A moral dilemma

traingeekboy Nov 30, 2008


How do you feel about harvesting old train relics?

  1. No, that is stealing. Lightning will come from the sky and kill me

    24 vote(s)
  2. I am not sure

    13 vote(s)
  3. If it was lying on the ground and was clearly old and discarded it is ok

    50 vote(s)
  4. I must have it in my house. I have power tools

    4 vote(s)
  5. My buddy will decoy the police while I dismantle this CTC signal on this class 1 railroad

    5 vote(s)
Multiple votes are allowed.
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  1. traingeekboy

    traingeekboy TrainBoard Member

    Suppose you were near a abandoned rail line. There was all kinds of stuff along the old roadbed. Cool things that a model railroader would take good care of and cherish. Things that are no longer the property of anyone and will eventually just rust into nothing or be torn out and dropped in a dump. Objects of antiquity that only a railroad fan could appreciate.

    Would you gather some relics even though they are not yours. Would you justify it by telling yourself you are preserving a 100 year old object that belongs to no one?

    At what point does something become part of the bounty of the world like a deer that one shoots and eats, or wild mushrooms one takes from a woodland?

    Just curious.
  2. Flash Blackman

    Flash Blackman Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    Generally speaking, real property can't be abandoned. You can check the deed records (or the tax office) at the county courthouse to determine the owner. I would then ask permission or at least have an idea of how much trouble you might have if you are caught trespassing.
  3. BoxcabE50

    BoxcabE50 HOn30 & N Scales Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    Well, even shooting a deer has limitations, as does mushrooming. Seasons, where one can legally go, etc.

    Reality is that even though a railroad might not be using the line, it all belongs to someone. Even if abandoned, the property might belong to an adjacent land owner, or? Proper permission is needed before removing any item. Otherwise, it's still stealing. :tb-sad:

    Boxcab E50
  4. Switchman

    Switchman TrainBoard Member

    If it is posted property then it would not be moral, no matter how it's justified, to take it .

    But if it's unposted property and no entity claims ownership and it's just random piles of junk then perhaps it's OK

    I would check with the local police :we2-policeman: and see what they say before retrieving anything.

    See ya
  5. MP333

    MP333 TrainBoard Supporter

    This is a tough one. I must admit, I harvested a few insulators from the ancient ATSF poles that BNSF recently chopped to the ground. They were still attached to their poles, but clearly in a discard pile, being cut up and hauled off as trash. I decided to grab a few choice ones, and left hundreds there.

    Technically, you cannot remove anything without permission or a permit. If I rescue artifacts from the trash, is that stealing? Tough call guys, but I'm not losing sleep over it. If you need tools to get at something, it's pretty much stealing.
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 1, 2008
  6. rkcarguy

    rkcarguy TrainBoard Member

    I read some articles on the internet where old signals were being replaced and scrapped, some went to fans/modelers that did nothing more than ask.......the rest went to the junkyard.
  7. CanadaRailBuff

    CanadaRailBuff New Member

    If you want to take something that's lying on the ground, rusting, and obviously abandoned, it's ok to take it. I agree with campp; as a rule of thumb, if you need tools to take it, then it's stealing, but of course the exception to this would be if the rail line is still frequently used...just use your better judgement. If you wanted to take some old rotting ties, that have been replaced, then go for it, but if it's something big like a switch or lights you're after, I'd consult with the owner of the tracks, or the local authorities, first.
  8. MRLdave

    MRLdave TrainBoard Member

    Definitely an interesting question....seems the unanimous opinion is it's stealing. But at the same time, if it's clearly "trash".........hmmmmm. To be honest, you aren't even supposed to pick anything up at the dump that you see lying there, but I think that may be so the dump doesn't get overrun by "dumpster divers" looking for cans, ect. Too many variables here to give an answer. An old friend of mine was head ranger at Golden Spike, and I went out with him documenting things....we were looking for signs of the Chinese camps where they spent the winter during the construction of the Transcontinental railroad. In a lot of cases, we were just looking at piled up rocks....who cares about a bunch of rocks right? But those piles were what was left of cooking areas, or foundations they had set tents over, or benches they had made to sit/lay on. Definitely a "hands-off" type of historical thing. I guess if you find a railroad "gem" somewhere, if you know the railroad involved, contact the historical society for that railroad and let them know where it is. If it's worth preserveing, they'll most likely go after it. If it's an active railroad, it's definitely hands-off....even abandoned lines get reopened from time to time. Homestake pass in Montana was closed in 1983, although all the track is still in place. Now there's talk of reopening it to increase the traffic handling ability across southern Montana. So even though it's overgrown and looks abandoned, it isn't.
  9. pastoolio

    pastoolio TrainBoard Member

    I'm going against the grain here, but yeah, I'd take it. I find it hard to believe that all these people that have railroad collectibles in their homes asked permission or had an "official" person give them that collectible, especially the really old ones. If you are out in the woods walking along, say, the old Rio Grande narrow gauge line in Colorado, that has been abandoned and overgrown for a long time, and found something cool, would you leave it? I sure wouldn't.

