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"Link & Pin" Coupler Drawhead, c. 1880-1890
Serious collectors of "railroadiana" are, by nature, a dedicated and knowledgeable lot, and perhaps none of these are more so than that small group whose passion is the collection and preservation of historic railroad "iron." Not only do they seek out the "weightiest" relics of the nation's railroad history, but to be a successful collector of "iron" also often requires the commitment of time, effort, and field work of both a treasure hunter and an anthropologist. To find each coveted "prize" these "ironmen" often spend countless hours searching along the remote grades of abandoned roads looking for these buried treasures which may have been sitting there since being discarded a century or more earlier.
The "link and pin" coupler drawhead illustrated here is just such a recent find. Fritz Kuenzel, an Ohio freight engineer and veteran "iron" collector, writes of its recovery:
"On Sept. 4, 2002, my friend Perry Miller, who like myself is also an engineer, and I went to Wakeman, Ohio, about 12 miles from where I live, to check out the shallow waters of the Vermilion River under the beautiful 1870 sandstone Lake Shore & Michigan Southern (LS&MS) arched bridge located there. Old eagle eye Perry soon spotted a chunk of iron in the bank down beside the bridge which we quickly discovered was a drawhead for link & pin couplers. After about 1/2 hour of digging and an almost 2 hour endeavor -- for which I can't describe the proper wording we used -- we finally got it to the top for loading.
"We discovered that it was marked LS&MS on both sides, and ... weighed 180 pounds! needless to say we were absolutely delighted in finding this wonderful bit of iron ... !
"We seem to have our best luck at river sites where things tended to
get thrown over the embankments. I would say the LS&MS drawhead is probably
from the 1880's-1890's because it has a dog lever inside for holding the
pin up for a coupling so when the link was guided into the drawhead it would
hit the dog and the pin would drop.
"The book The American Railroad Freight Car by John H. White is filled with many useful pictures and diagrams which I have found is a must for the RR iron part collector! An LS&MS diagram of an early wooden box car appears on page 197 showing the drawhead on the end with a very similar dog lever inside. Pages 490-526 contain an excellent section on early couplers and draft gear including a drawhead cutaway made by United States Automatic Coupler Company of Boston on page 507 which I believe is the type we found.
"Our drawhead is 38 3/4 inches long overall. The cast part that is riveted to the steel bracket on back is 19 1/2 inches long, the steel end is 10 inches from top to bottom, the drawhead's mouth is 10 inches x 9 inches, and it weighs 180 pounds.
"I visited the Wakeman river site again a few days later and this time discovered about a 4 feet piece of old "pear" shaped iron rail sticking out of the bank which caught my curiosity. I soon found, however, that there must be another 15 feet of it buried under rock and tree roots so it won't budge. I also found some very old pieces of discarded flashed red lantern globe that had been thrown over the hill. One of the pieces was wheel cut with the letters LS&MS. Would that have been a prize if it were the whole globe!
LS&MSRR 50 pound/yard Pear Rail, Recovered at Wakeman, Ohio.
"As for the LS&MS bridge at Wakeman, unfortunately the
rails were pulled up in 1976 after the formation of Conrail.
As a boy I have fond memories of the once-a-day local train that passed each
way through town usually headed by a lone Penn Central GP7
or 9 unit with a handful of cars and a transfer PC green caboose.
The crew would stop in town every day as they headed East around dinner time
and walk over to the Wagon Wheel Restaurant which was next door to the Post
office where I worked as a janitor. Then one day the scrappers came and stripped
the line. I can still hear the dump trucks as they dumped piles of scrap tie
plates near the old freight depot.
It too is now threatened to be torn down by it's new owners. All this is now
nothing but a memory tucked away in the back of my mind.
"The sandstone bridge over the Vermillion River was completed sometime in 1871 but started in 1870 which is carved into one of the lower stones on the center pier along with 3 initials. The LS&MS was operating on the line when the stone bridge was built, and it is a remarkable work of craftsmanship. There is a similar bridge wider and larger but not as high in Norwalk, Ohio, near where I live that was built in 1872. Memories!" -FNK
Railroad Pass for Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jr., 1875.
Courtesy of the collection of Perry S. Miller and Fritz N. Kuenzel.
Composite images by Bruce C. Cooper.