Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum

Water Tank Drop-Spouts and Water Columns -- “Fill ‘er up, mister?” “Yes, and please check the oil!”

By John B. Corns

With the water tank tub securely sitting on top of its elevated tower, it was time to have some sort of mechanism to deliver that water into thirsty locomotive tenders below. While the tank and tower designs were very similar, the water delivery systems underwent frequent design modifications that continually improved on earlier types.

Initially, in the days when little locomotives tugged tiny tenders, a long leather water “apron” (that resembled a giant hollow leg from a pair of 1960s rock star leather pants) was attached to a pipe at the bottom of a water tank’s wooden tub to guide the flow of water down into teeny tender hatches. This imperfect system caused excess water to spill onto the tender tops, wasting both water and time to fill the tender, and creating a safety hazard with wet or icy tender tops. Also, the leather aprons soon rotted away and needed constant replacing.

A few years later, the flexible leather apron was replaced with a rigid, sheet metal drop-spout that was hinged at one end and lowered into position when needed. It was kept out of the way in a near-vertical position through a system of counterweights that kept it upright until the locomotive fireman added his muscle power to leverage the spout and pull it down. The spout’s hinged end was about twice the diameter of the bottom-of-tub delivery pipe to facilitate the funneling of the water into the spout. The wide, 60- to 75-degree vertical swing of a spout’s movement accommodated tenders of varying height, but, more importantly, this loose connection also permitted some lateral leeway in the lowered spout. It was then possible for the business end of the spout to still reach the tender’s standard, 18-inch diameter water hatch, even if that hatch did not exactly align with the water tank’s bottom-of-tub delivery pipe. That was a small target to hit with a spout that had little or no lateral movement, especially at night with trains that were difficult to stop on a dime. (Can you imagine using only hand brakes to stop a fast passenger train or heavy freight to spot a tender underneath a spout prior to invention of air brakes!)

This, plus the fact that tank-mounted water spouts could be used easily only on single-track rail lines, led to the development of the water “column” (sometimes called a penstock, water crane or standpipe). Fed by a nearby water tank through underground piping, water columns consisted generally of a vertical steel pipe from 8- to 12-inches in diameter and equipped with a horizontal, swinging “arm” (spout). One water column could be placed between two parallel tracks and be swung in either direction to serve both tracks. Or, several water columns could be placed around the property, with all being fed by just one water tank. The columns were designed to provide a maximum of water in a minimum of time through a low frictional resistance to the flow of the water. Valves controlling the opening and closing were kept simple to prevent failure due to the accumulation of ice, sand or sediment, and all columns were equipped with slow-closing valves to reduce water “hammer,” the potentially damaging shockwave that passes through water whenever its flow is started or stopped too quickly. Valve movements were controlled by the locomotive fireman with levers, wheels, rods and counterweights, and a few columns could be lowered, operated and raised from either the top of the tender or down on ground level.

The spout could be swung out across the track to deliver water into a waiting tender, but a locking device on the water column spout held it parallel to the railroad track when not in use and out of the path of passing trains.
Unlike the great flexibility with tank-mounted drop-spouts, there was no method of lowering one end of a water column’s rigid, horizontal spout into 18-inch diameter tender hatches to control the flow. Additionally, unlike water squirting out of a garden hose in a steady, controlled stream, a torrent of wild water from a water column gushed out everywhere. The leather aprons re-appeared and were fastened to the business ends of the water column spouts. So, it was back to the drawing boards to design a better water column with a horizontal, flexible or telescoping spout that moved both radially and vertically in order to reach down into tender hatches.

Beginning after the Civil War, improved water columns were designed and manufactured by companies such as Sheffield, Fairbanks-Morse, Poage, Otto, T.W. Snow and a few others. These various water column designs all used flexible, horizontal spouts that were attached to vertical pipes with an “elbow” and a flexible, water-tight joint that allowed a wide range of both horizontal and vertical flexibility. Spouts remained in their normal “up” position through a system of counterweights or by a heavy spring located at the back of the column. Most water columns were made of heavy cast iron pipes and parts, but from the need for ease and mobility, the flexible and telescoping spouts were manufactured from light-weight sheet steel. When the end of a spout was firmly spotted into the tender hatch, locomotive firemen often stood directly on the spout to add their weight and help control that bucking bronco of a spout once the valve was opened and water began to gush. The deeper the depth of the water in the tank, the higher the water pressure at the bottom the wooden tub, and the greater the gusher at the delivery end of the spout. Depending on the water pressure in the piping, an 8-inch diameter water column had a maximum desirable flow rate of 3,000 gallons per minute, a 10-inch column had a 4,000-gallon flow rate, and a 12-inch column had a 6,000-gallon flow rate.

