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. StrasburgNut

    StrasburgNut TrainBoard Member

    It is stealing. That land belongs to some entity. If it is abandoned, the land may have been sold at a real estate auction and the person who bought that land where the rail line once stood may not care what is on it, but it is still their property.

    Think of it this way. Picture yourself "rescuing" a few railroad related items from an abandoned rail line. Just then a police officer drives by. You just got BUSTED! Wouldn't you feel pretty ridiculous explaining to the person bailing you out and to your family and friends why you were arrested? I do not think "It would have looked great on the wall of the train room" will fly.

    It is stealing, flat out. Those items legitimately belong to someone.
  2. Doug A.

    Doug A. TrainBoard Supporter

    I voted "Stealing" because it is, but like has been mentioned I do think there are gray areas.

    I bet "truth syrum" would reveal that a good bit of museum pieces everywhere (and not just railroad museums) were "stolen" in the name of preservation. The railroads have little motivation to ensure things of historical significance (whatever criteria that is) gets placed into the right hands. So in some respects you have to be a little willing to push the envelope if that is TRULY your motivation.

    So I guess in my mind the difference (from a moral standpoint, since it is illegal regardless) is intent. If you are trolling ROW's nationwide to sell on eBay then you're probably not doing the right thing in my opinion. If you belong to a historical society and you are trying to preserve key pieces for a museum or society collection, then yes--if it's one step from the scrap bin then I'd say maybe you bend the rules. If it's for a personal collection then it probably gets a little more complicated as to whether you are "doing the right thing" versus decorating your house for free. In the latter two cases, as has been mentioned, there should be no reason you wouldn't just ask for permission...you'll likely receive it and the dilemna goes away.
  3. ladybngnfan

    ladybngnfan TrainBoard Member

    For those of you who are not sure about this issue, you might consider reading the book The Milwaukee Road Revisited by Stanley Johnson. In one chapter, called Now You See It, Now You Don't, he mentions the issue of people picking up artifacts left over from the Milwaukee. Now, it is understandable that railfans would like to save what artifacts that are left from fallen flag railroads, and he admits he has done the same. But he also likens it to looting, and ever since I read that book, I have not been able to pick up anything from the railroad tracks, except for car seals that fall off near the tracks, and a rusty spike or two.

    I worked for a third summer for Glacier Park Inc., in East Glacier, Montana. Near the Glacier Park Lodge golf course are several ex-GN telegraph poles lying on the ground with their glass insulators still there. One of those insulators was still fairly intact, except for a chip or two. I thought of taking that insulator home, and I took it off the pole to do so, but I could not, so I put it back on its peg and left it. Maybe someone else will take it and have no qualms about doing so, that's their perogative. I just can't do that anymore.
  4. Fotheringill

    Fotheringill TrainBoard Member

    Clearly theft.
    In my original ethics course many, many years ago, we were told that if you have to ask yourself if something is right or wrong, there is a 99% chance that it is wrong.
  5. jeffrey-wimberly

    jeffrey-wimberly TrainBoard Member

    If the line's abandoned and the stuff is not going to be reused then I consider it fair game.
  6. SteamDonkey74

    SteamDonkey74 TrainBoard Supporter

    I marked "theft" because so often people will construct their own rationalization to swipe stuff that really ought to remain where it is.

    I already mentioned this once before, but we had a wig-wag stolen when I was a volunteer at Willamette Shore Trolley in Portland. YEARS AND YEARS later I encountered a guy with an interest in old traffic signals and other equipment, most of which he gets by asking people at city maintenance yards (stuff headed to the bin anyway), and he tells me about harvesting a wig-wag so many years ago blah blah blah line was long abandoned blah blah blah.

    I asked him if it was from a particular crossing.

    He said yes.

    I then let him have it (verbally) for having stolen something that we had had to work really hard to replace legitimately, and urged him to return it, even anonymously, to the association.

    I am not sure he has, but that just gives you an idea where even people who don't think they are doing anything wrong could very well be screwing something up.

    My rule - if I think I just GOTTA have it I find out who it belongs to and I ask. More often than not, I get a lot of shrugged shoulders and "yeah, sure" sorts of responses. One man's junk is another's treasure, I guess.
  7. BoxcabE50

    BoxcabE50 HOn30 & N Scales Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    No matter what you've told yourself, convinced yourself, there are no "gray" areas.

