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California Iron from the G. J. Graves Collection
Collis Potter Huntington,  a prosperous merchant in Sacramento City, was the partner that purchased this first load of iron.  He was born in Harwinton, Connecticut on October 22, 1821, a descendent of Samuel Huntington, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, President of the Continental Congress, Governor of Connecticut, and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Connecticut.  C.P. Huntington followed the call of GOLD in 1849, sailing from New York on March 15, 1849 aboard the "Crescent City", arriving in Chagres, Panama on April l, 1849.  He crossed the Isthmus of Panama, and boarded the "Humboldt", and on August 30, 1849 sailed through the Golden Gate.   He was an ambitious fellow, said to have left New York with $1,200 in cash, and landed in San Francisco with $5,000 in cash!

Huntington immediately went to Sacramento City, and opened a business in a tent on K St;. under the banner "C.P. Huntington."  A fire on the night of November 2, 1852, destroyed his store and that of Mark Hopkins,  who had the store next to Huntington's; this fire triggered the partnership Huntington and Hopkins in 1855.

When Huntington went to New York, as a Vice President of the Central Pacific Railroad of California, he had a difficult time obtaining credit to purchase the first load of rails; after failing to purchase rail from any supplier in New York, he looked to the brothers Oliver and Oakes Ames, with whom he had done business since his first days in California. The brothers  not only approved his purchase of Ames Brothers Shovels for the construction of the proposed railroad, but then referred him to the Bay State Iron Co. for his initial rail purchase.  Hence, Massachusetts rail was the first laid on the Central Pacific Railroad of California.

BSI Iron Rail, 1863
BSI 1863 railBSI 1863 rail

This piece of  60 pound-to-the-yard rail, branded BSI 63,  which was manufactured by the Bay State Iron Co. in 1863, near Boston, Mass., is representative of the first 5,000 tons of rail laid on the Central Pacific Railroad of Cal.; averaging 100 tons to the mile, this  BSI 63 rail was laid between Sacramento, Cal. and Colfax, Cal.;  the first rail was laid on October 26, 1863.

The cut cross-section of the BSI 1863 rail clearly shows the challenge the early railroads had with iron rail — it laminates, or fragments as it is used.   It is not unusual to find long strips of this broken rail alongside the old CPRR grade in Nevada and Utah; as the train passed over the rail, it broke off and left the majority of the rail standing, but the top, or ball of the rail was left deformed.  As the engines of the trains got heavier, and the loads carried became heavier, the rail failed, and had to be replaced.  The steel rail, first purchased from France by the CPRR in 1871 was a major step in keeping the rails safe and profitable.

The first load of BSI 63 rails were sent to California on the Clipper Ship "Herald of the Morning", which regularly sailed between Boston and San Francisco in 1863.

It is of interest to note that Ames Brothers shovels still litter the right-of-way between the desert East of Moor, Nev. and Promontory Summit, Utah, but few rails are found at this time (October, 2001).

BSI Iron Rail, 1866

RIC Iron Rail, 1864
RIC 1864 Rail     RIC 1864 Rail     RIC 1864 RailRIC 1864 Rail

RIC Iron Rail, 1866
RIC 1866 Rail

Following the laying the first 50 miles of track, from Sacramento City to Colfax, some credibility attached itself to the effort of the Associates.  Rail from other sources began to surface, as evidenced by this  RIC 64 and RIC 66.  This 60 pound-to-the-yard iron was  manufactured by the Rensselaer Iron Company, of Rensselaer, New York.  This Company eventually merged with the Albany Iron Company, of nearby Albany, New York, and became the Albany and Rensselaer Iron and Steel Co., of Troy, New York.  This merged company branded its rail  A & R I & S CO. Troy Steel Co.

RIC Iron Rail, 1868
RIC 1868 Rail
RIC 1868 Rail

Manufactured by the Rensselaer Iron Co. in 1868 (RIC 68) at Troy, New York. This rail was shipped 'round the Horn of South America to San Francisco, off loaded to a schooner which sailed up the Sacramento River, off loaded to train, then laid by the Central Pacific Railroad. This type of rail was also reused by the Towle Brothers for a lumber railroad which served the CPRR. Rail identical to this specimen was used on May 10, 1869 at the joining of the rails at Promontory Summit. The holes are for fish plates, and the slots cut in the 1868 were made to accept a spike that would then prevent creep.
The CSRM, has a slice of RIC 68 (not branded) in a small alcove directly behind the Gov. Stanford locomotive. The captioned reads to the effect that the specimen was found at Promontory Summit, and donated to the CSRM by Norman Wilson. (Norman was California's archeologist at the time, who built the CSRM.)


AB Iron Rail
AB Rail
AB Rail

Original CPRR rail used in the vicinity of Wells Nevada.

