Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Wooden Water Towers

CN and CP enclosed their steel water tanks in wood, during the steam era when the water filled the tenders of thirsty locomotives. Stoves in the wooden water towers burned coal to keep the water in the steel tank from freezing, except where terminal steam heat was available. The towers measured 40 feet in height to the roofline, enclosing a twenty foot-tall steel tank. A float inside the tank connected to a galvanized iron ball on the roof gave a visual indication of the water level. The CP water tower at MacGregor, Manitoba is shown in 1984 (above, with an extra westbound of grain empties behind 5742) and on a June evening in 1980 (below):

The MacGregor water tower was later moved to the Manitoba Agricultural Museum in Austin. Note the former Midland caboose which did not survive the elements, and is in considerably worse shape than in my earlier Midland post, in these L.C. Gagnon photos:

A plaque gives some of the history of the the water tower and of its move to the museum:

Water towers that existed into the 1980's often became municipal water towers. Also in 1980, the tower at Miami, Manitoba is alongside the 1889 Northern Pacific station, and the ball is riding high. The tower was destroyed shortly thereafter.

On a 1986 road trip through Saskatchewan, I encountered two more water towers still standing. Harris is on CN's Rosetown Sub, across from the elevator track where three covered hoppers are spotted, including a CN slabside:

Looking from the other end of elevator row, the tower blends in with the trees. The Harris water tower later became part of the Harris town museum in 1992.

A quintessential prairie scene at Wartime: wooden water tower, wooden grain elevator, and arrow-straight track. CN's Elrose Sub extends to the horizon, and my rented Chevy Cavalier cools its tires, out of the baking sun in the water tower's shadow:

The elevators were dismantled by 1993, but the water tower outlasted them.

A different design on CP, at Spanish, Ontario in 1979: concrete base, wooden tank with steel bands:
CN supplied track gangs with potable water in tank cars. The tanks were either painted silver, like CN 51679 blt 12-16, or sprayed with insulation, like CN 80204 blt 4-29, to keep the water cool during the hot, prairie summer trackwork season, here in Portage la Prairie in 1984.


Zartok-35 said...

I always wondered how the meters on thoes towers worked. Nice pictures, as always!

Robert in Port Townsend said...

As you may have discovered, finding information and drawings on these structures is difficult. Glenboro Manitoba had a nicely restored tower, until last year when it was destroyed by fire.

You can find many more of these structures at:

Eric said...

Thanks for your comments, Elijah and Robert.. the link is most welcome. Interesting to see photos there of Wartime, Harris and MacGregor/Austin still standing, but Wartime sure looks lonely without the elevators. I believe that NP/Midland caboose at Austin eventually disintegrated and was scrapped..not visible in front of the station anymore.

Manny said...

Hi Eric, I LOVE the writeup. EXCELLENT photos. The 80s were a great time to be taking pictures as we were still in a bit of a time warp back then. Great decade.

Yes, we unfortunately did lose Glenboro's water tower last year. We are also about to lose the elevator anyday. All that will remain is ex-CP caboose 434590. Even the rail line seems to be threatened with change.

The only other water towers left in Manitoba that I can recall at the moment are in Clearwater and Carberry (steel). The latter looks awfully similar to the Walthers water tower:


Again, GREAT writeup. More like this please!


Eric said...

OK Manny, thanks for your kind comments, and I will (always) have Manitoba content; by necessity it will be from the 80's. Now, I must see about that hotbox detector set-up east of Winnipeg...

Unknown said...

Hey! Just stumbled on this site through a random search and I`am very, very impressed by your images and in depth commentaries.

I`m just curious, though: is that a smoke jack on CN tank car 80204, or is there another car behind it...

Eric said...

E, thanks for your kind comments on Trackside Treasure. That is indeed a smokejack in the clickable photo of CN 80204, likely to do with the insulation required to keep the water inside from freezing. Stay tuned for more.