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Oil Can
Catalog #: 325,918, Accession #: 259744
Currently on display
From the Smithsonian Collection
Of soldered tinplate, wire handle. Marked "SO. RY."
Physical Description
10" H x 7" W (at handle) x 7 1/2" D at spout. Raised letters, "SO. RY."
Date Made:
ca. 1940s
Dates Used:
1900 - 1980s
Alabama, Dist of Columbia, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia
Type of can used throughout So. Ry.
Gift of John Henry Rick

Oil cans on railroads came in a great variety of sizes and styles, each size and type tailored for a different specific use. Various railroad equipment was lubricated with different types and weights of oil. Some oil cans were for storage of a quart to a few gallons aboard a locomotive. Smaller cans permitted the engineer convenience in filling small oil cups on the locomotive. A can with a very long, narrow spout was designed to reach places needing oil that were deep inside the locomotive's machinery underneath the boiler and in between the wheels and springs.

"Car oil" was used as a general oil and for railroad-car journals and wheel-bearings. "Valve oil" was a thick, animal-fat based oil, specially formulated to maintain its function inside hot cylinders operating with hot steam. "Air oil" was a light mineral oil especially for air compressors used with locomotive brake systems.

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