Friday, December 14, 2018

Steam Locomotive Servicing Towers: Coal, Water and Sand

Whenever I see a photo of an existing coaling tower posted, I try hard to locate it. I see I currently have 139 postings labeled with "towerCoal" in my towns blog. I'm amazed by the variety of the designs. Even though a lot of them were made by the same manufacture, there seems to have been little effort in standardizing the designs. Even though the towers have been unused for over a half-century, many of them still stand because they were constructed with reinforced concrete.

Dennis DeBruler, Gillman, IL
Most of the coal towers I have seen have been stripped of  their wood and metal parts. So sometimes it is hard to imagine what they used to look like. For example, these towers north of Gillman, IL looked quite differently when they were being used (see below).

The comments for this posting taught me about some coaling towers I had not heard of before, some of which still had metal parts. I include some of the existing towers with metal still on them at the end of these notes because they are so rare.
pinimg, Gillman, IL

But the motivation for this posting is the comments by Allan MacDonald and Brian Westhouse that taught me that these towers also stored sand. And some of them also stored water. Note that a diesel, as well as a tender, are parked at Gillman's towers above. That indicates the tower contains sand as well as coal. Like steam locomotives, diesels use sand for extra traction.
Dennis DeBruler
Special sand towers, along with huge diesel fuel tanks, have been developed for the facilities that service diesel engines.
Dennis Corso commented on a posting
Collinwood Yard. NYC on the East side of Cleveland
George L Hoppert It stood just out infront of the roundhouse but could be entered by a laborenth of track from the mains. Brought loaded coal cars through the tunnel on the far riht side to dump the coal into the pit below. they didn't fill or cover the pit for decades after they stopped using it . It was filled with black water to the top of the pit. Many trainman fell into the water filed pit while taking a short cut while switching the ajacent tracks. The elevator is just to the left of the pit.George L Hoppert Dennis Corso I was firing a job, and I got out to help with a move. I was going to take a shortcut through the pit. It was black flat and level just like all the rest of the area. if it wasn't for an old crusty brakeman , I would have gone in.
[This was on the mainline between Chicago and NYC, and it is the largest of which I remember seeing a photo.]
I feature another NYC coaling tower on their Water Level Route because it had four small silos for passenger train coal and one big one for freight train coal. "The coal for passenger trains was more refined egg-sized for a cleaner more efficient burn consumption." [comment by Philip A. Edwards]
Dennis DeBruler

Brian Westhouse commented on a posting
On this wooden coal tipple (at South Parry, On.) can you see the sand delivery pipes on the corners with supply pipes from near the top. The longer diagonal pipe at the top, delivers the sand to the tower.
The above photo shows that large coaling towers were also made of wood. But of course we don't see them today because wood doesn't last that long. In fact, before they used towers, they used coaling docks made of wood. C&NW in Nelson, IL provides examples of all three generations of coaling stations. First, a couple of photos of the coaling dock from the C&NW Historical Society.

C&NW Historical Society from Dennis DeBruler

C&NW Historical Society from Dennis DeBruler
This Jack Delano photo shows the wood tower that was at Nelson, IL. Since it is labelled OWI (Office of War Information), it is one of the many photos of railroading that Jack took during WWII.

Dennis DeBrulerLC-USW3-014097-D, part of lot 227
Since C&NW built their concrete tower after WWII, it would have been built soon before it was useless. I see it does have some metal parts on the other (east) side. I drove east of the tower on the south side looking for a gap in that treeline to get a photo of the other side. But the only gap I could find was on railroad property.

Dennis DeBruler, 20150913,16 4804
Back in the steam era, there was a lot of variety among the railroads. So you can find exceptions to almost every convention. For example, EJ&E had separate sand and coaling towers in their Joliet Yard. And the coaling tower was made of metal, which is quite rare. (It looks like the coaling tower had two skip hoists so that one could be used to counterbalance the other.)
Michael Bachmann posted
Dennis DeBruler

Dennis DeBruler
When constructed correctly, reinforced concrete is so strong that even using explosives to take them down is problematic. When the Rock Island took one down with explosives, the plan was that it would fall to the side. But it dropped down onto the mainline tracks. Kyle McGrogan commented on a posting: "The one in Decatur, Il is still there as the Wabash used old railroad rail for the rebar. N&W tried to blow it down....No luck. To the railroads, they meant these to go 1000 years at the time they built them."

Every town that had a coaling station would also have had a water tower. Although they were not necessarily across the tracks from each other.
Dennis DeBruler, Garrett, PA

Dennis DeBruler
 And there were water towers between coaling stations. So there were more water towers than coaling towers. The reason we don't see more today is that most of them were made of wood, and they have disappeared. One that does exist, and is easy to access if you are ever taking a trip on I-57, is in Kinmundy, IL. In fact, IC built a dam to create a little lake to help supply water for this tower.  Note how the metal bands get closer together as you go down the sides. That is because the water pressure is increasing. They have roofs because the water is treated with chemicals to help reduce the buildup of scale in the steam boilers. They don't want rain water to dilute the chemical treatment.

For tracks that were used by high-priority passenger trains such as NYC's 20th Century Limited, track pans were used to avoid having to stop for water.



Brian Westhouse provided some specifics concerning the spacing of coal and water towers:
On CNR through Northern Ontario, the divisional points averaged 150 miles maximum with coal and water at each end. Another combined Coal and Water stop was made a the 75 mile mark and two or three water towers between coal stops.
I've read that some railroads had a division point every 100 miles, and travelling to the next division point was considered a days work for the train crew. I know that the town of Garrett, IN was created by the B&O to be a division point. Even though trains are no longer serviced there, they are still very proud of their railroad origins. In fact, trains to Chicago were crewed from Garrett long after the conversion to diesel locomotives. They would be cabbed to a motel in Chicago, and then the next day they would run a train back home.

Since Champaign, IL, was a division point, the coaling facility that we see at the top of these notes that was in Gillman, IL, is an example of a coaling station that is about halfway between division points. The Kinmundy water tower was probably an example of an intermediate town that supplied just water.

Sometimes they incorporated water storage in with the coaling tower.
Harold Hoskins commented on a posting
[On this side of the two coal chutes, there appears to be a water spout. So the silo is probably a water tank and the coal bins are behind it. Note that they have a separate sand tower in front.]

Sometimes the train crew improvised to get water.
Brian Westhouse commented on a posting
I took this picture in 1970 about 98 miles north of Toronto. The coal tipple still standing has been long out of service. The 4-8-4 at the head end of this consist is taking on water from the river, being pumped by the local volunteer fire dept.
Peter Dudley shared
Looking for answers (this might be Windsor ON):
Ken Borg Windsor, Ont. Had that big coal dock at Riverside Yard.


Examples of towers that have at least some of their metal parts left


Dennis DeBruler, New Haven, CT
Since the metal parts are tracks, the tower would have used a skip hoist instead of a bucket elevator. Skip hoists were also used to charge blast furnaces, so the "new window" for this video shows a skip hoist in action.
(new window)


Dennis DeBruler, Flomation, AL
Dennis DeBruler, Buffalo, NY

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