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Was wrought iron ever used for railroad spikes?


Gerald Boggs

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Thanks for the answer, but no need for the photo, unless you want to share with others.  I asked because while digging in a new raised bed, I dug up a spike.  Did the cut and bend and it acted like WI. 

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On the corner of my land was a country store, I've thought for years about digging around and see whats what.  Also, across the road was a blacksmith shop, for years they dumped trash and clinker across the back lane (now main road), onto what is also my land.  Maybe I'll start poking around there with a shovel.

Edited by Gerald Boggs
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On 2/22/2023 at 6:07 PM, Alan Longmire said:

Yep.  All American rr spikes were wrought iron well into the 1890s, and you see them as late as the 1930s, depending on the railroad in question.  

What other parts of the tracks were wrought iron?  I've come across quite a few bits over the years and chucked them in the recycle bin.  Now I'm wondering if I should have been checking see what it was.  I'm near the old Blue Ridge Tunnel and Afton was a busy little railroad stop back in it's day.  Once it was over, all the RR buildings was razed and bulldozed.  If you didn't look at the old photos, you'd never know there was ever a stop.

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6 hours ago, Gerald Boggs said:

What other parts of the tracks were wrought iron?  I've come across quite a few bits over the years and chucked them in the recycle bin.  Now I'm wondering if I should have been checking see what it was.  I'm near the old Blue Ridge Tunnel and Afton was a busy little railroad stop back in it's day.  Once it was over, all the RR buildings was razed and bulldozed.  If you didn't look at the old photos, you'd never know there was ever a stop.

Other parts were made of WI but as for rails they would've had to be laid very early on as once steel became economical the rail was the first part to switch as there was a huge difference in operating life between the two where soles and spikes not so much until true economic steel came around. You might have a slightly better chance here in the US for old rail and mine/aux rail as there was a economical slump right at the transition but post slump it was almost all steel. Relatively speaking you have a smaller window of WI for rails than spikes so you'll want as old as possible and from long abandoned lines as if they were still active during transition they might have been converted if they went through a usage cycle.

 

Im not 100% on this as there are a lot of factors about the transition of the rails.

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I've never seen wrought iron spike plates or rail clips, just the spikes themselves, and bridge bolts.  And Sean is correct, rails were the very first thing produced from the Bessemer process when it came in in 1856. The railroads replaced iron rails with steel as soon as humanly possible, as the difference in service life was so great.  

 

Recently one of the commemorative "Golden Spikes" commissioned for the transcontinental Railroad in 1869 came up for auction.  Under the gold and silver plating you can see the grain of the wrought. https://hyperallergic.com/796793/historic-railroad-spike-fetches-2m-at-auction/

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  • 4 weeks later...

OK, I found a few more spikes.  Of them, only one was clearly WI, the rest sparked close to HC modern spikes, but one of them when I cut and bend, didn't break cleanly like steel does.  So I put them overnight in muriatic acid and two of the three, etched like WI.  Anyone know what these might be?

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Well, wrought isn't uniformly low carbon.  Usually, yes, but I've got some that sparks like 40-point steel.  I suspect, especially with railroad spikes where they actually didn't mind a bit more toughness, that they stopped the puddling process before all the carbon was burned out of the pig iron.  And if it was bloomery iron (highly unlikely at that date!) that tends to be a little higher C as well, depending on how well the ironmaster controlled the smelt.  But the puddling process was by far the most common way of making wrought by that time.  Much more efficient for large batches where you have a rolling mill handy. 

 

I'd love to run a puddling furnace for a day.  But only a day.  The last iron-puddler in the world worked in Birmingham into the mid-1950s.  Once he retired, he said he couldn't believe he kept doing it so long, after looking at the then-modern open-hearth steel mill on the other end of the property for the first time...

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