Sunday, March 27, 2005

Spike Question

From: "Thad Sheldon"

I have searched the internet to find out more information about a particular railroad spike that my father was given when we was young.  The two spikes are from a small section of railroad in/near Illinois that was built by prison workers.  He was told they we Mulehead spikes.  The started out as straight pieces of metal but after pounding, they became flat on top like a flat head or “Mulehead.”   I have seen pictures of a similar spikes at RR museum sites but none that are specific to that area or from the prison workers.  If you have ANY information on these spikes or could direct me to someone who could provide some further assistance, please let me know.  Thank you for your time.

Thad Sheldon


Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...


No idea. That's a new one to me.

3/28/2005 9:03 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...


I've come across "dog spikes", but not "mule spikes". If the person could send a (digital) photo, that would help.


3/28/2005 8:40 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...


Images of the spike

According to my father who was given the spikes by an older man 30 years ago, the spikes were made at a prison and were used in maybe a 2 mile stretch of track and at least some were used close by the prison because they had been hand made there. The old guy said he only knew of one other one for sure, it belonged to the then president of the Rock Island RR in Chicago because he had had it gold plated and had it on his desk (this would be around 1970). They are made of steal and easily distinguished from the imitation ones. My father looked on the map and thinks he might have been working by what is now Priceville on the map as he remembers it as a small town not far from Peoria (Illinois). The old fella also tried to give dad his RR watch, it was a gold-plated Bulova, one of the very first RR watches gold-plated (Rock Island RR). There was no prison by where dad was at the time that he knew of, either it had been closed or was some distance from where he was was working that summer. Hopefully this info and some of these pictures will help. I did not take the pictures so if you'd like to have more taken, we can do that.
Thad Sheldon

3/31/2005 7:34 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

Well, it does help to see the spikes. But I'm afraid the after a perusal of my (admittedly limited) reference material, I'm still not coming up with anything. The head on the spikes is very distinctive.

Also, the "shaping" below the head on the spike in the first views is caused by wear, I think. I note it is absent on the second spike.

I will say that I seriously doubt that just hammering the spike into the tie would produce that head. Now if the spikes were forged, say, in the prison blacksmith shop or forge or some sort of industrial production hammer shop, that I might believe. I think you need to be working hot metal to shape a head like that. Such an operation might well start with bar stock (your "straight piece of metal") and form the head from that. The uniformity of the shape of the two heads (allowing for wear) suggests some production process, and not a custom hand produced item.

At least that is my thought so far.

Kyle K. Wyatt
Curator of History & Technology
California State Railroad Museum

Note my work address has changed to:
My personal address remains:

4/01/2005 7:23 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...


From what I see it looks like there was some kind of mold that the metal was pour into with the spike head being just the leftover metal on the top of the mold. If you look at the sides of the spike head it looks like it was cut. They are flat and uniform. Just what I see from the images.

4/01/2005 7:26 AM  

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