Slaymaker railroad switch key on the block

Samuel Redsecker Slaymaker stood tall among the prominent citizens of Lancaster around the turn of the 20th century. He held administrative and directorial posts for businesses from the Lancaster Press to Lancaster General Hospital. At one point, he even owned the Woolworth building.

But Slaymaker was best known as the city’s leading manufacturer of locks at a time when Lancaster was a hub of East Coast locksmithing. A civil engineer by trade, Slaymaker had worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad and knew the importance of the rail switch locks he would go on to manufacture.

A key to one such lock, branded for the Chicago and North Western Transportation Co., will be sold Friday by Soulis Auctions in Lone Jack, Missouri. Online bidding is available through

At the time, railroad tracks had to be switched manually, and the switch levers had to be locked down to prevent ne’er-do-wells from switching tracks and causing catastrophes.

This railroad switch key, shown with front and back views, was manufactured by Samuel Slaymaker at his factory on North Water Street in Lancaster around the turn of the 20th century.

The switch lock key is one of two railroad keys in a lot that’s hard to pin down pricewise. Individually, railroad keys typically sell in the $15 to $25 range, though motivated buyers of hard-to-find keys will occasionally drive up prices over $100. Bidders of several stripes will have skin in the game: lock and key collectors, railroad collectors (generalists and those devoted to specific railways) and local history buffs from Lancaster and across the Midwest.

Story by Michael Long for

Updated: August 28, 2020 — 11:27 AM

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