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Thread: Back in the era of steam in American railroading: water tank questions

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    Question Back in the era of steam in American railroading: water tank questions

    On the sides of tracks were water tanks to fill the boilers of locomotives. I've just added two to my model layout today with scheduled water stops for the puffer bellies, one for each side of the two-track mainline in different parts of the layout. There is also a water tank in my yard which has been there since day one.

    The trains are timed to stop for pretended water for ten minutes according to their AI schedules. I was wondering to myself how these tanks were kept supplied with water. Did water tank trains supply these tanks? Did water have to be pumped from the train to fill the tanks?
    Last edited by JonMyrlennBailey; December 5th, 2019 at 11:16 PM.
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    Model Railroader forum discussion: http://cs.trains.com/mrr/f/13/t/100202.aspx
    Last edited by 1611mac; December 5th, 2019 at 07:19 AM.
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    Water towers are normally supplied from the local domestic water supply or a convenient nearby river/stream.


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    They do not fill the boilers with water, they fill the tender with water, and it is fed into the boiler at a variable metered amount.

    Unknown what they did when there was a completely waterless drought
    Last edited by MP242; December 5th, 2019 at 07:27 AM.
    My RGCX train is 53.24 miles long, and takes 1 hour to pass through town !

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    As they say in the IT business, let me Google that for you.

    https://truewestmagazine.com/railroad-water-tanks/

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    Windmills were commonly used to fill water tanks. We certainly had them here in New Zealand during the steam era and they were also used in Britain in more remote places where there wasn't a town water supply to draw on. There's several good windmill pump models on the DLS and they won't be hard to find.
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    Typically; pumps (wind, electric, gas, or steam powered), gravity (from an uphill stream / spring) or from a municipal water supply.

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    Quote Originally Posted by KotangaGirl View Post
    Windmills were commonly used to fill water tanks. We certainly had them here in New Zealand during the steam era and they were also used in Britain in more remote places where there wasn't a town water supply to draw on. There's several good windmill pump models on the DLS and they won't be hard to find.
    I have found several windmills at DLS but they are the kind seen on farms. I have them on my layout family farm, dairy, ranch and homestead. Since the water tanks on my particular layout are for steam excursion use in modern times only the old-style track-side water tanks are for nostalgic charm. I will simply pretend that the imaginary local water company pipes water in to the tanks to keep them replenished. There are no nearby creeks and rivers to maintain my tanks considering their locations on my layout. I would assume railroads could have employed special water trains to replenish tanks in times of drought but that might seem costly. I wonder if railroads could have used extra tenders for long trips between water stops or have a large tank car full of water in the train behind the steam loco. Diesel trucks have larger and/or extra tanks for longer ranges between fills. I think steam locomotives could have done the same: have special provisions on board the train for extra water capacity on long trips between water sources in times of drought. Later steam locos were developed to be more efficient on water consumption. In American RR history I read, water tanks started out at about 10 miles apart on a line and eventually trains could go 150 miles between water stops.
    Last edited by JonMyrlennBailey; December 5th, 2019 at 05:46 PM.
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    There were also small pump houses located near the water tanks. These are small structures, also found on the DLS, that look like small wooden or brick outhouses. In some places there were special hatches put on the tanks to add in ionizers and demineralization agents to cut down on the scale that commonly built up in boilers.

    The windmills were similar to those found on farms out in the western areas, and for a modern setup such as yours, you can easily "installed" a pump. There are many available on the DLS to cover your needs.
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    Thanks, John. I think I'll download a pump for each of my water tanks. There is also a wooden outhouse near each water tank so the loco crew can do their personal business at water stops. I gather those steam locomotives had no enclosed toilets on board to do such things decently. It might also be possible that a RR water tank can be sourced by a well in the ground. Yes, an electric pump can raise ground water into the tank.
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    Going "business class" aboard a steam loco cab. Now there is an aspect that I had never even thought of before. I am trying to wipe that envisionment right out of my mind right now !

    Now if I we're planning on taking an "extended long stay" onboard the Space Shuttle, or Space Station, I would have #1, and #2 first questions, about the "facilities" on board ?
    Last edited by MP242; December 7th, 2019 at 01:53 AM.
    My RGCX train is 53.24 miles long, and takes 1 hour to pass through town !

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    Is there anything non-prototypical the way my water tanks, pump houses and outhouses are set up?


    Last edited by JonMyrlennBailey; December 6th, 2019 at 12:43 AM.
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    Sort of reminds me of: "What's wrong with this picture" quiz cartoons. That "honey pot" must be chock full of methane, as it appears to be floating in mid air, and what is with that steam train in a subterranean plexiglass window in the hillside ? The "Groves Forest South" billboard appears to be blocking the highway, and the "Pine Mesa South" billboard is stuck up in a pine tree.
    Last edited by MP242; December 6th, 2019 at 12:53 PM.
    My RGCX train is 53.24 miles long, and takes 1 hour to pass through town !

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    Those are signs on the water tanks themselves. They are named for the parts of the route they are situated. Those are just small pics superimposed over the larger pictures.

    The QR water tanks are not actually joined to the track of the main line so the spout doesn't operate when the train stops there. If the tanks were joined to the main line, it would both screw up my track curvature and the double-stacked well-cars would hit the spout because the tank would be too close to the track if joined to it with spline points. In the era of steam, there were no tall rail cars to deal with as autoracks, etc. On a real modern railroad I would need to have the tank situated from the track to clear tall modern rolling stock and have a custom long spout to reach the tenders of excursion stream engines. I purposely joined a piece of invisible track to the spline points of the tank to make it's own visible built-in track and ballast section disappear. Any objects with spline points to join tracks have track sections which will match whatever track style is joined to them. This is true for sawmills, stations, cattle feedlots, etc.
    TANE SP2 Build 90945, downloaded Dec. 2017, TS12 Build 61388, downloaded Feb. 2018, American citizen, Lawton, OK

  15. #15

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    I think this may be of interest in the Water Tank questions posed here recently....

    Inside the link below, is several additional links for more Information on Water Tank Statistical and Historical Factoids.........

    https://www.american-rails.com/water.html

    The water tank was once a common sight along both important main lines as well as secondary/branch lines all across the country. These structures were originally built out of wood and then later designed from steel and/or concrete. However, wooden devices stood the test of time and were still being used well into the 20th century, some of which continue to survive today as either preserved relics or still functioning as originally intended. Whatever their construction material, water tanks for a vital piece of infrastructure holding thousands of gallons of water for locomotives at strategic locations; some railroads had just one while others maintained thousands. Covered here is a brief history of these devices and the role they played for more than a century before steam was retired in favor of the diesel.

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