Originally supplying water to America’s small locomotive tenders, water columns measured a scant 8 feet tall, had a 9-foot long swinging horizontal arm, and were located 7’-8” from the centerline of the track (this distance was later lengthened to a standard 8’-6”). Combined with the standard 18-inch tender water hatch, the resulting leeway for positioning the locomotive was increased to about 7 feet, a vast improvement over the nominal two-foot leeway afforded by the tank-mounted drop spout. In about 1895 tender water hatches were increased in size to 18”x36” and were aligned perpendicular to the track, thus increasing the horizontal leeway to about 9 feet when spotting a locomotive tender beside a water column. By simply rotating 90-degrees and constructing that same 18”x36” hatch parallel to the track, this leeway was increased to nearly 10-1/2 feet. Eventually, water spouts were increased to more than 10 feet in length, tender water hatches became nearly as wide as the tenders themselves (10 feet), and the locomotive placement leeway increased to more than 15 feet.

As locomotives and tenders grew taller, the water column spouts did not have to drop as far down to reach the tender hatches, thus reducing the water’s flow from its flatter trajectory. Therefore, water columns had to also grow taller to be able to maintain their steep, downward angle to quickly feed water into the open tender hatch. To handle modern, larger steam locos and tenders, Poage columns grew to a height of 18’-6” exclusive of their bell-shaped counterweight at the very top of the column, and with a 15-inch diameter end-of-spout opening. To prevent having to replace an entire, slightly too short water column with a slightly taller one, a shorter column’s vertical pipe would be cut and a “breaking joint” of the same pipe diameter installed, and then bolted into place to add the necessary extra height, usually only a foot or two.

The Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum has two, 10-inch diameter Poage water columns that were installed beside the roundhouse’s two ready tracks, adjacent to the locomotive back shop. Both are of Chesapeake & Ohio lineage, one from Raleigh Yard near Beckley, West Virginia, and the other from Russell Yard in the Kentucky town of the same name. These two columns have been completely reconditioned by AoSRM shop forces, and are connected by underground piping to our 50,000-gallen wood water tank. Additionally, the Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum’s wood water tank is equipped with a drop-spout whose large cast iron parts are from the Colorado Railroad Museum, but a local sheet metal fabricator re-used this original hardware and some other parts when they restored the spout.

Crew Car - "Conneaut"

Builder:American Car and Foundry Co.
Original Owner:Wabash Railroad
Type:Baggage / RPO

The crew car (sometimes referred to as a “tool car”) is a critical component for operating steam locomotives in the 21st century. When steam ruled the rails, the specialized equipment necessary to make a quick, minor repair could be found at every division point on the railroad. Today, these options no longer exist. Instead, steam operators must carry the necessary tools and equipment with them. Typically the crew car is positioned just behind the locomotive. Car 5012, named “Conneaut,” handles this important job for the Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum.

This car was built in 1925 for the Wabash Railroad as a combination coach and baggage car. Some years later, the passenger space was converted to a Railway Post Office. Mail was picked up by this car and transferred between railway stations. During the trip, postal clerks sorted mail to ensure it went to the proper destination. The car continued in this service, transferring to the Norfolk and Western Railway after the Wabash was merged into it in 1964.

In the 1960’s after its mail-carrying career was over, the car was acquired by the High Iron Company (HICO) and converted for use as a crew car. High Iron pioneered the operation of steam locomotives on excursion trains, and modified one end of the car with racks and a workbench to carry the numerous spare parts, tools, and other equipment needed to perform repairs away from the home shop. In the central section, showers, lockers, a washer and a small vanity was installed to give crew members some of the comforts of home. Finally, a small galley, washroom and sitting area were included to give the steam crew a spot to relax between runs. As HICO had rebuilt Nickel Plate Road 2-8-4 locomotive #759 in Conneaut, Ohio, the car was named after that location.

Jerry Jacobson purchased the Conneaut in the late 1990’s, continuing to use it for support of his steam locomotives. Many Ohio Central steam excursions included the Conneaut, with steam crew members enjoying the view provided through the open baggage doors when they were not taking their turn operating the locomotive. The car was transferred into the Age of Steam fleet with Jerry’s collection of steam locomotives.

