Sunday, December 22, 2019

Ugly fix preserves options for a classic steel library cart

I was presented recently with a 60-plus year-old library cart whose solid rubber wheels had flattened from sitting for years under load.

You could force it to roll, but it went "Ka-lunk Ka-lunk Ka-lunk," which is an annoying sound in a library. My job was to make it roll quietly.

It is a classic blue-painted steel cart with two bins and four wheels, two of which turn and two that donʻt. The rubber wheels still had the legible name of the manufacturer: The Colson Company of Elyria, Ohio.

Turns out Colson still exists, and their customer service is excellent. They had to refer me to one of their old-timers, who told me they closed their Elyria plant in 1957. So the cart is at least 62 years old, and maybe older.

Colson still makes wheels for library carts, but theyʻre modern designs. They no longer make the bulletproof steel wheels that were on this cart.

The cartʻs wheels still turn on their original greased bearings. Each wheel axle has its own Zerk grease fitting, and they still work. I greased them. The wheels can be taken apart to replace the solid circle of rubber that serves as a tire. I took one apart and removed the tire, to prove to myself that it was possible.

But as far as a couple of hours of internet searching was able to determine, the tires for this wheel are no longer made. Colson had no idea where to look.

Their Honolulu agent recommend I go ahead and replace the whole wheel mechanism with a modern plastic caster. But that seemed wrong. This American steel wheel was still functional, and someone long ago had designed and built it, understanding that it would last a long time. It could be serviced and was built so that the tires could someday be replaced.

After giving up on the internet, I went to local tire stores, local hardware stores, local car parts shops, all with no luck. I could not locate a replacement tire of the right size—three-inch center diameter, five-inch outer diameter, with the tire itself an inch thick in cross-section.

I even thought about using a giant O-ring to replace the tire, but the rubber would be too soft. Another option would be to find wheels the same size, and tear them apart to get the rubber wheels off and switch then to these wheels. Someone at a hardware store even suggested I could 3-D print a tire. Maybe thatʻs the eventual fix in the modern era.

Instead, for now, I used an abrasive grinder to grind the hard rubber wheels round again. It took a third of an inch off each wheel, but the old wheels are still turning, the cart is rolling quietly, and if anyone ever again makes a tire to fit them, theyʻll still be ready for a new set.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2019