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Welcome to our Question & Answer Bulletin Board -- a bulletin board for collectors and anyone else to post questions about railroadiana and related history. Please note that we do not deal with contemporary railroading. This board is moderated (all volunteer) but is not staffed by "experts". Rather it relies on everyone to share what they know. Any question or reply about railroadiana is welcome except the following:

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Latest 25 Questions:

 Q3026 Large RR Key  I got the large key as a gift. It is marked PCRR. Is it a railroad key? It is much larger than a regular PCRR switch key. Has anyone ever seen another key like this? The reverse side is marked 'ADLAKE' with the first 'A' stamped upside down. The size of the ADLAKE is large lettering, the same style as the 'PCRR'. Thank you for any information anyone can give me.   [Click on image for larger version.] Posted Thursday, October 1, 2015 by JN   Post a Reply  Email a reply

A. See the answer to prior Q 2232 which is all about your larger key, which is indeed pretty typical of many PC switch keys. The other key in your picture is NOT one I have seen before; the non-round hole is unusual. But then PC was a very large system built up from a lot of different RR's, and so had many different keys and locks for different functions. Posted Friday, October 2, 2015 by RJMc

 Q3025 Passenger Brakeman Lanterns  Did Passenger brakemen have brass conductor's lanterns too? Thanks.  Posted Thursday, October 1, 2015 by KO   Post a Reply  Email a reply

A. I think the answer is "Some of them might, but probably no where near as many as the conductors." There were a huge variety of passenger trains and the job requirements varied. Practices varied greatly among railroads. But in general, the conductor's job was working inside the cars taking tickets and working with the passengers, and he needed his lantern to light that work at night. And he often purchased his lantern himself and it amounted to a 'badge of office' which justified additional expense (and he was getting paid more than the other trainmen). On the other hand, the brakemen's jobs included flagging when the train stopped, doing any coupling or uncoupling enroute which required passing hand signals, doing any necessary mechanical work such as treating hotboxes, and going out to throw switches whenever required. Flagging required a red lantern and would have justified a larger one. The other work required better light and likely required a clear lantern and a larger one, so both might have been provided by the railroad. So the brakemen were much less likely to be purchasing very elaborate lanterns at extra cost to themselves. An exception might have been if they had a regular assignment on a high priority limited or express where they were routinely serving as 'Assistnt Conductor'.  Posted Monday, October 5, 2015 by RJMc

 Q3024 Age of RR Items?  I found a couple really cool railway items, and I was wondering if you could help me out or point me in the right direction. 1. A very old cast iron lock with a brass keyhole cover. It has a monogram that reads CE Ry Co. I believe it is California Eastern Railway, but I'm unsure. Do you have any idea of the age? 2. V&T RR silver bar. I know it is Virginia & Truckee, but I cannot find anything like it. The bar appears to be era correct, but I would like second opinions. Any information would be greatly appreciated. Thanks   [Click on image for larger version.] Posted Wednesday, September 30, 2015 by Scott in MN   Post a Reply  Email a reply

A. I suspect the lock letters are suppposed to be "RY E Co." which could stand for "RailwaY Express Co." but I don't know if they used locks such as this one. Posted Wednesday, September 30, 2015 by RJMc

A. The R & E Co padlock is Russell & Erwin Co (I think the "Y" is supposed to act like an "&") Prob 1880's to 1900. . And that small V & T "silver" bar................... The V&T was a railroad, not a metal smelter, or a bank. I would be surprised if it was actual silver. Looks like the phony Wells Fargo" silver bars......... Why would a railroad company smelt silver bars to use as currency when good old US currency was readily available?? Posted Wednesday, September 30, 2015 by DA

A. On V&T Silver Bar...The bar was tested as being 90%-95% pure silver on a spectrometer. The bar looks very age appropriate. I know V&T wasn't a smelting company, but they where a major mover of ore. Its either a very sloppily made authentic item, or an amazing counterfeit. This bar is very intriguing nonetheless. Posted Thursday, October 1, 2015 by Scott in MN

A.  I googled the words "Virginia & Truckee silver bar" and found a YouTube video from 2013 featuring the Comstock Lode and what appears to be this same bar. The bar in the video has the appearance of itself being old. There appears to be an assayer's mark to the right of the weight marking. Have you researched this mark? The date was stamped with a different die set than the weight, it and the V&T marking could have been added later, rather crudely. Is there any information extant on the provenance of this piece other than the marking? Mining companies in the Comstock region were known to have small silver bars made and marked for presentations during the era in question, often given to school children for academic achievements. The Consolidated Virginia had one struck that was evidently made for the 1876 Centennial. All the information on it is quite well struck. It isn't beyond reason the V&T could have had bars made as presentation gifts. It is really doubtful they would have been so poorly struck. At that time, it is my understanding, that one could exchange silver in the form of bars for the proper amount in coin at the Carson City mint. It's possible the railroad could have done this had it bullion to dispose of but this seems far fetched and the bars of bullion would have been likely much larger. Posted Friday, October 2, 2015 by MG

 Q3023 Type of Lamp?  Hello. My father in law passed away and I found this in his shed. He worked for the railroad. Any help would be appreciated.   [Click on image for larger version.] Posted Wednesday, September 30, 2015 by BR   Post a Reply  Email a reply

A. Is there any kind of burner, fuel fount, or wick arrangement with this? None is evident in the pic. Posted Wednesday, September 30, 2015 by RJMc

A. It's possibly a carriage lamp or a side light for a very early car. Although you don't mention what metal it is made from, it appears to be brass. Posted Tuesday, October 6, 2015 by JEM

 Q3022 N&W Can Purpose?  Are there any N&W experts out there that can tell me what this can was used for? It is large: about 2.5 gal. cap., base is 11 in. in diameter, and it is 15 in. tall, not including the bail or lid handle. It is also double walled and possibly insulated. My first guess is a caboose water can, but a double walled can this large seems unlikely for a caboose.   [Click on image for larger version.] Posted Wednesday, September 30, 2015 by SB   Post a Reply  Email a reply

