Railway Preservation News

Vintage brake shoe identification help
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Author:  ole611 [ Thu Feb 23, 2017 7:54 pm ]
Post subject:  Vintage brake shoe identification help

Hello all. I found a brake shoe on the side of a walking path that was the rail alignment for the Orange and Alexandria railroad during the Civil War. I took it to my local train museum, and they identified it as late 1800's but were unable to offer any further information at that time. There is a number on the side which reads O 313

My question is, does anyone know what this number might refer to? Part number? Manufacturer number? Train Car number? Is there any way to know which train this came off of, by chance? Any help would be much appreciated. Thank you for looking.

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Author:  NYCRRson [ Thu Feb 23, 2017 10:10 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Vintage brake shoe identification help

My free opinion;

The number you see is part of the original cast part. It is formed by the mold (likely sand) used to cast the part. The mold is formed by a reusable pattern (made of wood) that was used to make hundreds of brake shoes. There would have been lots and lots of brake shoes with that number cast in place permanently on the side of the part.

Part number: Possibly a number assigned by the manufacturer and built into the pattern used to make the sand mold this was cast with.

Manufacturer number: If you mean a number assigned to each manufacturer (# 1 = Dodge, #107 = Ford, etc.) not likely. Things were not that well organized.

Train Car number: Very very unlikely, Brake shoes were (and are) a low cost commodity, the original builder just slapped some onto whatever car was coming out of the factory on any given day. I doubt they recorded individual "serial numbers" of all the brake shoes installed. And as the cars were maintained while out in the general railroad network the shop would just install the "right size". They did not order a special brake shoe for "Old Boxcar # O 313". They ordered a size 2" x 12" brake shoe (approximate size).

The brake shoe you have could have come off of any of ten thousand (a guess) railroad cars that passed up and down that line "back in the day".

The "O 313" does not seem to indicate a common size, so my guess is that it is a "Part Number" assigned by the brake shoe manufacturer to indicate their version of a "standard" size brake shoe. Standard size brake shoes have existed for a long time. Maybe someone recognizes "O 313" as a code for one of the sizes ?

Cheers, Kevin

Author:  ole611 [ Thu Feb 23, 2017 10:54 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Vintage brake shoe identification help

Thank you very much. That's the most detailed response I've received regarding my brake thus far. I sure wish I could narrow it down to which train it came off of. Being that I'm a civil war buff, it would be nice to research the activities of the train during the time period. Thanks again!

Author:  NYCRRson [ Thu Feb 23, 2017 11:19 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Vintage brake shoe identification help

Ole611, it is like finding an automobile wheel lug nut by the side of the road and trying to figure out the license plate number of the car if fell off of.... Except you are trying to do it 100 plus years after the fact...

It is a cool find, do you know when that railroad line was active ?

Cheers, Kevin.

Author:  Howard P. [ Thu Feb 23, 2017 11:24 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Vintage brake shoe identification help

Looks like a partial section of a standard AAR cast iron brake shoe, that looks like it's been buried or underwater, for years (decades?). The design probably is no older than 1915 or so. If there are layers of a different-looking material visible in the broken-off end, that would make it more modern, as those are layers of expanded metal (steel) to help hold the shoe together.

Howard P.

Author:  ole611 [ Fri Feb 24, 2017 12:58 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Vintage brake shoe identification help

The tracks were realigned to their present location in 1905. The hiking trail is where the tracks used to run. I attached a link with info to the area of track and a little history of the area. I found the shoe in the vicinity of the Ravensworth Station as noted on the map from 1885. That should give one a good indication of the age of the shoe.

Also to note, I found it laying along side the trail. It was not buried or submerged. It's possible someone found it years past and tossed it thinking it was just some metal trash and too heavy to carry. It is pretty darn heavy.


Author:  philip.marshall [ Fri Feb 24, 2017 1:54 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Vintage brake shoe identification help

I agree with Howard P that it looks like a standard AAR cast iron brake shoe, but if you found it along a pre-1905 alignment then it must be older than its comparatively modern appearance would imply.

Indeed, John H. White's book The American Railroad Freight Car says that cast iron brake shoes came into widespread use as early as the 1860s (though most Civil War US Military RR photos I've seen show wooden brake shoes), and the Master Car Builders' Association (MCBA) published drawings for standard designs for brake rigging and brake parts as early as 1889. This suggests that the brake shoe might date from as early as the 1890s.

Brake shoes are considered consumable items and are replaced regularly, often in the field, so it's not uncommon to find them along rights of way.

-Philip Marshall

Author:  ole611 [ Fri Feb 24, 2017 9:04 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Vintage brake shoe identification help

Thank you all for the information. I really appreciate it.

Author:  dinwitty [ Sat Feb 25, 2017 1:52 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Vintage brake shoe identification help

a quick google landed me this


back to 1906, scour around it, there could be ads for brake shoes.

I figured early publications would advertise their parts like the brake shoe, the 313 or O 313 might not be a direct part number than the actual patent number.

The shoe could be from any freight car, but knowing what it could mount on could zero down..-a bit- what it might go on. Knowing what traffic ran on the line and the industries on it can point what cars might have been used. You probably found a good research fun find. It could have been found and tossed aside by the re-alignment crews. A little find like this can go a long ways.

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