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Rensselaer Iron Company 50 lb./yd. CPRR Rail, 1864.
Courtesy Charles Sweet.

RIC RailRensselaer Iron Company CPRR 50 lb./yd. Rail, 1864
Rensselaer Iron Company CPRR 50# Rail, 1864.

This pear-shaped Central Pacific Railroad rail was found on an old original settlement ranch 60 miles south of Battle Mountain, Nevada (the Vaughn Ranch).  The siding on the Nevada Central Narrow Gauge (1879-1938) named “Vaughn” was shown on the N.C.N.G. 1881 timetable at the point nearest the Vaughn Ranch, 30 miles north of Austin, Nevada (the southern terminus of the N.C.N.G.).

Advertisement for Rensselaer Iron Company Rail, 1860
Advertisement for Iron Rail by a CPRR supplier, 1860.
(From Varum, Henry.
Poor’s History of the Railroads and Canals of the United States of America.
New York:  John H. Schultz & Co., 1860.  pp. 622.)

The 50 pound/yard Central Pacific rail in conjunction with the 35#/yd. iron rail used on the Nevada Central (bought used in 1879) were used as ridge poles for roof support on the stone outbuildings on the Vaughn ranch site.  The ranch is still occupied by the Vaughn family at present (July, 1999).  The rail sections, ranging in length from 10’ to 15’, aggregately totaled about 50’ and had brands of “R.I.C. 64” and “R.I.C. 66” (Rensselaer Iron Co., 1864 and 1866).  Rensselaer Iron Company was located at Troy, New York.  The 1864 rail shown above was probably laid on the summit of the Sierra Nevada rail mainline of the Central Pacific in 1865-66.  That section was relaid with 50 and 60 # steel “T” rail (in the period of 1871-78) as shown by the 1887 valuation report.

The piece of rail shown above was next to one of the “R.I.C. 64” brands which were repeated every 6’ or so on each rail section.

Rubbing of Brand from Rensselaer Iron Company CPRR 50 lb./yd. Rail, 1864
Pencil rubbing from the "RIC 64" brand
next to the section pictured above

This pear-shaped is clearly shown in the photo on pages 186-187 of Meyer and Vose’s Makin’ Tracks, New York: Praeger Publishing Co., 1975 taken on May 9, 1869, at Promontory Summit, Utah Territory.

An “R.I.C. 64” branded section which is identical to the section shown above (but 6’ long), now resides in the vault at the Golden Spike National Historic Site Visitor Center at Promontory Summit, Utah.  (That section was donated by Charles Sweet to the National Historic Site; they provide a trailer, truck, and driver to haul the 50’ of rail from Nevada — a 900 mile round trip.)

