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Foundrymen forging a steel billet under a steam hammer

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Foundrymen forging a steel billet under a steam hammer
North Carolina Division of Archives and History


This object appears in the following sections:

Lives on the Railroad: Salisbury, North Carolina, 1927
Lives on the Railroad: Salisbury, North Carolina, 1927 — Spencer, an Industrial Community

Hammer, used in railroad shop

Chisel, Cold

Forging a steel billet
Currently on display
Not a part of the official Smithsonian Collection
In this view, the master blacksmith is the third man from the left wearing the full-brimmed hat, observing and directing the work. The hammer operator is to the right. The view shows at least one African American, working as an assistant blacksmith, helping position the steel piece in the right locations under the hammer as the work progresses. Judging from the size and shape of the billet, these men are in the beginning stages of shaping a new side rod for a locomotive. ('Side rods' are parts that transmit the power of a locomotive to its driving wheels).
Physical Description
Foundrymen forging a steel billet under a steam hammer.
Date Made:
about 1930
North Carolina
North Carolina Division of Archives and History

Railroad locomotive-repair 'shops' were located in cities and towns throughout the country. A railroad usually centralized its facilities for the most extensive kinds of locomotive repairs (i.e., 'heavy repairs') at one location somewhere on its rail system; this facility was often called the 'back shops.' Locomotives from every part of the system needing such repairs were sent to that place.

For the Southern Railway, in the first half of the 20th century, the town of Spencer, N.C., was the home of the system's back shops. (See also the pictures, "Main Erecting Hall, Spencer" and "Aerial View, Spencer Shops.")

A foundry was the province of blacksmiths and foundrymen. Men in these trades transformed steel (usually in the form of new steel in basic shapes provided by steel manufacturers, such as 'rods' or 'billets;' the latter were plain rectangular pieces) into properly shaped parts. Shaping a big piece of steel into a part required a furnace to heat the steel and a steam-powered hammer to beat the steel into shape. A jig or hoist allowed the foundrymen to move the heavy steel from the furnace to the hammer. The master blacksmith supervised the whole process and sometimes operated the hammer - which hit the steel piece with thousands of pounds of force. Forging a shape properly and quickly - before the steel cooled too much and had to be reheated for further shaping - required consumate skill. The assistants to the process - the furnaceman and the helpers holding the steel piece in the right location for the next hit of the hammer - were highly skilled as well. Once the foundry produced a well-shaped part, the part went to the machine shop to be planed, trimmed, surfaced, and/or have holes drilled for the part's completion.

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