Scooping Water in the Age of Steam

In this deeply researched article, Jim describes the technology and the excitement of a method by which moving locomotives scooped water for their thirsty boilers from long pans located between the rails. This allowed the trains to maintain high-speed schedules without having to stop to take on water, which they consumed at a faster rate than the coal used to turn it to steam.

The full article, which has been printed in several publications, is available here in a 15 page PDF.

Below is a side piece illustrating the force of the water as it overflowed a moving train's tender. (The tender was a car immediately behind the locomotive that carried coal and water.)

Overflowing at Wilmore Track Pans


The pressure of the water being caught up by the scoop could both fill the tender's tank and create a rapid increase in pressure, causing the hatches on the top to fly open, allowing the excess water to cascade down the back of the tender.

In this case, the first freight car (a gondola in this case) would not mind the bath, but if it had been a passenger car with either the front vestibule door or windows open.... The location between the tender and first car was sometimes used as a concealed place for a free ride by hoboes, who sometimes encountered a drenching or worse. The small shack on top of the back of the tender (sometimes called the "doghouse") was sometimes occupied in long trains by the front-end brakeman so that he could keep an eye on the train with some protection from the elements.

Also note the heavy spray under the train, which could linger and give nearby persons an unwelcome bath. The overflow had to be managed to minimize erosion, and was sometimes recycled. Seen at the bottom of the picture is a heating pipe used for thawing the ensuing ice in winter.

This picture is believed to have been taken in the early 1950s, by Mark Blaisdell, and provided to us by Charles Eggie, who had been the Plumber Foreman at the Wilmore Track Pans. While much has been written about the splashing effect, there are not many photographs of it available. In this case, a series of pictures taken by a Brownie camera have found their way into the records or railroad history.