AB ATKINS Brothers, dba Pottsville Rolling Mill, Potsville, PA (operated under this name only from 1865-1874).

HISTORY OF SCHUYLKILL COUNTY, PA with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of Its Prominent Men and Pioneers. New York: W. W. Munsell & Co., 36 Vesey Street, 1881. Press of George Macnamara, 36 Vesey Street, N.Y.:

"The borough of Pottsville, as it now is, is the aggregation of several communities, some of which still retain their local names. The north ward (Fishback) and the seventh ward (Jalapa) are examples. ... The Pottsville rolling mills are located here. These mills were built in 1853, by John Burnish & Co., and came into possession of Atkins Bros. in 1865. The producing capacity is 35,000 tons of rolled iron per annum. Car rails, beams, channels and angles, used in architectural and bridge work, are principally manufactured. The business employs 750 men."

Terrenoire French Steel Rail, 1871

Cross section of the French rail (with a worn ball)
French Rail
Perfect on the ball – it must have been in a straight section.

The first STEEL rail laid on the Central Pacific Railroad was manufactured by the A.F. Terrenoire Co., near Paris, France. [A.F. Terrenoire ("Des Compagnie Foundries et Forges de Terre Noire La Voulte et Besseges") in Lyon, France, in 1871. 60 lb. rail ... laid on the CPRR's Sierra Grade between Rocklin and Donner Summit in 1872 replacing original iron pear rail.]

While the Pacific Railway Act called for American made iron to be laid during the initial construction, no mention was made of STEEL rail, as, in 1862, it was yet to be in wide use.  Thus, at the end of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871,  when France was in desperate need of foreign exchange,  the A. F. Terrenoire Co. rolled its steel rail, and  because that rail was much more durable, and cheaper to purchase than the aging iron of initial construction, C.P. Huntington purchased the first steel rail used by the CPRR from France.  Interestingly, the ship that brought the first steel rail to the CPRR was our old friend, the Clipper Ship "Herald of the Morning".  As the "Herald of the Morning" left Marseille it ran into a terrific storm, and was forced to sit out the storm at the Straits of Gibraltar for 10 days.

Notice that this cross-section of the first steel rail laid on the CPRR is what is  today conventionally called "T-rail", as opposed to the "pear-rail" laid between 1863 and 1870 on the CPRR. This particular piece of rail was located on a curve in Rocklin, Cal., hence it is severely worn on one side. Nevertheless, it is easy to see the sharp difference in the angle of ball of the rail between the old iron, and the new steel. The rolled iron T shaped rail was being produced in the United States in the early 1840's. The iron smelted in the USA was inferior to that of England causing the ends of many of the lengths of this type of rail to splinter and break.  To provide greater strength, the T shaped rail design was modified with a thicker, shorter vertical stem (the web) with a thicker, rounder head.  Because the head was pear-shaped in cross section it became known as pear rail between about 1840 and 1870.

Terrenoire was used on the main line of the CPRR from Penryn to the Summit; it can be found in the Pacific RR Commission hearings of 1877.

Also see:

Related C.P. Huntington Correspondence:

H. Champin
Steel Tyres and Plates
Old Iron Rails

French Bessemer Steel Rails
51 LBS

June 11th, 1872

C. P. Huntington Esq. Vice President Central Pacific R.R. San Francisco, Cal

Dear Sir

The balance of the Steel Rails to be shipped from Marseilles to San Francisco by the Terre Noire Co. left the 28th of April last. The and bills of lading forwarded to M.M. Philip Speyer & Co. were presented at the office of the C.P.R.R. and in your absence M. Gates had the kindness to telegraph you asking your advice: no reply being received and compelled by the Terre Noire Company to settle this affair of rails delivered in Marseille since Dec. 10th, 1871, I take the liberty to send you herewith an exact copy of the first rates delivered to Philip Speyer & Co. asking the favor to have then diverted to M. Gates in whose hands the banker will deliver the titles of property of rails.

The amount of Rails is 559 tons, 2049 lbs, @ $63 - $35, 274 62/00 gold and would respectively propose to have the notes as requested by Huzter.
2 notes of 12,000 dollars each = $24,000
1 " " 11, 274 62/00 = $11,274 62/00 = $35,274 62/00

There are some charges and interest to be added to the invoice, but I shall submit them to you after your return.
Trusting you will approve in conduct and encur this trouble on account of the pressure the other side, I remain

Very Respectfully Yours

s/ H. Champin

1 Barclay Street.

[A good letterhead, shows a rail section with the wt. per yd. in center of drawing. ie:"51LB"]

Sept. 28, 1871

Terre Noire Co.
H. Champion Agent
No. 1 Barcley St. N.Y.


