Saturday, May 30, 2009

#390 Dating the rails

Did you know every section of railroad track is marked with the manufacturer's name and among other info, the manufacture date? Me neither! William Least Heat-Moon brought this to my attention in Roads to Quoz. So I followed up with some fieldwork of my own and some research on The Google.
The tracks we cross every day on our way to work are vintage September 1956 from the Steelton mill weighing in at a hefty 132 pounds per yard. (Click on the photo to see the mark.)

Translation tips for your own fieldwork:
Look for the information embossed on the side of the rail. If the numbers / letters you see don't match with the scheme described here, look on the other side of the rail.
Weight: The first 2 or 3 numbers give the weight of the rail in pounds per linear yard. Here's a chart to further expand the weight into dimensions.
Name and year: You can directly read the name and year. The name can be the steel mill or in some cases the railroad company.
Month: Count the vertical bars following the date to find the month. Nine bars mean September.
Yours in railfanning,


  1. Interesting. I love how you guys can teach and entertain at the same time on this blog.

  2. I just had to check out this improbable phenomenon on my own, so when I happened to pass over a railroad crossing in a small Indiana town last weekend I pulled over to see for myself. Sure enough, it was all there just as you describe, though I didn't tarry long or inspect things too closely, due mostly to the gaggle of old men hanging out in front of the one functioning business on Main Street that Sunday morning. All closely observed my actions; I found myself imagining that most were related in some way to the Sheriff, and that only their inertia prevented an uncomfortable interview with local law enforcement. I suspect I snared the top spot in the most interesting occurences list for that day. I don't mind providing a certain measure of mild public entertainment, but not at the risk of being viewed as a threat to national security.