This is a great example of a switch key from the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad, a specialized railway that derived much of its revenue from hauling coal, coke, iron ore, limestone, and steel through southwestern Pennsylvania into the neighboring states of Ohio and West Virginia.
The shape of this key suggests it dates from the mid-1900s: the 1920s-1940s era. It is stamped P&LE in tall block letters on one side of its bow, with serial number 3638 stamped on the opposite side. If you look closely you can see ADLAKE, its maker, lightly stamped in small letters on the P&LE side.
Condition is extremely nice, with light finger polish showing especially on the bow. The bit edges and barrel end are nicely worn smooth. The color is an attractive, deepening brass.
The barrel of this key is 1/4 inch across - it was made to fit a lock with a 3/16 inch pin.
BACKGROUND: Headquartered in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and in operation between from 1875 until 1993, the P&LE was known as the "Little Giant" since the freight tonnage that it moved was far out of proportion to its route mileage: although it operated only about one-tenth of one percent (.01%) of the nation's railroad miles, it hauled about a full one percent (1.00%) of its tonnage. This was largely because the P&LE served the steel mills of the greater Pittsburgh area, which consumed and shipped vast amounts of materials. Interestingly, the P&LE never reached Lake Erie until 1976, and the eventual closure of the steel mills led to the end of it as an independent line in 1992.
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Vintage P&LERR Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad Brass Switch Key