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CPRR of Cal. “RIC 64” 50-Pound “Pear” Yard/Siding Rail, Colfax, California

RIC 1864 Pear Rail at Colfax

This example of 50-pound iron RIC 64 “pear” rail was manufactured in 1864 by the Rensselaer Iron Company, of Rensselaer, New York, and was used by the CPRR of Cal. in Colfax, California, most likely as yard or siding rail. It was cut from a single length recovered near the Bear River in July, 2002, by G.J. “Chris” Graves who writes:

"I had a most pleasant telephone conversation with Lynn Farrar about the 50-pound Colfax rail.  Lynn said that to the best of his knowledge no 50-pound RIC 64 rail was purchased by the CPRR in 1863 or 1864 so he would 'suppose' that the rail found in Colfax, as well as the 50-pound RIC 64 found at Vaughn Siding, Nevada, originally came from a predecessor railroad in the Bay Area—the San Francisco & Alameda, the San Francisco & San Jose, or the Western Pacific. Because iron rail proved to be not sturdy enough for the CPRR main line, the original rail was replaced early on with steel.  There is no question that this rail is RIC 64 and that the Western Pacific used rail of that weight (Encyclopedia of Western Railroad History, Vol. 4, California, by Don Robertson), but I cannot find what weight rail the other Bay Area railroads used.  Lynn said that the early iron rail was not used long as it fragmented so easily, but that the CPRR moved rail around all the time in an effort to economize iron with some life still in it.  He suggests that this piece of 50-pound RIC 64 was most likely used in Colfax by the CPRR as yard or side rail."

Ed Strobridge offers the following observations on the same subject:

"From what information I have collected, the first record of RIC rail purchased for the Central Pacific was for 500 tons in 1865 and that would have been not less than 56lbs/yd but more likely 60-66#/yd at that early date and then would have required chairs for joining the rails.  There would have been no bolt holes for fish plates as that did not occur until the track reached Coldstream Canyon on the eastern slope of the Sierras.  The first Western Pacific rail purchased from RIC was for 'twenty miles' of 50# rail in 1865 and that was laid on the Western Pacific later to be acquired by the Central Pacific.  It was common then as it is today to 'cascade' rail from one place to another when mainline rail was being upgraded.  The lighter rail was used for anything from fence posts to side track and was often sold to others for whatever use it could be put to.  Stanford sold 20,000 tons of Iron rail in the 1870's to the Pacific Rolling Mill in San Francisco who re-rolled it as lighter rail, usually 40-45 lb. rail that was used on many of the narrow gauge railroads built in the West.  

"The fact that a piece of rail was found 130 years after it was originally laid has no bearing on where it was originally installed or where it came from.  It would be my guess that both pieces of rail you have [Colfax and Nevada] were never originally purchased by the Central Pacific but could have come from one of their predecessor railroads acquired early on.  I don't know where Vaughn Ranch, Nevada, is and if it is not on the original CP then the rail could have come from anywhere.  To me, it would be suspect that either of the two pieces of rail you have were used on the CP until after the final acceptance by Congress that the CP had met all requirements of the 1862 Railroad Act and that would have been after 1870.

"The 1887 Senate Railroad Hearings listed a few locations where original Iron rail was still in the mainline track as late as 1887 but it is all listed as "56#" rail with no record of the brand.  I have a piece of 'BSI 63' (Bay State Iron Co.) calculated to weigh 64#/yd. It is 3 1/2" tall and very heavy in the web and flange.  It does not look like either piece you have.  The 56# CP rail I have is 3 3/4" tall but much lighter in the web and flange, the rail head is of a different shape and unlike either of the two pieces you have."

The example of 50-pound RIC 64 iron "pear" rail illustrated above is 51.5 inches long and weighs 64 pounds which equals 45.2 pounds to the yard. This weight shortage is likely due to service wear and 140 years of exposure. Another known example of RIC 64 found at the Vaughn Siding near Battle Mountain, Nevada, and which exactly matches the Colfax rail in contour, is 20 inches long and weighs 26 pounds which computes to 46.8 pounds to the yard. That example, which was not rusted, had been used as a barn support where it was found within one block of the old CPRR grade.

In the illustration above the end on view (top left) shows an uneven joint face which is most likely the result of the original length being cut on site with a rail chisel when the rail was laid. The recently saw cut end (top right) clearly shows the distinctive "pear" shape of this early iron rail. The notches seen on either side of the base in the overhead view of the rail (bottom left) are where it was attached to the rail chair. The background image (Hart #33) is of the grade at Colfax at the time of original construction with the CPRR locomotive “NEVADA” sitting in the yard. Seen in the foreground (lower right) is a pile of rail waiting to be laid. -BCC

Courtesy of the Bruce C. Cooper Collection.

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