What is A Carknocker

Railway Car Man (AKA---Car Repairman & Car Inspector)

This page will list reports of Carman knowledge, and Carman Jobs In Detail. Sort of a How To Section.

Photo on the left shows 2 of the hardest working Carknockers, that ever worked for Norfolk Southern.

Which one is the Carknocker? We both were, Carknockers. We both worked for the Railroad for 34 years and both retired about the same time. The carknocker that hosts this web site is the real ugly one on the right. Thats Carman David Ellington on the

  Covered on this section is as follows, Closing and Opening Rail car Doors               Carknockers Knowledge, What Is A Carknocker  Train Derailments, Scenario: A Composit Derailment,

This is just a touch of Carman Knowledge.

                                Carknockers Knowledge

I worked 34 years for the Norfolk Southern Railroad. ( Formerly the Southern Railway ) My knowledge is something I will always have. My knowledge is probably far more than most others currently working in my craft. I have accumulated it in many ways. I shall endeavor to list just a few of them.

     Took three years of Machine Shop at Eau Gallie High School in Florida, where learning to Weld was emphasized.

Served four years in the United States Navy, where I achieved the Rank of E-5 as a Damage Controlman, and was stationed on Minesweepers and also had to fill in as an Engineman and Shipfitter.

Trained at Southern Technical School in Marietta Ga. In a class presented by the Southern Railway before I could accept the position of Rail Car Repairman, that was between September and December of 1969.

     I worked several years doing light and heavy repairs to rail cars on the Atlanta Repair Track. (Which was a large rail car repair shop.)

I worked in the inbound train yard inspecting trains for any mechanical problems, and made desicions as to which needed shopped for repairs, prior to be sent to the out bound yards.

I worked in the various out bound train yards inspecting and working air brakes

I worked in the Pit inspecting trains.

I worked out on the main line going on road trips, from place to place making repairs to trains and rail cars that needed repairs.

I worked for 5 years assigned to the wrecking crew on the Atlanta Derrick going to train wrecks and derailments.

I worked a job maintaining Rail Trains. (Trains that carry huge racks of welded ribbon rail 1/4 mile long.

I worked a job repairing Cabooses, at the Cab Track in Atlanta.

I worked for 20 years on the Outline one man point, And covered a large portion of Georgia Repairing Railcars, on the Old Central of Georgia Territory and Southern Territory as well.

Over the years I have repaired and inspected and rerailed thousands of railcars and locomotives, in cities all over Central and North Georgia.

My knowledge was accumulated through hands on practical experience and over the years, I developed my skills to a fine art, but one source of my accumulated and undisputable knowledge isnt even on this list and it probably has been my fondest source of knowledge. That source of knowledge is something I will always appreciate. That source of knowledge is knowledge I have learned from all the fine men I worked with, over the years, the Old Heads the men who have gone before and took the time to help me when they were still here. They were professional Carmen who took pride in their jobs and passed their knowledge on to me the young kid at the time who they knew would need the know how when they were gone. To them I tip my hat and express my gratitude, because, they were men who, I was truly privleged to work with. Men whom, I am truly proud to have known.

The Carknocker

What is a "Carknocker"

or Rail Car Repairman and Car Inspector.

(according to the Carknocker's standards.)

A person who has a thorough working knowledge of the annually published Field Manuel of the, Association of American Railroads, and works according to its standards in performing his daily duties and uses that knowledge to do his job well. He must also have a working knowledge of the published standards of the Open Top Loading Rules published by the Association of American Railroads, and a thorough knowledge of the safety standards of the Federal Railroad Administration. He must have a high mechanical ability and develop his skills and abilities in order to do his work in expert and professional manner, He must be physically fit and have the stamina to work out doors in all sorts of weather. He must be able to work alone often and be able to make decisions and realize that the things he does affects the safety of others as well as himself.

Train Derailments

Definition:, (according The Carknocker ) A derailment is when either one or more rail cars get off the track due to many reasons and can range from just one wheel, to all wheels of a car, and often more than one car, and also locomotives. (most cars have 8 wheels) and they occur quite frequently.


