I was visiting our machine shop we use occasionally in Durango last week and Jim Melcher, co-owner of Melcher Machine Works was turning down the end shaft of a huge steel forging used in a coal mine. He handed me some shavings laying near the lathe and asked me if I knew what it was, and knowing a loaded question when I hear it, I replied “babbit.” And I was right, though more technically it was Linotype metal I had given him some time ago.
It came from a bearing Jim had turned down for a steam engine leading truck that was waiting to go into service in Alamosa, Colorado last week. Jim then took me over to his big lathe, and it is huge, and showed me a special tool he had contrived with a heavy duty bearing on the end, and the bearing looked familiar. He explained that he had to turn down the axle of this wheel set in the two places where the axle rides in the babbit bearings and that the bearing on the lathe was used to polish the turning–the bearing runs hard against the turning and that only the best bearings would work. It turns out this one came off a Universal III that I had in his shop nearly 10 years ago, and he kept the old bearings when he put in new ones. These are double row bearings in a hardened steel core and bearing surface with a felt retainer for the lubrication.
So, I was duly impressed by the quality of the Vandercook part and that it still had a use. The steam engine is a standard gauge 2-6-0 now in operation out of Alamosa. It was on a tourist railroad in New Orleans and sat through the flood with water covering all the wheel axles, yet it is back in action. It is a former Southern Pacific engine, No. 1744. A Vandercook Universal I that was entirely covered by the same flood waters in New Orleans is slowly being restored by the owners and hopefully will come back to life–when that happens I hope to post that story.