Nail Notes--November, 1999

I sent out Nail Notes November 15, 16, and 22.

Subject:  Nail notes
Date:  Mon, 15 Nov 1999 16:02:45 -0600
From:  Jeff Oaks <>
Organization:  University of Indianapolis

At long last here is the next installment of the shadow nail club---Nail Notes.  I have been really busy, so with the exception of the first, these items have been piling up on my desk over the past couple months.

I found John Evans!

**details tomorrow**

A parital reprint of Date Nails Complete

Ron Featherston recently acquired through a web auction a copy of a nail book.  I quote Ron:

"The title is STEEL RAILROAD DATE NAILS.  Subtitled "1976 Prices" 1999 Edition  Compiled By Train Focus of America

"The book is not very well published, but informative nonetheless.  It is basically xeroxed typewriter copy, comb-bound, 8.5 x 5.5.  Parts are hard to read because of the copy and each page has a number of words that lost a few letters on the end during copying.  So someone wrote them in by hand.  It's quite sloppy.  It's mostly AREA proceedings and graphic illustrations of the nails.  However, it is informative as I knew little of date nails other than what they were used for.  I'm still planning on purchasing your 3 volume book.

<Ron then included the names and addresses of Wiswell and Evans which appears also in DNC.>

Ron Featherston"

After comparing pages between Date Nails Complete and this new book, it seems that Train Focus of America has republished in a sloppy way only part of Wiswell's and Evans' book.  The 1999 book has only 88 pages compared with 350 for DNC.

Who is Train Focus of America????

In the Nailer News

I just got the Fall 1999 Nailer News.  If you want it too, you need to join the TDNCA.  Ask me for details.

Charles Sebesta wrote an article on the Southern Pacific 0 and 1, which are most likely code nails.  Many collectors still say they are dates, but I agree with Charles that the evidence, though not 100% conclusive, points to them being code nails used about the 1920's.

John Bergmeier has a couple articles.  One is on a nail hunt in Canada, and the other is titled "Thoughts on collecting, Part One".

Despite his passing away nine years ago, Glenn Wiswell has an article.  It is a reprint from the March 1979 Railfan, and is called "Collecting Date Nails".

Rolland Meyers has two pieces, one on the SP 42's I wrote about in Nail Notes before, the other on Milwaukee Road C-rim nails.

John Iacovino has a couple short articles on various topics, and Larry Fister has a half page on cleaning nails.

As usual, my articles occupy a lot of room.  I have a 3 page piece on the Monon set, and a five page piece on various topics.

Rolland Meyers is at it again...

This time he has found a variation on the SP Western 36.  There is a large date and a small date.  The small date is more common.  Rolland sent them to me, and I am sending them to Tom Meyer for photos.

The mysterious "T"

Do you remember the round raised T I wrote about last time?  (see enclosed photos).  It turns out that Al Byers' nail is the same as the T in Charles Sebesta's collection.  Charles has the C, I, T, X, and Y.  Some of these have a blunt point, but others a sharp point. They are definitely type (37), and they are from Canada.  Most likely they are from poles.  The nails have shanks identical to date nails from the 1950's, so the letters probably date from the same period.

Errata for my book Date Nails and Railroad Tie Presaervation

Volume I, page 151.
     The Colorado & Southern 16 through 18 have 1/4+ shanks, not 11/40.  I measured a couple of these from Charles Sebesta's collection, and they are .260" thick.  That is closer to 1/4" than 11/40".  I got the 11/40 measurement because Arn Kriegh mailed me his 18.  It was rusty, so I probably got a bad measurement then.
     This change of course should be made in the photo section and in the reverse listing, but probably it is too insignificant for most of you to bother with.

Volume III, page 129.
     Code set #34 is (07) not (18).  I typed in the wrong WESIS type.

Volume III, page 132.
     Code set #43.  I got a 2 from Charles Sebesta, and it is 2" long, not 2 1/4".  Do these nails also come in 2 1/4" lengths as well?

Volume III, page 145.
     The second type (05) 12 at the bottom of the page is probably 2 1/2" and has a square shank.  Can anyone verify this for me?

A third printing

I am nearly out of the second printing of 100 copies of my book, and shortly I will be issuing a third printing.  This one will have many minor corrections in all three volumes.  There is no need you to buy the third printing if you already have a copy of my book.  If you have followed the errata you have up-to-date info.

