I spent the weekend with a couple of guys who spent most or all of their
lives so far working on rail systems.
Add to their input the input I have gotten from other sources and I
am totally confused.
One guy says that railroad rail IS 1075.
Another guy says that railroad rail IS 1035, and can't be hardened
beyond Rc 45.
One guy says that the spikes all have to be pretty soft, or they'd
work harden and break.
Another guy says the HC spikes are "Hi carbon". He implies that they'd
make good knives, up around .60 carbon.
Another gu says that the hardest of the spikes can NOT be even 1035,
because, in his 45 years, he has seen that the rail base cuts into the
spike gvien enough time, not the other way around.
That guy also says that: " Any initials you see on spikes are only to
identify the maker.
Out of all that, I know nothing.
Could it be that they are all correct? Could it be that different
railroad systems use (or used) different materials and that the are no
world wide or country wide standards for materials? Or that the
standards or materials changed a lot over time?
Wonderful! So the HC standing for "High Carbon" is just a blacksmithing
Well, I was wondering about some of these things recently as well. And as
it happens, I just picked up a foot long section of track at an iron in the
hat just for the fun it this past weekend which made me think some about
these questions as well
Someone was just asking me about railroad spikes and I told them the HC
myth about only the ones marked "HC" were high carbon. Then we got into a
discussion about why some spikes would be different. Why wouldn't they all
be roughly the same since they developed this technology something like 100
It would be good to know the truth here.
One of my "roundtoit" projects is making anvils from railroad rail,
despite what the detractors have to say about them.
I have 8 or 10 pieces of track that are cut into anvil sized lengths.
So far, I have torched a couple of them to the approx. shape I want and
have milled the top face on one and added hardy and pritchel holes.
On one, I used the Bernhard Heer design and on the other I used the
Not sure why I am doing this. The older I get, the shorter my attention
span, I guess. Can't stay focused on any one thing. Always asking: "I
wonder what would happen if ------".
Last summer I did use one of these for a couple of days of demonstrating
to the public. Using 1/2" sq. and smaller stock to make stuff, I didn't
see much of a problem.
Next thing is to decide whether to grind the horn to shape on the one I
milled or to heat and forge the horn. If I forge the horn, I will be
able to save more material and have a stronger, larger surface there. I
am not interested in adding to it by welding.
I probably won't put cutting tables on any of these.
Rail is sized by pounds per yard, I quess.
I have mostly 88 pound rail, I think. Some 112 pound. I wish I could
find some of the bigger, modern main line rail, that is up around 120 to
I like to make these things about 20 inches in total length.
Interesting. How do I find out what the piece I got is? Any basic
dimensions to use as a guide?
I guess if those are actual weight per yard numbers, I could weigh my piece
and calculate the weight per yard.
One of our Guild members has a little rail anvil he made as his first
anvil. He welded a plate on top of it to create the face - which also
creates the natural step down to the horn to emulate the cutting table
feature. It was a stupid looking little thing in my eyes, but it worked
for what it was.
Size wise it would no doubt be good for a little portable demo anvil. But
I would be embarrassed to use it in public! :)
I've talked with some people about the idea of using a small anvil on the
forge near the fire when trying to forge weld small stock (like 1/8" rod).
The idea is to minimize the time from pulling it out of the fire until you
hit it. Using rail stock to make a little forge anvil like that sounds
like an interesting experiment.
That's probably about the length of what I have. Hum, think I should go
look at it...
Yes, that's what I'd do.
Here's probably more than any of us needs to know about such things:
Yes, that's a good idea. I have seen Tom Latane' do this.
Actually, one wouldn't even need an anvil shape, just enough weight so
it would stay still. I guess one could even heat it up at the edge of
the fire to keep the temp up at the weld joint.
Mine is 15" long (plus a little more becuase one edge is rough cut with a
torch and they left about 1" of webbing sticking out. It weights 56.5 lbs.
That's about 130 lbs per yard. So I guess I have a short piece of the
One side of the top rail is mushroomed out and down. I assume that's the
inside edge of the tack and the deforming was just what happens after years
of trains running over it. The outer edge is mushroomed a little bit as
But all steel has manganese in it and can be work hardened. :)
So, yeah he's right. :) The rail top work hardens from the carbon
content too but would work harden with just about any alloying since
it has to do with flaws in the lattice more than anything else.
