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Photographic History of the Railroad Handcar

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Track gang in Grand Rapids Michigan. The wheels appear to be wood centered.



Handcar on a bridge in Colorado.



Handcar park off the tracks on the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. Rio Grande hand cars often carried a wood barrel on the side with water. Notice the compliment of tools.



Eight men on a hand car. While the cars were small, accident hearings indicated that hand cars carried as many as twelve men. It would definately be a tight squeeze, then again people were thinner then.



Southern Pacific hand car on the Colorado River Bridge in Yuma, Arizona. SP built these hand cars in their shops and they can be identified by their unique spoked wheels. Spokes gave way to pressed steel wheels for durability. This image from 1880 is about the time the pump car design became the standard.



Jackson Sharp Handcars. Note the older generation hand crank car that was used prior to the invention of the lever car. Photo from the Delaware Public Archives.


A fantastic photograph of a section gang in Indiana. The foreman is the man to the right. He can be identified by the ever important watch hanging out of his pocket to keep tabs on when the next train was to arrive. Not watching the time would lead to certain death for the crew. Also, he probably was paid better allowing him to eat better than his crew. He appears to have a little more meat on his bones than the rest.



This is a close-up showing the tools. Look for the spike claw and track gauge tools. Of particular interest is the charming picnic basket on the rear of the platform.



Check out the wheels on this car. This handcar is posing next to its storage shed.



Michigan handcar gang poses with their handcar. The metal cans in the front are lunch boxes.



Wisconsin gang. The cans carry the gang's lunch. This appears to be a Sheffield brand hand car with wooden wheels. Steel wheels were problematic on older handcars as they were not insulated and activated signal.



Gang cars were used during large construction and maintenance projects to shuttle men about the work site. This photo shows a gang car with several lunch boxes. This crew is probably rebuilding the railroad judging by the various tools that include a spike hammer, spike puller, ballast forks, and picks. New railroad tracks on virgin territory was typically layed using a dedicated track train.



This is not a female track gang. However, who can resist having their photo taken aboard such a neat piece of equipment. Note the rear wheel is of a different design and is chained in place to prevent it from being stolen. It was standard protocol for hand cars to carry a lock and chain to prevent it from being taken when unattended. This hand car looks to be leaning and was probably out of service, replaced by deliveries of motorcars.


This photograph was taken in 1921 on the Mynoche Timber Company Railroad in Wisconsin. By 1920 hand cars were nearly completely retired from the large railroads, replaced by motorized cars. Shortlines probably used them a few years longer.


This gang is laying some new ties on this line. Notice how the deck is buckling up from over tightening of the tension rods.


This hand car has a single bench on one side. I suppose the bench on the other side was removed, broke off, or never had a second bench.


This appears to be an early hand car. This car is built like a tank and must have been heavy.


This crew was assigned a wood centered wheeled hand car. Looks like they just changed out a rotten tie.


This appears to be a Sheffield hand car with Buda wheels. Buda placed their spokes in the center of the wheel. However, Buda used a cast pump handle.


Lovely photo of a family posing on a hand car. Judging by the shoes this is probably in the 1920's. This deck had been redone at some point as Sheffield hand cars were delivered with wider planks.


Lucile Ball and Fred MacMurray on a Sheffield hand car used during the filming of Lucy Hunts Uranium. This program was broadcast in January 1958 as part of the Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour. This hand car is missing its horizontal tension rods. The program is set in Las Vegas and the film features a Union Pacific freight train.


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The Copyright on these images have expired and I deam them to be in the public domain, Mason Clark