A. It's a crew water can of some sort. 2˝ gallons isn't too large at all. Remember, a caboose had a crew of 2 to 5 men, depending on what they were doing and how far back you go in time. Full, that would be about 20 pounds of water; so not too unwieldy to handle, and a crew could easily use that much to drink, make coffee, rinse hands, wash your face, etc. during a long shift. Engine crews used these too as did work gangs. In the summer, a track gang worker would drink a substantial amount of water during the day. Later on, water containers had a spigot cock on the lower edge so they didn't have to be lifted and poured. --- Of Note: there were also the ever present Salt Tablets in a box or a paper wrapped roll to go along with your water. In warm weather (or in the engine cab where it was always hot) the railroad actually directed you to take salt tablets (NaCl) when you drank water while doing physical labor and in hot weather! These were still around into the 1980s! ---- .... Red Beard  Posted Wednesday, September 30, 2015 by Red Beard the Railroad Raider

 Q3021 What is it?  I'm Eric from northern Maine. I emailed these photos to another site asking what this is but still have not received an answer. Perhaps you may be able to help. I do a lot of farm dump digging and walking on the tracks. I found this item on the Bangor & Aroostook line in Millinocket, Maine. I'd like to just know what it is. It measures apx. 12(H) X 10 1/2 inches (W) at base. It seems where I located it was at an old destroyed switch or signal. Not being that familiar with RR items I am not sure if it would be either of those two things or something completely different. Also, if you can identify it, can you let me know the approximate dates this would have been in service at all?. Any help is much appreciated. Thanks a lot,   [Click on image for larger version.] Posted Wednesday, September 30, 2015 by Eric   Post a Reply  Email a reply

A. See very recent prior Q 3016 (just scroll down, or use the Q. No. search box) where we just finished discussing 'weatherheads.' You have another form of weatherhead, which was used to close off and protect the opening of the top of a pipe from rain, etc, while still allowing signal or communications wires to come out and head downward to form drip loops before heading up to other outside connections. These have been used for many decades and are no doubt still in use in areas where pole lines have not been totally eliminated.  Posted Wednesday, September 30, 2015 by RJMc

A. Eric, Building on what RJMc said; this is a finial cap used on a variety of lineside signal relay and communication boxes; we used to call this style “Helmet Heads”, as they looked like an old Norman battle helmet. It served as a weatherhead as described in RJMc’s second answer at the bottom of Q3016. (see that Link) Insulated open wire communication and signal lines from a building or a pole would enter through the nodes on the sides of this cap and travel down a few feet of round metal tube which stuck out of the top of the box. They were also usually filled with some sort of weatherproof goo to further seal the entrance from water, dust and bugs; ..see that dark stuff inside the cap? The two nodes on the sides gave this style of cap a very distinctive and attractive, ornamental look out on the rail line. They were apparently ubiquitous, being used on many railroads across the U.S. and show up in numerous old photos. - Ubiquitous, but not universal as some roads used other styles of caps. - They were seen frequently on mid-western roads and I saw many of them around Omaha. Their interesting and unusual style stood out, and I only saw these in railroad use. That’s a very nice piece of railroad history that isn’t seen often nowadays! – Do scour old lineside photos for examples of these caps. Photos will add meaning to the piece for you. ---- …. Red Beard  Posted Wednesday, September 30, 2015 by Red Beard the Railroad Raider

A. Thanks to the guys that responded. I appreciate the help very much. Posted Thursday, October 1, 2015 by Eric

 Q3020 Age of Buckle?  Trying to find information on a buckle a friend found metal detecting in Kentucky. We are trying to get an age range for it. Thank you.   [Click on image for larger version.] Posted Wednesday, September 30, 2015 by BC   Post a Reply  Email a reply

A. That's a pretty good representation of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad logo initials, so somebody cared about what they were doing. There was a surge of consumer interest in brass buckles in the 1960s and '70s and you could find them appealing to any sort of interest. Railroad ones abounded back then. That time frame would be my first guess. -- A few things of interest; I'm guessing you or your friend cleaned it up quite a bit after it was found, as it doesn't look like something that was dug up; which should have been more heavily tarnished. The other noteworthy thing is that the casting sprues are still on the casting; the nubs on the upper and lower edges and the tongue protruding off the back of the loop. -- What you have is a very rough casting, pretty much right out of the mold, which would have been cleaned up and likely polished before being used. At a minimum the sprue would have been ground off and the letters and circle around them would have been ground to a have a flat surface and then polished. Nice find! ---- .... Red Beard Posted Wednesday, September 30, 2015 by Red Beard the Railroad Raider

 Q3019 History of A&W in Philadelphia?  I have a Grand Trunk R-Y lantern with the letters 'GTR' raised on the clear glass globe, and 'The Adams and Westlake Company' in raised letters on top of the metal chimney. The cities Chicago and New York are also marked on the top of the chimney around the center; however, the city Philadelphia DOES NOT appear on the lantern. When I look at other Adams and Westlake lanterns online all the ones I see have all three cities, Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia, marked on the lantern. Are you aware of when Adams and Westlake began manufacturing in Philadelphia as well as Chicago and New York? My thought being that this would help me determine the age of my lantern, it apparently having been manufactured sometime before the city Philadelphia began being marked on the lanterns in addition to Chicago and New York. Thanks,  Posted Wednesday, September 30, 2015 by Bob T   Post a Reply  Email a reply

 Q3018 Wick Adjusting Knob Repairable?   Hello everyone. I'm a bit of a new collector here. I recently got a few lanterns and some of the wicks will not go up/down. The adjusting knob turns but doesn't raise/lower the wick. Is this repairable??? Thank you.  Posted Wednesday, September 30, 2015 by LC   Post a Reply  Email a reply

