Souvenirs of Yesteryear: The Jordan Spreader

This article is not about John the Baptist trying to emulate Moses. It is about a railroad car. Not just any ordinary railroad car either, but a rather imposing contraption. There it is in the photo. It is a Jordan spreader, a mighty railroad machine that is pushed by a locomotive. Its plow-shaped prow bulldozes piles of gravel and its powerful wings fold out and spread the gravel ballast between the ties and evenly along the railbed. It also plows snow.

It currently resides on an unused section of track along Hosbach Trail in the City of Norwich. To me, it has become a wonderful sculpture, a rusting hulk sulking in ignominious repose, ransacked and abandoned, left to lurk in lonely solitude. What a great funereal monument this metallic colossus would make for our local railroads. How long would it take for this massive thing to disintegrate into a wretched pile of rust?

The Jordan spreader was invented by Oswald F. Jordan in 1900. Jordan was the road master of the New York Central Railroad’s Canadian Southern, Niagara region. He designed this machine to spread gravel and to gouge out the drainage ditches parallel to the railbed. The wing plows are extended outward by compressed air. Thus the big tank at the posterior end. Compressed air is more forgiving than hydraulics when slamming into unseen obstacles. However, the newer models are hydraulic.

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