I too have used original ball bearings for years, can't remember the last time I had to change them, even with larger than stock tires that should cause greater bearing stress, never a hint of accelerated wear. I probably installed new ball bearings before the Alaska drive, around 1999 maybe, which is at least 30-40K miles ago. Ball bearings are still good to go!!
HOWEVER, I'd go with roller bearings if I had to change tomorrow, unless it was crazy expensive. Then I'd enjoy my balls and drive happy.
After checking the prices for original style bearings, I am leaning toward the tapered roller bearings. I can buy the kit which includes the oil seals for $120 from Classic Parts. From the same vendor, the original bearings with the oil seal is $90 for only one side. To me it would be prudent to get both sides as one side has already failed, how long would it be before the other side sees the same fate.
Price always factors into my decision when buying parts but I also know you get what you pay for. I know that more than likely, any bearing purchased from Classic Parts are made in China. Is there an American Made alternative at a reasonable price?
1952 Chevrolet 3100 Project Journals ‘59 235 & hydraulic lifters “Three on the Tree” & 4:11 torque tube 12v w/ Alternator
The original ball bearings in my '53 looked like new until a mechanic friend torqued them down with a breaker bar. I didn't know he'd done it until they failed a month later. I spent the money and purchased new ball bearings. They failed six months later. I pulled a used set of hubs from a rusting wreck of a '51 in a junk yard for free. They've lasted me years. I don't know if ball or roller bearings are better, but if they are made in China or of Chinese steel they are all junk. I have a spare set of free junk yard hubs sitting in my garage just in case I ever need them.
The ball bearings have to be installed per the shop manual. Usually that means if you are going to service them, you clean them until spotless, then repack with fresh grease. The best grease to use is what is commonly described as the fiberious grease that was once sold for ball bearings. The grease is more properly described as a high metallic soap grease. I am not aware of anyone who makes or sells that kind of grease any longer but it turns up on eBay once in a while. Very stringy grease.
Once repacked with clean grease, the bearings get installed into their races, with the hub, and then torqued to specification. This seats the balls into the race and puts a bit of preload on the cages. Then the nut gets backed off a specified amount while the wheel is rotated a bit. Following the correct procedure, including the correct torque specification and back off should give you a good long service life.
This is a bit of what I have of the fiber grease. Sticky, stringy, and melts a bit to keep the balls lubricated. Today’s high temperature greases do not do this.