My boy & I got metal detectors for Christmas last year and finally had a chance to go on our first official outing this past weekend. We know someone who owns property near our house where a long section of the old railroad once came through our small town. It was completed 7 years before the start of the Civil War and existed through the early 1900’s. I don’t know exactly when it was discontinued & dismantled. This particular tract of land is now mostly farmland, but the section where we’re detecting is well defined as the old tracks because it is a narrow “lane” a little more than 1/8th of a mile long surrounded by trees on both sides.

This outing was meant to hone our skills. We knew we wouldn’t find anything valuable, but had hoped to find some artifacts tied to a part of our town’s history. My son was the first to find something...just an old washer. But it was enough to know we were doing it right. I got my first hit that turned out to be a railroad spike. It’s one thing we really hoped to find simply because it would be easily identifiable and definitively tied to the railroad.

Here are a few of the items we pulled out on day 1 before being cleaned up. The bolt on the bottom is a bolt that was used on the steel plate that connected two lengths of train tracks together. Not sure what the curly-cue piece is. My guess is it was attached to something and a rope of some kind ran through it.


This coil spring took forever to dig out. It’s much too heavy-duty to be an automobile spring and there’s no reason for one to be at this location. After looking at pictures online, I believe it’s the spring off of railroad car wheels (part of the “trucks”). And it was buried in a spot that would’ve put it off to the side of the tracks, so it makes sense.


My wife came with us on day 2. This was her favorite find, a square nail about 2 1/2” long with an “M” stamped into the head. It’s iron, not steel cut, but I believe it’s a bit more modern. The shine comes from the wire brush attached to a grinding wheel that I used to clean this stuff up. I did find what I believe is a hand-forged square nail, but don’t have a picture of it. This one is bigger than what would’ve been used on houses & buildings, so it’s possible it’s associated with a train.


And here are a few of the items after I cleaned them up. I guess some people would leave things as they found them and others actually use methods like DIY electrolysis to clean objects, but since this stuff wasn’t valuable and was for our own personal enjoyment, I wasn’t worried about it. The bolt on the left is the same bolt as in the first picture. The bolt with hexagonal nut (top) were still attached to one another when we pulled them out of the ground, but fell apart during cleaning. The railroad spike on the very bottom was the cleanest one we pulled and hardly needed any cleaning. The big square nut is about 2” wide and fits the size of the large bolt.


We’ll probably continue down the old track line because my son is really enjoying it, but I’m sure we’ll find more of the same. My next goal is to find some old coins somewhere. We also have access to the plot of land in our town that was once home to a 19th century military academy. A place like that could yield some interesting artifacts, but it was also where they buried a bunch of debris from when my town was leveled by a tornado decades ago. So anything interesting would probably be hard to detect. It’s a fun hobby though. I look forward to finding new places to hunt and hopefully finding something of more historic value.