Mid-winter was the time for cutting down and chopping up trees. Most wood was bound for the fireplace or the stove, but not all.
In the 19th Century many local farmers made railroad ties. Tens of millions of these eight-foot, six-inch logs were needed yearly, not only to support new tracks being laid across America but also to replace existing sleepers, whose life expectancy was only about five years. The ties were cut and sledded back to the farm where were they were hand-hewn into shape. In the spring or summer, they were carted to the depot and sold to the railroad.
Even the bark shaved off the logs was saved and sold to local tanneries, which used bark extract in processing leather.
“Tie hacking,” as it was called, provided useful income to many people, most of whom were subsistence farmers growing little more than was needed for the family. In fact, many farmers earned more from winter work than summer crops.
Hiking last week in Durham, we passed an operation that makes railroad ties. They sell the bark for $20 a truck load. Many people use this to build small shelters. In fact, we saw a lean-to nearby that used these leftovers as shingling. Cool blog!
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