1) The rail cross-section and pencil rubbing are both displayed at life size at 72 dpi.
2) Chris Graves reports (8/12/2002):  "I had a most pleasant telephone conversation with Lynn Farrar [formerly, historian of the SPRR] this evening, re: the 50 lb rail found a few weeks ago in Colfax, Cal.  Lynn said to the best of his knowledge, NO RIC 64  50 lb. rail was purchased by the CPRR in 1863 or 1864.  Lynn said that he would 'suppose' that the rail found in Colfax, as well as the 50 lb. RIC 64 found at Vaughn Siding, Nevada, came from a predessor railroad in the Bay Area — San Francisco and Alameda; San Francisco and San Jose; or the Western Pacific.  Because the iron rail was not sturdy enough for the CPRR, the original rail was replaced early on, the 50 lb. rail at Colfax, he thought, probably was used a siding.
3)  Ed Strobridge writes (8/12/2002) "I don't know if you can reconcile the two pieces of rail you have as they appear to be of the same rail weight and certainly not 60#.  Here are a few observations for what they may be worth.  (RIC 64 = Rensselaer Iron Co., rolled in 1864 at Troy, NY).  First, neither cross section of rail you show are 60# rail.  So far as I have learned all the rail in Nevada originally laid by the Central Pacific was 56#/yd.  One must be very careful in establishing the original weight as rail based on an old corroded and well worn piece.  ...  Here is a tip that I learned  a long time ago from Lynn Farrar.  If you will carefully measure the perimeter of the cross section of iron rail with a planimeter and determine the square inches and then multiply by 10 you will come up with the APPROXIMATE weight per yard of rail.  The only way to determine the original weight  for sure would require seeing the purchase or shipping records which may be in the CSRR Museum at Sacramento if it had been purchased by the CP.  From what information I have collected the first record of RIC rail purchased for the Central Pacific was for 500 tons in 1865 and that would have been not less than 56lbs/yd but more likely 60-66#/yd at that early date and then would have required chairs for joining the rails.  There would have been no bolt holes for fish plates as that did not occur until the track reached Coldstream Canyon on the eastern slope of the Sierra.  The first Western Pacific rail purchased from RIC was for 'twenty miles' of 50# rail in 1865 and that was laid on the Western Pacific later to be acquired by the Central Pacific.  It was common then as it is today to 'cascade' rail from one place to another when mainline rail was being upgraded.  The lighter rail was used for anything from fence posts to side track and was often sold to others for whatever use it could be put to.  Stanford sold 20,000 tons of Iron rail in the 1870's to the Pacific Rolling Mill in San Francisco who re-rolled it as lighter rail, usually 40-45 lb. rail that was used on many of the narrow gauge railroads built in the West.  The fact that a piece of rail was found 130 years after it was originally laid has no bearing on where it was originally installed or where it came from.  It would be my guess that both pieces of rail you have were never originally purchased by the Central Pacific but could have come from one of their predecessor railroads acquired early on.  I don't know where Vaughn Ranch, Nevada is and if it is not on the original CP then the rail could have come from anywhere.  To me, it would be suspect that either of the two pieces of rail you have were used on the CP until after the final acceptance by Congress that the CP had met all requirements of the 1862 Railroad Act and that would have been after 1870.  The 1887 Senate Railroad Hearings listed a few locations where original Iron rail was still in the mainline track as late as 1887 but it is all listed as "56#" rail with no record of the brand.  I have a piece of 'BSI 63' (Bay State Iron Co.) calculated to weigh 64#/yd. It is 3 1/2 " tall and very heavy in the web and flange.  It does not look like either piece you have.  The 56# CP rail I have is  3 3/4"  tall but much lighter in the web and flange, the rail head is of a different shape and unlike either of the two pieces you have.


Surprisingly, the 1864 RIC rail shown above was not the oldest rail ultimately used in the construction of the Central Pacific Railroad — but for a time there was considerable doubt whether some recycled 1859 RIC rail that had been purchased by Judah for another railroad could later be reused to meet the legal requirement for desperately needed American manufactured rail, when that Rensselaer Iron Works rail became embroiled in ...

The Placer County Railroad War

by G. J. Graves

The Placer County, California Railroad War is one source of 52-pound-to-the-yard construction iron rail used on the Central Pacific Railroad.  The story of that conflict follows:

The history begins in 1853, after Charles Lincoln Wilson (for whom the City of Lincoln, California is named) was made President of the Sacramento Valley Rail Road.  Mr. Wilson traveled to the East, and hired Theodore Judah to be Chief Engineer of the proposed railroad.  Judah had one brother already in California, and his second brother, Henry Moses Judah, was either in California or on his way to California, so he had several reasons to welcome the California challenge.  Judah arrived in California in May, 1854, where he immediately went to work.  Shortly, he announced that a railroad could be constructed between Sacramento and Negro Bar (now known as Folsom) for some $33,000 per mile.

Grading under contract began on the Sacramento Valley Rail Road in February, 1855; there were already two railroads operating in California, one in Placer County and one in San Francisco, however these railroads were powered by horses or oxen and were not commercially viable.