    Simple facts:

    ALL Property belongs to someone.
    Abandoned railroad? The land is still owned by someone, including ALL upon it.
    Most land is NOT posted concerning trespassing. Which does not mean you can freely enter-

    If it's not yours,
    If you have not purchased it properly,
    If you have not received appropriate permission to remove the item,
    If it has not been gifted to you,
    You were on land belonging to someone else, posted or not=

    You have stolen it.

    Boxcab E50
  8. Doug A.

    Doug A. TrainBoard Supporter

    From my perspective, the gray area is not whether or not it is "stolen", but whether it is an acceptable course of action.

    For example...

    There was a beautiful (in my mind, anyway) Rock Island depot in my hometown. Stood for probably 75 years or more, and was in a state of disrepair but wholly intact and COULD have easily been renovated into something nice. Nice interior, still a few "railroadiana" items inside that nobody had stolen in the probably 20 years since it was in actual use. It saw the fall of steam, the fall of passenger service, the fall of the CRI&P itself, and then experienced the last days of the Katy. It had wooden siding and the Rock Island logo and town name still decorated each end.

    This was during my teenage railfan years, and I always wanted to take a souvenir from there but never did. It was stealing in my mind and even though I saw a generation that began to vandalize more and more, I KNEW that someday someone would come along and rescue the depot...I'd seen many redone and just figured it was commonplace. But as the news of Katy's demise was spreading, I felt I needed to take matters in my own hands. I commented to some friends about it and they offered to help if I could get the railroad to sell it and move it somewhere. I knew people with the stuff to move it in tact and had at least a couple of places I could have stored it, at least temporarily. I casually figured I would stop a railroad employee the next time I saw one out and about and begin the process.

    It's been a while so I don't recall how long it was after UP took over, but I recall my heart completely sinking to the ground one day as I visited the now UP "yard"....the station was GONE... Completely. Razed and smoothed dirt in its place. I learned it had been bulldozed and literally tossed in the trash. All of it.

    I'm pretty sure it COST Union Pacific money to tear it down. They probably did it for safety reasons and in that sense it saved them insurance premiums probably.

    If I'd had any warning at all I would have made an effort, first through proper channels. But as a high schooler/maybe early college student at that time, and given the information that "this thing is being razed tomorrow, not preserved" I would not have batted an eye to take a reciprocal saw down there and make short work of salvaging what I could. (again knowing that it was all going in the trash post haste)

    Would it have been stealing? Yes. Could I have been arrested for it? Sure.

    Would the Rock Island logo and Town Name carefully cut from the siding make an outstanding piece to frame for the local community center or library? Would the library or local historical society love to have the telegraph/freight agents desk and other decorative wood items...even a window frame? Would salvaged flooring and siding and windows and hardware be valuable for other station restorations? Would SOME PIECE of history live on as a result?

    I did the "right" thing and that history will never be documented in a real live, touchable, three dimensional way. Was my intention to profit off of it? No. Would I have done everything in my power to keep that depot preserved if given the chance again? You betcha. (I may have had the distinction of being the first person to being arrested for stealing a railroad station as a moving violation!)

    People break the law all the time. You speed in your car. You take your neighbors mail that was mistakenly delivered to your house and put it in their mailbox. You jaywalk when there's nobody within 40 miles of the road you are walking across. I still think you have to make every effort to follow the proper channels, make every effort to gain permission, make every effort to follow the rules, and make every effort to follow the law. But if your intent is truly pure, I have to believe your passion must push you forward to make a decision that may be risky.

    Or you'll regret it like I do.
  9. EricB

    EricB TrainBoard Member

    To say this is a completely black and white issue is wrong. The reason I say this is because I am willing to bet that everyone who posted here that said it was clearly theft and wrong has a rail spike in their collection that they had to trespass to get and that they did not call the owner and ask for permission to take it.

    With that said, I think I would draw the line at items that are still attached. I would try to contact the property owner and ask first. If I couldn't get ahold of somebody, I would leave it alone and hope I might run across somebody working out there one day who I could ask.

    BTW, I voted for the third option. Seems like alot of people did who aren't responding.
  10. Mike Sheridan

    Mike Sheridan TrainBoard Member

    You are quite right. The answer to the actual poll question is a matter of personal opinion.

    However, the thread has been partly hijacked (perfectly reasonably) by the question of whether it is would be legal. The answer to that question is really black/white - the item belongs to someone and if you take it without their permission it is theft. 'Borrowing' a pen from the office is also theft, but people often say "well, it's only a little thing" and that is the thinking often being applied here.

