I start with the assumption the purpose of this machine is to restore bent spikes to a reusable condition. I can imagine the following “bent spike”scenario:

a.) Spikes bent during the removal process.

b.) Used spikes gathered in one place and prepared for shipment.

c.) Used spikes shipped to shop for re-work.

d.) Above machine used to “unbend” bent spikes.

e.) “good” spikes shipped to storage.

The alternative scenario is:

a.) Same bent spikes.

b.) Used spikes gathered in one place and prepared for shipment to scrapyard.

c.) Used spikes shipped to scrapyard.

d.) New spikes purchased and stored for use.

A comparison of the imagined costs of the two above scenarios leads me to the conclusion the “unbending” process cost more than buying new spikes. So why did they do it? My speculation is the prevalent ethic in those times was “waste not, want not”. Contrast this long gone ethic with today’s: “use it, then throw it away”. In my opinion, both are equally viable so long as the choice between the two is based on the true costs of each. I suspect the choice then was based on the same bias toward “conventional wisdom” as today’s choices often are. Therefor, I conclude the decision to follow the “waste not, want not” scenario, in the case of  the “bent spike”, was “correct”, but unwise. Frugal, but not smart!

I believe the above exposition meets, perhaps exceeds, my goal to post only trivia. Don’t you agree?


I am 87 years old and married for 65 years. My wife passed away in 2016. I am a retired engineer and spent 35 years developing INS gyroscopes. I was a High School mentor in physics, a mountaineer, a model builder, a machinist and I have a degree in Physics. My interests include railroad history and photography, science history, cosmology, interesting people, and old engineering drawings. I place a high value on my friendships. I enjoyed my life and I am trying to look forward with a sense of anticipation and curiosity.

Posted on October 30, 2011, in ART AND CRAFTSMANSHIP OF THE DRAFTSMAN, TRIVIA FROM THE UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD DRAWING COLLECTION and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I tend to disagree. Think of the amount of work to make a new spike: Bar stock heated in forge, cut to length, headed in a forging die, and finally the point formed under a power hammer. With a bent spike, all this work was already done; a simple cold forming operation made the spike usable again.

    But the real key is the date… mid 1919. There was a war on in Europe, and steel was in short supply, so new spikes may not have been available at any cost. Years ago I worked with a carpenter who had worked for the Chicago Rapid Transit Co. (who ran Chicago’s elevated railroads) during WWII. He mentioned that they saved and straightened the NAILS they removed from track planking, because they couldn’t get nails, and without nails, they had no work.


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