Derailments occur regularly on the rail road and I have had to go to many of them over the years. They happen in all sorts of weather and rarely in a place that is convenient to get to. They will continue to happen as long as there are trains rolling on tracks.

Derailments take priority over most all other duties. Especially those out on the main line somewhere , because when the main line is blocked no trains go anywhere until the situation is corrected.

Some times when trains derail it results in what most people think of, a train wreck. Train Wrecks require work crews and heavy equipment to deal with. However we had to still deal with those that simply got off the tracks and didnt wreck .

Handling derailments and train wrecks is strenuous work, and requires constant alertness to prevent injury to your self as well as others. ( That is a fact the Carknocker has first hand knowledge of, because I worked for 5 years on the Derrick working wrecks. Now big wrecks are handled by private wrecking crews. There are few, if any Derricks left in service with the railroads.

I shall endeavor to talk a little bit about the specifics of working derailments. The primary objective being get the cars or locomotive back on the track and when damaged, repaired enough to move. ( Commonly called rerailing )

Scenario: A Composite Derailment.

I drive 40 miles to get to a derailment , I find it approximately 300 yards from a rail road crossing. I walk down the side of the track on the ballast beside the rest of the train that is still coupled up to the derailed cars. I assess the situation and find that one end of the car next to the rear locomotive of the train has two sets of wheels off the track and the locomotive has three sets of wheels off the track.

The Train Crew is standing around waiting and the Trainmaster has already arrived. He approaches me and tells me they mismatched couplers when they coupled up to their train to depart, after having set out a car into an Industry track. He asks me what can we do to expedite rerailing the car and locomotive, because the Main Line is blocked and one train is already backed up behind them waiting to go and an Amtrack passenger train is fast approaching. The whole time he is talking to me Im looking and assessing the situation. Well Carknocker, what do you think? Macon Mechanical has a truck in route but they are at least an hour and a half away

I have determined that the rail has spread out of gage and that it wont be easy but can be done. Well Mr. Jones, We will give it a shot, but I will need to some help.

I walk back to my truck. I realize carrying the equipment that far on this steep road bed would take far too long. I drive down to the Industry where they had just delivered a rail car. I enter the gate and circle their ware house to the back and drive my truck beside the track as far as I can go, and stop. Now I am only about 100 feet from the head end of the lead locomotive. A distance maybe, 220 feet from where I need the equipment.

I get out and climb up on the back of my truck and drag the Replacers to the edge and lift and fling them off toward the ground. I bend and start tossing several long wooden oak blocks off the truck and some wooden wedges.

Although its not their job, the train crewmen begin carrying the blocks to where we need them and a couple men from a Track repair crew that has arrived grab the first replacer and carry it away as well. I climb down grab one end of the second replacer and the Trainmaster gets the other end and we lift and stumble our way behind the others.

Now we have all I think we need on hand and can begin the process of getting the car and Locomotive back on the track. I strap on some knee protectors ( something we only started using a couple of years ago ) and am ready to begin.

I have determined that the rail will probably pop back closer together as soon as the Locomotive is back up. I crawl under the Locomotive between the wheels and fuel tanks and reach and drag the Inside Replacer in behind me. After digging out the rocks between the cross ties, next to the inside wheels that are derailed I slide the replacer as close as I can get it and the pry with a small bar to manipulate it where it needs to be. I hook it on the rail and let it settle locked against the cross ties and crawl my way back out from under the locomotive squeezing my way past some greasy hoses and sand pipes. We then set the outside replacer near the wheels that are derailed on the outside of the rails and I get on my hands and knees again and hook it on the rail in the same way I did the other one. By now im sweaty and considerably dirtier than I was when I arrived, but the hardest part is done.

I see the Trainmaster looking at his watch. And I say well Mr. Jones we are ready to rerail the locomotive. I tell the Conductor to have his Engineer move the Locomotive slowly forward and he gets on the walkie talkie. The engines rev up some and the locomotive gets hard up against the rerailers and I tell him to rev it up and pull as hard as he can. The engines strain and smoke pours from the exhaust pipes and the Locomotive begins to move and the wheels climb up the replacers and in a matter of seconds the engine has pulled back up on the tracks one set of wheels following the other. They move forward about a car length and stop.