Cleaning nails

Some people have asked about cleaning nails, and a few of you have responded.  The most common method is to let the nails soak in a jar of vinegar overnight.  Larry Fister warns not to put lead tags in the vinegar or they will disintegrate.  I have cleaned several nails over the past month with vinegar, and it does a great job.

But note that many collectors do not like cleaned nails, so leave your extras dirty.  Also, cleaned nails are in danger of rusting over later, so protect them in some way.  Rolland Meyers sprays them with WD-40.

Jeff Oaks
Dept. of Mathematics
University of Indianapolis
1400 E. Hanna Ave.
Indianapolis, IN 46237

Subject:  Nail Notes
Date:  Tue, 16 Nov 1999 10:11:08 -0600
From:  Jeff Oaks <>
Organization:  University of Indianapolis

Yesterday's notes continued...

I found John Evans!

Glenn Wiswell and John Evans, both of the New York City area, wrote the book Date Nails Complete in 1976.  It served nail collectors as the best book on the hobby until my book was published earlier this year.  John moved to Chicago in the late 70's and he dropped out of the nail club. Glenn died in 1990, just the time I was staring my book.  I knew that those two had a lot of knowledge about nails---in reading over their book and their notes I found myself with many questions I would like to ask them, but how was I to track down a guy named John Evans in Chicago???

On Saturday I searched eBay listings for "dat* nail*" as usual to find new e-mail addresses of collectors.  There I saw Item #199541201 ---"Date Nails Complete - the catalog - 350 pgs".  I recognized the seller as John Evans, and I wrote to him.  It turns out that he found the copy of DNC at his mother's house, and he is putting it up for bids on eBay.  The price so far is $31.00.

Here is a quote from John's first note to me:

"Glenn died about 10 years ago. He worked like a dog to get this book started. He worked for GAF and got us discounts on the black & white film and the developing. I did the photography and he did the typesetting.  I haven't pulled a nail in 15 years. I would be glad to answer any of your questions but I have forgotten a lot since the time I was active. It was my idea to list the nails by manufacturer rather than RR, but at the time most collectors disapproved of this approach. I spent a lot of time cross-referencing them on the computer at my job with American Airlines. Of course it was a great benefit to my date nail collecting to have free air travel. Every weekend I would fly to another location in search of new finds."

Wouldn't YOU like to have flown around to pull nails in the early 70's?  In those days most track had never been walked and nails were plentiful.

John also helped me narrow down the location of the Chesapeake & Ohio test section in West Virginia which Wiswell stumbled on in the early 70's.

The Spring nail show

The Texas Date Nail Collectors Association is holding its Spring show in Kerrville, TX.  Here are the details.

March 17-18, 2000

Inn of the Hills
1001 Junction Highway
Kerrville, TX 78028

Exhibitor/Table set up at 5:00 PM, Thursday evening, March 16
Show hours:  Friday, March 17---8 AM to 6 PM
Saturday, March 18---8 AM to 1 PM.

Awards and Door Prizes presented at 12:30 PM Saturday.

Cost per table:  $25.00

Show host:  John Haifley, 1921 Summit Top Dr., Kerrville, TX 78028-3034
(830) 257-4943.  e-mail:

Motels/Hotels:  Inn of the Hills (210) 895-5000 or (800) 292-5690

The TDNCA has sponsored two shows a year since 1971.  I hosted the Spring 1999 show, and it went really well.

Back issues of Nail Notes

For those of you who are new, I can e-mail you back issues of Nail Notes.  I have them going back to August.  Anything before that would have to be photocopied and mailed with an actual envelope and stamp.  Let me know if you want back issues.

As always, if you have any comments, questions, or stories to relate, write to me.  If you no longer want to receive these Nail Notes I'll remove your address from the list---for a fee.  (Of course I'm kidding!)


Jeff Oaks
Dept. of Mathematics
University of Indianapolis
1400 E. Hanna Ave.
Indianapolis, IN 46237

Subject:  Nail Notes
Date:  Mon, 22 Nov 1999 14:38:09 -0600
From:  Jeff Oaks <>
Organization:  University of Indianapolis

Date nails on eBay

I have noticed that many dealers on eBay do not know much about their nails.  I write to some of them explaining what they have.  For instance, I wrote to one seller that his (her?) nails are from the Louisviulle and Nashville, and that the single digit nails are codes for numbering switches, not dates.  This one responded positively, and changed the description.

Others do not respond at all, like the seller of the current Item #201687259 (Railroad Date Nails 1900-1993 Complete Set).  I wrote to him that many of the "dates" 0-9 are really code nails, and that the nails from the 70's to the 90's are really from utility poles.  I have sent this info to each bidder also, so at least the buyer will have been warned that the nails are not all dates, and are not all from railroads.

