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Western Railroad Discussion > Geneva Slag Ballast

Date: 05/26/03 06:15
Geneva Slag Ballast
Author: RioGrande3001

This photo catches a Rio Grande work train crew dumping ballast at milepost 693, on the westward main track just east of Springville, Utah. What makes this photo interesting is the type of ballast material the D&RGW used over most of it's system for decades: steel mill slag primarily from Geneva Works, Colorado Fuel & Iron and a source near Leadville. The slag was cheap, resisted weed growth, and offered good drainage.

In July 1988, the men working on this D&RGW work train #662, placed cloth "respirators" across their faces to protect themselves from slag dust. The SP/D&RGW ceased using this material for ballast altogether due to it's heavy lead content back in the 1990's.

Before SP/D&RGW acknowledged the toxicity of the slag, it was utilized over most of the D&RGW. There was a time when the railroad faced the possibility of removing the slag from it's entire system! Can you begin to imagine the expense of doing that? For the most part, this old slag remains on most of the old D&RGW right of way, burried under a newer layer of gray rock ballast.


Date: 05/26/03 08:02
Re: Geneva Slag Ballast
Author: GEBirch

The slag ballast for the SP used to come from the copper smelter at Douglas, Arizona, until the SP abandoned the Benson-Douglas trackage in the 60's.


Date: 05/26/03 08:06
Re: Geneva Slag Ballast
Author: frontrangeflyer

I worked in the Rio Grande maintenance of way on the Utah division in the 60's. I was a trainee out on the surfacing gang over Soldier Summit and other places. I later was track supervisor from Salt Lake to Ogden and the branches out of Midvale. The preference of the Rio Grande was for precious minerals slag as being the best for ballast purposes. The two pits used were Midvale from a large slag dump of years of smeltering and the Leadville smelter dump for the same reason. Slag was broken up at the pit by a dozer with a large toothed blade, loaded on the cars, and dumped where needed. I can assure you it is a miserable, filthy job; but when the track is tamped up on slag, it makes a mighty fine railroad. Slag is terribly sharp and rapidly cuts the soles up on your shoes. It's necessary to replace or have your shoes resoled often. That sun on Soldier Summit is hot! . . Joe S.

Date: 05/26/03 09:34
Re: Geneva Slag Ballast
Author: wp3545

Thanks for the great photos Jim!

I knew that Rio Grande used Geneva Steel Slag Ballast.

Now,It's covered in Union Pacific Style Ballast making it look like any other line on the UP System.

wp3545,Quinn Clegg.

Date: 05/26/03 10:29
Slag from the Midvale pit
Author: frontrangeflyer

Of course the era of your picture is long after I was a part of the Utah Division M of W. I would suppose that what slag was available was exhausted at some point at which time Geneva probably presented a handy alternative. However, during the 60's of which I spoke above, the slag came from Midvale. I saw it broken up and loaded there, and I definitely dumped plenty. The last slag I was involved in dumping was on the big curve by the Murray city dump. That was probably in July '67. . . Joe S.

Date: 05/26/03 10:38
Re: Geneva Slag Ballast
Author: frontrangeflyer

I hope for the sake of any modern gandy dancers that those newer ballast cars are a lot easier to crank open than the 24 and 25M series that still served in the 60's. They were beasts! Of course now with new Herzog dump trains available, its probably much easier to dump ballast. Those track men deserve any break they get. It's the toughest job on the railroad. If you ride the train west from Denver, you will note the older style ballast cars serving as the wind break on the upper Big Ten curve west of Rocky. Good place for them. . . Joe S.

Date: 05/27/03 12:29
Pueblo steel slag
Author: tomstp

FW&D used the Pueblo slag on their main line in Texas. I remember on several occasions picking up some of it. If was very light, did not weight anywhere close to granite or plain rock. I was always surprised that it would be worth while to use. I also can state that when the coal trains started, they stopped using it and went to rock instead.

Date: 05/27/03 16:24
Re: Pueblo steel slag
Author: GEBirch

The advantages of slag ballast both come from its sharp, pointy shape: after it settles, it locks into place and is very stable; its sharp points dig into the ties, creating great stability. A disadvantage is that its conductivity is greater than rock, and in signalled territory the length of a track circuit is reduced considerable.


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