The Track Gang, that has been standing by, jumps in with their hammers and bars and jacks and begin driving spikes and in a within a few minutes the have secured the rail.

In the mean time I have slid under the derailed Tank car that is derailed and placed some blocks and wedges in front of the wheels that are derailed on the inside of the track, so that the truck sides can clear the rail and not push the wheels the wrong way and we drag the replacers to the cars and hook them in front of the wheels.

The Locomotive comes back and couples to the car and in short order we have rerailed the Tank car in much the same manner we did the Locomotive.

I drag the replacers out from under the Tank car and the Track Gang handles the finished touches to repairing the tracks. The train departs with a wave from the crew who is glad to be back up in their seats and away from here.

I am sitting on a dirt mound near the tracks waiting for the next 2 trains to clear and wondering how to get the stuff back to my truck when I see the Macon Truck drive up. I think to myself, them boys dont know it yet but they are going to carry my replacers for me. I am tired and did not get to eat lunch today.

Closing and opening Railcar doors

By Walter Parks (Carman)

One of the most often of my many daily jobs was opening and closing railcar doors. The majority of railcars are in at least fairly good condition, the doors are usually opened and closed by the customers who ship and receive freight from their respective places of business, so when a customers has difficulty opening or closing a door they call the Railroad Mechanical Department for assistance, and I was often dispatched to go do it. In other words the customers opened and closed the easy doors. I got the doors to open and close those that were usually bent and damaged or had loads shifted against the doors, or very often were mechanically defective.

I would often arrive to find the customer had completely frustrated themselves hitting and banging and jerking with chains or shoving with fork lifts and various other wild remedies that rarely worked. Some times they would have the doors so damaged that I would find them dangling from the cars in danger of falling off or bent badly which only made my job harder. Sometimes I could just get the customer to wait a day or two and have the car turned around so they could open the door on the other side, but most often the situation was that the customer needed the product out of the car right away.

Some times even I could do nothing to solve the problem, but around 90% of the time I got the job done, sometimes with the help of another Carman like myself, but most often, I worked alone, as I worked out of a one man point (a place where there is only one Carman).

Many of my jobs were quite hazardous at times and opening and closing doors is no exception. The various things I had to do to open and close doors, were numerous and I will mention a few, but most likely wont think of all of them right now. In the 34 years, I worked for Norfolk Southern Railroad, Ive collected my share of bumps and bruises and pinched fingers, but I accumulated a thorough and expert knowledge of how to get the job done, and survive to work another day. Opening and closing defective railcar doors can be extremely dangerous to a novice. Opening and closing defective railcar doors requires dexterity, agility, knowledge, and experience, and is very often unsafe for any novice, to undertake. The Railroads know that, and fall back on their Carmen to deal with them.

There are many types of railcar doors, none of which operate or function the same. There are several types of Flush Fitting Box Car Doors (commonly call Plug Doors) each with its own different characteristics and styles. There are Sliding Box car doors and some cars that have both a sliding and a plug doors. There are Auto racks with end doors that swing and slide at the same time. There are Hopper Cars with bottom doors and Hopper Cars with sliding gates on the bottom that have to be opened with a big heavy steel pry bar to turn the crank.

Opening and closing defective railcar doors require many varied tasks, such as prying with bars, hitting with big heavy sledge hammers, pulling with ratcheting cable pullers (usually called a Come-A-Long). Come-A-Longs are operated by reaching up and pulling very hard on it handle that operates it. 


