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American Engineers
Behind the Battle Lines in France

America n Engineers
Behind the Battle Lines in France



War Correspondent for the McGraw-Hill Publications






Sole Selling Agents



Copyright, 1918, Br the


Last December when Mr. Tomlin, formerly managing editor of Engineering News-Record, went
to France as war correspondent of the McGraw-Hill engineering pubhcations, he went as a pioneer.
No other technical publication in this country was similarly represented at the front, and though he
went armed with letters of introduction and the authority of our War Department to get and print what-
ever the British and French censors deemed proper, there was no certainty that the busy officers directing
the great engineering programs would have time to tell him their stories, or that the censors would
permit him to pubUsh them. Mr. Tomlin writes in glowing terms, however, of the full cooperation he
has had from officers and censors. Everywhere he has been shown over the work and been given as
much information as could be consistently done — and everywhere there has been appreciation of the
journalistic need for prompt attention.

The first articles, of course, were largely general. The work was just being organized. The first,
second and fourth articles are confined to the organization of road building, railway yard and terminal
development, and light railway construction, and an outline of some of the problems to be solved, and
the third, also in the general preliminary class, relates to the inspection of French quarries by American
engineers. In the fifth we first see the engineers actually on construction, in the varied activities of the
railway regiment. In the remaining articles, with the exception of that on " Water-supply at the Front
in France," which again tells only of the organization and the general problems — we also get details.
Besides the views of road building and the Ught railways at close range, supplementing the first and
fourth articles, we have an article on the industrial problems at a shrapnel plant, one on map-making in
air and on the ground, one on the construction of an advance depot and two on the work of the army
engineer school — which is far in advance of anything of the kind in this country before this year.

The articles are here gathered together in book form because of the great interest they have
aroused, and the assistance they have rendered army oflScers engaged in this country in training men
for the front.

Engineehing News-Record.



Preface V

American Road-building Work in French War Zone Organized 1

American Railway Yard and Terminal Development in France Presents Many New Problems . . 4

French Quarries Inspected by U. S. Engineers 6

Large Mileage of Light Railways Will Serve American Troops at the Front 9

Railway Regiment Handles Jobs op All Kinds in France 13

Human Problem Thought of Paramount Importance in Paris Shrapnel Plant 17

Water-supply at the Front in France 21

Road Builders at Work Close to Front of American Sector in France . . 28

Army Topographical Division Co-ordinates Work of Map Makers in Air and on Groubd .... 32

Along the British Front by Light Railway 37

The Light Railway Along the British Front at Close Range 41

Engineers Convert French Beet-sugar Fields into Advance Depot 49

Army Engineer School in France Standardizes Work in the Field 55

Army Engineer School in France Standardizes Work in the Field — {Continued) 61

American-built Docks in France Completed by Pacific Coast Engineers 65

Roads in Base Section op American Forces Require Widening and Resurfacing 74

American Army's Water-works Projects in France 79

American Motor Trucks Carry Water Purification Plant 83

American Intermediate Depot in France. Problem in Getting Labor and

American Road-Building Work in French
War Zone Organized

Inspection of British and French Systems by United States Highway Engineer Ofticers Aids in
Development of Methods— Waterbound Macadam the Main ReUance


Formerly Ma

AMERICAN road construction and maintenance
l\ work in that part of France assigned to United
■^ -*■ States troops has been definitely organized, and I
was given an opportunity at the office of the Director
General of Transportation, American Expeditionary
Force, of learning some of the general features of how
the immense task of maintaining our highway lines of
communication will be handled. As yet no large-scale
field operations have been undertaken by our road-build-
ing forces, but the nucleus of American engineer of-
ficers, who were sent to France some time ago, and who
will become the administrative heads in charge of the
several subdivisions of the great project, have been
spending their time in inspections of the British and
French lines of communication, in conferences with the
officers in charge of these operations for our Allies, and
in formulating plans for our own work. As a result of
this cooperation our road engineers have been able to
utilize to great advantage the experiences of the French
and British and to blend these with the best American
practice in mapping out the work to which they have
been assigned.