East of Sacramento, during the grading of the Sacramento Valley Rail Road, gold was found near Negro Bar.  With the found gold, Judah apparently had a jeweler make a ring, as he was showing off that ring and the engraving "Sac. Valley Rail Road, March 4, 1855."  (There are conflicting reports of the date on the ring, one report has the date of March 25th, which was Judah's birthday.)  Judah left the employ of the Sacramento Valley Rail Road between October 8, 1855 and February, 1856; records are not clear as to the exact date.  In February, 1856, Theodore Judah returned to the East.

In April, 1858,  Judah went to work for the California Central Railroad, which was to run between Folsom and Marysville.  Twenty miles North of Folsom, the town of Lincoln was founded. If you were to visit the City of Lincoln today, you will find a brass plaque in front of the fire station in downtown Lincoln telling the story of Charles Lincoln Wilson.  Rails reached Lincoln in October, 186l.

In 1858, perhaps while in the employ of the California Central Railroad, Judah began looking for a railroad route between Lincoln and Auburn, a distance of some 15 miles; Judah would be a principal in this railroad, to be called the California Eastern Extension.  Perhaps not content with his railroad earnings, Judah purchased 480 acres for a townsite near Gold Hill, some seven miles East of Lincoln.  This town was to be called Centralia.  The California Eastern Extension Railroad would run near the Auburn Ravine, between the present Wise Road and Virginiatown Road.  In October, 1859, while in the East acting as the agent of the San Francisco Railroad Convention, Judah bought 550 tons of 52-pounds-to-the-yard rail from the Rensselaer Iron Co. of Troy, New York.  While  a teenager, Judah had attended the Rensselaer Academy [now the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, CPRR attorney and director Edwin Bryant Crocker (brother of Charles Crocker) also attended], so he may be been known to the Rensselaer Iron Co.

When Judah returned to California, he was unable to find financing for his railroad,  he therefore was unable to pay for the rail that had arrived in San Francisco.  That rail stayed in San Francisco until it was purchased by Lester Robinson, to be used for the construction of a portion of yet another railroad, this to be called the Sacramento, Placer and Nevada Railroad.  This new venture was to run from Ashland Station, (just across the American River from Folsom) to Auburn, a distance of some 19 miles.  That railroad, when constructed, would run somewhat along a line parallel to the present Auburn-Folsom Road.  The railroad never reached its destination; funds for construction ran out, rails stopped at the current intersection of Auburn Folsom Road and King Road, known locally as Brennans Corners, some six miles short of the City of Auburn.  The town that sprang up was called Auburn Station, it consisted of a hotel, blacksmith shop, livery stable, saloon and the railroad depot and warehouse.  The site can be viewed today just West of the Placer County Fire Station at Auburn-Folsom Road and King Road.

Grading began on the Sacramento, Placer and Nevada Railroad in August, 1861; the first rail was laid in April 1862; trains ran from Ashland Station to Auburn Station beginning in September, 1862. For a variety of reasons, the Sacramento, Placer and Nevada Railroad didn't survive; in May 1864, when the Central Pacific Railroad reached Newcastle (a point just 3 miles from Auburn Station) the Sacramento, Placer and Nevada Railroad was abandoned; dismantling began in June, 1864.

The Central Pacific Railroad had a need for rail, as the did the Sacramento Valley Rail Road, as the Sacramento Valley was building to Placerville.  Because the Sacramento, Placer and Nevada Railroad had American made rail, that rail could be used for the building of the Transcontinental Railroad.  Accordingly, both the Placerville and Sacramento Valley Railroad and the Central Pacific wanted the rail formerly used by the Sacramento, Placer and Nevada.