The Conneaut has supported excursions with many famous preserved steam locomotives, including:

  • Nickel Plate Road 2-8-4 #759
  • Chesapeake & Ohio 4-8-4 #614
  • Reading 4-8-4 #2102
  • Grand Trunk Western 4-8-4 #6325
  • Canadian Pacific 4-6-2 #1293
  • Lake Superior & Ishpeming 2-8-0 #33

Pullman - "White Castle"

Builder:Pullman Company
Original Owner:Pullman Company
Type:Heavyweight Sleeping Car
Capacity:Sleeping accommodations for 27 adults

Our Pullman heavyweight sleeping car – named “White Castle” – boasts an impressive resume. Read on for more information on the many jobs this car has held over the years.

The Pullman Company manufactured and operated railroad sleeping cars during the first half of the 20th Century. Pullman developed a unique business arrangement with the railroads; Pullman built, owned, and operated the sleeping car service attached to overnight trains. In the process, the Pullman name became synonymous with comfort on the rails. Pullman typically employed African American men as porters. After unionizing in 1925, The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters became a powerful political organization which made significant contributions to the American Civil Rights Movement.

This car was originally named “Auckland” and included a drawing room, men’s and women’s washrooms, and twelve open sections, each section comprising an upper and lower sleeping berth. During the day, porters would convert the lower berth to passenger seating while the upper berth was tilted up and into the wall to provide more space. After an extensive renovation in 1936 which removed the drawing room and added two double bedrooms, the car was renamed “White Castle” and assigned to first-class sleeping car service on the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad.

Pullman eventually came under increased scrutiny by the US Government for monopolizing the sleeping car industry, and in 1944 was forced to divest its operations arm. As a result, the Pullman cars – including the White Castle – were sold off to the railroads on which they operated. This car continued in sleeper service with the P&LE until 1958, when it was transferred to wrecking train duty. Again the car was heavily modified, with six of the sleeping sections, both double bedrooms and one of the washrooms removed. In this empty space, a large kitchen dining area was installed to feed the wreck train crew. With six open sections remaining the car could still sleep twelve crew members.

When the declining P&LE sold off large amounts of equipment in the early 1990’s, Jerry Jacobson bought the entire McKee’s Rocks wreck train for his Ohio Central railroad. Spotted outside the Morgan Run Locomotive Shop, the White Castle provided accommodations for volunteers working to rebuild and operate Jerry’s growing fleet of steam locomotives. After being transferred to the Age of Steam Roundhouse, the car was repurposed yet again as the field office at the Roundhouse construction site.

Over the Winter of 2018-2019, the White Castle was cleaned up and repainted in a proper coat of Pullman green. New windows were installed, including recreations of the etched “P&LE” glass windows at the ends of the car.

Other than a steam loco, nothing says “Old-Time Railroading” more than a wooden water tank—Part 2

By John B. Corns

Having completed a satisfactory design and size for a wooden water tank tub to hold the water destined for filling steam locomotive tenders and, eventually, steam locomotive boilers, the next aspect was to design an elevated tower to hold that tank of water high above the track. By pumping the water up into the tank only as needed to keep the tank full, the water would be immediately available at any time through a gravity-fed system that required only the efforts of the locomotive’s fireman to fill the tender.

Initially, water tank towers were made of wood, but through the years were sometimes replaced with stronger ironwork and even concrete. Timber towers were the most popular because the materials were inexpensive to purchase, easy to erect and simple to maintain. The American Railroad Engineering Association (AREA) standard water tank tower usually had 12 vertical posts arranged in two, intersecting rows of 8 posts each, forming an “X” when viewed from above. This 12-post tower provided a better distribution of the massive weight of the water above, and better supported the water tub’s bottom without the need for an elaborate floor system. The vertical posts were topped with horizontal 12”x14” timber caps upon which was built a framework of 4”x14” joists that supported the tub floor. To reduce rot and extend their service life, the vertical wooden timbers sat on concrete or stone pedestals called “piers” to keep the ends of the wooden posts out of the overflow water and accompanying mud that usually accumulated on the ground surrounding the base of the water tank. Each concrete pier had a 7-foot tall, 4’x4’ square-shaped base buried in the ground and topped with concrete shaped like a truncated pyramid.