Sometimes bids get too high, as is the case with Item #202670622 (SANTA FE RR DATE NAILS (RARE/EARLY)).  These are four diamond Santa Fe nails: 4, 5, 6, and 8.  At nail shows these sell for about a dollar each, and the current price of the lot is $20.50 plus shipping!

And then there is Item #203721638 (Railroad nails from 1899 thru 1969). The seller says that all the dates have two digits, which means he has a 99, 00, 01, etc.  But is the 99 really a 66 upside down?  Or is it a 1999 pole nail and not an 1899 railroad nail?  Almost surely he has no 99, 00, or 01.  I'm waiting to hear back from him.

The description of this last lot is completely wrong:  "Used in cross ties to determine when to replace the nails.   Each nail has the last two digits of the year in which the ties needed replacement."  That is incorrect.  Of course the date is the year the ties were PUT IN (or treated), not when they are to be taken out!  And they were put in ties so that when a tie was removed for rot or mechanical wear, they would know how old it was.  No tie was ever removed because of its age!

So here are two tips:  If you want to know more about an eBay lot, or you want some verification that the nails are what the seller says they are, e-mail me and I will get back to you quickly.  I am constantly monitoring eBay for e-mail addresses so I can advertise my book, the nail club, and the e-mail Nail Notes.

Second tip:  Since very few of the nails I have seen on eBay are rare, you will do much better by buying or trading directly with other collectors.  I can put anyone interested in contact with some folks who have thousands of extra nails.   For starters, write to Don Blake, at PO Box 531811, Grand Prairie, TX 75053.  Russ Olsen, at 1098 Emerson Ave., Muskegon, MI 49442 also has lots of extra nails.  Both of these collectors have advanced collections, so if you are a beginner you will be buying, not trading with them.  The best way to get nails is to join the Texas Date Nail Collectors Association and respond to the ads in Nailer News!

A mystery nail

Doug Cummins, in Independence, MO, has quite a few of the following:

2 1/2 x 1/8+ rnd R         stl (07) 23

This nail is not in my book.  I have no record of any railroad having used it.  The Wabash 23 is only 1 1/2".  All of Doug's nails are unused, so their source will probably remain unknown.  If you want one, Doug will mail you a 23 for a dollar, post paid.  The price per nail probably goes way down with quantity.  His address is:

J. Douglas Cummins
1146 W. 27th
Independence, MO 64052
FAX: 816-836-0903

Some nailing stories

Several people have shared their nail finds with me, and I thought I'd include some of them here for you all to see.  If you have a story to share, send it to me.

*****From John Evans:

Glenn [Wiswell] and Elaine were friends with me and my first wife.  I knew him through the tournament bridge world(cards).  One night in perhaps 1969 or so they came over to our apartment for dinner and a few hands of bridge.  He said "Do you know the railroad behind your apartment used date nails?"  "What are they?" was my response.  Next thing I know I'm out on the tracks with a flashlight pulling nails.

I might have survived my collecting urge if that was the last incident but about a week later Glenn called and said "Do you want to go to the Delaware Water Gap area(NW NJ) and look for the rare cast iron 10?  It was Labor Day, I was bored and said yes. "Pick you up at 5AM".  5AM! Of course it kept getting even earlier afterwards.

We arrived at an abandoned section of the DLW. The only ties were in a huge pile "over the bank".  It was the hardest work I had ever done, moving 60-80 pound ties looking for the 10. I found one and I was hooked.

Later in nearby areas I found 50 or so of the 10s. They  were good traders and helped me get my collection started.

*****From Rany Lee (


Randy has lots of extras from 26 to about 60, and he is willing to trade.

*****From Bruce Thayer (
Hello Jeff:
     l don't know if l told you or not where l found my nails.. l work for  civil service (navy). l was working out in Portsmouth, NH. We were sight  seeing and one of the guys l was with was taking leak along these tracks and seen the nails.  He had workd for the railroad at one time, so he new what they  were.  And l like to collect things. So now l'll be doing some looking around  here.  l know there are some old lines around here too.  l collect coins,  stamps, national geographic's, cast iron cannons and now nails.  Anyhow, if  you know anybody that lives around Conway, NH., tell them about this old  abandon railway line.  We got about 100 yards of tracks pulled. There was a  nail in every tie. And l don't know how far it goes. So it could be a gold  mine for somebody.  The dates were from the 20's to the 50's. l don't know if l will ever get  back out there again. Usually we work mostly on the west coast and Hawaii. l  had just got loan out there for a short time. Just want to say thank you for  all of the info.

