It goes almost without saying that for any given service we want the best car wheel, and in general it is evident that this is the one best adapted to the efficient, safe and prompt movement of trains, to the necessary limitations improved by details of construction, and also the one most economical in maintenance and manufacture.

It is our aim this afternoon to look into this question in so far as the diameter of the wheel affects it, and in doing it we must consider what liability there is to breakage or derangement of the parts of the wheel, hot journals, bent axles, the effect of the weight of the wheel itself, and the effect upon the track and riding of the car, handling at wrecks and in the shop, the first cost of repairs, the mileage, methods of manufacture, the service for which the wheel is intended and the material of which it is made.

Confining ourselves to freight and passenger service, and to cast iron and steel wheels in the general acceptation of the term as being the most interesting, we know that cast iron is not as strong as wrought iron or steel, that the tendency of a rotating wheel to burst is directly proportional to its diameter, and that the difficulty of making a suitable and perfect casting increases with the diameter. Cast iron, therefore, would receive no attention if it were not for its far greater cheapness as compared to wrought iron or steel. This fact makes its use either wholly or in part very desirable for freight service, and even causes some roads in this country, notably the one with which I am connected, to find it profitable to develop and perfect the cast iron wheel for use in all but special cases.

Steel, on the other hand, notwithstanding its great cost, is coming more and more into favor, and has the great recommendations of strength and safety. It is also of such a nature that wheels tired with it run much further before being unfit for further service than those made of cast iron, and consequently renewals are less frequent. The inference would seem to be that a combination of steel and cast iron would effect the desirable safeness with the greatest cheapness; but up to the present this state of affairs has not yet been realized to the proper extent, because of the labor and cost necessary to accomplish this combination and the weakness involved in the manner of joining the two kinds of material together.

Taking up the consideration of the diameter of the wheel now, and allowing that on the score of economy cast iron must be used for wheels in freight service, we are led to reflect that here heavy loads are carried, and there is a growing tendency to increase them by letting the floor of the car down to a level with the draft timbers. All this makes it desirable to have the wheels strong and small to avoid bent axles and broken flanges, to enable us to build a strong truck, to reduce the dead weight of cars to a minimum, and have wrecks quickly cleared away. The time has not yet come when we have to consider seriously hot journals arising from high speed on freight trains, and a reasonable degree only of easy riding is required. The effect on the track is, however, a matter of moment. Judging from the above, I should say that no wheel larger than one 33 in. in diameter should be used under freight cars. Since experience in passenger service shows that larger cast iron wheels do not make greater mileage and cost more per 1,000 miles run, and that cast iron wheels smaller than 33 in., while sometimes costing less per 1,000 miles run, are more troublesome in the end, it is apparent that 33 in. is the best diameter for the wheels we have to use in freight service.

When we take up passenger service we come to a much more difficult and interesting part of the subject, for here we must consider it in all its bearings, and meet the complications that varying conditions of place and service impose. In consequence, I do not believe we can recommend one diameter for all passenger car wheels although such a state of simplicity would be most desirable. For instance, in a sandy country where competition is active, and consequently speed is high and maintained for a length of time without interruption, I would scarcely hesitate to recommend the use of cast iron for car wheels, because steel will wear out so rapidly in such a place that its use will be unsatisfactory. If then cast iron is used, we will find that we cannot make with it as large a wheel as we may determine is desirable when steel is used. And just to follow this line out to its close I will state here that we find that 36 in. seems to be the maximum satisfactory diameter for cast iron wheels, because this size does not give greater mileage than 33 in., costs more per 1,000 miles run, and seems to be nearer the limit for good foundry results. On the other hand, a 36 in. wheel rides well and gives immunity from hot boxes - a most fruitful source of annoyance in sandy districts.

It is also easily applicable where all modern appliances under the car are found, including good brake rigging. In all passenger service, then, I would recommend 36 in. as the best diameter for cast iron wheels.

Next taking up steel wheels, a great deal might be said about the different makes and patterns, but as the diameter of wheels of this kind is not limited practically to any extent by the methods of manufacture, except as to the fastening of the wheel and tire together, we will note this point only. Tires might be so deeply cut into for the introduction of a retaining ring that a small wheel would be unduly weakened after a few turnings.