In regard to the slotting of the Steel Rails purchased of you by our Company and to be delivered in Oct. & Nov. 1871. I have to say I wish the Rails slotted for 9/16 Spikes. The slots to be 1/2 inch deep & 3/4 inch long and to be two Inches from ends of Rails, to center of Slot on one side of the Rails, and 2 1/2 inches from ends of Rails to center of Slots on other side of Rails.

The same at both ends of each and every Rail.

Resply Yours

S/ C. P. Huntington
V. P.

Oct. 18, 1871

Terre Noire Co.
Lyon, France


I have engaged the Ship Herald of the Morning to take 1450 tons of the Steel Rails you make for the Central Pacific R.R. Co. You will therefore please deliver to the order of the Master of said Ship that quantity of the Rails & oblige.

Resply Yours

s/ C.P.; Huntington

Western Union Telegram
New York Sept 9th, 1871

C. P. Huntington

The Terre Noire Company telegraphs Champin, their Agent here, that they can only agree to furnish six hundred (600) tons per month commencing with January, Will you confirm that order for that quantity & extend the time so as to include June, provided the shipments for April, May & June can be made by Steamer at not over $4 per ton.

James J. Tracey
Treasr. (Chesapeake & Ohio R.R.)

Western Union Telegram
New York Sept. 15, 1871

C. P. Huntington

The Marseillaise company will not agree to furnish more than Six hundred (600) tons per month. The Steamers will not agree upon Rates of weight for April, May & June, probably will be about 6 dollars. I have told them to ship six hundred tons in each January, February & March & wait your instructions about shipments after March.

James J. Tracy

letter C. P. Huntington to Mark Hopkins 6/9/1871
I have just bought 2,000 tons of steel rails for Central Pacific, to be shipped from Marseilles, France in October.

G. J. Graves' notes:

Cambria Steel Rail, 1874

This Cambria steel rail is the first shown in this exhibit to show not only the year of manufacture, but the month, too.  Do you see the small 'dots' following the "74"? There 9 'dots' on this brand, meaning it was made in September (the ninth month) of 1874.

Poors RR Manual 1868
From "Manual of the Railroad of the United States, for 1868-69 ... "
by Henry V. Poor, New York, H.V. & H.W. Poor, 1868. Courtesy Douglas van Veelen.

Bethlehem Iron Co., Steel Rail, 1876

Steel rail continued to improve productivity on the railroad, and US rail manufacturers were able to compete for sales to the CPRR, as shown by this B I CO. made by the Bethlehem Iron Co., of Bethlehem, Penn.

Vulcan Steel Rail, 1877

As the years went by, and trains got larger and heavier, larger rail was needed, as shown by these examples.  The rail with the beautiful Gothic printing was made by Vulcan Steel, in St. Louis, Mo.

Vulcan Iron Works, St. Louis, 1876

VIW ST L is Vulcan Iron Works, St. Louis; rail found along the old grade.

Krupp Rail, 1880

Huntington was not content to just buy rail from the United States and England, as he also purchased this rail from the Krupp Co. of Germany in 1880.  Huntington was a sharp merchant; if he could find a better price on what he was looking for, he bought it.

Wilson and Cammell Rail, 1881

Wilson and Cammell, was  one of the largest producers of English rail for the CPRR.   This rail can still be found in parts of Placer Co., Calif., as well as across Nevada, usually on side tracks in industrial areas. This company started in Sheffield, England as makers of files in 1837. George Wilson, Cammell's right-hand man, along with Mr. Cammell,  formed a subsidiary company, Wilson, Cammell and Co. to make steel wheels and axles and to roll rails at Dronfield, about 15 miles south of Sheffield.  Because Dronfield was too far from its source of raw materials,  Charles Cammell and Co. purchased the Derwent Iron Works at Workington in August, 1882, and in November, 1882, bought out the partners of Wilson, Cammell and Co.  In 1883 the Dronfield Works were closed, and production was made at the Derwent Works site, in Workington, County of Cumberland. The first rails were rolled at the Derwent Works on October 9, 1883. The Derwent Works had a capacity of 500 tons per week, this under Cammell was raised to 3,000 tons per week.

Manufacturers of
Steel forgings & c.

                 Near Sheffield
                               26th March, 1881

C.P. Huntington Esq.
Southern Pacific Railroad Company
             of California
                            9 Nassau St.
                                       New York

Dear Sir:

          We are in receipt of your esteemed letter of the 8th inst. and in reply we beg to assure you that we are pushing on with your rails with all speed, & we have already shipped a large quantity & are now engaged in filling up a ship to take 1900 tons.  We quite realize the great importance of getting all these Rails at their destination without delay & you can rely upon us doing so.
           We hope you will soon favor us with further orders as we are certain we can please you in every way.

