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Dave John

The local storage of lamp oil.

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I am currently building a combined lampmans hut and coal store. A dimensioned sketch of the type favoured by the Lanarkshire and Ayrshire ( and other CR lines built later on ) can be found in "Signalling the Caledonian" by Jim Summers. A very common feature in many stations and yards, clearly having a separate small building for maintaining signal and general lamps would minimise damage by fire should an accident occur. 

 

I know that lamp oil, which would be paraffin by the Edwardian era, was often transported by rail tank wagon. However a whole wagon full would then be decanted somewhere into smaller containers. I can find references to wooden barrels being used early on, but by 1900 or so would a change have been made to a metal barrel akin to an oil drum? If so what size would they be ? A 40 gallon drum is a fair size, really needs a purpose built cradle to tip it and a tap screwed in to decant from there into a smaller container you could climb a ladder with.  Would smaller drums be used ? 

 

So the burning question ( sorry ) is how would the oil be stored and decanted within the lampmans hut I am making? How would it be transported locally to the hut?

 

I have had a search but I can't seem to find any good information or photos of the subject. So I thought I would ask. 

 

The last stage of the chain would be going round with a smaller can to top lamps up. Oddly I have such a can . 

 

117054983_paraffincan1.JPG.90bb2e06dd2f3d7bf0c1f271d9539106.JPG

 

 

1262448148_paraffincan2.JPG.fcd3e7e30815fd2c0ab39e5b19f348a6.JPG

 

 

Clearly much later , 50s perhaps. Soldered tinplate construction. 

 

Its the middle bit of the distribution chain that I would like to shed some light on (Sorry again) .

 

 

 

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My experience with this on a heritage railway is that of the paraffin being stored at a central location, decanted into a metal container with a hand pump on it. This is then taken in the van of a passenger train (I believe) to the station requiring it. There it is decanted into a smaller can for filling individual lamps.

 

In a pre grouping context I imagine that transport by goods train was more likely and I guess the container would be substantially different. I suppose that means I haven't helped at all!

 

Regarding the filling of signal lamps, my practice was to make use of two sets of lamps. One would be out in the signals, one in the lamp room. One would service the set in the lamp room together, fill them, light them (outside!!) and then walk them out to the signals to swap them over.

 

Sadly this is no more as practicality (only two of us were doing it) forced a change to electric lamps.

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The 55 gallon oil drum was invented in the US in 1905, but didn't really cross the atlantic to the UK till the Yanks arrived during WW2. That is why the British Army used "flimsies", or small rectangular cans after trans-shipment from rail tanks. (and the Germans used a different container which we know, surprise surprise as a jerrycan) The can was also the standard for decanting for civilian use and you can find them in antique shos and decorating "heritage" pubs in a variety of oil company brandings. I can't see why the railways would be any different so the flimsy would be your can of choice.  Photos show WW2 army flimsies being trans-shipped,

LuggershallFuelCans.jpg.c1a010ab45811335df22c27eaf88164a.jpg

and a pre WW1 delivery tanker for Royal Daylight lamp oil, with a rack of cans for those without their own containers.

1125007879_royaldaylight.jpg.ebe33198a42ae4b7fedcc69b278d8b8e.jpg

 

you can find the cans in 1/76 from various military model suppliers

Edited by webbcompound
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I think you might need to find a copy of The Petroleum Act 1871, to find out what, if any, legal restrictions applied to the transport and storage of lamp oil. I can't find a copy on-line, but I'm 99% sure that it banned the transport and storage of low-flashpoint fractions (including what we would now know as 'petrol') in containers larger than 2 (maybe 4) gallons without a huge mass of special precautions being in place, and I have an inkling that it also controlled, to a lesser degree, medium flash-point oils too (flashpoint above 73 degrees Fahrenheit, but below ???), which would include lamp oil. I think this matured into the class A and Class B distinction in later legislation.

 

Lamp oil and paraffin (not always the same thing) were definitely transported in wooden drums, which I think were called Tierces and held 40 (42?) gallons, and if you look at pictures of places like shale-oil refineries, they can be seen lying about all over place.

 

Some railway locations had drum-stands, not only places like loco depots, which had stands for lubricating oil, lamp oil, and I think separately, paraffin for cleaning, but also P'Way huts, presumably lamp oil for night working.