To pull a sliding door open with a come-a-long you have to reach up and hook the cable on the door and hook the other end, which has a hook also, to some where on the car and reach up and pull the handle repeatedly back and forth which slowly pulls the door open in small increments (maybe an inch at a time) until you succeed in opening it usually 8-10 feet. That is providing its not defective. Usually there underling causes why the customer couldnt get it open in the first place which often requires reaching up and prying with a bar to free it from some stuck place, some times pulling with one hand on the come-a-long and prying with the other hand and some times putting all the pulls strain you can get on the cable then taking a sledge hammer and whacking the tar out of the door some where way up above your heard. That is just one example of a slide door problem, there are many. All of which require reaching up. I have yet to see a door that wasnt over my 6 ft high head. Just to reach up and latch the door requires reaching up to connect the hasp and often having to use a large hammer to drive it closed. Slide doors often get off their track, that they slide on, and often have to be retracked by prying the door back up on the track with a pry bar. They swing out at the bottom sometimes when the car isnt level and have to be pushed back toward the door track at the bottom by pushing manually with one hand while you pry with the bar with your other hand.

Actually using the term closing a door is wrong terminology, when I get there it should be termed repairing and closing the door or open which ever the case may be. I occasionally got to close doors that were fairly easy to reach up and push manually, but they were the exception not the rule. Often I had to hold a heating torch (oxygen & Propane rig attached to a fairly heavy set of hoses) for long periods of time while I heated bent doors cherry red to make them easier to beat back straight with sledge and ball pean hammers. Some times I had to hold welding leads up and do over head welding to secure loose doors, or doors in danger of coming off. (Welding leads are heavy rubber coated copper wires attached to an electrode holder). I should explain the term coming off, it means exactly that . Its not uncommon for a door to come off its track and fall from the car onto the ground, usually in the same general area where you are standing and trying to repair the door. Many is the time Ive had to drop what I was doing and make a hasty retreat. I should mention that even a light sliding door weighs several hundred pounds. In cases like that it takes two good arms to throw stuff down and still get in the clear in time. That didnt happen too often though when you consider Ive opened and closed thousands of doors. Not an exaggeration literally thousands over the years. A good estimate would be around two or three hundred a year.

Flush Doors (Plug Doors):

These doors require most of the same type of duties to repair but have more moving parts and different things to do to them as well, and are far more heavy and more prone to coming off. Some have Crank handles you reach up and turn to close (looks quite a bit like an airplane propellor), usually very hard to turn and requiring a lot of upper body strength to turn. They are on rollers that quite often get off track and have to be pried back up on the track, They get out of the top guides sometimes these rollers detrack, and that is when they are subject to coming off. Some have long handles you reach up and turn in to pivot the door closed, it takes both hands to turn them and considerable strength sometimes. There is usually a lot of sledge hammer work to move these rollers around to align before you can pry on them and a lot of manual pushing.

Some times the doors are so damaged they have to be removed and loaded inside the car after it is unloaded. Thats sometimes done by using a truck with a boom on it and a lot of prying with bars and pulling with come-a-longs and requires some serious head scratching, ie. Thinking, and a smart Carman can very often get the job done by recruiting the use of a fork lift especially in warehouses and places where the car is not accessible by truck. In fact most customers tracks are out behind the buildings where no vehicle can get to it. This also applies to Load dividers (a large bulkhead barrier inside the car on rollers that weigh more than a door and are just as big) which I often had to work on inside cars due to loads shifting and knocking them every which way. I often had to stand up on a step ladder to work on the top of load dividers where they attach up at the top track near the inside roof of the car, reaching up and hitting and prying and attaching heavy chains to pull them loose with. I often had to remove load dividers when repair was not possible from cars and reload them after the car was empty.

Other types of doors, end doors on Auto Rack cars, and Hopper cars with bottom doors and top hatches require many of the same type of reaching, lifting, pulling, shoving, prying climbing capabilities, all of which require physical ability and dexterity and agility to safely get the jobs done.

Brief summary of door repairs: Repairing rail car doors is hard and strenuous work and can as you may surmise be extremely dangerous to even a healthy person with no physical disabilities, so it would be deadly for a person with physical limitations. I say that as a Professional Rail Car Repairman who is an expert in not only door repairs but all aspects of car repairing and as a person who realizes the job I loved to do, I can no longer do.