The Stubby Shadow Set---Solved?

by Jeff Oaks (from the Spring 2000 Nailer News)

        The Shadow Set section of my book Date Nails and Railroad Tie Preservation begins on page 347 of Volume II.  There I define what it is I am talking about:  "A shadow set is a set of nails, found in second hand ties, which were clearly used by the same railroad.  Further, the railroad which originally used the nails is unknown.  Often when a branch of a railroad was abandoned, the usable ties were sold to other railroads, usually short lines.  These ties have the nails of the original owners.''
        This has always been confusing to collectors, but if you ever walk shortlines in the Northeast, you will immediately come face to face with these odd sets.  The group I want to write about now is the Stubby Shadow Set, so named because the 11-17 of the set are stubbies (they have short, fat shanks---1 3/4 x 5/16).  Here is the list of nails in the set:

Stubby shadow set
1 3/4 x 5/16  rnd  I              stl (01) 11-15
1 3/4 x 5/16  rnd  I              stl (05) 16,17
2 1/2 x 1/4    sqr  I              stl (07) 18
   and possibly
2 1/2 x 1/4    rnd  R             stl (07) 19,24
2 1/2 x 1/4    rnd  I              stl (07) 25,25:d,26:c

These nails have been found on no less than eight different railroads, and all from second hand ties.  Steve Worboys and I have pulled hundreds of these nails form ties cast off the embankments on decrepit or abandoned little railroads.  For me the biggest unsolved nail mystery has been the origin of these nails.  What line originally used them?  Until now we only had some circumstantial evidence on which to base a guess.

Our first guess
        Here is a rundown on what was known up to the beginning of this year:
        Since no major railroad used this set of nails, Steve and I guessed that they came from a shortline RR or an electric interurban line which splurged on high-quality treated ties in the teens.  We found a candidate:  The Rochester, Syracuse & Eastern.  I'll explain why the RS&E seemed like a good candidate below.
        Like most shadow sets, the ties in which they are found were all re-inserted on a shortline in the same year.  The Fonda, Johnstown & Gloversville redated second hand ties with their own date nails, and ties with the Stubby Shadow Set nails are found there with 1933 FJ&G nails.  Thus the ties arrived in 1933 or shortly before.
        What does this mean?  It means that whatever railroad originally used the stubby nails was either abandoned, or abandoned quite a few miles of track in the early 1930's.  In those years no railroad was about to sell on the open market usable crossties which they themselves certainly needed.
        In reading a history of the Rochester, Syraqcuse & Eastern, I found that they purchased creosoted ties for some years, but later they reverted to untreated ties.  The line was abandoned in 1931.  So the treatment was right, and the year of abandonment was about right.  But I believe now that our guess was wrong.

The Public Service Railway Company of New Jersey
        Most of you have probably overlooked the two short paragraphs I devote to this company in my book (Volume II, page 270).  It is so short I can quote it here in full:

