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Field of Wheels: 1942

Field of Wheels: 1942

November 1942. Chicago. "Wheels and axles outside the locomotive shops at an Illinois Central Railroad yard." Medium-format nitrate negative by Jack Delano for the Office of War Information. View full size.


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Round and round she goes

These wheels show a mix of eras. The wheels with a "pie plate" backing are steel, as all railroad wheels are today (in the US, at least). The wheels with the ribbed backing are made of iron. Those ribs are actually cooling fins to assist in cooling wheels heated by braking action.

Iron wheels date back to the earliest days of railroading. They had a bad tendency to develop cracks that, if left unresolved, would cause the wheel to break up. The railroads were constantly replacing such wheels. Old photos of shop facilities always show wheelsets all around that have been removed from cars. Iron wheels caused many wrecks and killed more than a few people over the years. It's a wonder why they weren't banned from interchange until the early 1950's.

Visible on the ends of the axles are the large brass bearings. These turned in journals filled with lubricating oil. The so-called friction bearings are now banned from interchange also. They have been replaced by roller bearings; much less maintenance needed.

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