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America on the Move
Collection Exhibition Themes
Alemite Grease gun used in railroad repair shops
Catalog #: 2002.0129.01, Accession #: 2002.0129
Currently on display
From the Smithsonian Collection
Alemite Grease Gun, pneumatically powered, with pistol type grip. An early model, ca. 1930s, with thumb trigger located immediately above the pistol grip. Used by steam-locomotive servicing crews or roundhouse crews to inject rod-bearing grease into a locomotive's main-rod and side-rod bearings (where side rods and main rods are connected to the crankpins of the locomotive's driving wheels).
Physical Description
26 1/2" L x 7 1/2" H x 4 3/4" W. Pistol-type and thumb trigger. The "square" device, at the opposite end of the grip (see photo), mates with an Alemite fitting - one fitting located at each bearing on the machine being greased. The patented, one-way fitting permits the grease to flow from the gun into the bearing (see 'General History,' below). Grease is supplied to the gun in the form of 'sticks' of grease that are inserted into the red tube (see photo).
Gift of Richard Stone

Part of a small array of hand tools displayed in "America On The Move" - such tools were used in the inspection and repair of steam locomotives. Light repairs on steam locomotives were usually done in roundhouses at the many small locomotive terminals throughout a railroad's system; heavy repairs were done in a large, centralized repair shop serving the whole system (often referred to as the "Back Shop"). Most of these tools date from the early- to the mid-20th century, roughly 1900-1955.

The Alemite Co. manufactured a patented line of pneumatically powered grease guns, for use with vehicles ranging from automobiles to locomotives. An Alemite gun was designed to inject hard or soft grease quickly into a machinery bearing. (Regular greasing of such bearings was needed to prevent overheating and consequent destruction of the bearing.) The pneumatically operated gun required a special Alemite "fitting," designed to mate tightly with the business end of the gun, to be installed at every location where grease was to flow from the gun to an internal bearing surface.

The gun, and the fittings, provided a tremendous labor-saving improvement over previous methods of greasing critical internal bearings. In a locomotive roundhouse, a greasing crew of two men could lubricate all the rod bearings of a given locomotive in 20-30 minutes (depending on the size of the locomotive) instead of the hours required previously. A large steam locomotive, running in heavy duty on a railroad, required rod greasing approximately every 100 miles. Such greasing was usually done at a terminal, when a freash load of fuel was put into the tender and other servicing performed on the locomotive.

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