From the late 1860’s to the mid-1940’s, millions of railroad ties were cut from the forests in the Wind River Mountains and their foothills. The ties for the Union Pacific Railroad were floated down the Green River and its tributaries to the City of Green River. The men engaged in this work were called “tie hacks.”
Men breaking from pulling ties from the river for lunch. Image courtesy of the Sweetwater County Historical Museum.
Work as a Tie Hack
Tie hack crews spent the Wyoming winters in and around the Wind River mountains felling trees, shaping the trees into ties and hauling the ties to skid roads. Once there, the men loaded the ties onto horse-drawn sleds that were taken to stream and riverbanks. The ties were then stacked near the banks until spring.
When the rivers and streams thawed enough to transport the ties, the annual “tie drive” would begin. A log and cable “boom” was stretched across the river and the ties were dumped in the water, creating logjams that sometimes stretched for miles. When the water subsided, the boom was cut allowing the ties to begin the journey to the City of Green River, a journey of more than 100 miles depending on where the ties were put in the river or stream.
When the ties arrived at Green River, they were caught by another log and cable boom. Men then pulled the large ties from the river and loaded them on rail cars. Once on the cars, the ties were shipped to Laramie where they would be treated with creosote, a dark brown oil distilled from coal tar used to preserve the wood. Finally, the finished ties would be sent out to where track was being laid or repaired.
Hundreds of rail ties piling up in the river near Green River. Image courtesy of the Sweetwater County Historical Museum.
Tie Hack Facts
It takes about 3,000 railroad ties to lay a mile of track. At the high point of production, about 300,000 ties came down the river each spring, produced and delivered by more than 75 tie hacks. That rate of production would allow the railroad to lay 100 miles of track a year off of the ties collected in Green River. The Union Pacific laid around 500 miles of track across southern Wyoming. This number doesn’t include spur lines or extra track used at train stations.
Tie hacks worked 10 gruelling hours a day to receive around $5 in pay, the equivalent of about $140 today. One of a tie hack’s main tools in the woods was his hefty broad ax.
The information and images for this article were provided by the Sweetwater County Historical Museum.