The Sleeper Cutter




RON KERR – reminiscences of a working drover



The Sleeper Cutter


He was thin, bony, no sign of fat
Could chop all day on the end of a Kelly axe
Worked in a Singlet called a ‘Jacky Howe’
Plodded along like a horse pulling a plough


Worked from morning till dark
Cutting down the tough ironbark
Squaring sleepers from this very hard wood
Shaping the sleeper were the ironbark stood


With hammer and wedge the sapwood was removed
Into the heart, where the broad axe was used
Which had handles for left hand and right
Sleeper cutters, worked until the fading light


He squared the sides to equal face
Toiled along at a steady pace
Turned his billet to the wider side
For the rough sleeper required


With Adze axe he trimmed the cut
Than with broad axe for the finial touch
Laid them out, as not to warp
Before picking them up with a dray and horse


At night before going to bed
He sharpen his tools to a very fine edge
Ironbark was cruel to an axeman’s blade
With ware and tear, day by day


With sleepers stacked, to dry out straight
Plus the reduction in the overall weigh
Transported to railhead by horse and dray
To pass inspection, before the sleeper cutter gets his pay


Branded with the sleeper cutters own mark
Under the eye, of the railway clerk
Stamped by hammer, on the end to be seen
To show who had cut this sleeper beam