    A pile of 'trash' still belongs to someone and may have value - it may be burnt for energy, or some recycling may be involved, or maybe a local historical society is going to be invited to sift it for goodies. If you don't ask you don't know.
  11. traingeekboy

    traingeekboy TrainBoard Member

    It kind of comes back to the rail spike issue.

    "Gee it's a used rail spike, no one wants this, it's mine"

    Is that theft? Well yes it is. Does it matter if you took it? Probably not. Is anyone going to say, "Now where is my rusty old rail spike that was lying over here in the bushes?".

    It's all pretty gray still.

    I started this because I was curious to find out how people felt about this issue. I'm laughing because some people actually wrote they would harvest actively used train stuff. We have some pretty funny people on here. I know for myself, if I have to ask myself what would happen if a patrol car came by, then it's probably not in my best interest to do it.

    It seems to break down to morality and legality as an issue. The two are very intertwined.

    I like Eric's point about the rail spike. How many of you are going to return the rail spike?

    Worse yet, how do you know what you already have was not stolen by the previous owner. Possession of stolen goods isn't legal either.

    Ahhh yeessssss Gray. :D
  12. Mike Sheridan

    Mike Sheridan TrainBoard Member

    And of course Sod's Law guarantees one will happen by just as you begin your crime :)

    But are they really yours? ;)
  13. traingeekboy

    traingeekboy TrainBoard Member

    Hot Rivets Bat Man!!!! Now what? Must I return them uncounted? LMAO
  14. mtntrainman

    mtntrainman TrainBoard Supporter

    How do you feel about harvesting old train relics?

    If it was lying on the ground and was clearly old and discarded it is ok

    I have been accused all my life of having "Loose Morals". As the question was posed...and by the possible answer above...yup...I would have it hanging in my trainroom before the sun sets...but thats just me...


  15. Fotheringill

    Fotheringill TrainBoard Member

    You would lose that spike bet.

    I don't have one and never did.

    Would I like one? Sure. But not enough to trespass and appropriate someone else property, whether a railroad, or inflate a claim with an insurance company or swipe a paper from the sight challenged newspaper vendor.
  16. CSXDixieLine

    CSXDixieLine Passed Away January 27, 2013 In Memoriam

    Interesting update on my CSX mast signal... yesterday we were at the office for a Christmas party (have not been to that office in at least 9 months) and the entire signal mast is still sitting there. It was dropped off in November 2007 and has not been touched. I am going to call CSX and see if they forgot about it or if a contractor maybe dropped it off at the wrong location and it has been assumed lost in action. Hoping they will get to it before the metal thieves. Jamie
  17. StrasburgNut

    StrasburgNut TrainBoard Member

    Wow!!!! As of this posting, 56% of those who voted on this feel as if these items were okay to take. Scary.

    If you are walking down the street and you see a shopping cart from a store a block away, what do you do? Do you take it? Or, do you take it to the store? Or, leave it and call the store for someone to pick it up? If that store loses enough carts, their prices will go up. Consumers will feel the pinch.

    This goes the same for these "items" we are discussing. Old, unused metal still has a scrap value to it. If they lose enough of these "items", prices will go up. Eventually, the consumers feel the pinch. (Sound familiar?) All this for the one railroad spike somebody took and they thought "Oh, nobody will miss this! I need this!"

    Just some food for thought.
  18. traingeekboy

    traingeekboy TrainBoard Member

    Well, if the shopping cart is loaded with antique cross bucks and signal lights I would have to store it all in my train room for the original owner to come and recover. ;)
  19. traingeekboy

    traingeekboy TrainBoard Member

    Final update...

    The signs, MY SIGNS!, got stolen by thieves. Yes, they are gone. Once again the good guys lose.
  20. maintainance in the way

    maintainance in the way E-Mail Bounces

    There see...problem solved itself

    Looks like someone beat you to it......

    (mite be the guy who took it, will be handeling your 401k in 20 years or so.... )
    (the ironey of it all .... huh?)

    Hey stealing is stealing. The fact is, no one really cares about a odd bent spike, tie plate etc etc.
    They care more about when odd spikes and tie plates become, truckloads.

    They also care about getting sued by people who were stealing truckloads of scrap. Becouse a good lawyer can convince a jurey the evil RR didnt properly patrol its hazard infested property.
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