Monday, December 28, 2015

MoW: Railroad "Big Hooks"

(Update: a big hook in action)

(Update: they also sometimes did revenue work such as transloading dozers into a barge.)

"Big Hook" was the term railroaders used for their big crane that they would use to clean up wrecks and do construction work. Over the years, it got bigger. The irony is that they have scrapped their "big hooks" because side-booms are now used to clean up wrecks. But have kept their "little hooks" for maintenance-of-way jobs such as dredging with a clam shell or replacing bridge pilings.

Alecks MurEn commented on Aaron's post
The Orton !!
[There were several more photos added as comments. But this is the only one I have seen that shows a Big Hook doing wreck cleanup. Now most wrecks are cleaned up with sidewinders and/or excavators]

Screenshot at 0:11 in video
I'm surprised that railroads still keep their old cranes given that mobile cranes can be converted to Hy-Railers and that they can deploy sidewinders to lift loads to their sides. I saw a few months ago a picture of a rail crane that had turned over while lifting a fairly small segment of track to repair the track lock for a lift bridge. But, of course, now I can't find that picture.

Brian Allen posted
CNW 6363 crane (Bucyrus) at IRM
Jeff Lilja The old Proviso hook, 150 ton crane and I remember when it was painted black in 1967 and than they started to paint them in ZITO see how that worked out
Jeff Lilja comment on above posting
This is a CNW 250 ton crane
Richard Jahn posted

Richard Jahn posted
Richard's comment:
In July 1977 I went on a solo trip to Northern Maine to photograph some BAR antiques - the BL2's and F3's. I wound up stumbling into a "service interruption". In the early morning hours of June 30 the main northbound freight #57 derailed a couple cars a short ways south of Oakfield, Me. Normally the southbound train (#28)would have departed Oakfield before sunrise but not this day. They walked #28 thru the derailment site then the wreck trains came back out to finish the cleanup. F3 #44 was the power for the Oakfield wreck train. Little did I know I would get to spend a lot of time with #44 in the future as this is the F3 which TriState later purchased and is now DLW 663.

Harold J. Krewer posted
C&NW X-200, which looks to be one of the former CGW 250-ton "hooks" is paired with boom car CGW W52 at an undocumented location in Summer 1985. I had photos from Dixon and Sterling in the same box, so perhaps this is Nelson?
The W52 survives today at Illinois Railway Museum, now paired with CNW 6363, a similar but smaller 150-ton crane with four-wheel trucks.
Photo by Harold Krewer.
[The comments indicate that it is in Nelson.]
Marty Bernard shared his posting
Look at This AT&SF Monster
Crane 199793 in Newton, KS in August 1983 captured by Roger Puta
I assume the orange planks are footers for the out riggers. Take a close look at the "shed" on the far end of the boom car. Those were the days when railroads wasted little.
Rick Smith ..I agree with Marty here. Our derricks also had those hung below the deck, just for the outriggers, as we always needed to stack 'em them to stabilize on uneven ground.
Bill Molony posted
EJ&E crane car #6 and idler flat car #8758 in May of 2005. 
Not sure of the location.Tony Kovac Kirk yard rip track, picture taken from north yard looking North northwest toward USS. Cars in background are spotted on the rip trackTony Kovac Moved shortly after its pic to Joliet & possible sold . Never made to 2009 
The tool car (not in pic but to the right of boom tender is at Griffith rail museum. ( 1 crane was sold other was cut up)
Michael Bachmann posted
From a derailment mid-seventies west of Cedar Road Brisbane. Hot summer Sunday day, cause was heat kink, I think 18 cars were involved
# 6 wreck crane was working this one. Before Hulcher was around.
[Hulcher is the contractor that introduced using sidebooms to clean up derailments.]
Gordon Gabriel Mike i think it was 1974 i remember we cut up cars there.
Mike Yurgec posted three photos with the comment: "Big Hook at the Peabody wye at Freeburg, Illinois. 1980."


Jdoc Jdoc shared Jason Jordan's photo.
Fred Bain It could be a little white knuckle going up or down that ramp. Burro model 40, 15 Ton
Paul Giske commented on his posting
Fred Bain We call that an Auxilary crane. Specially designed to work derailments. It would lay track panels and then pick up units or equipment to be loaded on flats and taken to the carmen's shops to be repaired. The change came when companies stopped repairing the cars and cut up the equipment at the derailment site. Far less carmen and no more auxilary needed.Paul Giske Thank you, Fred. It must be cheaper & economical from a managerial perspective to scrap than repair. Change brake shoes & wheelsets or throw it away.
[I contributed the first two pictures of the North Baltimore crane to this posting.]
Dave Stroebe posted four photos with the comment:
I posted these photos on the GTW Tracker which happens to be about rolling stock. The derailment occurred just east of Coopersville where the road bed rises above Randal Road. The GTW borrowed a wrecker from the PRR.

