Railroad Spikes, Plates and UFOs (Unidentified Found Objects)

Rusty railroad spikes and plates for tieing rails togetherI’ve been out metal detecting the last week along some old logging railroad beds in Clare County and found a few railroad spikes, bolts and broken plates used to tie rails together. The objects were about 4 – 6 inches deep and were apparently left when the rails were torn up after the trees were logged and hauled away. Pulling up the rails and reusing the materials was a common practice from what I heard since saving money was important and leaving rails out in the middle of nowhere as a waste of it.

Image of old railroad engine and trestleFrom what I’ve read, Clare County may have the most old logging railroad beds in the state so there were a lot of rails to pull up and reuse. The large number of RR beds is not surprising considering it was the first logging railroad in the country when Winfield Scott Gerrish built a railroad into woods to help haul out the timber. Although the initial investment was high (around $300 a mile), it made it easier to get out the lumber. Gerrish’s fellow lumberman laughed at his venture when he first started but when they saw the huge return in his investment…well, they couldn’t build their own railroads fast enough.

So although the tracks are gone the beds remain and underneath them are a few treasures. It’s interesting to hold in one’s hand a spike that was last handled by some unknown logger more than 125 years ago. It’s also interesting to take a walk in the woods and stumble on a bed out in the woods. They are quite common once one knows what to look for.

Unidentified found objects on an old logging railroad bedAnyway, among the items I found were a couple of UFOs–unknown found objects–I call them.  The items are shown at left (click photo to enlarge) and are about an inch long. I originally thought they might be bullets but their shape is awfully strange for a bullet in that they would not be very aerodynamic. The bottoms, by the way, are flat but have a small circle in the center. If anyone knows what they are, please let me know. My plans are to donate the items to the Clare County Historical Museum for their display on the logging era. I also plan to hold a talk sometime this summer on logging railroads on one of the old railroad beds at Mid-Michigan Community College in Harrison. railroads and the logging era. (More information on that coming soon.)

While I am asking questions, I’d also be interested in finding out what the rules are about metal detecting on state land in Michigan. I found information on the DNR site about metal detecting in state parks but nothing so far about state land. While I know walking the rail beds is legal on state land I’m not sure about metal detecting, and want to know before I go.

Categories: Clare County, Harrison, metal detecting, Michigan, recreation | Tags: , , | 5 Comments

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5 thoughts on “Railroad Spikes, Plates and UFOs (Unidentified Found Objects)

  1. mistyshusbandusingheremailIdonthaveone

    Nice finds.I plan on doing the same on some on my property.I did years ago and found spikes as fast as you could dig them up.also found bullets too. Im thinking bullets is your mystery objects.I dont know what else if not.
    I cant imagine any laws on metal detecting state land.
    Dont take this wrong,not trying to sound like a jerk.I know alot of material claims Gerrishes railroad as the first but it wasnt,not in the country and not first in michigan.It was the first in this area.Cant remember where he got the idea exactly I think an expo in chicago? I’ll try to find it but there were trains specifically for this purpose and it was a new idea and he was on the forefront of a new way of logging but behind the pioneers in railroad logging.He invested hugely and that winter was one of the warmest,without the snow pack and ice needed to move logs.But that didnt matter to Gerrishes train.Worst year for everyone but him.I’ll try to find the info and get the details for you.Also on ebay,clare county michigan,vintage map1943……shows abandoned railways as best the could figure back then.I have one and it doesnt have them all but has a lot and doesnt have them all in their entirety but a lot of info there.Probably by far the best map available today for a railroad grade hunter.

    • Thanks for your response. Those objects might be bullets but they just have a weird shape. However, the general consensus is they are bullets so I will consider them such until I hear otherwise. As to your comment about the Gerrish railroad I did some additional research and it appears from a couple of sites you are correct and Gerrish was at the forefront but not the originator or the logging railroad (www.geo.msu.edu/geogmich/RR-logging.htmlfor example.) Thanks. I will edit my post and I think it’s worth a post in and of itself. Never be afraid to challenge me. I’m still a newbie and just learning this stuff. I also have a search on ebay for things related to Clare County. I’ve purchased a couple of things but have also lost some to other folks with a similar interest and more money. 🙂 Take care, Marty

  2. I would like to show you some of the stuff we found near our house..lots of bottles in tact over 100 years old,also a logging saw blade and some other tools and it’s all right by a old rail road bed.Please email me back Thank you

    • I’d like to see them. One of my thoughts is to later this summer put together a day at the museum where people bring and could share their historical finds in our picnic area, or maybe set aside a place in the museum where people could safely display their stuff (like all your finds) for a couple of months with the public. These would be a way for people to share their finds with others (and maybe, at least with the picnic area idea, sell them if they wanted).

      Thanks for your message. I’ll be in touch.

      Marty

  3. steve

    Hi , I think it’s a bullet also. Looks like a ”sabot” from a muzzle loading rifle, stirations from the rifling of the barrel and deformed from the shot itself. I’d say he missed whatever he was shooting at. I’m from the Higgins lake area,been to the mounds at Gray and also Kelly, pretty cool stuff in the woods around there too. Nice web site,thanks.

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