Games Learning Resources Visit the Museum
America on the Move
Collection Exhibition Themes
Journal Hook used in railroad work
Catalog #: 2002.0075.01, Accession #: 2002.0075
Currently on display
From the Smithsonian Collection
To check oil level in the journal boxes of railroad cars and locomotive tenders. Each journal box had a lid; the journal hook was used by a car inspector and/or oiler to pull open the lid, check for adequate oil level, fill with oil if needed, and close the lid. (The "journal box" held the axle bearing, made of bronze, at the outer end of a railroad-car axle. Hence there are two journal boxes per axle and pair of wheels, and thus four journal boxes on a typical four-wheel "truck" or "bogie (UK usage)" that supports each end of a railroad car on the track.
Physical Description
28 1/4" x 5"
Date Made:
Dates Used:
1900 - 1950s
Gift of National Park Service

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.

A car inspector or car oiler used this journal hook to inspect journal boxes and bearings of railroad cars and locomotive tenders; he could more easily open and close a journal-box lid with this hook, without having to stoop down. A journal box held the plain bronze bearing and outer end of a railroad-car axle.

If, while running down the railroad track, the bronze bearing and axle overheated for lack of oil, a 'hot box' quickly developed.

The heat of friction of the oil-starved bearing and axle ignited the cotton pad inside the journal box that normally kept oil flowing to the bearing. If the train did not stop immediately, the rapid build-up of heat could destroy the bearing and probably cause a severe derailment.

Therefore railroad-car journals and their oil levels had to be inspected every few hundred miles. It took legions of car inspectors and oilers to do this work. Today, modern roller-bearings on railroad freight cars require maintenance only every 100,000 miles or so, and 'hot boxes' are extremely rare - almost non-existent.

Journal hooks were used by mechanics in locomotive-repair shops and in roundhouses, by car inspectors in railroad-car repair shops, and by car inspectors in passenger-car and freight-car yards.

National Museum of American History About This Site | Sponsors | Buy the Book | E-mail Signup | Credits