Railroad workers

DAILY POST: Packing Friction Bearings.

A Bit of History on Film.

Does anyone even remember friction bearings? By the 1990s, these were all but a forgotten technology, replaced with the omnipresent roller bearings. Southern Pacific’s season sugar beet racks were once of the few exceptions and continued to work until about 1992 with the old technology.

However, prior to that in January 1988, I had a class project at the Rochester Institute of Technology (Rochester, New York) that involved making photos of railroad workers. I’d arranged through the Rochester & Southern to spend time around Brooks Avenue Yard.

I spent a lot of time there, relative to what was required of me for the class.

Railroad workers
Packing friction bearings on freight cars at Brooks Avenue Yard, Rochester, New York, January 1988.

At one point the general manager, or someone in the know, directed me to a rip track where workers were packing friction bearings. This was really an arcane aspect of railroading.

I exposed a series of black & white negatives in the 645 format using my father’s Rolleiflex Model T. It was a dull cold day. I think I was using Verichrome Pan (rated at 80 ISO) to get a period effect. I used a wide aperture, probably f3.5, which gave me shallow depth of field.

Verichrome was a difficult material to work with in low light and my negatives were very thin.

To make the most of these photos I used an unusual printing technique: I intentionally printed the photo darker than normal, then used a potassium-ferrocyanide solution to bleach the highlights. I did this both across the print in a tray, and using a cotton swab on select areas such as the around the journal boxes.

The result is more or less as you see it here. This print has been in a box since 1988 and has hardly ever seen the light of day. (Incidentally, in case the name doesn’t suggest it to you, potassium-ferrocyanide is decidedly unhealthy, so use it cautiously, if you must.)

I don’t think my professor was especially impressed with my results. What did he know about bearings anyway?

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One comment on “DAILY POST: Packing Friction Bearings.

  1. Friction bearings are still alive and well on many tourist lines. Part of our daily inspection of the train is to open up the journal boxes and check the oil levels, adding some if necessary. This is one of the first things we teach our new volunteers when they start their on-the-job training to be on the train crew.

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