On the other hand, when centers and tires are held together by springing the former into the latter under pressure, it is possible that a tire of larger diameter might be overstrained. But allowing that the method of manufacture does not limit the diameter of a steel wheel as it does a cast iron one, the claim that the larger diameter is the best is open to debate at least, and, I believe, is proved to the contrary on several accounts. It is argued that increasing the diameter of a wheel increases its total mileage in proportion, or even more. Whether this be so or not, there are two other very objectionable features that come with an increase in diameter - the wheel becomes more costly and weighs more, without giving in all cases a proportionate return. We have to do more work in starting and stopping, and in lifting the large wheel over the hills, and when the diameter exceeds a certain figure we have to pay more per 1,000 miles run. I am very firmly convinced that the matter of dead weight should receive more attention than it does, with a view to reducing it.

The weight of six pairs of 42 in. wheels and axles alone is 15,000 to 16,000 lb.

The matter of brakes is coming up for more attention in these days of high speed, heavy cars and crowded roads, and the total available braking power, which has hitherto been but partially taken advantage of, must be fully utilized. I refer to the fact that many of our wheels in six-wheel trucks have gone unbraked where they should not. As the height of cars and length of trucks cannot well be increased for obvious reasons, it is necessary to keep the size of the wheels within the limits that will enable us to get efficient brakes on all of them that carry any weight. This is not easy with a 42 in. wheel in a six-wheel truck, which is usually the kind that requires most adjustment and repairs after long runs. The Pullman Co. has recognized this fact, and is now replacing its 42 in. wheel with one 38 in. in diameter.

A 42 in. wheel with 4 in. journal has a greater leverage wherewith to overcome the resistance of journal friction than the 38 in. wheel with the same journal, and even more than the 36 in. and 33 in. wheels with 33/4 in. and 31/2 in. journals respectively, but the fact remains that the same amount of work has to be done in overcoming the friction in each case, and what may be gained in ease of starting with the large wheel is lost in time necessary to do it, and in the extra weight put into motion.

A large wheel increases the liability to bent axles in curving on account of greater leverage unless the size and weight of the axle are increased to correspond, and the wheel itself must be made stronger. A four or six wheel truck will not retain its squareness and dependent good riding qualities so well with 42 in. wheels as with 33 in. ones. Besides the brakes, the pipes for air and steam under the cars interfere with large wheels, and as a consequence of all this 42 in. wheels have been replaced by 36 in. ones to some extent in some places with satisfactory results. On one road in particular so strong is the inclination away from large wheels that 30 in. is advocated as the proper size for passenger cars.

On the other hand, there is no doubt a car wheel may be too small, for the tires of small wheels probably do not get as much working up under the rolls, and therefore are not as tough or homogeneous. Small wheels are more destructive to frogs and rail joints. They revolve faster at a given speed, and when below a certain size increase the liability to hot journals if carrying the weight they can bear without detriment to the rest of the wheel. Speed alone I am not willing to admit is the most prolific source of hot boxes. The weight per square inch upon the bearing is a very important factor. I have found by careful examination of a great many cars that the number of hot boxes bears a close relation to the weight per square inch on the journal and the character of lubrication, and is not so much affected by the size of wheel or speed. These observations were made upon 42 in., 36 in. and 33 in. wheels in the same trains. We find, furthermore, that while a 3-3/8 in. journal on a 33 in. wheel is apt to heat under our passenger coaches, a 33/4 in., even when worn 3-5/8 in., journal on a 36 in. wheel runs uniformly cool.

In 1890 on one division there were about 180 hot boxes with the small wheel, against 29 with the larger one, with a preponderance of the latter size in service and cars of the same weight over them.

I do not know that there is any more tendency for a large wheel to slide than a small one under the action of the brakes, but large wheels wear out more brake shoes than small ones, if there is any difference in this particular.

My conclusions are that 42 in. is too large a diameter for steel wheels in ordinary passenger service, and that 36 in. is right. But as steel-tired wheels usually become 3 in. smaller in diameter before wearing out, the wheel should be about 38 in. in diameter when new. Such a wheel can be easily put under all passenger cars and will not have become too small when worn out. A great many roads are using 36 in. wheels, but when their tires have lost 3 in. diameter they have become 33 in. wheels, which I think too small.

There are many things I have left unsaid, and I am aware that some of the members of the club have had most satisfactory service with 42 in. wheels so far as exemption from all trouble is concerned, and others have never seen any reason for departing from the most used size of 33 in.

One more word about lightness. A wrought iron or cast steel center, 8 or 9 light spokes on a light rim inside a steel tire, makes the lightest wheel, and one that ought to be in this country, as it is elsewhere, the cheapest not made of cast iron.

[1]By Samuel Porcher, assistant engineer motive power department, Pennsylvania Railroad. Read at a regular meeting of the New York Railroad Club, Feb. 19, 1891.