The Ties that Bind

Engineering graduates: Sam Gantt, Dan Scott, Trevor Barnby and Kris Alonzo

Engineering graduates create winning design, lifelong friendships

KENNESAW, Ga. (May 16, 2016) — College is a time to make lifelong friends, and for four engineering students, that moment came while creating a mechanical engineering design during their final year at Kennesaw State. The four collaborated to invent an innovative device for safely removing railroad spikes.

The students – Kris Alonzo, Trevor Barnby, Sam Gantt and Dan Scott, all of whom started at other Georgia institutions before transferring to Kennesaw State – met as part of their senior capstone mechanical engineering course in the Southern Polytechnic College of Engineering and Engineering Technology.

“We were the misfits,” said Kris Alonzo, who played soccer at the University of North Georgia before coming to KSU.

Alonzo and Gantt, who played tennis at North Georgia, knew each other and chose to be in the group together, but needed to round out their team. They sent emails to the class looking for more members, when Barnby and Scott stepped forward.

The foursome, who named their team the Phantom Hornets, spent nine months creating a viable solution to extract railroad spikes in a safer way. Their mechanical design work will benefit Railserve, Inc., a company that provides rail switching services, railcar loading and track maintenance.

“There have been railroads for hundreds of years, so we are not the first to try to figure this out,” said Scott. Since the 19th century, railroad workers have used a six-foot crowbar weighing 30 pounds to wedge the metal spike out of the wooden tie.  

“On average, it only takes 30 seconds for a worker to use his body weight and a bouncing motion to pull the six-inch spike out of the ground,” said Scott.

With that knowledge, the team’s design needed to be lightweight, used manually, and safe to operate, while continuing to pull a spike in less than 30 seconds.

“Injuries are the number one concern,” said Alonzo.  “People have died from flying metal shrapnel coming off the spikes.”

The team conducted patent searches to uncover what solutions have already been found, as well as anthropometric engineering studies to determine the height, weight and amount of force needed to utilize a mechanical device, without exerting too much energy for the task, explained Gantt.

The team introduced their prototype in late April to Railserve Inc. executives, who liked the design for its ease of use and safety features.

According to Tim Benjamin, president of Railserve, Inc. the company is already in the process of patenting the design.  The company was also impressed with the grip mechanism of another team’s design.

“When I met with the Mechanical Engineering Department, I already had a specific design in my mind.  The faculty wisely explained not to provide the solution, but to provide the problem to the students, and then give them the freedom to develop the best possible solution,” said Benjamin. “The Phantom Hornets came up with a solution that was not only better than what I had in mind, but also something that has never been done in the rail industry.  The whole Railserve organization is incredibly impressed with the end product, as well as being impressed by the students we met on all the teams.”

For this group of self-proclaimed misfits, they said they now feel like the real winners -- their design will be used by industry and they’ve created the bond of friendship that will last a lifetime.


A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit