In General
the Baltimore and Susquehanna Rwy
the Philadelphia and Columbia RR
the Allegheny Portage RR
the Camden and Amboy Rwy
the Baltimore and Ohio RR


In General

This page covers sleepers.

Sleepers, or stringers, are early railroad "ties" made from rock - usually granite, marble, or whatever could be found locally.  They seem to be entirely an eastern phenomenon, mostly since the railroads being built in the very early days of railroading in the U.S. (1832-1835 or so) were experimenting with different approaches to track laying techniques - prior to the common use of wooden ties.  Sleeper is also a term that can be used for the familiar wooden railroad tie, but not so much any more.

It didn't take long  for the railroads to figure out that installing stone sleepers was about ten times more costly than laying down wood ties, but that couldn't be done until a way to preserve the wood came along, which, according to the Old Main Line page, wasn't until 1836 when creosoting was patented.  In addition, there was nothing to keep the stones from moving, which meant the track could easily go out of gauge.

I know of five railroads (so far) that used sleepers:
-- the Baltimore and Susquehanna Railway
-- the Philadelphia & Columbia Railroad
-- the Allegheny Portage Railroad
-- the Camden and Amboy Railroad
-- the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad

Probably the first use of sleepers was by the Baltimore and Ohio, on their original mainline from Baltimore to Ellicott Mills MD.  Several are on display at the B&O Railroad Museum in downtown Baltimore.

Steve Okonski
Dave Hiteshew
Google Maps

Websites and other additional information sources of interest for the topic and area (links good as of 9/22): (the Jersey Rails website is gone, BTW)
Note: I have archived all of these pages in case they decide to disappear off the internet :-)

the Baltimore and Susquehanna Rwy

The original mainline for the Baltimore and Susquehanna (later the Northern Central and then the Pennsy) used them (at least) in the Timonium MD area.  They were installed in the 1833 time frame, as they were trying to go north out of Baltimore towards York and Harrisburg PA.

These sleepers were made from marble that came from a local quarry, located in Texas MD, a small community located between Timonium and Cockeysville MD.  FIY - Marble from this quarry was also used to construct the Washington Monument in Washington DC, and when the monument was refurbished in the late 1990's, they came back to the quarry to get more marble so it would match.

The sleepers were uncovered en mass during the construction of the Light Rail system in the 89-90 timeframe, and again in 2005 when the northern end was double-tracked.  Several hundred of them could be seen adjacent to the single track as it approached Padonia Road from the south.  Several dozen more were uncovered at Industry Lane, less than a mile north of the Padonia Rd location.  How far north they go, I guess we will never know.  Yours truly made a valiant effort to have some removed and saved so they could be put on display somewhere, but met stiff resistance from both the Mass Transit Administration, and the State Historical Society.  One particularly ignorant thing the fellow at the MTA said, was "how do you know how to remove the stones without damaging them" (he was ridiculing my lack of expertise as an archeologist, and not knowing the proper methods for uncovering artifacts), and no more than two weeks later, the bulldozers clearing the R-O-W at Industry Lane came along and scraped the top of almost all of the sleepers.  So much for the state being a competent guardian of the stones.  One of the other arguments I was given was "why should we pull them out of the ground now, when in the future, they may develop better methods of obtaining information on their history".  I've rarely heard so much government BS (to my face) in my life!  Needless to say, they are now ALL covered up by the northbound track for the foreseeable future.  A few were still around to be saved in the 1995-98 timeframe.

The B&S sleepers were not consistently cut in size or shape.  They are rough cut, except for the "rail groove".  The sleepers are grooved with a slot to lay the rail in, and I suspect the rail was laid directly on the marble, and secured with either two or four bolts.  Judging from the fact that the grooves in the top of the sleepers are not the same depth, the sleepers were probably put in the ground, and then the groove would be cut to make the track lay as level as possible.

One shot of the stones at Industry Lane, during the light rail double-tracking in 2005.





the Philadelphia & Columbia RR

The Philadelphia & Columbia Railroad was part of the railroad-canal system trying to compete with the Erie canal.   Several hundred sleepers were uncovered east of Columbia PA, adjacent to the Pennsy mainline between Philadelphia and Harrisburg.  Looking at pictures of the sleepers here, and at Portage, one can see a striking resemblance.  Unfortunately, I was not around to get pictures of them while they were still in the ground.

These sleepers average 24"x18" and vary between 16" thick to 24".  They are rough cut.  They appear to be made from local granite.  The top of the sleeper has a rectangular depression cut into it to allow a chair to be bolted to it with two bolts.  The rail would then rest on the chair.  The Pennsylvania Railroad Museum in Strasburg has the only chair that was uncovered, along with one of only two pieces of rail that was found.

BTW, you can also find early maps of this railroad with C&P on it, Columbia & Philadelphia RR.

This picture shows the pile of sleepers, and in the background, the R-O-W was just to the right of the vans, roughly where the road currently is.... to the left is the ex-Pennsy mainline.

Three of the sleepers secured in the back of my truck.... don't try this at home.

Detail shots of a P&C sleeper... in the top two photos, you can see slight groves where they cut the top to make it flat for the rail:



BTW, the drawing of the sleeper and rail comes from the Allegheny Portage RR, they photo-shopped the Portage RR stuff and credit out, see below....

  Photo by Pete Bannan/Merion

You can stop by Merion Station PA, and see eight of the stones on display at the Merion Friends Meetinghouse.
GPS Coordinates: 40.00965, -75.25440
615 Montgomery Ave, Merion Station, PA 19066

the Allegheny Portage RR

The Allegheny Portage Railroad, between Altoona and Johnstown PA used sleepers extensively.  The museum in Portage PA has an extremely well done exhibit, and has laid out several hundred feet of the sleepers on the ground to give the visitor an idea of how they were used.

The painting is nice, but the sleepers are too far apart!
(From the State Museum of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission)

Close-up of the Allegheny Portage RR sleepers.
(From the Allegheny Portage National Historic Site)

Below, photos of the original rail used on the Portage Railroad, dug up in 2003.  Thanks to Abram for passing these along to me.

the Camden and Amboy Railway

The C&A was incorporated in 1830 by Colonel John Stevens (of Hoboken), and completed in 1838 connecting Camden, Bordentown, Trenton, and South Amboy.  When they first started laying track, they used stone sleepers, made by the inmates of Sing Sing prison.  Once, when the arrival of the sleepers was delayed, the Stevens' decided to temporarily use wooden crossbeams, or ties.  They soon found that the trains ran smoother on the ties, and started to replace them.

During the construction of the light rail station in Bordentown, they uncovered the foundation of an old 1851 engine house.  They also discovered that the railroad used the old stone sleepers for construction of the foundation.  They have left a couple of them on display in the middle of the wye with the marker shown below.

Colonel Stevens had two sons, Robert L. Stevens and Edwin A. Stevens.  Robert was the one who went to England to purchase their first steam engine, the John Bull, in 1831.  The engine ran until 1866, and is now on display in the Smithsonian.

On display in Bordentown NJ:

GPS Coordinates: 40.14676, -74.71586
The display is set up in the corner of the parking lot the middle of the wye, adjacent to the Light Rail Station.

On display in Spotswood NJ:

GPS Coordinates: 40.40291, -74.37884
On Main St, slightly less than 1 mile SW from NJ 18.

On display in Hightstown NJ:

GPS Coordinates: 40.26939, -74.52483
At the corner of Railroad and Rogers Avenues, placed on the original right-of-way.

Formerly on display in Jamesburg NJ / 1931:


Here are a couple of notes from a 2009 thread on the C&A Sleepers, keep in mind the info is 13 years old....

the Baltimore and Ohio RR

The B&O is generally credited with being the first to use granite stones as support for rails, beginning in 1830.  There is a whole lot more information and pictures on Steve's excellently done page on the Old Main Line sleepers.  The pictures below are by Steve Okonski, and the drawing comes from Dave Hiteshew.

In addition to blocks the approximate size of the first four railroads I've covered, the B&O also used a continuously supported method of construction, where the stones were three or four times as long, and placed end to end.  This gave the rail basically 100% support.  This is evidenced by the remaining sleepers still in the ground as you walk the path.  In addition, if you are observant, you will find where they used the sleepers for other purposes once they started rebuilding the Old Main Line with wooden ties - mostly in things like culverts.

If you want to see the B&O sleepers for yourself, you can talk a walk through the Patapsco State Park trail off of Daniels Rd in Daniels MD.
GPS Coordinates for the trail parking are 39.31377, -76.81564.

Recovered stringers at the B&O Train Museum.


I love trains, and I love signals.  I am not an expert.  My webpages reflect what I find on the topic of the page.  This is something I have fun with while trying to help others.

Please Note:  Since the main focus of my two websites is railroad signals, the railfan guides are oriented towards the signal fan being able to locate them.  For those of you into the modeling aspect of our hobby, my indexa page has a list of almost everything railroad oriented I can think of to provide you with at least a few pictures to help you detail your pike.

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Aerial shots were taken from either Google or Bing Maps as noted.  Screen captures are made with Snagit, a Techsmith product... a great tool if you have never used it! 

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