A. The usual cause of this problem is the fact that the wick has gotten old, stiff, and somewhat brittle with age and heat. The wick-raiser shaft has little gears with sharp teeth to engage the wick and push it up or down. Once the wick gets aged, those small teeth just break out the wick material and turn freely. To fix it you need to carefully remove the old wick, preferably by picking it out with very sharp needle-nose pliers or tweezers so as not to damage the actual mechanism inside the tube. Then you need a new wick. Sometimes just pulling a little on the old wick may cause it to reengage, if not all of it is hardened, but you risk stripping the teeth on the wick raiser shaft if you pull too hard, and that is not easy to repair -- that usually leads to a new burner assembly.  Posted Wednesday, September 30, 2015 by RJMc

A. BE CAREFUL when putting a new wick in there too! Too large of a wick, by just a little, will bind in the wick tube and the toothed wheel won't be able to move it. This will make the wheel jam in the new wick and turning the raiser knob will strip the wheel free from the stem, ruining the burner. I suspect this may also be the cause of your current problem. -- NOTE: many wicks available at the hardware store will be too big. I'd check with W.T.Kirkman on line (LINK 1) It's surprising that the toothed wheel wasn't better attached to the stem, but they weren't; they're actually pretty fragile. ---- .... Red Beard Link 1  Posted Wednesday, September 30, 2015 by Red Beard the Railroad Raider

 Q3017 Lighting RR Switch Lamps  Can someone please explain the proper way to light railroad switch lamps? I have two Adlake models which are mounted on switch stands. They are fun to light once in a while but I'd like to know the proper procedure. Lately I've been removing the pot, setting on a table, turning the wick high above the glass chimney, lighting the wick and quickly turning the wick down to the right level and re-installing in the switch lamp. This sometimes causes the glass chimney to get black with soot. Later, I tried removing the fragile glass chimney, lit the wick and carefully put the chimney back on, which got quite hot. It was a fragile task and I know the chimneys can break easily and are hard to find. I considered lighting a long match stick, placing that down in the chimney to light the wick which would already be turned down low. How was it done on the railroad back in the day? I know that the signalmen had to climb the switch stands to do this, in all kinds of weather, and without breaking the fragile glass chimney or filling the lamp with soot! Thank you!  Posted Wednesday, September 30, 2015 by Steve. B   Post a Reply  Email a reply

A. Steve, the lamp maintainer took the lamp off the switch stand when they refilled (usually weekly) and relit the lamps, which were left burning 24/7; unlike the over romanticized drawings of Victorian street lamps which were lit every evening by climbing a ladder, and extinguished at daybreak. Railroad maintainers also had a ready supply of replacement chimneys in case they broke. Ideally, during the refilling, the lamp maintainer was also supposed to clean any soot accumulated over the week from inside the lamp, the stack, lenses and the glass chimney, though the cleaning often got skipped and lamps could get pretty dirty. During the 1960s when a number of railroads were very short on money, many lamps were allowed to slide into serious disrepair while in service on the more cash strapped roads. . Where I grew up, the C&NW had particularly dirty lamps for this reason. After refilling, the lamp would then be relit and allowed to warm up before the flame was given a final adjustment; only then was it replaced on top of the switch stand target rod.. --- What I’m currently using is a butane Bar-B-Q lighter, the ones with the 4 inch long nozzle tip on them. You can find them at the grocery store. -- Turn the wick way down to just a nub, light the lighter and stick the burning lighter down the chimney to light the wick. If you have top opening lamps, you can do this without having to remove the oil pot. For side opening lamps you will need to take the pot out, but can still light it without removing the chimney. You may get a little smudge on the chimney, but in service, most chimneys got pretty smudged up before they were cleaned. You can also take the chimney off, turn the wick way down to the point where it will barely support a flame at all, and then light it and replace the chimney. That way things won’t get too hot, and you can adjust the flame after the chimney is back on. A rule of thumb is to turn the wick up no farther than will support a clean, smoke free flame. If the flame starts to smoke, it is turned up too high. --- I suggest not turning the wick way up, as you had been doing, as it will char the wick. -- Some people claim that fingerprints on the glass can cause differential heating and crack the chimney, though if you have a real PYREX chimney this shouldn’t be an issue; but some suggest handling the chimney with gloves on, especially if it isn’t marked PYREX as there is some questionable aftermarket glass out there. Also a good idea to stockpile a few replacement chimneys. ALSO; For home use, you really don't have to have the glass chimney to light the lamp. In the last years of service, many railroad lamps went without chimneys on poorer roads. See LINK 1 for some good information; click on the drawing and read the printed info at the bottom. ---- …. Red Beard Link 1  Posted Wednesday, September 30, 2015 by Red Beard the Railroad Raider

A. Thank you Red Beard- you certainly are knowledgeable on many aspect of railroading! You should consider writing a book!  Posted Wednesday, September 30, 2015 by Steve B.

 Q3016 What is it?  It is from the 1920's along the Great Northern line through the Tumwater Canyon in Washington state. There appears to be wires connecting it to the pole lines.   [Click on image for larger version.] Posted Monday, September 14, 2015 by BK   Post a Reply  Email a reply

A. This pic is confusing because of the two sets of poles. The back pole and wires are fairly high-voltage power transmission wires, not communication lines. The insulators are way too 'beefy' for just telegraph or telephone circuits. Tumwater Canyon (see link) had a quite interesting history of supplying hydroelectric power when GN electrified thru the Cascade Tunnel, because until then crews and even passengers were nearly being asphyxiated by the steam locomotive exhausts. So the high voltage probably fed the electric traction operation. But the front pole, with the box, has much smaller insulators and probably carried the communication wires; the wires themselves are too small to still show up in glare/damage in the pic. As a guess, the wood box probably houses a test point or a terminal block where the circuits could be switched onto the different wires when problems occurred, and maybe had some form of lightning arrestor, although I can't see any grounding cable in the pic. Link 1  Posted Monday, September 14, 2015 by RJMc

