of the ties, and the penetration is not sufficient. Consequently, it is good practice to dilute the creosote with either 3 or 4 parts of coal tar or equal parts of petroleum oil, whichever is the cheaper. The total quantity of mixture injected is adjusted so that the creosote proportion comes between the 4 and 5 pound limits. The effectiveness and economy of preservative treatment depend chiefly upon its thoroughness. Good treatment, intelligently used, is economical, but poor treatment, whether resulting from improper choice of preservative, low absorption, or insufficient penetration in the treating operation, is expensive and may prove disastrous.

      No treatment can make a sound tie from a decayed tie. In order to obtain maximum economy from the treatment of ties, it is necessary that they be sound when treated.

      Freshly cut, green ties contain a large quantity of water, a considerable part of which must be removed before the timber can be treated with preservative. The removal of this water is called seasoning. Air seasoning is a safe, economical, and very effective method of preparing ties for treatment. It is accomplished by exposing the timber to the sun and wind until sufficient water is removed to permit the proper injection and diffusion of preservative. All of our ties, with the exception of those treated on the Pacific Coast, are air seasoned. On the Pacific Coast, due to the heavy rainfall and high humidity, it is necessary to season them artificially. Air seasoning varies with the species of the wood, the location of the seasoning yard, and the manner in which ties are piled. It requires from four to eight months to air-season our ties.

      Ties for seasoning are shipped from the point of manufacture to the treating plant where they are piled in open piles in such manner that there is an air space around each tie and a minimum of contact with the ties in the pile. A space of 4 feet is maintained between piles to permit free circulation of air.

      When ties are ready for treatment, they are loaded on tram cars and switched to the adzing, boring, and incising mill where they are passed through a machine which adzes the surface of the tie for proper and uniform bearing of the rail, stamps figures showing the year and the rail boring on the ends, bores holes for the spikes to increase their holding power, and to obtain a greater absorption and penetration of the preservative at points of maximum wear, that is, at the rail seats, and makes incisions or perforations on the four sides of the tie.

      The incisions are made to obtain more uniform distribution of the preservative. The absorption and distribution of preservatives vary considerably in different species of wood and even in wood of the same species. Checks of absorption showed that by far the greater quantity of preservative was absorbed by the ends of the ties along the grain of the wood, while there was little or no penetration of the heart faces where it is required. The incisions, by providing additional points of entrance along the grain of the wood, have overcome this difficulty to a large extent.

      The ties, after passing through the machines at the mill, are reloaded on trams which are then made up into trains of 18 trams each with a capacity of about 800 Number 1 ties, or 1,000 Number 2 ties. The train of trams is then switched to the treating house where it is placed inside a steel cylinder, 7 feet in diameter and 150 feet long. The door is bolted shut and compressed air is admitted to the cylinder at a pressure of from 25 to 75 pounds per square inch, depending upon the kind of wood and its condition.

      This preliminary air pressure is maintained while the cylinder is filled with hot preservative at a temperature of 175 degrees to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. When the cylinder is filled with preservative, the pressure is raised by pumps to 175 pounds or more per square inch and this pressure is maintained until a predetermined quantity of preservative has been forced into the wood. During the pressure period, the temperature of the preservative has been held at about 200 degrees Fahrenheit. The cylinder is then drained of preservative and a vacuum is drawn to increase the expansive force of the air in the wood and force out the excess preservative which is recovered.

      A record of the number, grade, and species of the ties, the total amount of preservative used, the gross amount absorbed per tie, the net retention per tie, temperatures at beginning and end of treatment, the air pressure, oil pressure, and amount of vacuum, together with the time required to carry out each operation, is kept of each charge treated.
The total time required varies with each charge and is from 3 to 12 hours. Upon completion of the treatment, the charge is checked for penetration and absorption and, if satisfactory, the ties are taken to the loading dock for loading and shipment. If not satisfactory, the charge is retreated.

      The Company has been reaping the benefits of the use of treated ties for the past 15 years. On Western Lines, the saving to the end of 1936 will be 1,296,000 ties. The saving for the year 1937 will be 550,000 ties. It is expected that the annual saving of ties on Western Lines will increase each year, reaching the one million mark in 1942. At the end of the year 1944, the total saving of ties will amount to approximately eight and one quarter millions. At the present rate of use of treated ties, Western Lines will not be 100 percent equipped until after 1950.

      On Eastern Lines, the average renewals for the five year period from 1923 to 1927, both inclusive, were 297 ties per mile. In 1928, the effect of the treating programme began to be felt and renewals dropped to 273 ties per mile. Ties used per mile over the five year period from 1928 to 1932 decreased each year. In 1932 they amounted to 116 per mile and the five year average had decreased from 297 to 213 per mile. Further decreases were made each year for the next five years. The average renewals for the five year period, 1933 to 1937, will be 81 ties per mile and renewals for the year 1937 are expected to be only 69 per mile.

      The total saving of ties since 1927, as compared with the five year average from 1923 to 1927, is ten and one half million ties.

      On Eastern Lines, the tracks are now over 80 percent equipped with treated ties but it will probably be 1944 or 1945 before they will be 100 percent equipped. Experience on American roads and on Eastern Lines has been that as tracks are from 80 percent to 100 percent equipped with treated ties, the annual renewals drop to about 70 ties per mile and then gradually increase to about 120 per mile and will ultimately average about 100 per mile.

      If our present policy of using one and one-quarter million treated ties annually on Western Lines and practically 100 percent treated ties for renewals on Eastern Lines, is continued until 1944, the Company will have saved over twenty-eight million ties, equivalent to more than thirty-six million dollars at to-day's prices.

      It would require the cutting of more than two million feet of timber to produce twenty-eight million ties, a severe drain on the country's resources. The Company, by reducing its demands for tie timber, is assisting our country to conserve its resources and to utilize them economically.

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