“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”

Los Angeles in Los Angeles County, California — The American West (Pacific Coastal)

Tracks Through Time

Tracks Through Time Marker image. Click for full size.
By Craig Baker, December 4, 2019
1. Tracks Through Time Marker
Inscription.  The first permanent railroad track in the United States was laid around 1810 near Philadelphia. Experimental railways began developing throughout the eastern states and by 1850 over 9,000 miles of track had been laid. Track construction followed the country's westward expansion and by the time of the Civil War nearly all the important cities of the east, midwest and south were linked by rail. On May 10, 1869 the last spike was driven on America's First Transcontinental Railroad - connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans by rail.

The background photo, taken in October 1866, depicts a Union Pacific Railroad construction engineer looking out over the transcontinental right-of-way; rough-hewn wood ties are all in place on the freshly-graded roadbed, awaiting the rail-laying crews. America's railroad track miles continued to grow to a peak of over 252,000 miles in 1920. About 140,000 miles of track were in operation in 2011.

Over the last 200 years, track engineering and construction technology has continuously improved, allowing trains to be heavier and faster. Displayed on the ground before you are three examples illustrating
Marker and Displays image. Click for full size.
By Craig Baker, December 4, 2019
2. Marker and Displays
some aspects of this technological development.

Railroad Track Terminology

The distance between the inside edges of the rails is called the Gauge.

Crossties hold the rails apart at the proper gauge.

Ballast helps drain away water and keeps the ties in place on the roadbed.

Rail size (weight) is given in number of pounds per 3-foot piece of rail.

Tie Plates & Spikes hold the rails onto the ties.

Flange keeps the wheels on the rails.

Photo captions and display panels:

Display Panel “A” shows track typical of the 1860s, with 56-pound rail on rough-hewn ties.

Early track construction required many workers - with all the grading work and track-laying done with simple hand tools. The workers pictured here were mostly Chinese immigrants, building eastward in the Nevada desert on the Central Pacific portion of the First Transcontenential Railroad, circa 1868. "End of Track on the Humboldt Plain." Photo by Alfred A. Hart. Library of Congress collection.

Display Panel “B” shows track typical of the 1940s, laid with 90-pound rail on milled and treated wood ties.

Railroad tracks require constant maintenance to keep them
Railroad Track Terminology image. Click for full size.
By Craig Baker, December 4, 2019
3. Railroad Track Terminology
straight, level and safe for passing trains. Track maintenance continued to be a labor-intensive operation throughout the 20th Century. Pictured here is a gang of Santa Fe Railway "Gandy Dancers," a nickname derived from the "dancing" motion of the track workers as they moved their tools in unison to nudge the rails, often rhythmically timed by singing a musical chant. Santa Fe Railway photograph, courtesy Kansas State Historical Society.

Display Panel “C” shows a section typical of machine-laid track, with concrete ties.

Today, most mainline track construction and maintenance is done by a series of machines. This view of a mechanized system using concrete ties and continuously-welded rail is on the Adelaide-Darwin Railway in Australia. Photo by Ken Hodge, Creative Commons Attribution.
Erected by Boy Scout Owen Connolly; and Metrolink.
Location. 34° 9.264′ N, 118° 18.451′ W. Marker is in Los Angeles, California, in Los Angeles County. Marker can be reached from Zoo Drive east of Forest Lawn Drive. Located in Travel Town Museum near the old depot. Open Mon-Fri 10-4, Sat-Sun 10-5. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 5200 Zoo Drive, Los Angeles CA 90027, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 2 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Spirit of the CCC (a few steps from this marker);
Early Track Construction image. Click for full size.
Alfred A. Hart, Library of Congress
4. Early Track Construction
Riverside Drive Bridge (approx. mile away); Johnny Carson Park (approx. 1.3 miles away); Grand Central Air Terminal (approx. 1.3 miles away); Lockheed F-104 Starfighter (approx. 1.4 miles away); Special Delivery (approx. 1 miles away); Burbank Post Office (approx. 1.8 miles away); Story Hardware (approx. 1.8 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Los Angeles.
Categories. Industry & CommerceRailroads & Streetcars
Gandy Dancers image. Click for full size.
Kansas State Historical Society
5. Gandy Dancers
Today image. Click for full size.
By Ken Hodge, Creative Commons, December 4, 2019
6. Today
Displays “A” and “C” image. Click for full size.
By Craig Baker, December 4, 2019
7. Displays “A” and “C”
Display “C” in the foreground with modern heavy rails and concrete ties; Display “A” in the background with 1860s lightweight rails and rough-hewn ties.
Display “B” image. Click for full size.
By Craig Baker, December 4, 2019
8. Display “B”
With an axle & traction motor from a diesel locomotive.
Travel Town Museum image. Click for full size.
By Craig Baker, October 14, 2018
9. Travel Town Museum

More. Search the internet for Tracks Through Time.
Credits. This page was last revised on January 1, 2020. This page originally submitted on December 30, 2019, by Craig Baker of Sylmar, California. This page has been viewed 165 times since then and 133 times this year. Last updated on January 1, 2020, by Craig Baker of Sylmar, California. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. submitted on December 30, 2019, by Craig Baker of Sylmar, California.   7, 8, 9. submitted on January 1, 2020, by Craig Baker of Sylmar, California. • Syd Whittle was the editor who published this page.
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