A.  I remember seeing those back when (used to call ‘em Bird House Condos), so I asked a good railroad friend of mine to take a look at the photo. Here’s what he had to say; Red Beard: --- “That pix of the telegraph pole line junction box sure stirred some memories. Each depot had one of these on the exterior pole that supported the drop cable from the junction box to the depot plug-out board. These lasted many decades and could still be found in use into the last days of the telegraph. These boxes also supported the wiring connections for the dispatcher phones, company phone circuits and of course the railroad and Western Union circuits. The cute little roofs had sheet metal on them and the boxes had a hasp and lock on them, often one of those familiar WUTCO brass locks. There would be rows of porcelain terminals and lightning arrestors inside as well as a framed line wire ID nomenclature sheet, sometimes behind glass. These old boxes got replaced by the more familiar cast aluminum covered pole junction boxes or sometimes a RR shop-made sheet metal box. If the old wooden boxes were kept painted, they would last many decades and some were seen on branch line depot poles yet into the 70's and maybe later. The railroads mfr'd most of these in their shops so the designs varied but the purpose was the same. These jct boxes were often accompanied by a wood and metal seat for the lineman to set on when doing maintenance, to give his legs and back a rest from the pole spikes and leather line belt. ---- .... Red Beard  Posted Friday, September 18, 2015 by Red Beard the Railroad Raider

A. Just today, I was at an auction and was able to look at a box similar to this, except it had a sloped flat roof, not a "bird house" top. Red Beard is correct. Holes were drilled into the sides, sloping at about 45 degrees down from inside to outside, with those knobbed glass / clay insulators in each hole. In the box I viewed, there were six rows of four holes each, three on each side, spaced evenly down the boards. The bottom was solid except for about an 1 1/2 in hole for the drop cable. After looking at it, I began to understand I was looking at an early weatherhead. Posted Saturday, September 26, 2015 by HVC

A. For those who may not know what a 'weatherhead' is, see Link for the modern version. The RR box acted as a weatherhead and also provided weather protection to keep connections inside dry. Athough the telegraph keys and sounders ran on low voltage, the long distance telegraph circuits were sometimes charged with over 100 Volts to get the signal to carry, and that high a voltage would have problems shorting out if the usual open terminal blocks and connection studs got wet.  Link 1  Posted Monday, September 28, 2015 by RJMc

 Q3015 Dietz Vulcan #39 Lantern Restoration  I am restoring a Dietz Vulcan #39 lantern. I have already cleaned it in lye. It came out really nice and uniform. Very nice piece indeed. Only one small dent, otherwise perfect and complete. Will applying a primer and silver paint work out? Was silver the original color scheme? I restore various antiques and want to make sure I am not doing this fine piece any harm. Thank you.  Posted Tuesday, September 8, 2015 by DO   Post a Reply  Email a reply

A. See the answer to prior Q 3010 (use the 'By Question No.' box), and which refers back to earlier Q's, regarding the fact that most RR lanterns were NOT painted.  Posted Wednesday, September 9, 2015 by RJMc

A. I second what RJMc said. If you do end up painting it, skip the primer, as eventually you will chip the paint somewhere and the primer color will be very noticeable. I'm not big on painting these, but suggest the least bright silver you can find. There are some 'antique' silvers out there that have a lead-like color to them. ---- .... Red Beard Posted Wednesday, September 9, 2015 by Red Beard the Railroad Raider

A. Something to know about the original finish: for corrosion protection, lanterns and lamps (switch, marker, etc.) were hot dipped in "terne metal", known as having been "terned"; which was a mix of roughly 80% lead and 20% tin (whereas solder might typically be 40% lead and 60% tin). This left the lantern with an initial bright, shiny metallic finish, which over time oxidized to a more muted gray and then a very dark gray; which is why I suggested a muted, darker silver if you do decide to paint it -- The vast majority of hand lanterns were not painted, but left in that metallic finish of the terne metal. Lamps were painted with "japan black" over the terne. -- Some people think that these were galvanized (zinc coating), but they were actually terned. ---- .... Red Beard Posted Sunday, September 13, 2015 by Red Beard the Railroad Raider

 Q3014 A&W Lantern Info Needed  I just aquired this lantern and I would appreciate if anyone could tell me the history and if this globe is the original? Marked Adams and Westlake 26-64. Thanks.   [Click on image for larger version.] Posted Thursday, September 3, 2015 by CD   Post a Reply  Email a reply

A. Chicago and Northwestern Railroad (of course). Nice! Posted Thursday, September 3, 2015 by JSM

A. It's a fireman's lantern and the globe, while it might fit, id no doubt a later replacement. Posted Thursday, September 3, 2015 by BobF

A. If it's a fire mans lantern you'll want a Red over Clear globe in it to make it first rate. See Link. (Link is to an ended Ebay auction so is acceptable to post here I think) Link 1  Posted Friday, September 4, 2015 by TH

A. Link above doesn't work. Sorry but can't edit comment. Posted Friday, September 4, 2015 by TH

A. There may be some confusion here between a Fire Fighters's Lantern (THAT type of 'fireman') rather than a 'Locomotive Fireman.' I think the comments suggest this is the Fire Department type lantern, and the RR globe got put in later. So both the lantern and the globe may be 'authentic,' just not with each other. Posted Friday, September 4, 2015 by RJMc

A. Are you able to tell me anything more about the piece? The thing I am curious about is why are there no holes running around the top like I see in most lanterns? Thank you. Posted Friday, September 4, 2015 by CD

A. Without a doubt a Fire Dept lantern, with the small triangular hanging hook and the vent holes you are looking for are under the water shield. The water shield was just that a shield to keep spraying water at a fire from getting in the upper vent holes and putting the lantern out. Nice lantern. Posted Friday, September 4, 2015 by COD

