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I recently came across a model of an overhead wire greaser. I’m a long time electric fan but this is a practice that I didn’t know existed. Was “greasing” the wires a common practice or did certain railroad follow this practice?



Born and raised in New Jersey, my dad worked for the PRR, and his dad worked for the PRR; I've NEVER heard of such a process. The PRR electric locomotives had carbon "shoes" in the contact area of the pantographs, so just how would any sort of "grease" assist in the contact of the shoe to the wire?

PE is the only electric line I know of that greased their wire. I believe it was done because they ran steel shoes. There may be others, but I do not know of them.  On traditional diamond pantographs the wire contact shoe is a C shaped sheet metal pan. It has copper strips bolted to it on each edge and an cast aluminum horn bolted onto the ends. The area between the copper strips is filled with a paint on coating (Slip Plate) of graphite. This graphite lubricates the wire. Where pantographs get only occasional use reapplying a coat of graphite once a year is adequate. With mainline operation, like the PPR, I would assume the graphite was applied more frequently. Also PRR ran a high force on the wire, 60 lbs.  The pans I have worked with run with a upward force of 26 lbs. The higher contact force is required for higher currents and higher speeds. Since the PRR used high voltage, 11,000 VAC, high current would not have been an issue.   In later years most trolley operations converted to carbon inserts, in place of wheels, which reduced wear on the contact wire. Modern pantographs also use carbon strips at the wire contact interface, which reduces wear on the wire.

Other trolley systems also used shoes at the end of the poles and greased.   I spent many weekends of my youth at the Ohio Railway Museum where I remember them greasing various locations, perhaps once a year.  At ORM they did this by hand from a line car.  A line car is one that had been purpose built or a rebuilt car of other use into one that had a insulated (ie wood) platform on the top where they could work on the overhead without turning off the 600 volt power. 


(Eastern Michigan line car 7763, circa 1970, photo by Dave Bunge)



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