Unusual collectibles hold fascination for many. Certainly barbed wire and brick collecting would be in this classification. There are some who specialize in aspects of transportation, such as railroads. Some collectors have a very wide variety of memorabilia, including tokens and date nails.
What is a date nail? A date nail is a nail about three inches long with a head about three-fourths inches wide—either round or square. A number, such as "16" or "46, ' is stamped onto the head. These nails were driven into railroad ties to mark the date the ties were laid. Various factors cause ties to rot out at different rates. Some of the conditions are the time of year the wood was cut, the stand of trees involved and how well the ties were coated. The ties were generally laid in sections from three to seven miles long. Some ties last as long as or longer than forty years. Usually, nails from these ties are very rusty and must be cleaned for display. An accepted procedure is to soak the date nails in a thirty percent mixture of muriatic acid (hydrochloric acid) for the time necessary, clean them with a brush and, then, to prevent any further oxidation or rusting, to coat the nails with a clear varnish or equivalent coating. These date nails were important in maintaining a definite record to help assure identification. In Indiana the date nails were often driven into the end of the tie. while in Pennsylvania they were usually located in the middle.
The numbers "16" and "46" represent the years 1916 and 1946. These were approximately the first year and the last year that the date nails were used extensively. There are date nails dated as recently as 1957, some of which I received from Pennsylvania. The first date nails were used about 1913. Date nails were used throughout the country and generally by all the railroads. There are no special codes for location or railroad line, that I am aware of; they just simply have a number marked on the head—sometimes raised and occasionally recessed. Some collectors indicated their interest by including date nails on their business card. Surely date nails are unusual collectibles.
( article from unknown periodical by Ron Anjard 1989 )