*****From Dave Wixom (no e-mail):
I am a collector of some sort of date nails. I am in the electric utility industry and have a small collection of nails that I or co-workers have pulled from power poles.  My nails date from the late 1800s to today.  (Note:   Dave must be mistaken here.  Pole nails don't go back that far.   ---J.) I have an interest in nails, but not devoted to railroad ties. I still have some singles that I would like to double up on and of course many triples or more that I would trade. I want 2 complete collections of the 20th century for my 2 children and will be willing to investigate any material out there that will help me.
     Dave Wixom
     3130 Sunrise Circle
     Canon City, Co. 81212

*****From Joe Lewis:
In the summer of '67, while hunting old insulators, I discovered the Rock Island line between Bridgeport and Graham, Texas.  (I was 15 years
old with a drivers license and my own barbed wire business.)  Almost every tie on the line held a square indented 12.  Those ties that didn't, held 09s.  I pulled a few gallons and came back for more in the next days.  I thought this source of nails would be there "forever".  The next summer, all the nails were gone.  The line was stripped clean. In '71 George Hull and I prospected on the line for a couple of days and only came up with 10 or 12 decent nails.  These all came from ties used near the line for other purposes.

Two oddities from my '67 nail hunting on the Rock Island: a Sante Fe round indent 7 and a double length shank on one of the 12s.  Can you imagine my thoughts:  I had been pulling 12s for a long time, and this nail just keeps coming up and coming on up !!!  Some years later I think I traded it to George Moser, then got it back from him in another swap!

Nails for sale or trade

Neil Becker (Becks@SOSMAIL.STATE.MI.US) had some nails up for sale on eBay (Item #183893965), but they didn't sell.  He will take the first reasonable offer.  The nails are common Big Four or Erie or NYC (I never ID'd them precisely).

Randy Lee ( has quite a few Santa Fe nails for trade.  See his piece above.

If any of you want to place an ad in my Nail Notes, just write to me.  Let's restrict this to collectors buying, selling and trading with other collectors!  I don't do any trading myself:   I personally pulled all the nails in my collection.


Jeff Oaks
Dept. of Mathematics
University of Indianapolis
1400 E. Hanna Ave.
Indianapolis, IN 46237

Subject: More nail notes
Date: Tue, 23 Nov 1999 13:51:09 -0600
From: Jeff Oaks <>
Organization: University of Indianapolis

>From Charles Sebesta (

I have several thousand good date nails to sell/trade.  I will also make
an offer on any collection or accumulation of date nails.

[Charles has the largest collection in the word---over 100,000 nails.
This means he has the largest number of EXTRAS also.  These range from
dirt common to extremely rare.]



I also have a number of extra duplicates I would be glad to trade or
sell from Santa fe, from 20-69, and several variants. I will be
contacting some of these on your list to fill my needs. Know anyone with
a point down 44 pent. I have all the rest, but can't find this one.

[For those of you who don't know, the pentagon-head 44 on the Santa Fe
comes in two styles---point up and point down.  The point down variety
is rare.  The Santa Fe drove pentagon-headed nails into ties and timber
used a second time.]


>From John DeLalla (

Something you might want to include in your next nail notes email. A
short spur (half mile or so) in east Flagstaff, Ariz. (next to the mall)
has been taken out of service, and is being set to be torn up. Just
about every tie has a nail in it, and if someone wants to get some ATSF
57's, here is the place to do it. If your holiday travels bring you
through Flagstaff, plan on an hour break pulling a few nails. I went
over today and pulled about 12, just to trade around and clean up for
little gifts for those I know born in 1957.


And I got a response from the person who claimed to have 99, 00, 01,
etc. on eBay.  He just sent me this note:

Thank you very much for asking the questions, and giving me the "true"
information on the nails.  I have ended the auction, and will be listing
it again correctly, along with all the dates on the nail heads.  They
are not all there, as I was told, and there are some duplicates.  It
will be relisted today under the same title, except there was one nail
with a 96 on it.  There was no 00.

Barry Sanders (

[The 96 is certainly a 1996 pole nail.  The oldest known North American
date nail is a 97 (1897) from the Mississippi River & Bonne Terre, and
it is unique.  Charles Sebesta has it, of course!]


Jeff Oaks
Dept. of Mathematics
University of Indianapolis
1400 E. Hanna Ave.
Indianapolis, IN 46237

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