This is a ballast cleaner. It removes the ballast from the outside of the tracks, cleans it, and then puts it back. Whatever is removed, is transferred by conveyor to coupled hoppers.
The following was sent to me by Jerry Oxendine, an employee of NS as well as the former SR. "I was wondering if you had ever heard of the experimental water ballast cleaner referred to above. This machine was just a frame and wheels when I reported for work to SR in my early RR days, and was sup- posed to remedy the tremendous dust caused by ballast cleaning. The ballast was to be picked up by huge "ditch witch" wheels on the side, cleaned in a huge water-filled drum, and returned to the roadbed via conveyer. After many attempts to make this thing work, it failed pri- marily because it was too complicated--too many moving parts and widgets. I watched many times from my post at Charlotte Roadway Shop as "Gravel Gertie" left for trials, and limped back into our facility for yet one more attempt. When it became apparent that further investment in the concept was useless, the railroad quietly moved it down to the rear of the Charlotte Coach yard and "hid" it from the higher ups who might open old wounds!."
This photo was taken at Historic Spencer Shops in September 1996 by Tom Daspit.