Friday Apr 25 2014
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 MORRISTOWN & ERIE RAILROAD WATER TANK
Circa 1904



str_wtank01 The Whippany, New Jersey Water Tank of the Morristown & Erie Railroad was erected to quench the thirsts of the M&E's steam locomotives. Incredibly, it still stands today as a true historic landmark. It is one of the very few surviving railroad Water Tanks left in America still standing at its original location. With some work, it would again be capable of performing its intended function.

The original Whippany Water Tank was located along the main line in the Whippany yard (at the same site as the present-day tank) and was erected on a timber frame base in September or October 1904. The first tank to serve at this location held nearly 16,000 gallons of water and was 16 feet tall. The outside diameter of the tank was also 16 feet. The tank wall was fashioned from three-inch cedar. The M&E ordered this tank on September 5, 1904 from the G. Wollford Wood Tank Manufacturing Co. of Darby, PA. It was shipped to Whippany via the Philadelphia, Baltimore & Washington R.R. (later a part of the Pennsylvania R.R.), and the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western R.R. The purchase price of $210.00 included a water-level indicator and a conical-covered roof.

In 1917 the timber frame was replaced by the current, existing brick and concrete base, which measures 11' x 12' 4" wide and 12' 4" high. The walls are 12" thick, with an 8" concrete covering. The entire base is reinforced with steel rails. The total cost of the brick base was $301.48. When completed, the original 1904 wood tank was set in place upon the new base.

On August 10, 1922, another another wood tank was ordered from G. Wollford Wood Tank Manufacturing Co. to replace the original 1904 tank. It was shipped via the Pennsylvania R.R. and the Lackawanna R.R. on September 22, 1922. Again, it was fashioned from 3" cedar, addressed to 2 3/4". The 1922 tank had a 14-foot outside diameter and held approximately 14,000 gallons. It was 14 feet high, and was ordered without a water-level indicator, since the new tank would make use of the original indicator. The price of the new tank had risen to $286.00.

The third and final wood tank, the one that can be seen today at Whippany, was ordered once again from G. Wollford Wood Tank Manufacturing Co. on October 3, 1947. It is virtually identical to the 1922 tank. It was ordered with a new conical-covered roof and cost a total of $901.00 Again, the original 1904 water-level indicator was installed on the new tank. The new tank was shippped via the P.R.R. and D.L.& W.R.R. on November 11, 1947. This tank was not erected until the Summer of 1948. Records within the Museum's collection show that on July 7, 1948, F. Seymour Cook, a carpenter and builder from DeForrest Ave. in (East) Hanover had "...completed work to erect tank in Whippany Yard. Cost: $452.31."

Water Tanks were vital to the operation of any steam-powered railroad, and the Morristown & Erie was no exception. The M&E had two tanks along its 11-mile route: one at the Morristown, NJ yard, and the other, four miles distant at Whippany. The Water Tanks were so important to the daily operation of the Railroad that employees were instructed to check the tanks and their associated water source regularly to ensure proper function and to provide maintenance whenever needed. The Morristown tank was fed from a pipe leading from the nearby Whippany River. The Whippany tank drew its supply of water from a natural spring and creek that still flows alongside the tracks in the Whippany rail yard. After the brick bases were installed on both tanks, coal-burning stoves kept the pipes, pumping machinery and the tanks themselves warm during the Winter months to prevent the water from freezing.

During the Steam Era, the railroads of the United States used enormous quantities of water for locomotives and other purposes. It is estimated that the railroads consumed approximately 80 billion cubic feet of water each year when steam locomotives ruled the rails. This is enough to fill a reservoir 1,000 feet wide, 10-feet deep and 1,515 miles long!

Attached to the rear of nearly every steam locomotive is a "tender". The tender has a compartment for coal or oil and a compartment for water. When the locomotive stops for water, the fireman climbs to the rear of the tender and lowers the spout of the Water Tank into position over the tender and pulls on a rope to open the valve which releases the water into the tank of the tender.

A sad story associated with the Whippany Water Tank involves Jerry Miller, a Morristown & Erie Locomotive Fireman (and relief Engineer). Miller, who began his career on the M&E in 1912, was filling the tender of Engine No. 6 with water from the tank one hot, sweltering Summer day in 1941. After completing this task, he swung down into the cab of the engine, took a drink of ice-cold water from the cooler kept in the cab for the crew, and immediately dropped dead of a heart attack. The rest of the train crew rushed to his aid, but for Miller, it was too late. It was a terrible loss to Miller's family, friends, and the men he worked with on a daily basis at the M&E.

In 1952 the Diesel Era began on the Morristown & Erie and the last three steam locomotives were retired and eventually scrapped in 1955. The Water Tank at Morristown had its tank removed in the mid-1950's and the brick base was roofed over and became a storage shed for the track crew. The Whippany tank however, remained untouched and in position for the unlikely day that it would be needed once again.

That day arrived on May 9, 1965 when the Morris County Central Railroad began operating weekend excursion service with restored, steam-powered locomotives. The old Water Tank was repaired, painted and operated without failure from 1965 until 1973 when the MCCRR moved its excursion operations to another location.

Since 1977 the Whippany Water Tank has been empty, but it has seen some occasional maintenance over the years. During the mid-1980's the Morristown & Erie Railway refurbished the Water Tank and made repairs to the brick base and wooden support frame for the water spout.

str_wtank12 In 1994 the Whippany Railway Museum funded the installation of a new roof on the Water Tank, and in 1997 the Museum was able to secure the donation of a new water spout that had been replicated in exact fashion by the fine craftsmen at Fritze & Sons of Whippany, NJ. str_wtank13

Despite these improvements and acts of preservation there is much evidence of needed and immediate repairs which will enable this historic structure to survive another 100 years. In March 2004 the Whippany Water Tank had the unenviable distinction of being entered into the Morris County (NJ) Trust For Historic Preservation's "Morris County's Ten Most Endangered Historic Sites" list. Text taken from the list state that: "Concerns are lack of maintenance and insufficient funding. The wooden tank is deteriorating and its brick base needs attention." str_wtank14

str_wtank15 It is hoped that a much-needed restoration will come through for this survivor from another age. It is important for our heritage that the Whippany Water Tank continues to stand proudly for future generations to appreciate and ponder the work of those who came before.

The Morristown & Erie Whippany Water Tank finally gained a much-sought after historic status when it was recognized on both the New Jersey and National Register(s) of Historic Places during 2006. The structure was listed on the New Jersey Register on June 28, 2006 and was entered into the National Register by the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service on September 9, 2006.

The Water Tank joins the Whippany Railway Museum's Steam Locomotive No. 4039 which had previously been entered on the New Jersey Register in December 2001, and the National Register in March 2002.