A. Without a doubt a Fire Dept lantern, with the small triangular hanging hook and the vent holes you are looking for are under the water shield. The water shield was just that a shield to keep spraying water at a fire from getting in the upper vent holes and putting the lantern out. Nice lantern. Posted Friday, September 4, 2015 by COD

 Q3013 'High Iron' Term  Do you know when the term 'high iron' was first used? I'd like to know if this term was in use before 1914. Thanks,  Posted Sunday, August 30, 2015 by EM   Post a Reply  Email a reply

A. All of the 'slang dictionaries' I have consulted on this agree that the term refers to the RR main line, where newer, taller rail and more ballast was used, which has been almost universally true since railroading began in the mid-1800's. But none of the dictionaries give any real indication of when the term 'high iron' began to be used. Since the term is slang, not used in official documents, about the only way I see to determine the time period is to review fiction writing where the date of publication can usually be determined with accuracy. The best material I have located so far is available at the Link, a site dedicated to the pulp magazines which were widely circulated in the early 1900's. The site has complete scanned copies of most issues of the monthly Railroad Man's Magazine from late 1909 up thru 1911, available for free download. Beware that each issue of the magazine is stored as a .pdf image file, just one 200 page issue occupies over 34 Megabytes and takes quite a while to download. Having done that, the complete magazine with ads, drawings, and photos is made available and at no cost. But because the pages are images, the words are not easily computer searchable, so to find whether 'high iron' is used you end up reading thru the entire magazine page by page. The RR Man's Magazine was so comprehensive about all aspects of the industry that this is an excellent resource for all kinds of inquiries.  Link 1  Posted Monday, August 31, 2015 by RJMc

A. Thanks for the info. With an e-pub download I was able to search some of the magazines, but have found no "high iron" reference so far. Will keep looking. Since steel rail had replaced iron rail long before 1914 I assume this slang term pre-dates 1914, but would like to confirm if possible. Posted Tuesday, September 1, 2015 by EM

A. "On the high iron, let the big dogs walk" means the caboose is over the switch and on the mainline so open the throttle all the way on the locomotives. LINK  Posted Wednesday, September 2, 2015 by JSM

A. Google Books summarizes a fascinating book on the history of Fred Harvey and his RR-station restaurants (See Link) and they use the term 'High Iron' a lot to talk about where RR trunk-line routes were being selected in the 1860's. The book implies the term was used then (and it may have been); the trouble is that the book was not published until 2010 and none of its references are direct quotes. What is the significance of 1914?  Link 1  Posted Thursday, September 3, 2015 by RJM

A. I'm working on a story about construction of the Alaska Railroad, which began in 1914. Posted Tuesday, September 15, 2015 by EM

A. One suspicion which I have not been able to check out: US and British "Railroad English" share some terms, but differ in many others. I am wondering if US transportation troops might have returned from WWI service in Europe with different slang than preceding the war service. But as already noted, tracking down slang usage is very difficult.  Posted Saturday, September 19, 2015 by RJMc

 Q3012 What is this Cabinet?  Does anyone recognize this type of locked glass front cabinet? I purchased this locked cabinet at an antique/collectible store in the Sebring, FL area. I was told that it is a display cabinet that once hung in the old Lake Placid/Sebring, Florida train station and it was used for posting train schedules etc. (NOTE: the reflection in the glass is our kitchen table etc.) I am not a train memorabilia collector-I just liked the cabinet. I haven’t decided what to display in it yet but if it is a train station display cabinet I’d like to know what is historically correct to post int it. I’d appreciate any help you may give me to find out what this cabinet was used for. Thank you so much.   [Click on image for larger version.] Posted Tuesday, August 25, 2015 by FS   Post a Reply  Email a reply

A. I have worked at many military bases and public schools built in the 1920's and this cabinet is a generic glass display that was purchased through a builders catalog. It is still possible that it could have been done in a company workshop but it still fits the furniture style of this era. Link 1  Posted Tuesday, August 25, 2015 by venezia52

A. I think this old cabinet looks terrific! Some depot furniture and accessories would have been purchased rather than company made, and surely this could have been one. It would have been used to post public notices about train information, including what are called "broadside timetables" -- essentially large one sided train schedules. A nice RR map would also look great. The place to start finding something is the shop where you bought the cabinet, if they don't have something hopefully than can refer you along. You can also watch on eBay. If you check Link 1 below, you will find a list of Florida railroads including defunct ones, and hopefully there may be several that served the area. I did some further checking and it looks like the Atlantic Coast Line ran though Lake Placid - see Link 2 for a great depot picture. If you can find some 1920s vintage documents from its hometown railroad lines to display, this old cabinet will be a real beauty.  Link 1  Link 2  Posted Friday, August 28, 2015 by JS

A. Thank you both for your help! JS, I will look into your suggestions and thank you for taking the time to research the train line through the area. I live in Fort Myers.  Posted Monday, August 31, 2015 by FS

A. I do not have much for reference on Florida area roads. Ft. Myers should have a good strong reference department in its public library system. They can tell you more specifically "which" railroads served which towns/cities in your area. You may be able to find memorabilia at antique shops and flea markets. There are also several large specialty RR shows in Florida, I've attached a link to the show management's schedule that you can use to pursue this if you like. The Deland show is Florida's largest combination models X relics/memorabilia show with hundreds of dealer tables. Good luck and have fun, what an enjoyable treasure hunt !!  Link 1  Posted Tuesday, September 1, 2015 by JS

 Q3011 Gimbal Lamp in Railroading  I’ve been trying to find this information on the RR sites, but so far I’ve had no luck. Have you ever heard that the railroads used a gimbal lamp? Thank you.  Posted Sunday, August 23, 2015 by BW   Post a Reply  Email a reply

