VGN Date Nails - for Mr. Garner

NW Mailing List nw-mailing-list at
Wed Dec 19 21:01:37 EST 2018

Much Obliged Baron Burnett for the tale and the photo.


If you’re like me I know those nails represent an lot of happy memories along the right-of-way in days of yore. The abandoned portion of the Radford Yard was a treasure trove for me.


Sounds like you’d better get to the RIP track soon.  :)


Preparing for high tide the next three days in Newport.


John Garner


From: NW Mailing List [mailto:nw-mailing-list at] 
Sent: Wednesday, December 19, 2018 4:46 PM
To: N&W Mailing List <nw-mailing-list at>
Subject: RE: VGN Date Nails - for Mr. Garner


Commodore Garner of the Giles County Navy,

 At-Anchor and Tied Up to the Newport Pier.




I am sure there are experts on N&W date nails out there, or at least people who will tell you they are experts.


I am not an expert, don 't even know what an expert is, and probably know less about the topic than I think I know (which ain't much.)


A good ten years ago, I posted to the List a memory on this topic, and will repeat the essence of it here.


Paul Blankenship was Manager of the Roadway Material Yard at West Roanoke, and was a friend of my father.  The "RMY" had been established in the 1930s, or thereabouts, to "reclaim"  what was called "fit" material, i.e. material which was fit for re-use.  Old track material would come in by the gondola full, and men would manually sort it into piles of "scrap" or "fit."  The RMY received tie plates, rail anchors, spikes, switch points, frogs and frog bolts, guard rails, switch stands, switch rods, angle bars, track bolts, and the like.  Just east of the RMY was a large field filled with old fabricated bridge trusses, semaphore signal cases, and the like, all held for re-use.


The RMY was (and still is) located about  mile and a quarter west of Shaffers Crossing at a point where the Roanoke Belt Line makes junction with the east-west main route, at the west end of the Eastbound Receiving Yard.  At one time the yard extended no further west than this location, and the location was named "WB," which probably stood for "West [end of the] Belt Line."  There was a Train Order office there at one time, called "WB."  In the late 1950s, the yard was extended close to a mile and a half westward, and the name "WB" was then moved out to the new west end of the yard.  I believe it is still called WB, even after the deprivations of the Southern Ry interlopers.


Paul Blankenship, Mgr. of the RMY, was at our home many times when I was a kid, visiting.  I recall him telling my father that the N&W had decided to discontinue use of date nails, but that the date nails for the following year (1960) had already been ordered and received and were on hand in wooden kegs at the RMY, but would not be used.  I should have asked him to give me a few of the 1960 nails, but did not.


I also recall Mr. Blankenship telling my father how, when he started out as a section hand ("trackman," in today's vernacular)  on the section forces, one of his jobs was to follow the tie gang and drive the nails in the new ties which had been inserted.  He said that his instructions were to lay his hammer down on the tie, one end against the base of the rail.  The other end of the hammer marked the spot where he was to drive his nail.  He also specified whether the hammer was to be placed against the north rail or the south rail, but I have forgotten which.  I also recall him saying that he hated the nail job because he was down on his hands and knees in the creosote, all day long.


A few years later (1964,) I hired braking on the railroad.  And I made it a point to spend several nights, with my lantern,  going through all the buildings at the RMY, looking for those 1960 nails.  The only locked building in the RMY was the Foreman's office.  All the storage buildings were of just lean-to type construction with rough shelving built against the back walls.  The kegs of 1960 nails were nowhere to be found.  My guess is that they had been dumped in with the scrap iron being sent across the yard to Roanoke Electric Steel for melt down.  The only things I retrieved on those junkets were several target holders (adapters which mounted on the vertical square post coming up out of a switch stand, and formed a bushing on which the female receptacle on the bottom of a switch lamp was placed.)


That is truly all that I know about the subject.  Years later, a very kind N&W employee gave me a 1960 date nail, and when he reads this on the List, he will smile... but he will play hob getting his 1960 nail back !


I retired in the year 2010, after 46+ years on four different railroads, mostly good years but a few bad ones, too.  My wheels are slid flat, my flanges are beyond the condemning limits, my journal brass is worn out, my brake chain is busted, one side bearing is missing and one knuckle is cracked, my truss rods need to be tightened up, and I am out-of-date for COT&S,  IDT and light weighing.  The wife says she is going to hang Shop Tags on me but I can't understand why.


Photo attached of my humble little collection, all pulled by me in the 1960s.  And yes, I am aware that one or two of them may possibly be VGN nails which made their way over to the N&W when the VGN track was torn up and the good ties re-laid on the  'W.  I am NOT an expert on such things, as my major skill  in lifewas pushing box cars around in the darkness...


My attorney is Jim Blackstock of Roanoke, in case you need further information.  He is a good attorney because he is so mean no one wants to deal with him !


-- abram burnett,

reformed brakezman, now baron of the turnip patch


                  Sent to You from my Telegraph Key
Successor to the MAGNETIC TELEGRAPH LINE of 1844

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