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Family stories, Group's Houses

History of “Maison Charlois” #5

30 November 2023

As mentioned in previous instalments of the series devoted to photographs taken by Jean-Louis Binder in Murlin in the 1950s and 1960s, Maison Charlois used to produce both split timber and sawn timber, including a large number of railway sleepers.


The market for railway sleepers was massive back then. To understand the size of the market, we only need to take a quick look at the figures: the national timber requirements of the SNCF (National French railways operator) were 2,300,000 sleepers in 1965 and 1,700,000 in 1966*. Although other species such as beech, pine and red ironwood (a rot-resistant tropical wood) were also used, oak was, and still is, the main species used in France for the manufacture of wooden railway sleepers**.

Railway sleepers for the French market are generally 260 cm long, 25 cm wide and 15 cm thick.


On the Murlin site, after manufacture, the sleepers used to be moved with the assistance of a tractor or trolleys mounted on rails to facilitate handling.


Through its Ateliers du Chêne, the Charlois Group still produces an average of 120,000 oak railway sleepers a year, mainly for the European rail networks (France, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, etc.).



François-Xavier Roy, “Les adjudications de coupes de bois sur pied de 1965 dans les forêts soumises au régime forestier” (auctions for standing timber cuts in 1965 in forests governed by forestry legislation) in the Revue forestière française Vol. 18 n° 6, p. 400:

**According to the SNCF, there are currently around 20 million wooden sleepers on the French rail network. The average lifespan of a wooden sleeper is 35 years. Every year, as part of the maintenance and modernisation of its infrastructure, SNCF lays 600,000 wooden sleepers.



Photos © Jean-Louis Binder:

  • Denis Charlois positioning a log on the saw bench
  • Railway sleepers on trolleys leaving the workshop
  • Denis Charlois handling sleepers using a rail-mounted trolley
  • Stacking sleepers on a Fiel Marshall tractor. Eugène Charlois in the background
  • Handling sleepers with a tractor
  • Stacked piles of sleepers in the Maison Charlois yard
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