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I Forge Iron

Old railroad rail-wrought iron?


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Hello again all!

While traveling for the job today in Northern Indiana on a country road, my eyes gravitated at an old section of rail sticking out of the ground.  It appears that it was used as a post for some long-torn-down barbed wire fence on farmland.

I stopped to take pictures, and noticed the pitting on the rails, the reddish color to it, and how very short this rail is from top-to-base (see pictures, my hand for scale).

Could this be wrought iron?  Can't cut or spark test in the middle of nowhere, plus it's not my property.  Any thoughts are appreciated!







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Since there is no visible "wood grain" texture to the weathering I would lean towrds it being steel rather than wrought iron.  Steel rails were some of the first large scale products once the Bessemer Converter made steel cheap in the 2d half of the 19th century.  So, iron rails would probably date to 1875 or earlier.  When looking at a long length of rail look on the web about in the middle of a 20-40' piece.  There is often the manufacturer's name and date of manufacture.  I have seen rails dating back to WW1 in active use today on switch tracks.

There are battery operated angle grinders around which make spark testing portable.  I need to get one myself.  I know a place out in the Red Desert of Central Wyoming where old mine cars from the Rock Springs coal mines have been dumped on a dam as rip rap.  They are old enough that the metal may be wrought iron.  I hope to get out there this summer to test it.

"By hammer and hand all arts do stand."

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6 hours ago, George N. M. said:

iron rails would probably date to 1875 or earlier. 

I think you switched the digits, George; the first steel rails were introduced in 1857.

This doesn't help in this case, but wrought iron rails were generally much shorter. If a length of rail is 20 feet or more, it's probably steel.

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John, I picked that date for when I felt that most of the rails were steel.  By 1875 I think almost all rails except remote, little used, older branch lines, would have had steel rails.  During the Civil War some major rail lines in the South still had wooden rails with iron strips laid on the wood.  So, even iron rails would have been an upgrade from that.  Also, remote short lines, such as logging railroads, would have probably bought old, used iron rails at a much cheaper cost than new steel rails.  I know that in the Rocky Mountains that some mine rails, which are much smaller, were iron until late in the 19th century.


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Good Morning,

Almost all Rail has the manufacturing date and weight in the side of the webbing. Rail comes in 10 Yard lengths (30 ft) and the weight is per Yard. Rail rated 90 lbs. is 90 lbs. per yard. Some Main Line and Crane Rail is over 140 lbs. per yard.


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Good morning everyone, doing some additional digging on my own, there used to be a rail line nearby that was opened up in the  1890's, last used in the 1960s, and then formally abandoned in the 1980s. Definitely within the time frame of the Bessemer process.


 I just get excited, hoping to find legitimate wrought iron one day,  I know that it could be purchased online/Ebay, and I was at a flea market yesterday looking at some wagon wheels, but  I didn't want to have to buy a whole antique piece of farm equipment!

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ILove,  This may give you an idea as to what weathered wrought iron might look like.  Notice the fibrous grain/texture on the split end in one picture.  Fine grained WI might not have the striations and weathering patterns.

Wrought iron composite.jpg

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You sometimes find it in unexpected places. I have some WI wheel tires that I snapped up for free when someone near me posted them on Facebook Marketplace. They were part of her late father’s “decor”, and she was giving away all his old “junk”.

On 3/16/2023 at 12:43 AM, George N. M. said:

John, I picked that date for when I felt that most of the rails were steel.

Fair enough. 

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