Sunday, February 22, 2015

Friction Bearings

Update: 5:50 in a NYC late 1940s video indicates oil is added to each bearing in a hump yard. And 12:49 shows the disassembly of a bearing as part of a wheel change operation. And more oiling in the background at 14:35.

Kevin Piper updated
Dennis DeBruler I've heard of hot boxes. But this is the first time I've seen one flaming. How often did oil have to be added to a friction bearing? That would have been a lot of labor.
Larry LeCrone That is one of the things that carknockers used to do while walking an outbound train. The carry an oil can and a hook to lift the lid with to check it.
Charley Hill Time to break out the box of Texaco Hot Box Coolant sticks so you can limp the car to a siding! [I have no idea what a "coolant stick" was.]

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When I took US-34 home instead of I-80, my wife spotted a caboose a block or so to the left, so I turned, parked the van, and we got out. While I took pictures, my wife talked to a neighbor that had come out to see what was bothering her dog. She explained that it had been setting in a farmer's field as a "party house." There are plans to restore it. Because of a few bad "railfans", it is becoming rare to find static displays without a fence around them. (That is why I'm not mentioning the town that has this caboose.)
So I took advantage of the access to get a close up of the truck. And then it occurred to me that I could get a picture of a friction bearing.

Note the rag at the bottom. Friction bearings were a significant maintenance issue because oil would have to be added to the bearing box to keep that rag soaked in oil. If it went dry, a fire would start. That is the origin of the phrase "hot box." When I posted the caboose and bearing pictures to the Fallen Flags Facebook group, one of comments was about having to use a rod to pull the rag out so that it would burn out without catching anything on fire!

Fortunately, friction bearings were replaced by roller bearings many years ago. In fact, it has become harder for museums to ship equipment to their sites because railroads will no longer allow cars with friction bearings to run over their rails.

As more evidence it pays to get of the beaten path, I saw the following on the same trip.

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Update: Country Railfan Productions posted five photos with the comment:
Did you know?
A plain bearing (in railroading sometimes called a solid bearing or friction bearing). Is the simplest type of bearing, comprising just a bearing surface and no rolling elements. Therefore, the journal (i.e., the part of the shaft in contact with the bearing) slides over the bearing surface. The simplest example of a plain bearing is a shaft rotating in a hole.
Plain bearings, in general, are the least expensive type of bearing. They are also compact and lightweight, and they have a high load-carrying capacity.
This is the most common type of plain bearing; it is simply a shaft rotating in a bearing. and was used on locomotives and railroad car applications until the transition to roller bearings used today began to take place as early as the late 1950s

2, cropped
Bobby Wentz Bearlng floats on a bead of oil, between the bearing & journal.
Dwain Culpepper works amazingly well,,,,,,till you run out of oil....

Doug Krattiger Looks like the bearing is working out
Dave Hyer Wedge is missing and the brass is out of place.

Jrü Gordon I remember a TTX flat car passing me with 1 of those, the smell was horrible
Stephen Booth A plain bearing journal box contains both a smoke and odor signal. The odor is powerful/stinky enough to penetrate a caboose to alert the conductor.

Bobby Wentz A cast iron wheel.

Jerry Jacktion updated (Facebook won't give me a link)
The CSX train is on the line passing IHB's NorPaul yard in Franklin Park. The PRR flat is on a yard track. Both are on the North Avenue overpass with 25th avenue in the distance, looking east, in Melrose Park. The Benjamin Moore paint factory is in the NW corner of 25th and North Ave and Al Piemonte Ford in Melrose Park is in the SW corner of that intersection. 1987, IIRC.
Charles Heraver Friction bearings on that Pennsy flat.
Jerry Jackson From '74, all cars having an axle loading greater than 55,000 lbs must have roller bearings. At this point in '87, they may have been converted. The raised bearing covers were usually removed for inspection on converted trucks but it might not have been done 100%. This car may have been close to the end of its service life in '87. It wasn't till 1995 that all cars were mandated to have roller bearings.


  1. What is the type of oil?

  2. I'm not sure of the weight of oil. We got it in 55 gallon barrels, and called I "journal oil" I spent many hours of my 39 years on the railroad, walking a cut of cars, pulling box lids, oiling boxes, and putting my "pool mark" on the corner of the car I just lubricated! Sorry I cant remember the oil weight, though.

  3. Would it be possible to use the photo of the flaming hotbox in an article I am writing for a railfan magazine? Of course, I would credit the photo to you.

    1. I remember that Kevin Piper said his photos could be used as long as he was acknowledged. So I suggest you credit this photo as "Posted in Facebook by Kevin Piper via Dennis DeBruler," Or, if writing online, make Dennis DeBruler a hot link to these notes.