The Manager of Roads
All road-building and maintenance work in the Ameri-
can territory has been placed under the general control
of the Director General of Transportation, who has
delegated the responsibility for all highway operations
to a Manager of Roads, with an organization of his
own. The Manager of Roads is well known profession-
ally, a member of both the American Society of Civil
Engineers and the British Institution of Civil Engi-
neers, and recently gave up his consulting practice to
become one of the administrative heads of a commission
directing municipal subway construction operations in-
volving the expenditure of many millions of dollars. It
is not permitted to mention by name the men who are
handling the road work. The Manager of Roads will
concern himself principally with the executive end of
the highway work, while the actual field operations will
be in the hands of special road building and quarry regi-
ments, such as those in behalf of which Engineer-ing
Neirs-Record conducted its recent recruiting campaigns.
The relations between the staff of the Road Manager
and the technical troops in the field will be somewhat
similar to those which ordinarily exist between a State
Highway Department and a contractor. The Office of
Road Manager, however, will not only designate where
work will be done, but will also relieve the field officers
of the routine involved in getting shipments of construc-
tion plant, materials and supplies to specific places and


at specific times. The Road Manager's office will be, in
effect, a sort of clearing-house, a place where the efforts
of the various construction regiments will be coordi-
nated and rendered of maximum value. It will serve
also as a sort of priority board in the distribution of
such materials as the output of crushed stone from

Work Departmentalized

Under the Road Manager will be various department
heads. The organization chart, which I was permitted
to examine, shows such titles as Deputy Manager of
Roads, Road Engineer, Assistant Road Engineer, Super-
intendent of Supplies, Superintendent of Equipment
(who will be a mechanical engineer), Superintendent of
Quarries, Engineer of Bridges, and, a very significant
title. Superintendent of Business Affairs. There will
also be a General Superintendent of Construction and
division engineers assigned to prescribed areas occupied
by American troops. The organization scheme was de-
veloped only after a careful study of the British and
French systems.

In making a tour of the office of the Road Manager
I saw many familiar faces. There were engineers from
State Highway Departments, who know construction
methods in detail, men who have seen service in United
States Office of Public Roads at Washington, men who
have formerly been consulting engineers and city en-
gineers back in the "States"; men who had sei-ved on
the faculties of our engineering colleges ; bridge design-
ers, computers, and so on, right down the line to
draftsmen, clerks and stenographers. All, of course,
were in uniform, with the castle insignia on collar band
denoting the Corps of Engineers. It is no inexperienced
corps of road builders who form this staff of the Man-
ager of Roads. Each is a specialist in his line, with
years of practical training back of him, and when I
left the building I carried away the impression that our
highway work is in the hands of men eminently quali-
fied for the work to be done — men who have given up
positions of great responsibility back home to place at
the disposal of the Government their specialized knowl-
edge of engineering administration and of the various
branches of road construction and maintenance.

So much for the general scheme of organization — and
it must be stated in general terms only, for these are
not times when it is desirable to be specific. The road
building and quarry regiments from the States will
reach the scene of action completely equipped with the
construction plant necessary to the efficient conduct of
their operations in the field. Much of the French work.

1 ]

I leam, has been done by hand. For example, a French
officer told me yesterday that the bulk of the stone he
used for road maintenance work was quarried and
crushed by hand. With mechanical crushers the Ameri-
can forces will be able to effect a great increase in out-
put of crushed stone from quarries. And on this subject
of crushers an interesting point developed. It appears
that the prevalent rock for road building in France is
a very soft limestone, so soft, in fact, that it is apt to
clog a crusher of the gyratory type. For this material,
therefore, a jaw-crusher rather than a gj'ratory crusher
would seem to be best adapted.

British and French Methods
I have said before that the American road engineers
have been making frequent trips back of the British
and French lines. They told me some of the results
of their observations. The waterbound macadam road
is in almost universal use, although, I believe, the Brit-
ish have a small mileage of tarred surface. From what
I can learn the caption "Macadam Roads Best for War
Traffic," which appeared over the editorial in Engineer-
ing News-Record of Sept. 13, 1917, and to which excep-
tion was taken in a number of letters to the editor, needs
no revision. A tour of the front, I have heard, alters
many preconceived opinions as to types of road con-
struction adapted to conditions of actual warfare. In
any event I have not been able to verify any reports as
to the extensive use of any of the so-called "permanent"
types of road surface by the Allied forces. It is possi-
ble, I understand, that some form of surface other than
straight waterbound macadam may be used far back
from the front-line trenches, but macadam seems to be
the main reliance in any territory where operations are
at all active.

American highway engineers seem to be greatly
pleased with the properties of the French limestone as
a material for speedy road construction. It is very soft,
and compacts quite readily under a road roller, and is
the chief reliance as a road-building material, although
it requires constant maintenance. A limited amount of
trap-rock is available and a French engineer, now re-
turned from active service, told me on his section of
road work he employed slag successfully. The roads
where the slag was used, however, were near industrial
centers where supplies of this material could be secured
without the necessity of a long haul. One objection to
the waterbound macadam road, I find, is the dust which
rises from it under traffic during dry periods in sum-
mer. Some use of oil as a binder and dust palliative
may be tried, but I hear that it is next to impossible to
secure any quantity of bituminous material for road
work in France today. In certain of the towns near
the front there are large signs along the roadside cau-
tioning the drivers of motor trucks, or camions as they
call them here, to drive slowly. Fast driving, vdth its
attendant dust clouds, i? apt to draw artillery fire on
the roads.

