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Tank Cars
Wooden Tank Cars
The Densmore–Roudebush Team
The Game
Metal Tank Cars
Early Failed Attempts
Evolution of the RR Tank Car
Special Cars
Builders and Car Shops
Counting Cars
Tank Cars - Bibliography

Early Failed Attempts

The 1860’s were favorable years to promote an invention or an idea in the new oil industry, but, even so, sometimes an inventor couldn’t catch anybody’s ear. Capitalists were saturated with proposals. Evans W. Shippen, a Meadville oilman, says in his memoirs that he built a scale model of a horizontal cylindrical iron tank car (1862?) for railway use and intended to patent the design if he could interest the railroads in using it to ship oil. Shippen talked to Thomas A. Scott, President of the Pennsylvania Railroad. The railroads were already hauling a great amount of the oil in barrels from the oil region. Scott looked at the model and turned it down with the astounding remark "--- by the time a car could be completed there will not be sufficient oil produced to fill it". Shippen replied, "---neither you nor I will live to see the day when such will be the case". Shippen, busy in the oil fields, unfortunately did not pursue his invention. Of course, the day came when the Pennsylvania Railroad, like the others, used horizontal iron tank cars exclusively.

The following account of a failed tank car experiment was partly extracted from the Derrick’s Handbook of Petroleum, 1898. Agents of the Empire Transportation Company seeing Densmore tank cars on sidings knew right away that tanks would be the new means of shipping oil on the rails. In 1866 the company constructed an experimental box car containing three wooden tanks and sent it to Titusville with instructions that the tanks should be filled with oil and the laden car then sent on its way. The builders had forgotten to provide an opening over the tanks in the roof of the box cars and other details were also overlooked. The superintendent on Oil Creek, Charles P. Hatch, improvised as best he could and emptied barrels into the tanks through holes which he put in the car roof. It was quickly found that the tanks were not tight and oil came out in all directions. The management had somehow expected a clean operation and had told the superintendent that the car would be returned to the "merchandize trade" after the experiment had been carried out. However, the filling procedure was a disaster, and the superintendent also had to tear out the sides and ends of the box car so that repairmen could get access to the tanks (there otherwise wasn’t room to work). When all was said and done Mr. Hatch sent the leaky tank car back to headquarters. It was totally soaked in oil and dripped copiously all the way down the track as well as being generally banged up. In his words, "---it looked like it had been subjected to a cannonading and it was practically ruined." All sides, of course, took the attitude that "it wasn't my fault".

In late 1865 a wrought iron u-shaped tank car was built by J.F. Keeler in Pittsburgh. The bottom was rounded and the sides were straight. The tank was constructed overall of three-eights inch riveted iron plates. It had a wooden top or roof suspended inside the container below the rim which served to prevent the oil from slopping around as well as allowing it to expand by pushing up the roof (Williamson and Daum, 1959). The Keeler tank car was not used to much extent, the benefits of a fully cylindrical tank outweighed it.

© 2004, Samuel T. Pees
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