A. Gimbal-mounted lamps are much more typical of ship's cabins. In rough seas and high waves a ship may tip up to 45 degrees or more, first to one side then the other, without capsizing the ship, so their lighting installations had to tolerate that by gimballing. Many US and Canadian RR's have had and some still have tug boats and ferry boats, and even fleets of cruise boats, which may have had RR-marked marine-type lights. Other than these applications, trains can not tip to anywhere near the angles that ships survive without derailing or overturning, so gimbals were not needed or used for typical railroad car lights.  Posted Sunday, August 23, 2015 by RJMc

 Q3010 Hocking Valley Lantern Questions  I got this Hocking Valley lantern from my grandmother. My grandfather had it for as long as she can remember and they have been together for 40 years of marriage. I have a couple of questions about this Adlake 250 model lantern. My first question: What time frame was the Corning CNX logo used? My next question: After a merger did railroads reuse lanterns that were owned by the railroad they took over? The reason for the the last question is the HV lantern had a C&O cast globe. I'm thinking either the original globe shattered and was replaced with a C&O globe after the merger in 1930 or its globe was lost in time and someone just replaced it with a C&O one to get it working again. I have never seen this combo before. My last question: Did some railroad employees paint their lanterns or were they unpainted most of the time? Thank you.   [Click on image for larger version.] Posted Friday, August 21, 2015 by CH   Post a Reply  Email a reply

A. Your lantern was your responsibility. Some railroaders marked or even painted their lanterns so they could readily identify. Coming from the manufacturer they were usually unpainted. Posted Friday, August 21, 2015 by JN

A. The Corning CNX trademark was first used in 1909 and was used up thru the 1950's. The Link is to a page (elsewhere on this Railroadiana website) all about Corning globes. Railroads are 'very frugal' (cheeeep) and would almost always continue to use up available supplies and items already in use, with the prior ownership markings, right on up thru locomotives and cars. One exception might be prominent advertising items, but often not even these were changed until some other factor required their renewal. Since Hocking Valley was absorbed into the C&O system, it is perfectly natural to see a C&O globe placed in a Hocking Valley lantern to keep it in service. As to paint on lanterns, probably a majority were not painted but some railroad lanterns were painted by the manufacturers. See prior Q's 2553, 1664. and 964 for more discussion.  Link 1  Posted Friday, August 21, 2015 by RJMc

 Q3009 Stuck K-C Font  I recently bought this Keystone K-C lantern. However, the top part that screws on to close the oil chamber is stuck on, and a previous owner had tried prying it off with a screwdriver, which made it even worse. Do you know what the best way to go about this would be? I don't want to end up wrecking it, but I don't know if I have any choice.Thank you,   [Click on image for larger version.] Posted Wednesday, August 19, 2015 by Kevin   Post a Reply  Email a reply

A. Kevin, The burner in your Keystone "Casey" is a signal oil/lard oil burner rather than the "convex" style kerosene burner. It is likely that the now quite hardened residues of that type of fuel have literally "glued" the two halves together. In the past I've used two methods of separating these parts, one is place the whole assembly in an old pot filled with water and Dawn detergent or some other good quality cleaner and degreaser and heat it up just to the point of simmering, turn the heat off and let it soak, when it got just cool enough to handle with gloves I was able to unscrew it wit a good bit of force. That worked for me once. The next time I used a butane micro torch to heat the threaded part and while it was still hot and with a pair of heavy gloves was able to unscrew it quite easily. Also if you're not already aware of it these parts are reverse or "left" threaded so you unscrew it in the opposite direction than usual. Your fount is of the later "new" type and there are instructions for it here on this site. This link should take you to that page. Best of luck. Link 1  Posted Wednesday, August 19, 2015 by WM

A. If you do decide to use heat, do it outside, as some of the old fluids do smell quite ripe when certain temperatures are attained.  Posted Thursday, August 20, 2015 by hvcollector

A. That 'left hand thread' pointer is was done so that the cap and wick assembly did not unscrew when the wick was tried to be raised. Another good and relatively mild source of heat to do the operation described in the answer above is an electric heat gun often used for heat shrinking tubing, unfreezing pipes, etc. They are often available quite inexpensively from the online or discount tool places. And even more available option is a hair dryer. If you can't beg/borrow/steal one in your own household (or are wise enough not to do that!) you can go to the local thrift/resale shop and the hair dryers there usually go for $4 or so, and even have selectable heat settings.  Posted Thursday, August 20, 2015 by RJMc

A. As an alternative to heat, which is often my last resort but many times is the only thing left to try works well especially the gentle methods suggested which should not harm finish/patina, is a product called PCL (Protect Clean Lubricate). Great penetrating oil type fluid. Usually available at auto parts stores. I've also had success with kerosene plus patience and a long soak period. Posted Thursday, August 20, 2015 by JSM

 Q3008 Dodo BAT Lanterns  I have a pair of Dodo BAT lanterns. Can you tell me who made them and what they were used for? My dad is a huge RR fan. I want to restore these Dodo's for him! Would I use the same techniques to restore them that I have seen on your website? Thanks!   [Click on image for larger version.] Posted Wednesday, August 19, 2015 by JH   Post a Reply  Email a reply

A. JH, This type of lantern was generally used on barricades or around road/utility work in progress to warn motorists and pedestrians of road hazards like the contractor's and utility lanterns here in the U.S. and aren't usually considered R.R. lanterns but I would suspect some did end up in some types of R.R. related service. Most were used in, but not limited to the U.K. and are constructed to a british standard design BS 3143. There were many companies producing them over the years but most all share similar design to comply to the aforementioned standard. Rather than going into lengthy detail I would recommend visiting this website devoted particularly to these lanterns and several other types like the WWII Air Raid Precaution Lamps, road torches etc. with lots of photos and information about them including a little about the origin of the Bat variants. What method of or how much restoration is of course up to you to decide on. The link should take you to the Road Danger Lamps site homepage, at the top you can click on the Bat Variants button. Link 1  Posted Wednesday, August 19, 2015 by WM

