From the beginning of railroads, road maintenance has been necessary so that trains can operate safely and efficiently. The roadbed is a complex system of ballast, ties, and rails along with items like ditches and proper grading.

Picture of Adzing Machine in operating configuration.

Adzing Machine. Larger view.

The road operators replace rails periodically because of wear and tear or to increase capacity. Part of that replacement is to smooth and level the seating surface is needed on each tie, an operation which for many years was done manually using hand adzes. Due to the wood grain, knots and varying worker skill the seating surfaces were almost never smooth, flat or at proper and uniform cant. The results of poor seating surfaces are torsional stresses and rapid initial wear in the rails, gauge variation in the track, and differing wear amounts and shortened life in the ties, leading to rail flexing and sagging thus creating an uneven running surface for the trains and possible track failure. It was necessary to correct gage and surface variations after trains had operated over the new rail for a period of time.

Observing this, Nordberg VP of Manufacturing Henry Talboys set out to mechanize the adzing of ties to both increase quality and labor efficiency. He led a team including Helmer Erickson, Chief Engineer, and Rudolph Buettner, Shop Superintendent, to design and build a “mobile milling machine,” as he called it. Their broad knowledge of machine tools, mobile machinery and railroads permitted them to develop and patent the Nordberg Adzing Machine. In 1928 they assembled a novel machine which utilized the one rail in track for support and as a guide, while milling a properly located surface to permit the second rail to be placed in track correctly positioned and fully supported by a smooth surface on the tie. This took advantage of the practice of laying one rail at a time so the other can be used for gauging.

Front page of sales brochure for Adzing Machine

Front page of brochure for Adzing Machine. Larger view.

The Nordberg Adzing Machine was essentially a milling head with a vertical shaft, belt driven from a small gasoline engine and cleverly mounted on a frame supported by flanged wheels which were positioned by guide rollers on each side of the rail head. It was quickly adopted by the railroad industry as the standard adzing method since it provided greater quality, production rate and safety while at the same time improving economy of a laborious task. This machine was the first machine to be used in road maintenance to operate on only one rail of track and the first self powered machine for roadway maintenance operation.

The adzing machine established Milwaukee as a pioneer in the railway maintenance equipment field, being the first of many machines used by the railroads in the maintenance of their roadways.