1950s End Of Steam

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Posted by RME on Monday, June 05, 2017 11:43 PM

In the steam era, even with water treatment, they still had alkali water stains down the sides of the steam locomotives, visible as white staining. Same with Southern Pacific steam power.

Those stains are likely due to the programmed boiler-water treatment (to get it to the roughly pH 11 for best corrosion behavior).  You see them on many other roads that assuredly did not suffer from 'alkali water'.

My understanding was that many of the ATSF facilities that drew from 'alkali' sources had small built-in softening facilities, and that running and caring for these represented a good percentage of the cost of watering.  It would be interesting to see what was required for ATSF to use the original nickel-steel alloys ... and if there was accelerated corrosion, cracking, etc. due to the water characteristics on the advanced locomotives' boilers.

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Posted by MidlandMike on Tuesday, June 06, 2017 8:33 PM


Considering ATSF had been operating in that desert environment for over half a century, why would that have suddenly become a major issue in the 1940's? Especially considering that the Hoover Dam was completed in 1931, and other similar projects, had alleviated much of the problem. I never heard of water rationing in WWII, but maybe it did exist in the desert southwest, and I'm not aware of it.

Perhaps, ATSF saw the diesel, and the brass wiped their brow in relief, knowing their water issues were over. I guess I just don't see this as an overriding argument for dieselization.


Hoover Dam was completed in 1935.  Anyway, not sure what this has to do with AT&SF water supply.  As you say, they already had thier watering facilities in place.  They were not going to run hundreds of miles of water pipes to hook up to aquaducts or pay the water rates.  Water supply concerns were another nail in the coffin for steam.

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Posted by wjstix on Wednesday, June 07, 2017 9:10 AM

Hoover Dam was built to provide hydro-electric power to the region. It really had nothing to do with water usage, irrigation etc.

In the steam era, railroads did what they had to do to keep going. That involved employing a large workforce to maintain steam engines, and facilities to provide fuel and water for them. For the ATSF, providing water for steam engines was a major hassle. Once the diesel came along, it saved them money and time to not have to haul water by rail to remote outposts to fill water tanks for the steam engines. During WW2, many railroads that ordered new diesels were given steam engines instead. ATSF was one of the few railroads allowed to buy new road diesels, because the US government recognized how much of a benefit they would be to Santa Fe due to their water issues.

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Posted by PRR8259 on Monday, July 03, 2017 11:40 AM

Santa Fe actually ran extensive water piping in the Southwest.  They ran water supply piping into the Grand Canyon, perhaps all the way from Williams.  In fact ALL the surviving piping down into the Canyon was constructed by the Santa Fe (the National Park Service told us during our tour) in order to promote tourism.  All the Santa Fe constructed water piping is still in use, as well as structures they built at the top and also down in the Canyon itself.

I just read in the latest issue of Trains that more than 3 tons of accumulated "gunk" had to be removed from the tender of Santa Fe 2903 during its restoration, that was a result of bad water and the water treatment.

Past Trains' articles have mentioned the water treatment additives that were available to engine crews to add to the tender water after they were filled, on both SP and ATSF.



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