                                     Yours faithfully

                                       /s/ Alex Wilson

P.S. The writer desires to be remembered to you, having met you a few years ago in New York.
                                       /s/ Alex

Poors RR Manual 1868
From "Manual of the Railroad of the United States, for 1868-69 ... "
by Henry V. Poor, New York, H.V. & H.W. Poor, 1868. Courtesy Douglas van Veelen.

Wilson & Cammell . Dronfield . Steel . 1881 . C . P . R

Rail found along the old grade.

 Cammell Sheffield Toughened Steel, 1887

The brand on this rail reads "Cammell Sheffield Toughened Steel 61 1/2 lbs PIC 1887 P"  This is the longest brand, at 48 inches, that I have found on the Central Pacific Railroad.  The "Cammell" is, of the course, Charles Cammell.  As noted above, by 1887 he now owned the Company.  He had moved his headquarters back to Sheffield, hence the "Sheffield" in the brand.  This is steel rail, weighing 61 1/2 pounds to the yard.  It was manufactured for the Pacific Improvement Co., (a company wholly owned by the Associates).  The President of the Pacific Improvement Co.  was the Construction Boss of the original construction, James Harvey Strobridge. What the "P" stands for, we don't know. Other rail was instead marked "S".

Moss Bay Co. English Steel Rail, 1887

English rail made by the Moss Bay Co. This Moss Bay Steel is branded 60 lbs., meaning it weighed 60 pounds-to-the-yard, the eleven dots just in front of the "1887" shows it was made in November, (the 11th month) 1887.

Moss Bay Steel, 1882

Moss Bay Steel 1882 C.P.R.R. 50 Lbs.; rail found along the old grade.

Albany Iron Co., 1871

A I 71 is Albany Iron, made in Troy N.Y in January, 1871; rail found along the old grade.

Cumberland Rolling Mill Co., 1883.

CRM Co is Cumberland Rolling Mill, Cumberland, Maryland; rail found along the old grade.

Mersey Steel, 1895.

Above rail image, upside down:

Found along the old grade.

Scranton Steel, November, 1877.

Found along the old grade.

Springfield Steel, 1881.

Found along the old grade.

Albany and Rensellaer Iron and Steel Co., Troy, NY, 1880.

A&RI&S Co. is Albany and Rensellaer Iron and Steel Co., Troy, New York; rail found along the old grade.

WB 56 lb. Rail
WB 56 lb. UPRR Rail, c. 1865-1869

WB 56 lb rail, perhaps for the CPRR, as it was found adjacent to the old CPRR grade in Rocklin, California, and the web is curved, as is original construction CPRR rail.  Made by Waterman and Beaver, Danville, Pennsylvania. Apparently, Waterman and Beaver sold iron to the CPRR in 1872. An additional section of rail, branded WB, was found in the Pequops on the original grade.
[WB rolled the first "T" rail in the USA, (we call it pear) first rail rolled was 18 feet, first 30 ft. rail rolled by WB was in 1859. Three railroads served the mill in Danville. According to the Danville Iron History Festival, WB never did make steel, they went out of business in 1877. ... UPRR bought WB rail c. 1865-1869.]

Rocklin CA Quary
Rocklin, California quarry where the WB rail was located, about 150 deep on a property of about 15 acres.  The rail was used in the building shown on the far right of the picture.
Rocklin CA Quary
Picture of the building from which the WB rail was removed.  Unchanged from this photo in the 1890's.
Rocklin CA Quary
Another picture of the same quarry, where the WB rail was found.
Rocklin CA Quary
Interior of the building where the WB rail was found.


Waterman and Beaver Letter
Note from Waterman and Beaver, Rail Road Iron, Danville, Pennsylvania, addressed to C. P. Huntington, dated March 1, 1873.

Colis P. Huntington wrote four letters to Waterman Beaver – Nov. 4, 1872; Nov. 30, 1872; December 11, 1872 and June 21, 1873. All four of these letters had to do with WB making rail for the CPRR. And, WB wrote one letter to CPRR, this on March 1, 1873, soliciting more sales.  (above) The four letters from Huntington to WB are not friendly in tone.