  10. COverton

    COverton TrainBoard Member

    There is no moral dilemma here. A dilemma only exists when a forced choice of two, or more, potentially harmful courses of action must be made, and the correct, or best, choice is not apparent.

    What harm can come from you leaving the object where you find it?

    What harm can come to someone who may have misplaced it, or lost it outright, and who is responsible for it? Could they lose their job? Would dependents who need his income possibly suffer as a result?

    From a deontological standpoint, Kant's specifically, could you will that all rational people would derive a universalizable rule that, "Whatever we encounter that seems to be discarded is to become our property?" I don't think so.
  11. CSXDixieLine

    CSXDixieLine Passed Away January 27, 2013 In Memoriam

    If we are talking about spikes or small pieces of rail I do not think this is a problem because it has been discarded (I will only pick up pieces if they are far away from the tracks and will obviously not be picked up by some boom magnet or some other cleanup crew). As for something like a switchstand or old signal, I would not take that since the railroad may desire to reuse it and it's not really scrap.

    By the way, the CSX Abbeville Sub runs right in front of an office owned by our company. This office is located right at the North End Lawrneceville control point. About a year ago, CSX dropped off a brand new double-headed mast signal right in our front yard. It was not secured or anything, and there were times that I would be working late into the night and it would have been a piece of cake to throw it in the back of the truck and setup a nice little conversation piece in the basement. Alas, I passed this moral challenge and after about two months the signal crew came by and installed it (and did not leave the old one in its place--dang! :)).

  12. Grey One

    Grey One TrainBoard Supporter

    "Grey" in my handle does not refer to my hair color though it could. It refers more to my perception of the world. It is easy for me to perceive and argue both sides of an issue and all of the grey area in between. I was introduced to ethics at an early age with this question:
    "If a tree crashes in a forest and there is no one around to hear it did it make any noise?"
    Or more plainly put:
    If you do something wrong, nobody gets hurt in any way and you don't get caught is it a bad thing?
    Ethics is the study of doing the right thing regardless of the consequences of of doing a bad thing. A park ranger once told me, no, I was not permitted to keep the deer antler or the really neat rock I had found. I compromised and kept the rock, (shhhh, don't tell). The issue about taking something from someone else s land is black and white with no grey area.

    That said, "did the falling tree make any noise"?

    So, what's the big whoop? Measure the following:
    The amount of energy it will take to acquire what ever the item is
    The amount of pleasure having it will give you.
    What would it take to acquire the item legitimately
    The pleasure from doing so
    What you will gain by doing so

    Um, as for glass insulators? takem. It would cost the railroad more to give you permission than ...or would it? :)
  13. inch53

    inch53 TrainBoard Member

    Most the time I leave what ever I find along the ROW, but there have been a few times where I’ve picked up something. So far all I have is a couple spikes, tie plate, insulators and a 3 date nails found in ditches along the abandoned NYC’s Cairo line. Also I found a couple ash clickers, one from the Cairo line and one from the NYC Midland yard in Paris IL. The things I have would have been lost to time if I hadn’t picked them up. I’ve also got a couple 12” pieces of rail that were given to me when the line was being salvaged in 84.
    Our county museum wants them, but they haven’t got any room right now. When they do, that’s where my pieces will be.
  14. MRL

    MRL TrainBoard Member

    Boy, I don't know which way to go on this one... :tb-err: ...Uh I'd do both... take it or leave it depending on if I thought out the necessity for the item and the trouble I might be it if I am caught...:tb-mad:

  15. HemiAdda2d

    HemiAdda2d Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    I liked the response choices... Some were rather comical.
    It's a tough call. Lots of variables exist to make it a moral dilemma, or a yes or no choice. In some places I have hiked, the railroad ceased to exist nearly 30 years ago, while others still operate daily. There have been things I have found and picked up, and others that I left for various reasons. The technical answer is theft, but realistically, how would a railroad that went bankrupt 3 decades ago (or more) miss a spike, or a tie plate? Take a look at the current state of Tennessee Pass in CO. "Preservationalists" have harvested various signal heads, signs, and anything not welded down. It's sad to see, as it still is UP property.
    All the more reason to photograph them. If I were on-location, and a signal crew was removing one of the ancient CTC signals installed by the Denver & Salt Lake Rwy back in the 40's, and they felt generous to give it away, and I had the brass to ask, would I take it? You bet. But to harvest it outright from the mast; no way. That's not to say I haven't done stupid things in the past...:eek:
    Which brings me back to that motto.....
    A good motto to follow:
    "Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints."
  16. BarstowRick

    BarstowRick TrainBoard Supporter

    I haven't exactly read through all the other post here so I may be the odd guy out.

    If the item is still on railroad property, it still belongs to the railroad. On the other hand if it is laying on private property then it clearly belongs to the property owner.

    I would call on the M.O.W. supervisor to get permission to remove any items off of railroad property. Or go on up the chain of command until you reach someone that has the authority to give permission. Usually the general supervisor of a district has the authority to allow sale or release of any unused or obsolete railroad equipment.

    Judging from the response here it appears that 65% of us feel it's ok to walk away with something that doesn't belong to us. Not sure that's a good thing. Liberating a piece of equipment without proper authorization can be risky. If you can't pay the fine, don't do the crime.

    My three and one half cent.
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 2, 2008
  17. r_i_straw

    r_i_straw Mostly N Scale Staff Member

    Most all the "free" stuff in my collection came with permission. One exception was a mile marker sign off the old San Antonio & Aransas Pass line that was abandoned. A developer had bulldozed up a pile of trees, brush and debris to be hauled away. It was a little bent up and kind of just hanging there so I liberated it before it went to a land fill somewhere. I guess I should have found someone working for the developer to ask permission but there was no one around at the time. A lot of stuff came from the UP junk yard in Rosenberg. After UP donated Tower 17 to the Rosenberg Railroad Museum, they let a couple of us from the museum salvage some DC switching gear from cabinets to help restore the interlocker mechanism in the tower. The folks from UP who let us in, aproved a few other things like beat up cross bucks to be taken also, even if they were not for the museum collection. There was also a lot of junk in the tower that the museum could not use in its collection.
  18. traingeekboy

    traingeekboy TrainBoard Member

    Well I am still not sure. I do know that it is not a functional line and that it will be torn out soon. I am talking about signs. Something that will never be used again. Out of date rusted old signs on a line that hasn't seen traffic in ages and will no longer be served. Most of the line doesn't even have track. I suspect that the items that interest me will end up in a dump.

    Yes it would take a pair of wrenches to grab em' But the fact that they are bolted to something is the only thing that made them not get "Harvested" sooner.

    It really is a get it now or lose it dilemma for me. Dang those signs would be nice to have.
  19. BarstowRick

    BarstowRick TrainBoard Supporter

    Just another thought.

    It's been my experience that M.O.W crews are glad to see you haul off the junk or equipment they consider obsolete. I do my best to get permission from a rail but I too have walked away with a spike or two...old bent ones, I need to add. Often times you can find brand new cans of these things. Those are leaverrites as in leave her right there.

    I picked up a rail from a abandoned narrow gauge railroad and another from a mine. You have to use our judgement. Now if you want to haul off a old but still usable caboose, flat car or box car for a museum piece then by all means ask for it. This saves the railroad the expense of disposing of it. Most likely they will even arrange the shipping of said item to you.

    It's been a while ago but UP did deliver a SD 40 to the W.A.R.M. Museum in Barstow, Ca. A simple request did the trick.

    Have fun!
  20. Memster1

    Memster1 TrainBoard Member

    I live along the Chicago line just west of Rochester and walk the line often. I also walk the tree line in early spring after the snow melt and have been fortunate enough to locate a dozen glass insulators when the track crew cut down the poles and laid them there back in 1996. Now... yes it is private property and yes my asking "should" have occurred, however I am sure that no one in Conrail/CSX Corporate has ever missed them from inventory and I believe that asking would have led to a no you are trespassing :we2-policeman: and don't walk in our trees lecture.

    I would never take ANYTHING active or even resembling useful that would impact the operation of the rail line but these "trinkets" serve no purpose to the corporate congolomorite known as CSX.

    Justtifying stealing -> maybe, however I don't believe that I committed a moral sin either.
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