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Steam era: Ash pit disposal

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Steam era: Ash pit disposal
Posted by tstage on Tuesday, April 12, 2011 8:45 PM

I've either read or heard that ash from ash pits was generally dispersed in yards or used as temporary ballast for convenience.  If so, was it used in both terminal yards and rail yards?  Was it ever used out on the mainline?

To me, ash wouldn't exhibit very good drainage qualities for water; rather it would become a gray, gloppy mess when wet and hold water next to the rail ties instead of wicking it away.  Was ash ever carted off the premises and used for anything else or in industry?  Thanks.

Tom

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Posted by wholeman on Tuesday, April 12, 2011 10:44 PM

I don't know how they did it for the steamers, but I was reading the book "Industries along the Tracks 2" and it mentioned that coal ash from power plants today is shipped in covered hoppers to be shipped to cement plants.  Of course, a power plant burning a train load of coal is going to produce a significant amount of ash.

Probably the coal ash during the steam days was buried somewhere which is a big EPA no no in today's world.  Coal ash is acidic.

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Posted by gmpullman on Tuesday, April 12, 2011 11:04 PM

Hi Tom,

From my experience working with the Cuyahoga Valley 4070, the resulting ash was somewhat like crushed slag but a gray/black/rust color. Some of the ash was almost a glass-like consistency... perhaps similar to crushed coral if you can imagine. If used for road paving or ballast it did indeed drain off water pretty well. Today, if you'd go to Home Depot and buy a bag of "volcanic stone" you'd be in the ballpark.

Power plants, on the other hand, frequently used pulverized coal or liquefied coal slurry and the result was fly-ash that was more powdery and would not lend itself well to use for ballast or roadway fill. More like the remains of your charcoal grill Big Smile

Hope this helps... Ed

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Posted by wjstix on Wednesday, April 13, 2011 7:51 AM

Ash often was used as a base level when laying track. It would be put down first, then the track and ballast stones would be placed over it. If you look at old pictures of mainlines (particularly color pics) you can often see the black ash layer sticking out beyond the edges of the roadbed ballast.

Stix
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Posted by tstage on Wednesday, April 13, 2011 8:24 AM

Thanks for the responses, fellas.  So, coal ash was much coarser and darker in color than the ash that you would find in your home fire place burning wood?

Tom

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Posted by DSO17 on Wednesday, April 13, 2011 3:39 PM

     As late as 1965 the B&O was using ash as ballast. That year they resurfaced several miles of the Landenberg Subdivision with it. It arrived in regular coal hoppers and looked like it had been in them for a year or more-it was really packed in and hard to get it to run out the bottom. Looked exactly like what comes out of the ash pit - clinkers cinders and ashes. The line was mostly cinder ballasted anyway, so it blended right in. It's not as good as stone, but it drains fairly well and resists weed growth to a certain extent. It's also cheap, which they really liked. Never did find out where it came from as this was 6 or 7 years after they stopped using steam engines.

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Posted by wjstix on Wednesday, April 13, 2011 4:06 PM

tstage

Thanks for the responses, fellas.  So, coal ash was much coarser and darker in color than the ash that you would find in your home fire place burning wood?

Tom

Yup. It would be black and for lack of a better word "crunchy". Once upon a time coal cinders were commonly used on tracks - not railroad tracks, but Olympic-style  track-and-field race tracks, and the warning tracks around baseball fields. People often used them for walkways around their houses. Coal has a certain amount of other minerals and dirt and stuff that create the cinders when you burn coal.

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Posted by grizlump9 on Wednesday, April 13, 2011 7:03 PM

on the subject of ash disposal, here is an interesting, if long winded story of cinders and ashes.

the city of Memphis had no snow removal equipment when i was young and just shoveled a bunch of cinders out the back of city dump trucks by hand to fight the rare snow and ice storms.

every year the ICRR would donate 3 hopper cars of cinders from it's power houses that were still in operation even after steam locos were gone.  sort of a good neighbor thing if you will.  they would spot the cars down near old Poplar St. Station and the city would just unload them as needed.

well, the city fathers got a wild hair and decided that blocked crossings were getting to be a problem so they decided to enforce the crossing law.   this resulted in the Terminal Supt., Frank J Duggan of the ICRR receiving a ticket for $51.00 fine including court costs.

the local newspapers (there were 2 in those days) made a big deal out of the cheif of police or mayor or whoever, i forgot, handing Mr. Duggan the ticket in person.

later that fall there was a little article in both papers about how the IC could no longer afford to give away free cinders, but would gladly sell them to the city for 17.00 per car load.   (3x17=51)  the city paid it.  no other railroad would get involved in that one. most of them didn't have much cinders and ashes anyway.

before Frank Duggan left Memphis for a job in New Orleans, he showed me a copy of a letter from Wayne Johnston in Chicago (then president of the IC) congratulating him on how he had handled  the high handed city fathers.

grizlump

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Posted by tstage on Wednesday, April 13, 2011 8:07 PM

wjstix

Once upon a time coal cinders were commonly used on tracks - not railroad tracks, but Olympic-style  track-and-field race tracks, and the warning tracks around baseball fields.