Maintenance the Chief Problem
The chief problems of the American road-builders
over here will relate to maintenance, as the mileage of


existing French roads is very great ; one estimate placed
it at 1 mile of road to every IJ sq.mi. of ground surface.
New construction will take the form of widening roads
already built. While the French national roads have
ample widths, some of the secondary routes having
widths of 18 ft. must be widened to about 34 ft. These
roads generally have extensive berms so that the widen-
ing operation merely entails the placing of road metal
on both sides for the extra width desired without dis-
turbing the existing drainage ditches or interrupting
traffic. Where new roads must be built observers state
that the French lay the bottom course of one-man stone
by hand, while it is common in British military practice
merely to dump the stone for the bottom course directly
upon the subgrade without any very refined attempt in
the placing of the stone. On this base course, 10 or
12 in. in thickness, is spread a layer of 2J-in. stone and
on top screenings are placed and rolled. The English
have used tarring to a limited extent, generally in the
vicinity of hospitals.

Military roads of course are subjected to unusually
severe loadings and the "tank," with its cleated cater-
pillar traction bands — a load of perhaps 30 tons on a
4-ft. wheel base — is a disturbing factor to the officer in
charge of road-maintenance. Artillery loads of 18 tons
on one axle, I am told, are not unusual. As for the tank,
I understand that it kept off the roads wherever possi-
ble ; if it must take to the right of way a road-mainte-
nance crew follows in its wake. The tank also has given
the bridge builders something to worry about.

Plank Roads Near Front
Where highways must be advanced close to the front
lines the construction type takes the form of plank road.
In this territory the ground may be merely a succession
of shell craters, so irregular in surface contour as to
preclude any of the ordinary types of construction with-
out elaborate grading operations. In this work plank
of a standard length and cross-sectional area, 5 x 9 in.
by 9 ft. is employed. Three of these planks are laid
parallel to the longitudinal axis of the road, like bridge
stringers, and the surface timbers are laid transversely
on the stringers, to which they are spiked. At each side
longitudinal guard timbers are spiked and the surface
is built wiyh a pitch of 3 in. toward one side to shed
water. This plank construction generally is only wide
enough for one-way traffic.

American officers are enthusiastic over the excellent
svstem of traffic regulation on military roads used by
the English. At specified points military "traffic cops"
are stationed and are provided with red, green and
white signals — flags by day and small lamps by night.
A red signal brings traffic to a stop, green slows it down,
while white means "all clear." When large stores of
munitions and supplies are in transit the traffic is said
to compare in density to that on Fifth Avenue, New
York, while the actual tonnage, of course, is much

It may happen that a brigade of artillery, stationed
in fields alongside the road, is suddenly called into ac-
tion. The road police stop all motor-truck traffic in-
stantly, get the right-of-way clear so that the artillery
2 ]

may reach its position without delay. Another feature
of the road work is the prevalence of the large sign-
boards indicating the way to different towns.

At night, of course, it is dangerous for vehicles to
show lights, and to aid the driver in keeping on the
right-of-way wooden pickets, whitewashed, are driven
along the outer edges of the roads at about 10-ft. in-
tervals. I was talking last night to an American am-
bulance driver who had seen service in the Verdun
sector, and he told me that it was a favorite stunt of
the Boche airmen to fly over the road at night when
supplies were being brought up and rake the center line
with machine guns in an effort to "get" the drivers of
the camions.

On the question of plant for road building, the Ameri-
can engineer officers with whom I spoke pointed out the
danger of a steam-roller near the front. Puffs of smoke
or exhaust steam disclose the position of work to the
enemy. Gasoline-driven machines are preferred on ac-
count of what I suppose a naval man would call their

"low visibility," although the steam outfits are useful
further back. The exhaust steam and smoke from a
road roller makes a fine target for shells or bombs, and
much of the road work must be done in the danger zone.
In regard to gasoline machines, the single-cylinder type
is not regarded with favor, preference being given to
the two-cylinder machine as more dependable. If the
engine stalls it is generally a long way back home.

Narrow-gage track is a big factor in the transporta-
tion problem and I hope in later reports to give some
of the details as to laying and handling of these units.
Standard-gage railroad track, narrow-gage industrial
track, and waterbound macadam highway for motor-
truck traffic form the great triumvirate of transporta-
tion used in France today. It is significant in the
scheme of organization behind the fighting front that
the control of all of these aids to the movement of
supplies, munitions and men, is centralized in one de-
partment, that of Director General of Transportation.

[ 3 ]

American Railway Yard and Terminal Development
in France Presents Many New Problems

Engineers Preparing for Big Construction Program at French Seaports — At Docking Basins Readjustment
of Track System for American Rolling Stock Is Necessary — Training School for Traffic Officers Proposed

By Robert K. Tomlin, Jr.

