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Roll Your Own: 1904

Roll Your Own: 1904

Despatch (East Rochester), New York, circa 1904. "Shops and transfer yards, Merchants Despatch Transportation Co." Behind the scenes at MDT. 8x10 inch dry plate glass negative, Detroit Publishing Company. View full size.


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Ah, phooey. Them ain't ingotz. Them's what youse call brake shoes!

Heavy Lifting

I'll bet the local drug store did a brisk business in trusses.


Check out the sand barrels on the roof. Each with a bucket for flinging.


The trucks that the men are working on are arch bar trucks constructed of heavy strap steel. They were more common that the Fox trucks mentioned earlier. They were, however, banned from interchange in the 1930's.

Ivy league

Did someone really plant those vines? I guess when the building was completed, someone just had to bring some seeds and finish off the building.

Freight car wheels

I worked in the GM&O RR wheel shop for about a year back in 1955. We had both wrought steel "one wear" wheels as well as cast iron ones like all those in the photo. The cast iron wheels had hardened "chilled" tires and could not be resurfaced. The so called "one wear" wheels were not supposed to have their tires refinished, but apparently the rules were changed in WWII to allow machining of the tires. I refinished many of them in a big wheel lathe and bored many more to fit axles. If the cast iron wheels did not have "shelled" "flaked out" places in the tire surface, I could rebore them to fit on another axle. The men who ran the wheel press could roll the individual wheels about the shop floor just as easily as a child could roll an auto tire down the sidewalk. The cast iron wheels weighed 750 pounds each or so it was claimed. Don't ask me, I sure never tried to weigh one. I had a handy dandy sort of jib crane to handle the wheels onto the boring mill.

Trucks and couplers

While they will probably weigh slightly less, to further the comment below on weight. 33-inch steel wheels weigh about 500 pounds each, with the axle running in the neighborhood of 1,000 pounds. As for ease of movement, my father, who used to work at Conrail's Samuel Rea shops, said they commonly would move freight cars in the 40-50 ton range (empty) by hand with nothing more than a crowbar wedged under a wheel to get them rolling. Once rolling, as long as the track was level, they could be pushed by hand. Granted those were roller bearing trucks, but you could move solid bearing trucks that way, and the best way to stop one would have been to put a piece of wood on top of the rail in front of the wheel.

Having a good day at work

Most of the workers are smiling, unlike the grim looking people in most turn of the century pictures.

Hey Boss!

Where do you wants dese ingotz?


A good subject for any large HO layout somewhere; neat little details and unusual bits and pieces.

Strongest man in the world

Paul Anderson used a pair of train wheels to build his enormous strength. One of the records he held was a one armed press of 300 pounds. He was also the first man to press over 400 pounds. He also back lifted over 6200 pounds one time and may still hold the record for that lift.

On truck weight.

A standard four-wheel freight truck weighs about five tons; each wheelset can be 2000-2300 pounds. A modern Roadrailer truck weighs six tons, and the old six-wheel heavyweight passenger trucks were around seven tons, if I remember correctly.

Current design roller bearing side frames for 286K cars weigh about 900 pounds each and 286K bolsters are about 1500 each. Complete truck assemblies with 36-inch one wear wheelsets, class K bearings, springs, friction shoes, and brake beams are just about 10,000 pounds per truck.

Oddly enough they are not that hard to move by hand. (It's not the safest shop practice, but then sometimes needs must).

Truckin' Right Along.

In the foreground are the parts for another one of those little turntables used for rotating freight car trucks. The deck, steel faced, is beneath the "spider," with seven of its eight wheels which would go in a pit beneath the table. The wheels would revolve between a circular track in the pit and a circular rail on the underside of the table itself.

To the left of the man with the wheelbarrow are pressed-steel "Fox" freight car truck side frames. The side frame closest to the man is upside-down.

The jaws where the journal boxes would slide up and down are in the up position with a crosspiece keeper at the mouth, on the first side frame nearest man with barrow. The rest of the side frames behind are in the correct position as they would be in service.

In service, the mouth and keeper would be at the bottom, then the journal box with wedge, journal bearing and axle inside, topped by a coil spring on top of the box.

Turntable spider

Notice the tiny turntable with its disabled twin upside down for repairs or as a parts donor.


The wheel trucks that the men are working on must weigh at least a ton apiece. And who did you call when the boss says "bring me one of the couplers from the corner stack"?

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