Duh! Dunce  Yes, cinder tracks and walkways!  I can't believe I completely forgot about those! Embarrassed  And I walked on a few of them in my time, too.  Thanks, Stix! Smile

So, would it be fair to say that the consistency of cinders would be close to - say, kitty litter and maybe smaller?

Tom

[Edit: Oops!  After re-reading Ed's comments above, lava stone would be quite a bit larger than kitty litter.]

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Posted by locoi1sa on Wednesday, April 13, 2011 8:39 PM

tstage

 

 wjstix:

 

Once upon a time coal cinders were commonly used on tracks - not railroad tracks, but Olympic-style  track-and-field race tracks, and the warning tracks around baseball fields.

 

 

Duh! Dunce  Yes, cinder tracks and walkways!  I can't believe I completely forgot about those! Embarrassed  And I walked on a few of them in my time, too.  Thanks, Stix! Smile

So, would it be fair to say that the consistency of cinders would be close to - say, kitty litter and maybe smaller?

 

 

Tom

 

  And there was nothing better at removing skin as those surfaces. I still have scars forty years later. Another thing our children will never experience. By the time my kids got to school they had rubber tracks. I also remember the oil spraying trucks oiling the dirt parking lots and tracks too.The cinder tracks were dusty and needed oiling.

      Pete

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Posted by jeffhergert on Thursday, April 14, 2011 12:22 AM

If you ride on today's Boone & Scenic Valley RR in Iowa, yesterdays interurban Ft. Dodge, Des Moines & Southern RY, you will ride over 7 or 8 fills that were originally timber trestles.  They were buried over the years with ash from the FDDM&S power plant at Fraser.  The plant was damaged in a flood in 1954 and the line abandoned the electric operation.  It continued with diesel-electrics until acquired by the CNW in 1968.

I volunteered there for a few years until moving on to the other railroad across town.  I was talking with the B&SV track foreman one day.  He had been using the bulldozer doing some work near one of the fills.  He said he had accidently uncovered a piece of timber from the trestle. 

Jeff

 

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Posted by dknelson on Friday, April 15, 2011 5:10 PM

When freshly applied cinder ballast did a fairly good job of weed control, drained OK, held the ties in place, and was easily worked with a shovel.  It was never the best on any of the key features of good ballast (except the easily worked with a shovel and maybe the weed control) but was OK -- and was plentiful and free meaning the major drawback of its shorter useful life didn't mean all that much back when labor was cheap.

Places where you can still see signs of cinder ballast -- the wye at Bureau Jct IL for example -- it is still evident that while the cinders have almost entirely disintegrated, they are still deterring the growth of weeds.  You can see where ties used to be (weeds) and the cinders between the ties are still there (fewer weeds, or stunted weeds).

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Posted by gmpullman on Saturday, April 16, 2011 11:44 AM

tstage

So, would it be fair to say that the consistency of cinders would be close to - say, kitty litter and maybe smaller?

 

[Edit: Oops!  After re-reading Ed's comments above, lava stone would be quite a bit larger than kitty litter.]

Tom,

Like I said, the lava stone would be comparable to the cinders as they were just dumped from the locomotive ash pan. The cinders broke down rather quickly and in a short time became finer, like the kitty litter you compare it to. I'm sure in any commercial application they were crushed and screened like many other stone products. Another drawback was the acidity of the cinders that would quickly corrode much of the iron and steel in contact with it.

Take care, Ed

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Posted by Hamltnblue on Saturday, April 16, 2011 3:42 PM

In philadelphia they actually built a neighborhood on ground that ash was dumped.  After several years the homes all started sinking and they had to tear the neighborhood down.  The area is Logan off of Route 1.

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Posted by GRAMRR on Monday, April 18, 2011 11:42 AM

Good thread.  A number of questions that I've had have been answered. 

Years ago as a kid in Tonawanda, NY we lived near the Erie railroad where it crossed over the Erie Barge canal.  The trestle was an open deck type and I got the bright idea to look up to see what the bottom of a steam loco looked like.  Didn't see much when the ash and cinders hit me. 

Dunce

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Posted by toot toot on Saturday, April 23, 2011 8:18 PM

i have been told that the ashes were sifted into ash, which was sold and cinder which was used for walkways, station platforms, yard ballast and a dozen other uses.  cinder wasn't good for mainline ballast as it was too fine to be used for fill, or drian water.

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