June 21, 1873:

Our company agreed with (unreadable) last full for 1500 tons of 2240 bars of RR iron – You delivered as from Invoice 6079 rails – (unreadable) and Rails. I (unreadable) this wrought as 1510.72.2.0 (Equals to 3,384,360 pounds) – The rails have arrived and been all carefully weighed – they weigh 3,355,170 pounds – which is 29,190 pounds less than (unreadable) (unreadable) wroughts – I shall be pleased to name from (unreadable) on the subject (5 words unreadable) Truly Yours, C P Huntington

> The length of these WB rails can be readily calculated from the figures in the letter, (3384360/6079)*(3/56) = 29.82 ft/rail, because:
3384360 lbs / 6079 rail = 557 lbs/rail
557 lbs/rail / 56 lbs/yard = 9.94 yards/rail
9.94 yards/rail x 3 ft/yard = 29.82 ft/rail

> Edson T. Strobridge explains that: C.P. Huntington described the 6079 rails (Bars) as weighing 2240 lbs/ton. Rail was always weighed by metric weight of 2240 pounds per ton from day one on the CPRR. If you divide the 3.384,360 lbs. by 6079 rails (bars) it equals 556.73 pound per rail (Bar) which tells me that the rail was 56lb pattern and 30 feet long. If you divide the total weight by 6079 - 3 bars you still come up with  557 lbs per rail and that still tells me that the rail was 30" long and 56lb pattern.   The 29,190 lbs that CPH is squawking about apparently an error on the part of W&B if CPH's weight is correct. 30' long rail was being delivered to the CPRR as early as 1868, perhaps a little earlier.   Flat cars in 1868 were 30 feet long and limited to hauling about ten tons (2,000 lb. tons) maximum. Interesting, that means a flat car could only haul about the equivalent of 36 thirty foot long rails (Bars).

> Wendell Huffman comments regarding the references to Hoboken and Jersey City that: I can think of no reason why WB would ship rail East when the destination for the rail was in the West, unless to send via ship. Bulk shipments – including rail – were sent by sea. The rail for the Southern Pacific was sent by sea.

> Lynn Farrar, retired historian/Valuation Engineer for the SPRR comments that: When CP rails came from the east they were up to 24 feet in length to start with because that was the limit of the holds of the ships they came on. By 1869 the holds had increased to the point where they could handle 30 ft rails. Each lot purchased would have 5% short rails so that the 24's would contain 18ft to 20ft rails and 30 ft lots would have from 22ft to 28 ft rails. As the race got tighter with the UP I recall a letter from Charles Crocker to C.P. Huntington asking for 29ft rails to save time on curves because they were using joints opposite each other to fit on the joint ties which were 6 x 10 inches vs the regular 6 x 8 inch ones. Then in the 1890's the order went out to "run the rails to broken joints" as is the case today where jointed rails are used. ... 2240 is the number of pounds in a gross ton vs 2000 pounds in a net ton. Rails were always computed in GT. That average length of 29+ feet [calculated above] would appear correct to me as by 1872 30 ft rails were the norm but because of shorts the average would be somewhat less than 30 even.

Historic Rail Cross Sections 1767-1930
Historic Rail Cross Sections 1767-1930

Mile Post, 645 miles East of Sacramento

This is an original 'mile post', attached to an original redwood pole.  Mile 645 was 645 miles East of Sacramento, on the old, original grade.  This redwood mile post sign measures 11 1/2 x 26 inches, it is one inch thick.  Originally painted white with black letters, it was attached to a  square telegraph pole measuring 6 x 4 inches.  As you can see, the white paint has been blasted off by 132 years of wind, sand, snow and rain, leaving just the black paint numbers. It is of interest to find that many of the original first telegraph poles are still in the ground, although cut off at about 1 foot above ground level.  These old poles, and their successors, can be found from some 4 miles East of Reno, Nev. to Promontory Summit, Utah.  Mile posts were needed to let the engineer know where he was, as well as to locate challenges in the rail  when rail crews noted its fragmentation.  Early newspapers in Ogden, Utah and Sacramento, California usually noted the location of train wrecks by the nearest mile post.

Central Pacific Telegraph "Rams Horn" Insulator

This is a "Rams Horn" insulator used by the Central Pacific Telegraph.  On the top of the insulator  is stamped  "BROOKS patented  CPRR Aug. 6, 1867". These insulators are made of metal, with a glass sleeve inside the metal container, holding the 'rams horn' fixture, upon which the wire was fastened.  This metal container was held in place in the yard arm by a small hook on the top.  Challenges arose when the wood deteriorated in the severe Western weather, and the insulators fell out of the yard arms.

Telegraph Yard Arm with Insulator
Yard Arm

Original yard arm with Brooks insulators still in place.

Telegraph Insulator Fixture to Attach to a Tree

From time to time, as the railroad passed through a wooded area, the workers attached the Brooks insulators to near by trees, in place of telegraph poles and yard-arms.  This is an example of such a fixture — the nails that attached the block to the tree are still in the block.

Another view of the same block (nails that would go into the tree are sticking out).