 Q3007 Lantern Cleaning Info  I have two lanterns and found your board as I was in the midst of trying to remove the rust and paint on both of them. I was shocked to see you recommended a lye soak. As someone who makes soap, I have a healthy respect for lye, and I know it reacts strongly with aluminum. (I also question the wisdom of combining lye with hot water: lye gets plenty hot all on its own). I can understand lye soaks for cast iron, but these lanterns look fragile, and furthermore, how can you tell what metal they are made of? One is an Adlake no.250 Kero Wabash RY. (The Adams Westlake Co, Chicago, Elkart, New York.) This is a family hand me down, and according to my mother-in-law’s notes, was made in 1913 and it was once painted silver. This feels like a very malleable metal. The second is a Deitz Vesta New York, Wabash RR. Again. According to my MIL, it was made in 1951. This was painted gold. It appears rusty, but that is the last of the paint, which I suspect was more copper than gold. This is a far more sturdy lantern than the Adlake. If anyone can talk me down from the intense fear of using lye to soak these antiques in, I would be grateful. None of my more natural approaches (vinegar, baking soda, kosher salt) and soft core options (Brasso, Barkeeper’s Friend) have done much at all. If I knew the metal they were composed of , or where I could find that out, it would be a big help. Thanks!  Posted Wednesday, August 19, 2015 by CC   Post a Reply  Email a reply

A. I won't use lye either. They don't even sell it around where I live because of the Meth connection. Anyway I just use paint remover to get the paint off then wearing rubber gloves put Navel Jelly (Rust remover) sold at Lowes etc on with a brush. Wait a bit then rub with steel wool. Wash in hot soapy water. Dry in your kitchen oven for a few minutes when your wife isn't around. The steel will be a grey color until you polish it with fine steel wool as a final step. Others will cringe at this method but it works for me. Posted Thursday, August 20, 2015 by PF

A. The lanterns you are interested in cleaning are made of steel, not aluminum, and so lye will not react with the metal. A quick test with a fridge magnet will confirm. I have successfully cleaned many lanterns with a lye solution and recommend it. Naval jelly is acidic and if left on too long will start eating the steel. Lye removes the unwanted paint, soot, kerosene residue, and it softens rust, all without hurting the underlying metal. Here is how I use lye for cleaning lanterns: ***USE RUBBER GLOVES and EYE PROTECTION*** Take apart the lantern as much as possible. Fill up a five gallon plastic pail with hot water. Add 12 -16 oz of lye. Put in the lantern and cover top of pail with plastic to hold in the heat. Wait at least 24 hours (two days are better) and then remove lantern and rinse it off. Use a Brillo pad (Brillo works the best by far)to scrub the lantern - keep scrubbing and rinsing until lantern is clean of rust and / or paint. Dry the lantern with a towel and then soak in a pail of WD-40 - or spray plenty of WD-40 to remove residual water. A good swabbing with gun oil or LPS 3 rust inhibitor, keeps rust away. Note - Kero 250s date from the late 1920s.  Posted Friday, August 21, 2015 by JEM

A. I second JEM's remarks regarding using lye. Yes, there are many other methods out there but lye does work and I've cleaned many railroad lanterns that way. As a collector who spends thousands of dollars on this stuff, would it make sense then that I would ruin these historic pieces with lye after buying them, then pass on bad advice to others on this site? Not likely.  Posted Friday, August 28, 2015 by Steve B.

 Q3006 What Kind of Lamp?  Is this lamp a caboose lamp or a passenger car lamp? Thanks.   [Click on image for larger version.] Posted Sunday, August 9, 2015 by RT   Post a Reply  Email a reply

A. Hi, I have a lamp similar to this one but from a different railroad. There is a steel bracket that my lamp drops in too which is circular and the lamp I have has a rim on the top of the pot that the bracket rests against. On the back of the bracket are holes to mount on a wall of a caboose. Your lamp is very nice. The shape of the pot is different on yours and obviously was held in a different way. I would say that yours is also a caboose lamp. It is rare to find a caboose lamp in as good a condition as yours is, and many I see for sale or in people's collections are missing the tin reflector. Jerry Hemm is a lamp collector in Washington state and his grandfather worked on the Rock Island. He has an website at: . He is extremely knowledgeable and friendly. He would be glad to help you identify this lamp and be even more certain than I am. Happy collecting! Posted Sunday, August 9, 2015 by Steve B.

A. what you have there is a railroad warehouse lamp. they could carry the lamp with them and set it down anywhere it was needed. this type of lamp was not used as a wall lamp.the fount was small enough to hold in your hand with out dropping it.the reflector was welded to a bracket and welded to the cap so when you removed the cap to put fuel in it the reflector and the burner came off as one piece it made it easier to re fill. this kind of lamp is hard to find  Posted Wednesday, August 12, 2015 by tm

A. Looks cobbled together as the reflector is not in the focal plane of the flame greatly decreasing its effectiveness. Haven't seen anything like this in any railroad supplier catalog or reference book that I have. Perhaps an experienced Rock Island collector could share some better info on what may be a unique RI style of lamp. Looks to me like the tag could have been cut from a dented or rusted out can and soldered on the lamp. Just my guess, still trying to keep an open mind. Posted Wednesday, August 12, 2015 by JFR

A. It sure doesn't look old to me. It wouldn't take much to stamp a tag and apply to a generic lamp. I would be skeptical. Posted Wednesday, August 12, 2015 by bobf

A. this lamp was made by plume and Atwood it has a heavy Gage steel fount to keep it from tipping over. p&A was in business from 1869 to about the 1950s. this was there warehouse model Posted Wednesday, August 12, 2015 by tm

A. I also have never seen a lamp fount such as this one. However, I did recognize the shape...See Link. In addition to the reflector not being set up to match the flame, the rolled seam on the bottom of the tank would prevent it from fitting into the usual caboose mount, which had a cup to receive the lamp fount. Although some of the caboose founts have somewhat rounded tops, although not as rounded as the "CRI&P" one, the lamp fount/tank had to have smooth sides to fit snugly into the bracket.  Link 1  Posted Thursday, August 13, 2015 by RJMc

