Back in the Days of those Dated Nails

Jun 22, 2016 | 1 comment

L.A. Loomis

L.A. Loomis

One of the enduring stories about L.A. Loomis of the Ilwaco Railroad and Navigation Company fame is that he would periodically walk sections of his little narrow-gauge railroad checking the ties for rot.  His method was to give each of the wooden ties a resounding thump with his gold-headed walking stick.  If the stick penetrated the tie, it was slated for replacement.  That simple.

Undoubtedly, there were (and are) other methods for keeping the railroads in good shape. But even now, with all of our technological and engineering know-how, the best laid plans (or in some cases, tracks) don’t always hold together.  The recent derailment of a Union Pacific train of oil cars near Mosier, Oregon comes to mind.  Caused by “multiple broken fasteners” said officials.

In Cerrillos

In Cerrillos

Yesterday, in far-off Cerrillos, New Mexico, Loomis and  Mosier were foremost in my thoughts for a while.  Cerrillos, a historic mining town, is located just off the scenic ‘Turquoise Trail,’ as Highway 14 linking Albuquerque and Santa Fe is called. In some ways, the little village is the polar opposite of Oysterville – hot and dry rather than cool and moist, with typical, compact Southwestern adobe buildings rather than our familiar wooden ‘Craftsman’ style structures.  The population is around 200 – many times ours – but the streets have that same quiet, almost deserted feel and tourists seem to outnumber the locals.  Definitely familiar feeling.

RR Nails

Dated Nails

It was in the trading post-cum-museum that we saw the dated nails on display.  The nearby label said:  “RR Datenail kept track of year RR tie was installed. 1900s. $6.00 each.”  I thought of Mark Clemmens and Harry Bell and of the many railroad buffs I know and toyed briefly with the idea of buying a few nails to give them but, in the end, took a picture, instead.  I have a lot of questions – like was that system ever used on the Ilwaco line and wouldn’t it have been preferable to Loomis’s walking stick method?

I’m not sure where these particular nails came from.  The trading post owner was not the chatty type, although he did say that the rails that run through town these days still carry two trains a day – Amtrak, Chicago – L.A. at one and four p.m.  The freight line (130 abandoned miles of track) is for sale and it looks like China is going to buy it he said… but then, they probably already own it he said.


Near Mosier, OR – from the internet

Despite his doom-and-gloom attitude, though, Mr. Eeyore (or so I silently labeled him) has amassed an interesting collection of ‘stuff’ at his place.  About the only thing missing was that gold-headed walking stick…

1 Comment

  1. Stephanie Frieze

    I think that dating the nails was a brilliant way to have kept track of when track was installed! Perhaps some RR nails will show up in one of our Peninsula antique shops. I will keep my eye peeled!


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