Railroad Cuts

In the 1800s, railroad cuts were the source of many fossil collections. Roads went up and over the hills rather than through them, and few quarries were operating, so that railroad cuts created the only fresh exposures. A few cuts, mostly those through shales, are still productive. Many can be reached only after quite a bit of walking and are nearly vertical, making collecting difficult. Old cuts through famous fossil-bearing areas are still worth exploring, if for no other reason than that few people still collect from them. Many miles of railroad cuts around Cincinnati produce quantities of Ordovician fossils. So do nearby quarries and road cuts.

Railroad cuts are good places to collect, although most are old and overgrown. This one at Madison, Indiana, has been a famous fossil site for over a century. (Photo by Betty Crawford)

From time to time a beautiful fossil is found in the crushed rock road bed of a railroad. If the material is fresh, it can be traced back to the quarry that produced it. Some railroads still operate quarries to provide their fill. A few are familiar to fossil collectors, such as the railroad quany at LeGrand, Iowa, which produced the magnificent slabs of Mississippian crinoids and starfish mentioned in Chapter I.

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