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Our holdings include hundreds of glass and film negatives/transparencies that we've scanned ourselves; in addition, many other photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs) in the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) They are adjusted, restored and reworked by your webmaster in accordance with his aesthetic sensibilities before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here. All of these images (including "derivative works") are protected by copyright laws of the United States and other jurisdictions and may not be sold, reproduced or otherwise used for commercial purposes without permission.

© 2018 SHORPY INC.

[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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The Squeaky Wheel: 1904

The Squeaky Wheel: 1904

Circa 1904. "Michigan Central Railroad. Oiling up before the start." 8x10 inch dry plate glass negative, Detroit Publishing Company. View full size.

On Shorpy:
Today's Top 5

Oiling around. . . .

He appears to be oiling the driving boxes for the rear diver axle. The driving boxes house the journal bearings and lubrication cellars. The function of the driving box is to allow the whole assembly to move vertically up and down in the frame as the suspension travels. Failure to lubricate these can result in excessive wear and even jamming of the driving box, rendering the suspension inoperable in that position. When I oil round the running fear on a steam locomotive, I always remember "if it moves, it needs lubrication somewhere."

You railroad guys

I love you railroad guys! My dad was a machinist in the Northern Pacific shops in Livingston, Montana from the 1930s through 1950s. I barely remember the steam locomotives, but I do remember when the diesel locomotives replaced them. And I remember how my dad talked about the steam engines and their various parts and features as though they were his children -- just like you all do. Thanks so much for making my Shorpy experience even better!

The rail line

The condition of the fishplate on the railway line, with a missing bolt, the other bolts loose; and belled edges on the plate and rail, gives one great concern as to the generally poor maintenance level on the lines.

Domes again

This is the third look at this well-shod guy oiling the engine. And yes, those bulges on top of the engine are (L-R) the auxiliary steam dome, the steam dome, and the sand dome.


The photographer told this chap to "stand there and look busy while I take this picture so that, in 107 years, people will try and figure out what you're doing." And it worked.

Repack me, please.

For all the big-time railroading entailed in this passenger engine and her hoghead, the condition of the tender truck is out of character.

That is a Fox truck. The heavy assembled sideframes are typical, and were thought to be more robust than the common, and unreliable archbar trucks then in use since before the War Between the States. A lot of railroads used Fox patent trucks on tenders, cabooses and freight cars.

A period of use found the Fox trucks did not hold up well under heavy use, and were quickly removed from the railroad scene.

What suprises me is the journal box seen on that truck. There is no lid, critical to keep dust, sand (from the engine) and other debris out of the journal. The packing is hanging out of the box, indicating it will be serviced before we depart.

In a journal box, the axle, fitted with a large brass journal, rotates in the bearings while being bathed in lubricating oil. The packing, originally cotton waste, lays in the bottom of the box filled with oil. If the oil runs dry, the journal gets hot and starts burning. When it stops burning, watch out! Next thing is for the axle to separate from the truck, causing a ferocious wreck. A missing box lid would almost insure problems if any distance is involved.

These friction bearings date from the earliest days of railroading and were not banned from interchange service in the US until the 1970's, being replaced with roller bearings. (Steam passenger locomotives, the Michigan Central Railroad and the oiling hoghead above were already long gone...)

Familiar Face

We've seen this guy on Shorpy at least twice before, here and here. He has a very distinctive nose.

I love trains

Fantastic photo. 100+ years later that train is a marvel.

Lube problems

Not sure what the fellow is oiling--grease cups for the main driving rod and driving pin are both sealed. Behind the fellow one sees the forward tender truck journal cover is missing entirely (not just pushed up in the open position) and the lagging is falling out. Much more squeaking to come. Some smoke too. Nice shot though of state-of-the-art passenger steam power of the time.


Axle-box cover seems to be absent on tender leading wheelset!

SHORPY HISTORICAL PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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