Questions & Answers
Buying & Selling
Locks were (and are) an integral part of railroad operations. A particular company's territory might stretch over hundreds of lonely miles, so the security of its facilities were of utmost importance. Consider how much damage a single misaligned switch might cause, and it's no wonder that railroad companies paid considerable attention to security from the very beginnings of the industry.
Railroad locks had to be strong enough to endure harsh, industrial conditions as well as repeated use. They also had to be standardized so that different empoyees could open them, provided they had the proper key. Locks evolved through a progression of styles, from very ornate customized variations to more utilitarian, standardized models. Among the most prized styles are the early "cast back" locks [also referred to by lock collectors as "fancy back" locks] which had ornate, three-dimensional designs cast into the lock body, The designs were usually based on the railroad's initials. Making such locks involved special fabrication and brass casting skills, since each design varied with the railroad. Good examples of such locks with original patina can go for many hundreds of dollars.
In time, locks evolved to plainer brass models with simple cast initials, and then to standardized, steel models with stamped railroad initials. The steel models were of course subject to corrosion, whereas the brass models just acquired a patina. Value on the collectors market varies accordingly with steel models generally being quite inexpensive to acquire.
The shape of railroad locks varied also. "Heart shaped" locks were most common and were typically used to lock switches. A variety of other shapes were also manufactured for such purposes as locking signal facilities and buildings. Generally speaking, collectors consider a lock to be a railroad lock only if it is marked for a railroad. As with lanterns, "railroad style" locks could reasonably have been used in industrial operations of a non-railroad nature.
A separate page shows a more modern steel railroad lock disassembled.
Railroad locks of a variety of styles are shown below. A hearty thanks to all who contributed photos and comments.