Cast Iron Box Car Plate, Sacramento, 1865

This is a Central Pacific Railroad of California box car plate; made of cast iron, measuring  11 3/4 x 5 inches.  This iron plate, cast in Sacramento, Cal., was attached to box cars so workers could determine the ownership of the car.  These plates can still be found alongside the right of way, but are becoming harder to find as time goes by.

Kyle K. Williams Wyatt Historian / Curator California State Railroad Museum commented, 7/2003:
>I have seen a number of these (originals), but have never seen any hard evidence of just where they were used, and on what.  It seems odd that all the ones I've seen are dated 1865. ... I've often thought that the plate might have been used on a car bolster end, or alternately on a truck transom end.  The V&T had some similar plates on car bolster ends, I believe - or perhaps they were Kimball plates on V&T cars.  The V&T also used a plate on early truck transom ends, with two holes for truss rods across the transom. What bothers me on the CPRR plate is the 1865 date on ALL examples.  With other dated items, the practice was to change the date to the current year.  This suggests that the railroad built a bunch of something (flat cars?) in 1865, then changed the design, eliminating the plate.  This seems odd to me, especially given the number of plates that have been found.  Given that a number have been found in Nevada (and Utah), it certainly suggests a car, as opposed to some fixed structure like a bridge. Sure wish A. A. Hart took quality photos like A. J. Russell - and/or that Hart's negatives had survived the 1906 San Francisco fire.  Oh well.  Maybe we'll find something in a photo. ... My current guess is the plates were used on flatcars - but why so many were built in 1865 and none later (or earlier) is a mystery.  I'd have expected that style part to have continued to be used.

G.J. Graves reports:
> I had a nice chat today [7/3/2003] with Lynn Farrar, he said the following, but not in this order:
1.  He gave Ellen at the CPRR Library all the cash receipts for the CPRR from 1862 to 1910 or so, we should look thru those in 1864-1865 for a foundry bill.
2.  He didn't recall the CPRR opening a foundry until after 1866.
3.  He said all metal came from the East, and lumber was obtained locally, car shops opened in 1863-1864.
4.  He didn't doubt that cast iron labels were attached to rolling stock, he thought this plate could fall off darn near anything.
5.  I asked why "cast iron and not paint" he didn't have an answer, but thought perhaps after 1865 some wizard thought paint might be cheaper.

Original Construction Shovel, Oakes and Oliver Ames, Easton, Mass.

This is an original construction shovel, used by Chinese and Anglo workers alike. As noted in the beginning of this display, C.P. Huntington and Mark Hopkins were hardware merchants in Sacramento, and regularly imported shovels for miners to use in the search for gold.  In their regular course of business, they came to know, and be known by the Ames Brothers. This shovel was made by Oakes and Oliver Ames of Easton, Massachusetts, it is stamped "O. Ames, cast steel"  This type of shovel, and others stamped "C. Crocker" and "M. Hopkins" still can be found along side the old grade in Nevada.

Crocker Shovel.

Detail view of the handle of this shovel:

The printing "Chas. Crocker" on the shovel handle is faint.
(Have also seen HOPKINS SHOVEL CO. as well as Chas. Crocker.)

Hopkins Shovel Handle.

Broken handle from CPRR Hopkins shovel.

Can of Blasting Powder

This is a can of blasting powder, used by the Central Pacific Railroad. During original construction, blasting powder was packed in wooden barrels of various weights, usually between 25 and 40 pounds.  Beginning in 1874, wooden barrels were replaced by steel barrels. Barrels of this type can easily be found today (October, 2001) alongside the old grade in the State of Nevada.
Civil War wooden powder barrels measured  13 1/2 by 9 inches, and had the cork in the middle of the barrel, and weighed 8 lbs., empty, and were stamped for CANNON USE. ... An 1874 can, found on the old grade, and stating it was from the California Powder Works, contained 25 pounds of black powder, measures 9 x 11 inches. ... the Calif. Powder Co. between 1861 and 1898 packed their powder in 25 pound containers, first wooden barrel, then metal ones, beginning in 1874 or so.  Those metal ones litter the desert, on the old grade, in Nevada.

Cast Iron Journal Box Cover, CPRR, 1865

Cast iron journal cover, cast in 1865 in Sacramento, Cal., and used during the original construction period.

  Cast Iron Journal Box Cover, CPRR, 1875

Cast iron journal cover, made in 1875.

  Cast Iron Journal Box Cover

Cast iron journal cover, used by the Central Pacific Railroad of California. Note the "ears" that would be used to hold the cover to the car – these broke off easily, thus the cover dated 1865 and later had holes in the body of the journal cover, and were less likely to break.

CPRR Spike Hammer

This is a spike hammer used by the Central Pacific during original construction.  It was found near Wells, Nev.

