Greasing the Rails

This is my favorite story of all time. I’ve spent time on the hill Louie talks about, and in the rail yards, and at the roundhouse. It’s all too familiar, and there’s no end to the adventures he got into.

"Soo Line 2719 Steams from Duluth to Two Harbors, MN" by Pete Markham - Flickr: Soo Line 2719 Steams from Duluth to Two Harbors, MN. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons -,_MN.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Soo_Line_2719_Steams_from_Duluth_to_Two_Harbors,_MN.jpg

Similar steam engine. From Wikimedia.

The roundhouse was the engine house, with a huge turn table that directed steam engines and tenders into various stalls in a circle around the table. In the engine house workers maintained and repaired the steam engines. They needed frequent maintenance and service. Every hundred miles or so the engines had to take on coal and water. Even rail box cars needed frequent maintenance and service, including greasing the axles, as Louie describes in today’s letter.

Security as we know it today was non-existent in the thirties and the fifties. Our little gang of kids would often go into the roundhouse to clamber around on the engines. It was a dirty place, with coal dust and grease everywhere. Dangerous? OMG! Huge pits under the engines. Heavy tools and parts everywhere. Somehow we survived, I’m sure some did not.

Back to the story.

Grandpa Guy Havelick



Louie writes:

Being born and raised in a railroad town, all of the kids in the west end of town were always hanging around the rail yards of the “roundhouse.”

One of the things plentiful around the rail yards was buckets of grease. These were used to grease the wheel boxes located on the end of the wheel axles …

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