 

So .......... my surmise is that a 'lamp hut' would contain a drum on a stand (earlier a wooden drum, later a steel drum), plus the shelf/bench for storing and filling lamps, along with things like wicks, decanting cans etc.

 

Frustratingly, I can remember the lamp hut at our local station and what one side, the side you could see with the door open, looked like, and that was the bench side!

 

This 1920 book is brilliant as an intro to shale oil, and I notice that it mentions 50 gallon steel barrels as being a transport option for motor spirit ("light petrol"), which gives the lie to the idea that steel barrels were completely unknown in Britain before the Yanks came over in WW2.  Frustratingly, it doesn't list containers for lamp oil, although there is a great photo of a small horse-cart being used to dispense lamp oil at a lamp-hut.

 scottishshale.co.uk/DigitalAssets/pdf/LVSAV/LVSAV1990.001.005.pdf

 

Another publication from a bit earlier says:

".......... oil from the road tank wagons is to be

preferred to the method which is sometimes

adopted, namely that of buying in barrels.

The leakage from barrels per annum must

run into tens of thousands of gallons, and the

amount of trouble and worry caused by leaky

barrels, the storage and handling of barrels, and

the unnecessary correspondence and bad feeling

caused by returned empties going astray and not

being credited, can all be done away with by

buying OAKBANK OIL off the road wagon."

 

This is clearly talking about the old wooden barrels.

 

This one contains plenty of pictures of oodles of wooden barrels, plus one that seems to show early steel barrels, different from the later standard design because they seem to have no reinforcing corrugations or ridges rolled into them http://www.scottishshale.co.uk/DigitalAssets/pdf/LVSAV/LVSAV2008.012.002.pdf

 

Not definitive, but a few pointers.

 

 

Edited by Nearholmer
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From the SE&CR 1902 Appendix -

image.png.72dd576fb5308b77fad19a750c1c72da.png

 

There would be quite a number of locations where oil lamps would be required.  As well as fixed signals and engines/trains, they'd be used at level crossings and by gangs of platelayers.  The platelayers would be able to get supplies from the nearest station, but presumably a container would be dropped off at each level crossing as required?

 

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PETROLEUM ACTS—STORAGE OF PETROLEUM.

House of Commons Debate 06 July 1883 vol 281 

 

SIR EDWARD WATKIN asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department, Whether his attention has been directed to the storage of petroleum in and near the Metropolis; whether he is aware that at the present time there is stored at the seven wharves in the Metropolitan area 335,000 barrels, equal to 13,400,000 gallons, and that at one wharf alone on the Thames over 80,000 barrels, equal to 3,200,000 gallons, are stored, mostly in the open air, 15 to 20 feet above the level of the surrounding property, without any adequate protection to prevent inflammable material flowing into the river and neighbourhood in case of accident; whether such storage is under the control of either the Government, the Metropolitan Board of Works, or the Thames Conservancy; and, if the mode of storing has been sanctioned by the Home Office?

 

SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT in reply, said, this was, no doubt, a matter of great importance, but it was one in which the Secretary of State had absolutely no authority. The storage of petroleum was regulated by the Act of 1871. Under that Act the Secretary of State was not responsible in any way for the storage of petroleum, and had no official cognizance of the extent or condition of the storage in any particular locality, nor had he any authority in regard to the inspection of the stores. The storage was entirely controlled by licences granted by the local authority, which, in the Metropolitan area outside the City, and outside the jurisdiction of the Thames Conservancy, was the Metropolitan Board of Works. The high-test petroleums were not subject to any legislative restriction. It was only the more highly inflammable petroleum which was subject to any legislation whatever. The only authority the Secretary of State had was if a licence was refused to a trader he might appeal to the Secretary of State to enlarge his rights, but not restrict them. He had made inquiries as to the state of affairs, and the Metropolitan Board of Works had informed him that the figures given by the hon. Baronet were not very far from the mark; that the storage took place mainly in the open air; that in the case specially referred to in the Question the petroleum was surrounded by high embankments, which would prevent it flowing on to the adjacent lands or into the river. Control was only provided by the Act over petroleum which flashed at lower than 73 degrees. Samples were occasionally taken to test it in the stores; and it had been ascertained that out of 155 samples taken in the present year, not one flashed below 73 degrees. He confessed that he had long been of opinion that this was an unsatisfactory state of things. Some time ago he prepared a Bill on the subject of petroleum, and it was carefully considered, in conjunction with the scientific authorities of the Metropolitan Board. He need not say that he should be glad to introduce such a Bill; but it would not be possible to pass it through that House, for directly he put the Bill down it would be blocked. What he proposed to do was to introduce the Bill into the House of Lords, and to see what course was taken with regard to it by their Lordships, and afterwards, if possible, to bring it before the House of Commons.

