Batts Goins ~ Tie Chopper

Batts Goins and his wife, Elzira, were an African-American couple living in Ray City, GA in the 193o’s. The Goins were renting a house for $3.00 a month.

Batts Goins was 64 years old but still working for a living.   Like many of his neighbors, he made his living in the timber industry.  His trade was “Tie Chopper.” A tie chopper, or tie hacker, was a person who made railroad ties.

“The tie choppers usually worked alone. They first felled the tree with a saw, cut the lower limbs off, and marked off the ties on the bark to see how many ties could be cut from the tree. The tree was then “scored” with an axe on both sides in order to start making the two flat faces of the tie. These sides were then chipped with a “broad ax,” thus making two smooth faces. The bark was then peeled from the other two faces and the tree was then cut into finished ties. After the ties were made the top of the tree was lopped, that is, the branches were cut from the trunk. In this operation these branches were scattered evenly over the ground. The tie chopper then cleared a road through the middle of his strip and “parked” his ties on the road. He then stamped his private mark on each tie.”   ~ an account of the tie chopper from Our national forests: a short popular account of the work of the United States Forest Service on the national forests.

Tie choppers hand-hewed two flat faces on felled logs using a broad axe, then stripped the bark off the remaining sides. The finished tie was suitable for laying track.

Typically, tie choppers would cut timber off their own land, or pay a land owner by the tree, or “stump”  for each tree they cut into ties.

 Throughout the country the work is usually done between October 1 and April 1, both because many of the railroads require in their specifications that the timber be cut during that period and because other work is less active in the fall and winter.

As is the case in all timber values expressed as stumpage, the value of ties in the tree varies with their kind and quality, their accessibility, and the difficulty of logging and transportation to market…. Southern yellow pine stumpage is worth from 6 to 14 cents [per tie], with an average of about 10 cents.

Contracts for hewing No. 1 ties range from 14 or 15 cents for difficult conditions, down to 10 cents for good “chances” and from 8 to 11 cents for “seconds.”….Tie hacks bend every effort to make all the “firsts” possible from every tree handled, as it is current opinion among them that there is no money in making “seconds” …. where the timber ran about three ties per tree, each man turned out about 20 ties on an average per day. In a 10-hour day the time was divided as follows: 1 1/4 hours felling, 2 1/2 hours limbing and scoring, 3 hours facing, 1 hour bucking into lengths and 1 1/4 hours peeling.  ~ Railway engineering and maintenance, Volume 14

In earlier decades many millions of railroad ties were produced completely by hand labor, but by the 1930’s at least some parts of the process were completed mechanically.

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