"Engineering News-Record's" War Correspondent in France

TRACKAGE in railway yards alone equivalent in
aggregate length to a standard-gage line from New
York to Chicago is merely one detail of the colossal
program of construction which the occupation of
French territory by the ultimate quota of the American
Expeditionary Force has demanded. And let it be
understood at the outset that this does not include
main-line construction and repair or narrow-gage, light
railway track; it is merely the new trackage required
in the immediate vicinity of the huge seaport freight
terminals, classification depots and warehouses which
United States forces are building or planning to build
in France in order that supplies and munitions in
staggering quantities may be received and routed ex-
peditiously from ships to points at the front. This
information I obtained in interviews with two of the
high ranking officers on the staff of the director general
of transportation — one the general manager, and the
other the engineer of design and construction. Both
held high executive positions in a large railroad organi-
zation before the war.

Transportation the Immediate Need

Without doubt transportation is the immediate big
business of the war for us. Practically everything
which our fighting forces will need in the conduct of
field operations must come from across the Atlantic,
for the available supply of local equipment for American
troops is almost negligible. The problem resolves itself,
therefore, into one of providing facilities for receiving
huge volumes of freight at the waterfront, and either
delivering it to the interior or storing it for future
use. As one engineer officer expressed it, this phase
of our task is not war in the popular conception of the
word, but a gigantic business enterprise, which, to
insure success, must be conducted on the best American
business principles.

Along with the railway yard construction work will
go the building of innumerable storehouses and classi-
fication depots, the provision of mechanical equipment
for the handling of freight, and the enlargement of
port facilities such as wharves and docks.

It was impressed upon me very forcibly that the
great need now is for cars, which must all come from
the States, for crews to load and unload them, and for-
a skilled force to operate the trains between French
seaports and our supply bases behind the fighting front.

The task of our engineer officers and men in pro-
viding terminal and transportation facilities over here
is complicated by many difficulties which railway oper-
ators or constructors in the United States do not
experience. First of all, there are differences between
French and American railway practice which must be

adjusted before effective work can be done. It should
be realized, however, that existing French main-line
track is in good condition, available for the use of
our rolling stock, and that tales of new four-track
lines across France, to be built by American forces,
are absolutely without foundation. The big problem
is the terminal problem.

Differences in Practice

In the matter of main-line track gage the French
roads are very nearly the same as our own, and slight
adjustments in the wheel coning of our rolling stock
will render it serviceable on French track. The French
operating system, however, is left-handed, and certain
track-construction details show variations from Ameri-
can practice. French rails, for example, are supported
on chairs with a wedge knocked in to tighten them,
whole our rails rest either direct on the ties or on
metal tieplates. French rail joints are placed opposite
each other instead of being staggered. In the matter
of curves the French work upon a scale of meters of
radius, while American railway men deal in degrees
of curvature.

As the first stage in the mapping out of the Ameri-
can railroad work our engineers have collected and
are studying and redrawing to a new scale existing
French plans. Here again new conditions must be
faced. European methods of showing things on blue
prints differ from our ovra, and all of the lettering,
of course, is in French. Interpreters, to be sure, are
available, but or the most part they are laymen, whik'
the accurate interpretation of the data on the French
plans calls in many cases for the services of technical
specialists who understand both English and French
engineering terms. Dimensions and quantities are in
the metric system, and in the hands of men who have
been dealing principally with feet, inches and cubic
yards in their own work at home the French units
are not so easily handled at first.

Much Preliminary Work

It therefore can be seen that before any large scale
construction operations are possible a tremendous
amount of preliminary work must be done in order to
establish what might be called a uniform datum plane,
from which effective coordinated effort must start. It
is this preliminary work, this business of taking stock
of existing facilities and fitting them into the plans
for the future, that has been the chief task of our
American railway and terminal engineers.

Just what the new work will involve can be stated
only in rather vague terms. In addition to the railway
yards and terminal structures there will be regulating
yards whose function will be to preserve a proper

[ 4 ]

balance of traffic between the storage yards and main-
line tracks leading to the front — a sort of compensating
reservoir, to maintain a smooth, steady flow of traffic.
Innumerable sidings will have to be built to hospitals,
sawmills (where our forestry regiments will work
cutting French timber), bakeries and various other
structures. New engine terminals are included in the
project, and connections must be made to our ordnance
and munitions stores. The latter must be located at
least half a mile distant from main-line track and
buildings, and the type of construction, I am told, will
be scattered units, in order to minimize the efl!ects of
explosions or bombing from enemy airplanes.

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Online LibraryRobert K TomlinAmerican engineers behind the battle lines in France → online text (page 1 of 14)