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Many thanks for those wonderful replies. 

 

So I would surmise that for my early Edwardian period a barrel on a stand would be the most likely method of storage, with a replacement barrel being delivered as needed. 

 

Not only that it has given me a couple of other modelling ideas, a horse drawn tanker and the Pumpherston tank wagon. I already have modelled a rectangular tank wagon from the Oakbank oil  company.

 

 

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So, the original act didn't say anything about what later, I think, became Class B.

 

Also interesting that the speaker mentions "high test" petroleum. I've just edited this post, because I've now decided that I don't really understand what that was, although I've seen references to it before, and I think model rail tank wagons displaying a "Prattt's High Test" logo. If it didn't flash below 73 degF, it can't have been what we now know as petrol, and it suggests that it was closer to modern aviation fuel, parffafin, or LDO (used in static gas turbines).

 

When did this "next level up" come under controls?

Edited by Nearholmer
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Apart from local storage, the transport of paraffin in casks was fraught with danger.  Apart from the problems of leakage and spoilation of adjacent goods, the casks were easily burst when in collision as happened in 1867 at Abergele, where over 7 tons of paraffin in fifty casks, loaded into two wagons ran away and collided with the Irish Mail.  The collision resulted in a severe fire that destroyed the leading coaches and burned 32 persons to death. (Ch8, Red for Danger. LTC Rolt)

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7 hours ago, Nearholmer said:

This 1920 book is brilliant as an intro to shale oil, and I notice that it mentions 50 gallon steel barrels as being a transport option for motor spirit ("light petrol"), which gives the lie to the idea that steel barrels were completely unknown in Britain before the Yanks came over in WW2.

of course this only makes things more complicated. the standard US 55 gallon oil drum in fact holds 44 British Imperial gallons. So this reference may or may not refer to the US drum or to an independently devised Scottish or British one. In any case it would be interesting to locate some images of these drums in use, although if they were in common use i would have expected to see them in military use before WW2, HOWEVER the mass transport of petrol in small cans by the British military, whilst counterintuitive may also be a feature of standard military organisation as this US photo shows. Unless they are all empties waiting to be picked up, filled  from drums and distributed of course, although their proximity to rail tankers without the presence of drums suggests otherwise.

 

jerrycan.jpg.f30849840a857916c05961ec88efd64f.jpg

Edited by webbcompound
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I've never seen reference to 50 gallon steel drums as early as the one I posted today, or a photo showing one, before, so I think they must have been rare beasts indeed in Britain before WW2.

 

The photo might contain a clue as to why, in that at least one drum looks badly bent, and I wonder if before the hoops or corrugations were formed into them they were very damage-prone, a bit like those flimsy drums used for cooking oil in chip shops and restaurant kitchens, which will bend and leak at the seams at the slightest provocation.

 

Early US ones (invention credited to famous journalist Nellie Bly) had separately-applied rolling hoops, and from what I can discern the forming and seaming of workable barrels with hoops wasn't perfected until the early 1920s, in the US ....... it maybe that nobody had the knowledge or equipment to make them over here.

Edited by Nearholmer
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I've got a large (10 gallon ?) NER oil drum, ex- Whitby, sitting outside the barn behind our house but as it's (a) dark and (b) blowing a gale outside, I can't supply any photos at present  but I'll take some tomorrow as soon as I can.

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The transport of petroleum spirit on land might have been tightly controlled, but its waterborne movement was laxer. When the demand for motor spirit rose in the 1920s, many river craft were converted simplistically to tankers, with not too much attention paid to safety features. Some Humber keels were altered in this way and several of them blew up dramatically. There was one story of the skipper being blown clean across the deep channel on to the bank; apparently he survived.

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