Need Help ID'ing N&W Artifacts

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Tue Dec 20 08:18:09 EST 2011

Jeff -

Your image numbers 6169 and 6170 show "dope buckets." Every caboose had one when I hired (1964.) They were used for storing a ready-to-use supply of journal packing pre-soaked in journal oil, to be used for repacking hot boxes en route. Up until around 1960, dope buckets were filled with cotton waste + journal oil. In the late 1950s railroads converted from loose cotton waste to "pads" as the method for lubricating friction journals, and thereafter dope buckets were filled with pads + journal oil. I have also seen dope buckets filled with stiff, heavy grease, but that would have been unsatisfactory for use in journals.

Journal pads were rather large, and I don't think that these buckets would accommodate more than about four of them.

In addition to dope buckets, all cabooses also carried "journal hooks." These were bent from steel rod, about 0.25" diameter. One end had a round or oval-shaped handle bent into it, and the other end was bent at a right angle into a hook of about 3.5" length which was ground down on two sides to a wedge point. The straight shaft, between the handle and the hook, measured about 24". But journal hooks had a more important use on the caboose... they were used for "hooking the fire" in the coal stove. "Hooking the fire" consisted in cleaning the fire from the top, rather than shaking the grates. In "hooking the fire," one inserted the hook into the side of the fire and attempted to scrape the grate at the lowest level of the fire, knocking the ash through the openings in the grate. If the fire really needed shaking down, the end of the journal hook was inserted into a hole on the grate shaker bar and violently pulled backward and forward. But it was much easier to clean the fire from the top, by "hooking." The hook also enabled one to retrieve any clinkers that had formed, although caboose fires seldom clinkered. Oh yeah... and if you couldn't locate the brake shoe keeper key that was wedged between the coal bin and the wall of all cabooses, one could use the journal hook to pull the lid off the coal stove. Every shanty on the railroad also had a journal hook and a brake shoe key as "firing tools." I've seen the hook ends burned down to just a nub.

Vis-a-vis the "journal hook," the tool provided to car inspectors for journal work was a "packing iron," which was much larger and heavier. Most car inspectors preferred to work with the smaller and lighter journal hooks which I have described above. After pulling the journal lid open, the inspector would gently feel the amount of packing left under the bottom of the axle, and then would gently slide the hook along one side of the axle surface, just below the bearing, to feel for pitting. If he felt pitting, the car was shopped and jacked up for closer examination of the axle surface.

Sorry I can't identify your other pieces. Images 6176 and 6177 appear to be shop tools for "decanting" oil, but I never saw them in use.

-- abram burnett

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