ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

How To Collect Railroad Date Nails

Updated on April 21, 2011
Photo of old railroad date nails in my collection.
Photo of old railroad date nails in my collection.

How To Pull Date Nails

How To Get Started Collecting Railroad Date Nails

Among the more unusual items of railroad memorabilia that people collect are date nails. Over the years I've found many of them along abandoned railroad tracks and now have about 200 in my collection. Some serious railroad date nail collectors have thousands of them in their collections. Above you can see a video about how to pull date nails in telephone poles. This same method will work with railroad date nails.

What Are Railroad Date Nails?

After a piece of timber was shaped into a railroad tie, treated with creosote and placed in a railroad track, a nail bearing a date stamp, (usually two numbers) was driven into the tie. Other clues, such as the shape of the font, or symbols, gave more information about the railroad tie, such as track ownership. This allowed railroad track inspectors to identify how old railroad ties were so they could be replaced when worn out. In some dry climates a railroad tie might have lasted for half a decade or more. I've found old railroad date nails from the 1930s still in ties installed in working tracks, though I did not remove them.

Why Collect Railroad Date Nails?

It's hard to explain to those who don't love trains and railroads why collecting railroad memorabilia is so much fun. Perhaps it reminds us adults of being kids, playing with model trains, but to me it is more about preserving an important piece of American history. It was the railroad, with its miles of wood and iron tracks that were laid down by hard working people, that helped connect and unify our great nation. So much hard work went into building those tracks by largely forgotten souls, many of whom died way too young and far from their homes in railroad labor camps. Seeing and touching old railroad date nails, some from as far back as the mid 1800's, makes me think of those who must have done this kind of backbreaking work, and also of the majestic old iron horses that plied the tracks above these silent markers of time.

Some people have turned collecting railroad date nails into a lifelong hobby. Here is a link to an amazing collection by a gentleman named Mr. Gustafson. See his collection here.

His collection also includes pole nails, which were driven into old telephone and telegraph line poles for much the same reason as railroad date nails.

How To Get Started Collecting Railroad Date Nails

I don't recommend that you ever pull railroad date nails out of a working track. For one thing this is a felony, and for another it can mess up the railroad's system of identifying dangerous, worn out railroad ties, even though this system of tracking railroad tie age is being phased out. You can legally find and collect date nails alongside old abandoned railroad tracks, such as those which have been converted to jogging and bike paths under the "rails to trails" program. Old railroad date nails can also be purchased on sites such as eBay. As a gift, I like to give ones with the person's age to my friends on their birthdays.

How Much Are Old Railroad Date Nails Worth?

Some collectors are willing to pay up to several hundred dollars for some of the rarest and oldest railroad date nails, such as those from the very early days of steam trains. Unfortunately one of the best guides to the value of railroad date nails, "Railroad Date Nails, Collecting For Fun" by Norman Jensen, is out of print. You can get a good idea of what they are selling for by watching online auction sites, and from books such as "Railroadiana" The Official Price Guide For 2000 and Beyond".

As a side hobby, I also like to collect old glass bottles, which can also be found alongside abandoned railroad tracks in rural areas. See the Hub,  Collecting Old Bottles


Submit a Comment

  • Stigma31 profile image


    7 years ago from Kingston, ON

    I don't think I would collect them but interesting none-the-less voting up!


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)