Usually, the vertical wood posts were a minimum of 12”x12” square with a length as determined by the desired “head” of the water in the tank (its elevation and gravitational force) above track level. The AREA standard was 20 feet between the rail head and the floor of the tub, but that measurement varied from location to location, and even by the size of locomotive tenders. The twelve, White Oak, vertical posts holding up the Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum’s water tank are 17-feet tall, measure 14”x14” square, and are the most massive wood timbers in the entire museum complex. These posts have to be massive in order to support the 415,000 pounds of water contained in the roundhouse’s 16’x24’ 50,000-gallon wooden tub. As with the foundations of all structures at AoSRM, each of these 12 vertical posts and their concrete piers sits on a separate wood piling driven 25 feet down into the soft Blue Clay ground, using frictional support between the dirt and wood to hold all that weight. The water tank’s vertical posts are topped with 14” caps and 14” floor joists underneath the wooden tub, and combined with the height of the ground-level concrete piers, equals the standard 20-foot height above track level.

During the early days of railroading when locomotives and tenders were constantly being replaced with newer models having greater size and capacity, water tank towers had to be raised higher and higher to keep the water supply above the top of the tender. This was accomplished by installing larger blocks of cut stone underneath each vertical post in the water tank’s tower until the desired height above rail was achieved. (The Wheeling & Lake Erie used home-designed, cast iron pipes measuring 10’-6” tall as the legs for its water towers, but the road must not have considered that locomotive tenders would grow larger . . . and higher, so oftentimes several cut-stone blocks would be stacked underneath each vertical post to achieve the desired height. When tubs needed replacing due to deterioration, taller wood towers would be erected to prevent the jacking-up of too-short posts.)

To replenish the used water in the tank, delivery pipes extended from the ground into the bottom of the tub and were enclosed in an insulated, wooden “frost box” to prevent freezing. This box contained several layers of wooden walls covered with insulating felt or building paper, and which were separated by 2-inch air spaces. Five such insulating air spaces offered protection down to 30-degrees below zero (Fahrenheit) where the water consumption each 24 hours equaled the capacity of the tub. Put simply, the high amount of energy required to freeze fast-moving water causes it to still freeze at 32-degrees F, but at a slower rate than if the water were not moving. On railroads located in northern climates (particularly the Canadian Pacific), to prevent freezing it was not unusual to enclose the entire water tank and tower in a wooden structure equipped with a heating stove. As the Age of Steam Roundhouse’s 50,000-gallon water tank supplies water for a fire suppression sprinkler system, an electrically-powered immersion heater sits inside the tub to prevent the mostly stationary water from freezing.

All railroad watering facilities needed a nearby source to replenish the water as tanks were emptied. In larger cities the municipal water works was occasionally the supplier, particularly since the already-pressurized water did not need a railroad-supplied employee to operate the steam-powered pump to elevate the water up into the tub. A city meter was installed to record the amount of water that was consumed, and the railroad was billed accordingly. In rural areas, lakes and rivers were preferred as water sources with railroad pumphouses raising the water into the elevated lineside tanks. If an above-ground water source were not available, a well would be drilled to reach underground water. Depending on the terrain and its affect on the quality of the water source, a reservoir or settling pond would be constructed so that particulate matter—such as sand, mud and algae—could settle to the bottom of the pond so that clearer water toward the pond’s surface was pumped into the tank. These reservoirs and ponds were constructed to hold at least a week’s water supply to allow proper settling of particulates, thus reducing tub cleaning and locomotive boiler “blowdowns” that expelled water contaminated by foreign matter. An old railroad adage summed it up—“If you wouldn’t drink it, don’t put it into a locomotive.”

Adjacent to most water tanks sat a pumphouse containing a steam- or electrically-powered pump that raised water into the elevated tank. There were no set standards for these pumps and houses, so they were constructed from a variety of materials in a myriad of shapes, sizes and styles whose appearance varied from railroad to railroad. In some remote areas the pumphouse was incorporated as an integral part of a telegraph office or depot to reduce construction and maintenance costs. Some of the more interesting pumphouses had a wooden superstructure resembling an old oil derrick projecting through the roof, evidence of a water well drilled below the building.

While it was relatively inexpensive to construct and maintain, the wooden water tank had numerous drawbacks. Its flat tub bottom collected mud, sand and other sediments that could interfere with the water valve located in the middle of the tub’s floor. To clean out this accumulated mess, the tub would have to be completely drained so that a worker could descend the interior ladder to the floor and hand-shovel the mud into buckets. With the aid of a rope, a second workman removed the buckets through the roof hatch, and a third worker emptied the buckets into a standing gondola or dump truck for final removal. This was a very tedious and labor intensive process that needed repeating several times yearly depending on the quality and clarity of the water at that site.

High quality lumber in long lengths became scarce, adding to the wood water tank’s initial construction and maintenance costs. To save money, cheaper grades of lumber were substituted during initial construction, but in the long run this increased maintenance and costs. Deferred maintenance increased the number of wooden water tank failures, so, as their budgets allowed, railroads began installing steel water tanks on a trial basis.

