Photo Experiments - Date Nail
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1944 Railroad Date Nail

O v e r v i e w

I live on Rose Canyon in the Golden Triangle area of Greater San Diego. I was walking and taking test photos with my new digital camera. My trek took me across the railroad tracks where I decided to see how much of a closeup shot I could get of the head of the date nail in question.

D e s c r i p t i o n

A 'date nail' was (is?) used by the railroad to determine when to replace railroad ties. The idea first started in 1890. At that time, wooden ties when left out in the open, where else for a railroad?, would only last about 10 years before they had to be replaced.

One idea, well, not a solution as such, was an aid. They created a special nail whos sole purpose in life was to identify the year the railroad tie was set in the roadbed. I guess the first nails had a '90' on the head. These are hardened nails so that pounding them in didn't flatted the year code (much).

I found out about this when I worked at a locomotive manufacturing plane in La Grange, IL back in the early 80s. Ever since that time, I can't go near train tracks without looking for date nails. The train tracks that run thru Rose Canyon where I live are no exception. They are dated '44', the year I was born. That makes these timbers 58 years old. Why didn't they rot? Creosote - a black fowl smelling muck that protects them. In fact, railroads stopped using date nails around 1970.

Click each picture for a larger image.

T h a n k   Y o u

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