This is East of Coopersville and above Randal Road on what is now the Coopersville & Marne.
[C&M is a tourist railroad.]

No liability concerns here as a woman with baby stroller watches a PRR wrecker lift a C&NW wooden outside braced box car.

GTW Wrecker posses with PRR wrecker in down town Coopersville. The ex Lemon Car Lot is now there, The City Hall and Police are there now, The C&M parks their cars there. The view looks about the same today.

In this view is the GTW Coopersville Depot. The elevator which stands today is in the background. The Steamer has pulled the wrecking train into town. It is likely that the PRR will pick up their wrecker at Fuller Jct in Grand Rapids.
IF YOU WORK(ED) ON THE RAILROAD (railfans welcome) posted two photos.
Don Leonhardt Just south of FW Texas 2010
Don Leonhardt Down hill slack run in
Mark Kucera Actually that car wasn’t supposed to be on that train. It was big empty auto parts box car. Behind it were 10k tons of train. Dropped down a 10% grade with dynamics and air at 20mph and boom there it was. Crew not charged but DTO and MTO got in hot water over it.
Alexey Dorokhov What [nonsense], where did you see a 10% grade?
[Your not going to fix this with sidewinders, or even a big hook. Someone mentioned they would cut the car out.]
Mike Yurgec provided three photos of Centralia and its "companion car" in Freebug, IL in 1988 as comments on a posting.


Lemont Crocker posted
Brett Gell pile driver flat, Ohio crane and auxiliary crane
Neil Faber posted, Dan Lawrence enhanced
First time seen anywhere: these are two glass plate negatives that my grandfather took of a CB&Q wreck somewhere in Nebraska. Presumably near Alliance or Minden. Given the age of the locomotive my bet is on Minden.

Marty Bernard posted three photos with the comment: "CB&Q Derrick 204362 working at the Yorkville, Illinois Wreck in October 1970. Roger Patelski photos."


Marty Bernard Flickr
EJ&E 6 derrick with boom car 8758
At Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway's Joliet Yard on August 23, 1964.

Michael Bachmann commented on William O'Neal Stringer's post
Here is a picture of two wreck cranes setting girders over the canal in Joliet sometime about the 1920's. The crane on the right is numbered 5.

John Eagan commented on William O'Neal Stringer's post
[This is EJ&E #6. Judging from other comments, Industrial Brownhoist was a manufacturer of Big Hooks.]
Michael Moron commented on William O'Neal Stringer's post:

EJ&E 1
Industrial Works 1525, 100 ton capacity, wrecker crane, steam. Built 1906

EJ&E #5
Industrial Works 3193, wrecker crane, steam, 160 ton capacity. Built 1917.
Listed as converted to diesel-electric November 1951 using equipment salvaged from tug boat. Received a new CAT Diesel engine April 1963

EJ&E #6
Industrial Brownhoist 12217, wrecker crane, diesel, 250 ton capacity. Built 1954

EJ&E crane 10, 22.5T Brownhoisting and Machinery 4519. Built 1926

John W. coke posted
#414651 250 ton capacity "Big Hook" built by Industrial Brownhoist. November 7, 2001 Coquitlam, BC Andy Cassidy

Michael Bachmann posted two photos with the comment: "Someone commented about the wreck cranes one day and I ran into these two pictures of old number 5. Guessing one was in the twenties or thirties and the other eighties. Wished I would have pulled the plates off of them before the CN took over."

Bob Tarlini This must be when it was still steam-operated !!!
Dennis DeBruler Some of the big railroads in Chicago had a gantry crane over their team tracks to help move heavy loads to trucks. It looks like EJ&E used their wreck cranes for transloading. Or are they adjusting a load that shifted?

William O'Neal Stringer shared
With all the recent chat about the J cranes this picture comes from our sister railroad the Missabe.
Michael Moran Is it just an optical illusion or is the far side of that crane up off the rails?
Too many wreck cranes got pulled over trying to make lifts without outriggers or with bad blocking.
Michael Bachmann There was a couple different types of restraints used on those cranes. One was rail clamps that grabbed the rail head on all four corners. The other was outrigger beams where you manually pulled them out and placed blocking under them to support the crane. In my little experience the should have made a closer pick move is closer to the rail move and do it again or put the outriggers out. They are setting themselves up for a disaster, speed kills. I have been where this crane is, not the best situation to be in.
Travis Hunt Yeah speaking from experience lifting locomotives with a near identical wrecker, outriggers are an absolute must even though they're a giant pain in the ass. These people are getting close to disaster.

Duluth Missabe and Iron Range Railway posted
Barry Klinetobe Look at X-7 lean!
Andrew Koetz No outriggers out either, hence the lean.....
Lee Rushenberg Umm...yeah. That "lift" wasn't supposed to happen. I can't believe somebody got a picture of that. [I don't understand "wasn't supposed to happen." But I'm not going to ask because this is probably a "sensitive" topic.]
Andrew Doney Lee Rushenberg all I remember at this point is that I was taking pictures of the “lift” when I heard a “snap” and watched in horror as this unfolded. I was grateful that it wasn’t worse than what is pictured here. [It sounds like maybe they were using rail grips and they didn't hold.]
Andrew Tighe Always nice to see someone pulling something off like this, proving that the angels do watch over fools.
Lee Rushenberg As I recall, for some reason, they were just trying to get some tension on the main hook. The operator asked for outriggers but was told that they were just taking tension, not making a lift. Well, it was too much tension and all of the sudden the locomotive lifted several inches and pivoted, leading to the results here. The use of outriggers was never questioned again for the remainder of this project.

"Main hook easy down..."
Andrew Doney The unit was hooked on the rail and when the tension on the boom overcame the tension on the rail this was the result. [I believe this confirms my theory that the rail grips lost their grip.]
Bill Wennberg X7 was originally steam powered. The DMIR converted it to diesel. This must have been a while ago. No hard hats, vests no steel toed boots.
Andrew Doney Bill Wennberg 2001

Joe Dockrill shared
cranes recovering a crane???

Joe Dockrill shared
i like the big hooks
Tom Weaver Happened on the GTW in Lansing, MI in the mid-1970's. As my fading memory recalls, crew made a lift on an EMD switcher without being properly blocked. Crane ended up with boom draped over mainline. CSX steam crane from Grand Rapids (DK7 or 8 maybe) was brought in right the GTW crane. Boom was destroyed. Whichever of the two GTW cranes it was ended up with a welded boom and was only used a couple more years. We were on Track Department and as I recall damage was negligible.

Wayne Helms shared
Jason Cooper Risky lift with no outriggers etc.. heck of an experienced operator.
Greg Brown 2nd St and Indiana Ave. Philadelphia, Pa.
Date :1966-09-25

Eric Capots posted

Bill Molony posted
On the morning of June 1st, 1966, the Illinois Central was cleaning up the wreckage of train #22, that had derailed the previous day near Peotone, Illinois.
William Lloyd A locked ring and bull gear set. [In the traction motor]
Dave Ladislas Sr. That looks like our old wrecker crane from our Markham Yard that was later cut up for scrap even tho a couple museums wanted it.I'm guessing that's Rt. 50 on the right? That area looks way different now.
Ted Coffey Welded rail in 66?

Michael Dye posted ten photos concerning Erie Railroad's big hook.

(new window)  Dave Clarke posted this link and others agree with him that in the mountains a rail crane still makes sense.

Dave Pruden posted 10 photos of a big hook cleaning up a LS&MS wreck at Lenawee Junction, MI.

Eric Kurowski's collections: a, b1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 1011, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18
From collection 6
Used for laying cable alongside and under the right away.
For additional revenue railroad offten rain utilities and pipe lines under rightaways.

Tim Twichell posted 52 photos of a 250 ton Industrial Brownhoist steam powered, many of them are interior shots.


  1. Some great photos here. Magic. Is there any publications that cover the use of and where big hooks were used in the 1950-1960s, especially in Mississippi. Any archives available of machine or operator log books ? Can get me on swchuck at gmail dot com (I live in New Zealand)

  2. Hi Dennis,

    Vietnam Railways Orton still up and running (two of them actually)
    Supplied by USAID to South VN Railways before 1967.

    Would appreciate any assistance with tech. details & mfg date

    And you are of course welcome to explore the biggest ever Indochina/Vietnam collection of railway related photos and infos on

    Regards, Janez