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Water Towers

Interlocking tower in downtown Atlanta

Steam locomotives used thousands of gallons of water each day. To keep the big machines rolling, it was usually necessary to have water towers at certain points along the railroad because the locomotive tenders could not carry enough water for traveling long distances. Most of these towers are long gone due to the passage of a half-century since the end of steam operations. This survivor, which sits beside the CSX line in Hogansville about 50 miles southwest of Atlanta, was constructed for the Atlanta & West Point Railroad, a CSX predecessor.

The outline of the A&WP logo (above) can still be seen on the tank.

Shown above is the standard 15 ft. X 16 ft. water tower of the Savannah, Florida & Western Railway, described in 1893 by Walter G. Berg:

The standard circular water-tank of the Savannah, Florida & Western Railway, and also of the Charleston & Savannah Railway, designed by Mr. W.B.W. Howe, Jr., Chief Engineer, shown in Figs. 259 and 260, is 15 ft. deep in the clear, 16 ft. 1 in. outside diameter at the bottom, and 15 ft. outside diameter at the top. The bottom floor of the tank is set 8 ft. 6 in. above the top of the rail, and the centre of the tank is set about 19 ft. from the centre of the track. The sides of the tub are made of 3-in. staves, and the bottom is made of 3-in. plank. The roof is octagonal, covered with 1-in. tongued and grooved boards on 2-in. X 6 in. rafters, and with 1 1/2 in. X 9 in. facia boards. The roof has a man-hole, 16-in. X 20 in. in the clear.

The tub is supported on a solid 4-in. plank floor, 16 ft. X 16 ft., which rests on 3-in. X 12-in. floor joists, spaced 15-in. centres. The floor-joists are supported by three trestle-bents, placed perpendicular to the track, and spaced 5 ft. 10. in. centres....

The inlet-pipe enters the tank from the outside at the top. The outlet-pipe is tapped into the side of the tank just above the floor, and is closed automatically by a weight. As soon as the galvanized-iron delivery spout is drawn down by the train hands and the back end of the spout strikes the socket of the discharge-pipe, the valve is opened, thus allowing the water to run freely. The method of tapping the discharge-pipe into the side of the tub above the floor will enable clearer water to be delivered, as mud and sediments collecting on the floor of the tank cannot be flushed into the pipe. The gauge for marking the height of the water in the tub is a ring fitting around an upright pole, like a flagstaff, on top of the roof. The ring or circular disk moves up and down this pole according to the height of the galvanized-iron float inside the tank, thus allowing trainmen to see from quite a distance how much water is in the tank, without having to wait until they get up to and opposite the tank.

From: Buildings and structures of American railroads: A reference book for railroad managers, superintendents, master mechanics, engineers, architects, and students by Walter G. Berg, 1893. Online at Internet Archive here.

Above is the water tank of the Western & Atlantic Railroad at Big Shanty, now Kennesaw, Ga., drawn by Alfred R. Waud in 1864. (Cropped image. For complete image, see this page at the Library of Congress).

Water tank in operation. (From: Railroad Man's Magazine, April, 1911. Online at Internet Archive here.)


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