Rail Chisels from the WPRR, SP Co., and CPRR

Artifacts can be found on the old CPRR 1868 Grade between Wells Nevada and the Utah State Line (Pequop mountains). This region is elevated above the alkali plain so the ground has no alkali and there is little precipitation which is why the metal in the ground there does not deteriorate. The unmarked Central Pacific rusted rail chisel (right) is very close in shape to a spike hammer. Marked Southern Pacific (middle) and Western Pacific Railroad (left) rail chisels are also shown. These chisels are used to cut the rail to the desired length. One hit the chisel with a sledge, all around the rail, cutting into it 1/4 inch or so. Then the worker would jam a steel rod into the cut, and bang on it until the rail broke.

> Charles N. Sweet comments that ... rail chisels ... came in various weights; the 1878 Huntington's Road-Master's Assistant and Section-masters Guide lists the track/cold chisels @ 3 1/2 pounds. An "SP Co" is 7 5/8" x 1 3/4" x 1 5/8". A "CPRR of Cal" is 5" x 1 3/8" x 1 1/4". An "O L &I" (Ogden, Logan & Idaho) is 6 1/4" x 1 9/16" x 1 5/8" – it's pre 1918.There's an illustration for a track chisel in the same volume (advertisment) for the "Verona Tool Co." showing the identical shape. ...

UPRR Coal Hammer

The Union Pacific Railroad used coal to fire its boilers, while the Central Pacific used wood; this because large deposits of coal are not found in California, but wood was plentiful.  Conversely, the UPRR used coal, as coal was cheap and plentiful in the East.  This is a UPRR coal hammer, used to break up large chunks of coal in the coal tender.

UPRR Rail and Rail Chair

This is a Union Pacific Railroad rail chair and rail.  Rail chairs were used to fasten one piece of rail to another.  Note the flange holds only one side of the rail.  The rail has two holes  in it, this to attach a "fish plate" to the rail.  Fish plate (named for the angle of iron "pear-rail") was used after 1866, when it was discovered that rail chairs were not reliable.  If you look at conventional rail used today, you will find "angle plate" still used to hold one piece of rail to another.  Named "angle plate" with the use of steel rail, as the angle from the ball to the web is much more severe on steel rail than on the original iron rail.

CPRR Rail Chair

Rail chair used by the Central Pacific Railroad of California during the course of original construction from Sacramento, Cal. to Cisco Grove, Cal.  By the time the rails reached Cisco, (1866), the CPRR had discovered that rail chairs were not practical.  At that time the CPRR ordered rail with holes in the web, to accommodate fish plate.  As you wander along the old grade, should you find a piece of iron "pear rail" with holes on the ends, you can be fairly certain that the rail was made after 1866.  If, however, the rail has slots on the ends, (these slots were to hold the chair to the rail) and no holes, it most likely was made between 1863 and 1866.

Rail Chair Advertisement. 1851
1851 Rail Chair Ad   

"RR Property Line" Sign

Fire Extinguisher from Lucin Cutoff

Wooden trestles were apt to catch fire in early days, as the sparks from the engine fire box blew out the stack.  The Southern Pacific Railroad placed this extinguisher under the Lucin Cutoff in 1906, for use in such a fire. These extinguishers were placed every few ties for emergency use.

Fish Plate

Fish plate, used after 1866 by the Central Pacific to hold its rails together.  This fish plate was abandoned after 1871, when steel rail replaced the original construction iron.  This metal can be found in abundance East of Wells, Nev. along the old grade.

Some of the current finds, fresh from the grade. While all of this rail is CPRR original construction, no brand is noted.

This English rail was originally made for the Monterey and Salinas Rail Road (California); when that railroad went out of business, the rail and fittings were lifted and reused on the Nevada Central Railroad, which ran between Battle Mountain and Austin, Nevada.

The rail on the left is from the old grade of the Virginia and Truckee Railroad; this railroad had a difficult time financially, when one side of the rail was worn dow, the rail was lifted, turned around, then the other side was put into use. A normal 60 lb rail is set alongside, so a person can see the extreme use the V&T put into their inventory.

CPRR rail on the left, and UPRR on the right. Note that CPRR has a thicker, shorter web, while UPRR has a straight web.

This picture shows a small piece of original construction iron rail, and the second rail, this one steel, laid by the Virginia & Truckee Railroad, when the iron gave out. The steel rail is badly worn, as the V&T lifted and turned the rail when one side of the ball gave out.

This 60 lb to the yard steel rail, made in December, 1883 by the North Chicago Rolling Mill was found in May, 2005, near Promontory Summit, Utah.

Typical of original construction CPRR rail found in California and Nevada, rusted and pitted. No brand noted.

Another piece of old pear rail.