        This electric interurban line was the first railroad to test ties treated with water gas tar, in 1910.  They used water gas tar treated ties at least through 1914, and as of 1921 they had inserted about 500,000 of them.  They had records for 24,000 from 1911 through 1914. ['21, 118-119]
        "The treatment received by all these ties was a full-cell treatment of ten pounds per cubic foot.''  The ties were treated at a commercial plant beginning 1911. "Each tie has a dating nail showing the year of treatment.'' [AREA '17, 1274-1277]  There are photos of sections of two ties in [AREA '17] which clearly show date nails.  One seems to be an 11, and both appear to be located outside the rail.  The ties were cut, and it is not very clear which end was the original end of the tie.
I had two sources for this information:  an article in the 1917 Proceedings of the AREA (American Railway Engineering Association), and some statistics in the 1921 volume of the AWPA (American Wood-Preservers' Association).  Recently I acquired a copy of the 1917 AREA volume.
        When I made massive amounts of photocopies of old railroad engineering journals in 1995, I occasionally missed a page.  One important one was [AREA '17, 1271], the first page of the 1917 article.  Here is a quote from that page:  "The Public Service Company [began] using straight water-gas tar oil in treating a majority of their ties, beginning in 1911.  For the first year their ties were treated by a commercial plant, but since that date some of them have been treated at the plant of the United Gas Improvement Company, Philadelphia, PA.''
        So the 1910 date which I got from the 1921 table is wrong.  The Public Service Company began using treated ties and date nails in 1911.
        In 1917 printing techniques were responsible for uneven quality in photographic reproduction.  In the copy of the 1917 volume in the Indiana State Library I could make out the 1911 date nail in one picture, but the nail in the other photo was illegible.  In the copy I have now the photos are much better.  One clearly shows a stubby 11, and I can see that the other is an 11, also.  The stubby 11 is a rare nail.  The only other railroad known to have used it is the Chicago & Northwestern, and that line is certainly not the source of the shadow set.
        So the case for the Public Service Company looks really good.  I wanted to double check by finding out if this trolley line abandoned a big branch in the early 1930's.  I borrowed a history of the line through interlibrary loan, and I find they were abandoning branches continually into the 1950's! There were some branches removed in the early 1930's, so this check was inconclusive.  Even if I found that a specific, big branch was torn out in, say, 1932, it would only lend plausability to the argument.  After all, in the early thirties hundreds of interurbans were reducing their mileage.

Public Service date nails
        One intersting feature of the nails found in the stubby shadow set is that many are located between the rails, and many outside the rail.  Most railroads stuck with one spot in the tie, and it may be that the position of the stubbies held some significance.
        In the two photos of half-ties in [AREA '17],  I still cannot tell which end is the original end of the tie.  For example, the nail in one photo is to the left of where the rail was.  If the original end of the tie were on the left, the nail is outside the rail.  If it were on the right, the nail is between the rails.  It wouldn't mean much if I could tell anyway, since the location of the nail could be either way.
        Another interesting item:  six ties on the Arcade \& Attica, each with stubby 16's, had screw spikes in the same face.  These are much smaller than the screw spikes used by the DL&W, lending further evidence that the original user was an interurban.
        The Public Service Company redated their own ties.  We have found a few ties with two stubbies of different date, like a 14 and a 17.
        What about the non-stubbies in the list?  The 18 is securely attributed to the set for the following reasons:  (1) it frequently turns up near ties with stubbies, (2) like the stubbies, it can be found both between the rails and outside the rail, (3) On the FJ&G 18's are found with FJ&G 33's, like stubbies, and (4) it has not been found on any short line where stubbies have not also been found.  (2) and (3) are particulary convincing.
        We have found only two 19's from the set.  One was found lying on a tie at the siding in Ontario, NY where 25 stubbies were found in 1982.  Not to be one to declare "it guilty by association'', I thought of it as one of those random nails which turns up every once in a while.  But then Steve found another one, outside the rail, on the Arcade & Attica, again amongst stubbies.  We still aren't sure on this one, but it seems like a PSC nail.
        On the Arcade & Attica a rnd I (07) 25 was found in the same tie as a sqr I (07) 18.  The latter is a shadow nail.
        On the FJ&G, where stubbies are found with 1933 nails, the following were also found with a 33:  rnd R (07) 24, rnd I (07) 26:c.
        Now on the A&A there are many round raised (07) dates from the later 20's which are found both between the rails and outside the rails---all in the same pile of discards.  These might also belong to the set.  But by this point we are in the peat bog of speculation, and no more needs to be said.  If we get any more info on the set, it may come from the literature, not the abandoned roadbed of some shortline.

One of the photos from [AREA '17, 1275].  The original photo is a lot clearer than this scan. The date nail is hard to see here---it is just below the tag, slightly to the left.  This photo was printed upside down---note the two 4 x 4's supporting the tie from above!  Also, you can tell that the ties had no tie plates by the wear of the rail on the tie.

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