At the current intersection of Moss Lane and Auburn-Folsom Road a Welsh quarryman, Griffith Griffith, had a quarry that used the Sacramento, Placer and Nevada Railroad to haul his granite to job sites in Sacramento and San Francisco.  To forestall the Placerville and Sacramento Valley from taking the rail, the Central Pacific persuaded Griffith Griffith to sue the Sacramento, Placer and Nevada Railroad against the abandonment of the railroad. Griffith obtained a court order to stop this abandonment on June 15, 1864.

Late in the night  of July 2, 1864, the Placerville and Sacramento Valley Railroad disobeyed the court order and began taking up the rail.  The Placer County Sheriff, hearing of this activity, went to the end of track at Auburn Station and arrested some track workers.  The Sheriff left a few deputies on the scene to preserve the rail and order.  On July 9, 1864, deputies on the scene observed Placerville and Sacramento Valley Railroad workers again taking up rail that was once used by the Sacramento, Placer and Nevada Railroad.  When the deputies attempted to stop the lifting of the rail, warrants were served on the deputies from the Lincoln Justice of the Peace, charging the deputies with disturbing the peace and carrying concealed weapons.  As the deputies were taken to the Lincoln Justice Court, the rail lifting continued.

The Sheriff at Auburn called out the Auburn Greys, a local militia.  A group of militia and civilians went to where the work was being done, and found a large group of workers taking up the rail.  A struggle ensued, a shot was fired,  some arrests were made; the workers returned to Folsom, and the rail was safe for the time being.

The California Supreme Court got involved in just a few days — the upshot was the Placerville and Sacramento Valley Railroad once again began taking up the rail for use on its line between Folsom and Placerville, depriving the Central Pacific of the rail.

By the end of July, 1864, the Placerville and Sacramento Valley Railroad had all the rail they needed, the Central Pacific kept building towards the East, and the Placer County Railroad War was history.  The Central Pacific began  operations to Auburn in May, 1865, perhaps using what was left of the 52 pound iron from the Sacramento, Placer and Nevada Railroad on its sidetracks.

Portions of the old Sacramento, Placer and Nevada Railroad grade can still be seen along Auburn-Folsom Road; the E. Clampus Vitus have erected a monument to the railroad on its old grade near the current Folsom Dam.

Between the Placerville and Sacramento Valley Railroad and the Central Pacific Railroad, the old grade was completely cleaned of rails, spikes, chairs, and other equipment.  A search of the old grade today, (November, 2000) will not yield a single piece of iron from the right-of-way.

A housing development is currently under construction at the old Griffith Quarry, and this part of our history is nearly forgotten.

Notes:  (1) the BSI Co. 1863 from Boston is the oldest CPRR rail, the RIC 1864 would be next in line, with the RIC 1859 rail being used later on the CPRR;  (2) Federal Law required that the minimum weight had to be 56 lb. rail;  an 1887 report records that lesser weight rail was used on sidings;  (3) Edwin Crocker, retired Supreme Court Justice, acted as the attorney for Griffith Griffith when the injunction was sought against the dismantling of the SP&N.  Edwin Crocker, of course, was on the board of the CPRR, and the brother of Charles Crocker.  CPRR employees were active in attempting to keep the SP&N iron on the ground during the court battle.

"The Placer County Railroad War," Courtesy G.J. Graves, with contributions by Wendell Huffman.

Original rail from Sacramento Yard, SPRR
"Original 50 lb. iron rail laid in Sacramento yard about the time
of the original construction of Central Pacific. Dug up during
excavation for stripping pit, Sacramento, during May 1935." —SPRR
G.J. Graves speculates that this was "originally from an early Bay Area RR,
which, when purchased, furnished light weight rail to the CPRR for use in the rail yards."

Lantern Slide Image Courtesy G.J. Chris Graves, Carol Graves, & Mead Kibbey.


Compare this 1869 "T" rail with the "Pear" rail above.
CPRR T-Rail, Ogden, 1869
"Original Central Pacific Rail, Laid Ogden Utah 1869, Presented by Ogden Chamber of Commerce"
Digital image presentation courtesy Bruce C. Cooper.

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