Original Construction Spikes

Original construction spikes, used by the CPRR.  The Golden Spike is a replica, sold by the National Park Service, at Promontory Summit, Utah. Old spikes like these are the primary source of flat tires as tourists drive the old grade from California to Utah. original construction spikes from the CPRR are 5 1/4 inches long (from top of spike to bottom) and are 1/2 inch square. Original spikes do not have a "throat," and are made of wrought iron. (The "throat" of the spike is thing in the front, kind of like your adams apple; the original ones were flat.) Second generation spikes have the "throat," and have the same dimensions as the originals. Second generation spikes were in use thru about 1915. The head of the original spikes had a slight tilt, back to front, although a few were flat.

The above pair of photographs show front and size views of two different spikes.  The spike on the left was made after initial construction; we know this because of the "throat" that is evident on the bottom face of the spike head.  The spike on the right is original construction, 1863-1869. These spikes differ in another way, too.  The newer spike, that is, the one with a "throat," has a "turned" point, rotated ninety degrees from the usual spike point orientation.  The California State Railroad Museum has purchase orders for such a "turned" point spike executed by the Central Pacific Railroad; the last order for this type of spike is dated 1872. Spikes with "turned" points, or reversed points, were only used to be driven across the grain of wooden stringers used in open deck wood trestles and bridges on the railroad grade; however they were also used in locomotive and car shops where pits were lined with wooden stringers to support rails where locomotives and cars were undergoing repairs.  These wooden stringer pits existed long after wooden bridges and trestles were no longer used. When iron and steel bridges came into use, bridge ties, akin to cross-ties, were used on top of the longitudinal stringers so that regular pointed spikes could be used. Also, in original construction, as well as in later construction,  what was called "temporary trestle ahead of filling" was often used in very deep (high) fills so that tram cars or side dump cars could be used to make the fill rather than filling with wheelbarrows, carts, wagons or scrapers. If you look closely at the spike with the "turned" or reverse point, you will see that it was once in use, as the rail that it held in place has left an indentation on the shaft of the spike, directly under the head.  This spike was found in a deep fill, a few miles East of Cape Horn, Placer County, Calif. The original construction spike is "as new," and was never used; it was found in the Pequop Mountains of Eastern Nevada.

G.J. Graves
G.J. "Chris" Graves in the 95 degree December heat!*

Chris Graves notes a method to remove rust from iron: : soak in white distilled vinegar (3/4 vinegar; 1/4 water) 5-6 days, then brush off scale with a stiff wire brush, then resoak until gray; spray with Varathane to prevent future rusting. A small brass plaque can be attached to the rail with "Goop" adhesive; acetone solvent is required if it is ever necessary to remove this adhesive from the rail. For engraved brass plates, Chris Graves recommends Kelvin Clark of Sierra Custom Awards in Auburn, CA, telephone 530/888-1333.

Pacific Rolling Mills, Potrero Pt., San Francisco.

"Much of the material for the foundries comes from a local rolling-mill.  A portion of the old iron was formerly exported at a profit; to the larger neglected part rails were in due time added which might with a little labor be reconverted into a useful material. This gave rise in 1866 to a rolling-mill, the Pacific, to which was granted a tract of land at Potrero Pt., S. F.  It opened in July, 1868 ... It contains ... for iron and steel rails....the latter since 1881 for (a lot of stuff mentioned) etc." —The Works of Hubert Howe Bancroft, Vol XXIV, page 95.

Chris Graves comments that "This then, is where our departed iron rail went."

"My interests are 4' 8 1/2" wide but 700 miles long." —Chris Graves

Rail Inventory and Chronology

The Pacific RR Commission report of 1887, beginning on page 4478, has a listing of all the rail in the West, along with makers names, weight of the rail, where it was laid, and when it was laid. For example, on page 4484, you will find "French" (That rail was A Terrenoire, 1871, coming to the CPRR on the Clipper Ship 'Herald of the Morning', a Williams Line Clipper) being laid Aug. and Sept. 1872 between Penryn and NewCastle in a section of 797.2 feet, this being 60 lb. rail.

California Calls You - Union Pacific
"California Calls You - Union Pacific"

Related Links
  • "Railroads Shipped by Sea."  by Wendell W. Huffman.  Railroad History, 1999.
  • Bay State Iron Company CPRR Rail, 1863 & 1866
  • Rensselaer Iron Company 50 lb./yd.  CPRR Rail, 1864
  • CPRR iron found along the grade in Winnemucca, Nevada
  • The Comparative Merits of Iron & Steel Rails, 1866
  • Rail Specifications
  • Railroad Track - History and Civil Engineering
  • Timeline:  Selected Highlights of Rails in the West
  • List of Rail Mills from the Directory of the Iron and Steel Works of the United States. American Iron and Steel Institute, 1876.

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