Our sleeper cutting display tells a story of hardship, strength, and determination.
As Sydney rail expanded to the north, timber sleepers were in huge demand.
Before mechanisation, sleeper cutters were provided with crosscut saws, wedges and broad axes. During the construction of the Main Northern Line from West Tamworth to Uralla, it was estimated that more than 121,00 ironbark sleepers would be required.
They were to be hewn, cut by axe not by saw, with each being eight feet long, nine inches wide and four and a half inches thick. Using the broad axe follows the grain of the wood and its sharp edge closes the pores.
Sleeper cutting was carried out by gangs, pitching tents close to a creek, where their work was in a four-mile radius.
READ MORE ABOUT THE RAILWAY HISTORY
Supplies were obtained from the local storekeeper who would come out every six weeks with supplies.
Eggs and butter were supplied by the local farmer if he had a good supply.
When felling trees, often the cutter would "go up on it" by means of pegs or a pole supported by three forks. Sixteen feet above the ground, balancing on the pole with his broadaxe in hand, the experienced sleeper cutter worked quickly and neatly.
Sometimes accidents would happen when the pole or pegs worked loose, or a tree would knock off a limb from a neighbouring tree when felling.
Those times were hard and dangerous for the sleeper cutter, but in each camp every man knew where the other was working. Three heavy blows with the back of an axe on a sleeper, heard from a great distance, would bring another cutter to help.
Depots where the timber was shipped to was arranged by the contractor.
The sleepers were hauled, using drays pulled by horse or oxen to depots where they were stacked awaiting inspection.
Shortage of ironbark saw other species of trees being used and an ad in the Maitland Mercury of January 1, 1882 read: "Wanted, about 30,000 hewn sleepers of ironbark, grey gum, black butt, red gum, or spotted gum delivered to Maitland, Greta or Branxton. Sleepers inspected on the second week of each month and paid at six shillings and sixpence per pair, loaded onto rail trucks."
Today's question is: If the cost of conveying 6.2 tonnes of goods for 345 kilometres was $171.12, what was the charge per tonne per kilometre? Last edition's answer: The amount of rebate was $129.
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