Thursday, August 04, 2005

Question: "fishplate"

From: "Paul Brinkman"

What is the story behind the term "fishplate" ?
Where and when was this term coined?



Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

The Oxford English Dictionary suggests that the origin is "probably from French fiche, from ficher 'to fix'."

8/04/2005 9:58 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Wendell Huffman"

"Fish plate" has the same meaning whether applied to joining two iron or steel rails together as it does in carpentery for an essentially identical joint. The Oxford English Dictionary traces its use as a nautical term – as in a carpentery joint used in fixing a broken mast or spar – well back into the 17th century. You are welcome to read the full entry in the OED.


8/05/2005 8:17 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...


The term fishplate is an old one, at least to the CP/SP Engineering folks. I cannot tell you when it was first used. A rail on which trains run is for all intents and purposed divided into three parts, namely, a head, a web and a base. This is often termed a "T" rail for whatever reason. The head carries the flanges of locomotives and cars while the base rests on crossties to provide stability for the load the rail carries. The web connects the two and is sometimes referred to as having a "fishing surface". The first "joints" used on the CP were called "chairs" which I would assume came from an earlier joint into which the "neck" of a rail fit, the chair acting in the capacity that the base of a tee rail does. It probably began in England. When the CP reached the summit of the Sierra in 1867/1868 the rails bought by CP Huntington began using what was called a "joint bar" and/or "fish Plate" and was fastened to the rail ends with bolts that passed through the joint bar and the rail. These early "fish plates" were flat pieces of metal. Around the 1890s this type of rail joint was modified to have a projection that fit against the underside of the rail "head" and so was named an "angle bar". Later a heavier type of joint came into use that fit completely around half of the rail, on the underside of the base and also the web, and with two of these, one on each side of the rail, it formed a "continuous" joint and was so-called. Thus the fish plate was the initial joint that provided greater stability than a rail chair and led to still other improvements.

—Lynn Farrar

8/05/2005 9:02 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Paul Brinkman"

What brought this subject up was my trip to the Golden Spike National Historical Site, and on display there was the old "fishplate" with elongated holes, the bolts, and the nuts. I asked the question; where did the "fishplate" term come from? None of the employees could answer the question. So therefore, I was bound and determined to find out.

... I have received six different explanations on where the term "fishplate" comes from and everyone uses words like probably and assume in their definitions, no one knows for sure. What is a "fishing surface" anyway? I haven't heard of this term before.

The closest answer I have received so far is that fishplate joint is supposed to "slip" to allow for hot and cold expansion and contraction of the tracks so that they stay parallel. The English word "slip" translates to the French word "fiche", thus "slipplate" to "ficheplate" or in English "fishplate". This story makes the most [sense], but no one has proved it to me yet. ...


8/09/2005 3:26 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...


I make no pretense of knowing the origin of the term. The elongated holes for the bolts are simply to allow for expansion and contraction due to weather. All bolted joints are similar. Besides those I mentioned before there are insulated joints where electrical circuits are used in a signal system. There are also compromise joints for fastening two different weights of rail. And a third goes back to the fishplate idea, those used on what is called "Girder" rail. This is what might be termed "street car" rail with a rolled lip on the gauge side that allows car wheel flanges to move along pavement in streets, etc. The web of girder rails are much higher than regular tee rails to accomodate types of pavement. This higher web is generally fastened at joints by what might be called a "super fishplate" that has more than 4 or 6 bolts used with regular joints. Those I have seen on SP had 8 or more bolts. You can see that these joints cannot be inspected as they are embedded in paving material, therefore it is necessary to have a very secure joint, thus more bolts. There are at least two common types of girder rails but the fish plates and the bolts are the same.


8/09/2005 7:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Try fishing with Google for terms like "fishing surface" and fishplate.

5/10/2006 9:38 PM  
Blogger John said...

The first tie plates were called "fish plates" due to several fins of steel cast on their bottom side. The plate was set on the tie and driven into the wood. The rail was laid on the top of the plate and spiked down. Several Railroad Museums have these "fish" plates on exhibit. See:

11/05/2007 8:30 AM  

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