Steel water tanks had been around for many years, but were rejected at first because of their higher costs of materials and construction, leaky riveted seams, susceptibility to corrosion and increased maintenance. Most small railroads rejected the idea of steel water tanks because of their high initial cost, but larger, more profitable roads recognized their superior qualities—especially over a long period of time—and adopted them, if possible. Steel water tanks were installed at busy locomotive terminals where huge storage capacity was required, thus offsetting the cost of having several smaller wood water tanks to do the same job. Steel tanks maintained higher water temperatures during winter weather because of their insulating false-bottoms and tight-fitting steel roofs. The conical- and hemispherical-shaped bottoms of steel water tanks also permitted easier and more economical, one-man removal of sediment and sludge by flushing them out through a drain valve on the side of the conical bottom without having to empty the entire tank, or needing three workmen to do the same job. Steel tanks were stronger than those of wood, had greater capacity, were easier to clean, and needed less maintenance, that is, after several problems had been solved with the design of early-day steel water tanks.

Steel Caboose - W&LE 0222

Builder:W&LE Ironville Shop
Original Owner:Wheeling and Lake Erie Railway
Class:AAR Class NE

One of a handful of pieces in the Age of Steam with local ties, caboose 0222 was built in 1949 by the Wheeling and Lake Erie’s own Ironville (Toledo) Ohio car shop. The original Wheeling and Lake Erie Railway included a line that stretch from Zanesville northward all the way to Cleveland. One wonders how many freight trains 0222 trailed past a certain cornfield outside Sugarcreek that would be transformed into the Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum many years later.

After serving the W&LE and its corporate successors the Nickel Plate Road and Norfolk and Western, this caboose became the property of a tourist train operator in Minerva, Ohio. After that organization went out of business, Age of Steam acquired the car. After a multiple-year wait, 0222 finally moved by train to the Roundhouse in 2015.

Age of Steam crew members carefully sanded and repainted the caboose following the original paint blueprints. While numerous former W&LE steel cabooses still exist, 0222 is among very few restored to as-built condition and paint.

Bobber Caboose - CO&E 0100

Builder:John Uher / CO&E RR
Original Owner:Coshocton, Otsego & Eastern RR

Getting their nickname from the way that a floating bobber danced in the water on the end of a fishing line, “bobber” cabooses tended to ride rough and jostle riders. This was primarily due to their short length and use of only two, “fixed” (i.e., non-swiveling) axles with four wheels.

While economical to construct and operate, bobber cabooses were dangerous because of injuries—and even deaths—to railroad crewmen who were knocked-over while working in the rough-riding cars. Also, just one broken wheel (an all-too-common occurrence during the 1890 to 1920-era) meant that a 4-wheel bobber trailing behind a moving freight train could not stay upright on only three wheels, and would immediately derail and crash.

During 1913 the Ohio General Assembly passed Senate Bill 298 outlawing the operation of bobber cabooses in the State of Ohio, with a period of time alllowed for the change-over to longer cabooses that rode on eight wheels, not four. The bobber design quickly took a backseat to larger and smoother-riding cabooses with a pair of two-axle wheelsets. Because of their small size and light weight, retired bobbers often had their wheels removed and were used across the railroad system as yard offices, crew shanties and storage sheds.

While the 0100 fits right in with the Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum’s historic railroad equipment, this caboose is actually one of the newest-built pieces in the collection.

The Coshocton, Otsego & Eastern was a little-known coal hauler which served a coal mine in central Ohio. In 1917, the CO&E became part of the Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway, but was eventually abandoned after the mine shut down. The obscure little railroad faded into the history books and W&LE’s corporate records.

During the 1990s and 2000s, train enthusiast and Ohio Central Railroad employee, John Uher relaid 1 mile of standard gauge track on the CO&E’s former right-of-way near Coshocton, Ohio. He acquired a small GE diesel switching locomotive – now also part of the AoSRM’s collection – and ran short trips for family and friends along his little railroad. For rolling stock, Mr. Uher built his own caboose, primarily referencing a single photo of a similar one for guidance! Displaying a strong attention to detail, he outfitted his very accurate bobber caboose with all of the tools and fittings one would find inside the real thing.

Sadly, Mr. Uher passed away in 2010. Jerry Jacobson acquired John’s railroad equipment and moved it to Sugarcreek. Caboose 0100 still sees occasional trips around the AoSRM facility and resides safely inside the Roundhouse when not in use.