One day in about 1975 my father and I were walking along the Ann Arbor Railroad in Ann Arbor, Michigan. We were looking for discarded insulators when my father noticed a nail in one of the railroad ties with a number on top of it. We soon noticed that these nails were in many of the ties and we were able to pull out a few using just our fingers. A new hobby was born!
In the next several years, I spent a lot of time walking various railroad tracks in numerous states looking for and pulling these nails. Besides Michigan, I looked for date nails in Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Texas, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, New York, Wisconsin, Colorado and Ontario. I pulled hundreds of nails from these railroads (and maybe others):
Chicago and North Western
Grand Trunk Western
Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific (The Milwaukee Road)
New York Central
Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago, and St. Louis (Big 4 Route)
Chicago, Burlington and Quincy
Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe
Elgin, Joliet, and Eastern
Chicago and Illinois Midland
Great Western Railroad
Chicago, South Shore and South Bend
St. Louis and Southwestern (Cotton Belt)
Detriot, Toledo, and Ironton
Detroit and Toledo Shoreline
Buffalo, Rochester and Pittsburgh
New York, Chicago and St. Louis (Nickel Plate Road)
I had joined the Texas Date Nail Collector’s Association back then so I had many contacts with other collectors. I participated in trading nails with these other collectors and accumulated nails from many other railroads by trading extras that I had collected myself. The nails from the Grand Trunk Western were the easiest to trade for some reason.
The oldest nail I ever found still in the track was a "6" representing 1906. The second oldest was a "13" on the same line not far from where I found the "6". Both from a Big Four branch line in Michigan.
I haven’t collected date nails for many years but I still have the collection. You can read all about date nails on this page and you can find some photos of part of my collection here.