A. Warehouses and mills were required by their insurance companies to have much more secure designs for the lanterns they carried around. This is a stationary lamp and was not designed to be carried around anywhere. It would not be used in moving railroad cars as the globe could be easily knocked off the lamp by slack action. The only way to positively identify this lamp is from the manufacturer's or sellers' catalogs. Many different lamp manufacturers used P&A burners and they were also a popular replacement burner so it can be difficult to identify the actual manufacturer, the age, and the lamp's intended (not always actual) use. Posted Thursday, August 13, 2015 by JFR

A.  One dreary night I whittled a worn piece of wood in a switchman's shanty to fit into the end of a fusee to use as a holder/extension. I carved my name and RR initials on it. Is it a RR artifact? I guess it depends on the word provenance. The same I suspect is at work here. Did some Rock Island clerk buy this unlikely lamp for warehouse illumination, then take a box car seal, clip the ends off and solder or glue it to the base? It's unlikely given the lamp in a dry dusty warehouse would be an accident and fire looking for a place to happen. But it's possible...depends on the provenance which seems to be lacking here. Posted Thursday, August 13, 2015 by MG

A. A Mill or warehouse would probably have used a "Mill Lantern" (not an oil lamp) in which the globe was well protected in a wire cage and could be hung up or carried about without to much fear of breakage presumably as to avoid a fire in the facility. If you search "Mill Lantern" you'll see some pictures. Posted Thursday, August 13, 2015 by GK

 Q3005 Lantern ID?  I purchased this lantern at an auction. Can anybody help me identify it? It says pat 26-64 Chicago on top part. The bottom comes off. Thanks for any help!   [Click on image for larger version.] Posted Wednesday, August 5, 2015 by SC   Post a Reply  Email a reply

A. To railroad lantern collectors this type lantern is called a brass top - bell bottom (solid metal bottom). The bell bottom in this lantern is removable as you state - some had fixed or non-removable bell bottoms. A very quick look at "The Railroad Lantern" by William Cunningham indicates this lantern may be an Adams & Westlake Model 1873, made from 1874 to 1882. If the bell bottom is a true 1873 one, it should have an A&W makers stamp on the bottom with 14 patent dates. Your picture is out of focus so it is difficult to see the exact configuration of the bail ears and what type of clips are used on the guard wires. These items help to identify the lantern model.  Posted Tuesday, August 18, 2015 by JEM

 Q3004 PRR Ingot  What is this PRR thing? It's 9 inches long, 2 1/2 tall. It wieighs 4 pounds 13.7 oz and is made out of aluminum. Help me. Thanks.   [Click on image for larger version.] Posted Wednesday, August 5, 2015 by RT   Post a Reply  Email a reply

A. Ingots such as this are how the raw materials are provided to foundries to be melted for casting or for other bulk operations such as hot dip galvanizing. The PRR had heavy industrial capabilities at Altoona (and other major shops) including foundries in which they home-made many parts for locomotives, cars and all kinds of other materials for their RR. A little mystery about this ingot is what they may have been casting out of the aluminum. The data you provided (assuming it is solid) and some calculation gives a density of 2.3 grams per milliliter for your ingot. Many places on RR's cast Babbitt metal bearings and battery electrodes out of zinc, and would have started out with ingots looking like this, but both of those metals are much heavier (7.3 and 7.4, see link), so the aluminum ID (printed density 2.7) is probably correct. Because of its great chemical activity, aluminum did not become commercially practical until the early 1900's. The RR's were expanding rapidly at that time and much equipment and new track and facilities were being built which could have made use of aluminum parts. Just one example of an item cast in aluminum is headlight housings, where the lightweight but tough aluminum serves well. Another logical place would be station and other signs where heavy material is not needed or wanted.  Link 1  Posted Wednesday, August 5, 2015 by RJMc

 Q3003 2 Track Sign  Can someone tell me how old this 2 track sign is? It's riveted to 3 flat steel bars with the mounting brackets on it. They used steel straps to hold it on the pole. It came from the east coast. Thanks   [Click on image for larger version.] Posted Wednesday, August 5, 2015 by RT   Post a Reply  Email a reply

 Q3002 Item ID Needed  A friend of mine found this item along an old RR grade in Nevada. It's about 2 3/8 x 4 3/4 inches; made of brass or bronze. Anyone know what it is? Thanks.   [Click on image for larger version.] Posted Monday, August 3, 2015 by Dan   Post a Reply  Email a reply

A. I suspect this is an 'oil cup' or 'grease cup' lubricator used on a steam locomotive crosshead or side rod bearings in the late 1800's. The Link has a really outstanding line diagram of an 1899 steam locomotive with almost all of the parts numbered and ID'ed. You can click on the diagram to enlarge it many times to get close looks at the various parts. Just below the number 100, on top of the crosshead (#96), (but unfortunately not identified separately) you will see a device which looks a lot like yours, but with its cap in place which is missing from yours. Similar ones are sold today for live steam models and steam threshing machines; usually the more recent ones use a transparent casing so the oil or grease supply can be checked visually.  Link 1  Posted Tuesday, August 4, 2015 by RJMc

A. Some web searching turned up lots of photos of Virginia and Truckee steam engines which used cup lubricators on their side rod bearings and the crossheads. The Link is one of a very good series of pix of Nevada RR Museum #25; in this pic you can clearly see the shiny brass lubricator cups above the pin bearings. In other pix of the series you can see that this engine had 3 cups on the crosshead guides, 2 cups on the main bearing pin, and one each on the other pins. Looking at the fairly long threads on the bottom of yours, it probably unscrewed itself due to vibration and fell off, rather than being broken off, but that's just speculation.  Link 1  Posted Tuesday, August 4, 2015 by RJMc