Like the head of a cold chisel. :)
Cutting a rail with a hacksaw is like slicing a cold chisel starting
with the work hardened top and working down. LOL :)
Anyway the rail is about as pure pearlite as they can get it. :)
Ripe for work hardening. :)
The 1075 to 1080 numbers come from ASM and the carbon content of
course varies with the batch. There has been a change in what
percentage of carbon makes pure pearlite and so that can account
for differences too. Was .83% then they dropped to .77% and can't
remember the number in between that they stopped at for awile. ;)
Just spark test your spikes, danggit! :)
And tell -us- what the carbon content is. :)
BTDT but don't remember the number I came up with. :/
The Wiki article sounds like it was partially written by a limey. ;)
We didn't call 'em "fish plates" we called 'em "angle bars" on the
SP. And "broken rail" not "pull apart"... I found a -lot- of broken
rails with my trusty meter! LOL :) I would count how many times I
put the meter down (law of deminishing returns) and 6 was good and 8
was too many. ;) Almost all of them were found at night here in the
desert, see? I learned not to walk farther than a "pole length" when
narrowing it down because it took took much time.
Almost always it was cold weather too (hot days cold nights in the
fall was perfect) and the guys in the track department (traqueros,
Gandy Dancers) really appreciated me having a fire going when they
got there, easier to find me for the Track Foreman too.
Helped changed out quite a few rails in a situation like that in the
middle of the night and it'd just be me, the Track Foreman and one
tracquero. :) Sometimes the rail ends were so far apart we couldn't
dill holes and just "angle bar it" had to put in a hunk of rail and
the minimum was 19foot 6inches at 136 pounds per yard. Using rail
tongs. LOL :) The guy having to do both handles himself would be at
the very end of the rail and me and another guy would put ours back
from the end to lighten the single guy's load.
Weird stuff huh? LOL :)
All in the middle of the night out in the middle of nowhere and all
being done in a big-ass hurry because the trains were stopped. :)
Retired SP Signalape in AZ
Sadly, not quite enough to identify my rail!
Mine is 7" high, by 6" base, by 3" head. There is no such thing listed.
I've checked other tables as well and it's not listed in anything I can
I suspect the 6" and 3" are correct, but that the 7" is short becuase the
track has shrunk after years of use since there are a few rails with a bit
over 7" in height. Mine must be one of those, but I don't know which so I
can't be sure how much it has shrunk if that is indeed the case.
Fun stuff to learn about...
I've heard of cutting rail by scoring with a chisel and breaking. Did
you do that in the field?
I have a couple of helved chisel heads -- heavy, maybe 4 or 5 pounds
-- that I suspect of being for that purpose but I've never encountered
anybody who's actually done it or seen it done.
Cool, hadn't thought about that in a long time. :)
Never seen it done was just told about it by the old guys
when I first hired out in the early 70's. :)
If I remember right, that's what they said they used to
score the rail and there were lots of details that went
with it but not having seen it done and the guys telling
me were old Messcans so I'm not sure I understood anyway. LOL :)
The chisel edge is round, not straight like a hand held
We later used those same chisels to remove Huck Bolt nuts.
Would slice them open, then hammer the bolt through using
a helved drift punch.
I was thinking, just a short while ago, that I could clear up some
annoying little problem by going off to talk to one of the Old Geezers
Who Know Everything. But I couldn't think of one of those Old Geezers
who was still alive. Then it dawned on me: That *me* now. *I'm* one
of the Old Geezers. Only I don't Know Everything yet. What happened?
:-) Well, of course, some of those Old Geezers told me stuff that was
totally, unambiguously wrong. I have that part down real good. ;-)
Too bad. I'm sure there *were* lots of details. I was hoping to find
out what they were.
I also have what I think is a rivet-setting tool. Six or 8 pounds,
shaped like a slender sledge hammer, eye for a helve, hammer face on
one end and a ca. 2" hemispherical cavity on the other. That
doesn't seem right for a bucking tool so I suppose it's a
hammer-struck header and takes two guys to head a large-diameter rivet.
New one on me. Had to look that up. A bolt which, when torqued
correctly, swages either itself or a collar into the hole, ensuring the
equivalent of an interference fit? Is that right? Google didn't turn
up any clear explanation but there are a lot of guys who've fallen
into a snit while tring to remove them.
Thanks for the reply, Gringo.