Saturday, 9 March 2013

Cowra's Water Tanks

Cowra is located on the Lachlan River some 366 rail kilometres from Sydney on what is known as the Blayney to Harden cross country line. The railway reached the present Cowra station in August 1887 with the bridge across the Lachlan River being completed late the same month. This completed the cross-country line in its entirety, the line having reached the south bank of the river from Harden (Demondrille) some 15 months earlier in May 1886.
Within months of the line opening an engine shed, turntable and coal stage were completed. By 1920 the railways had outgrown the site and the decision was made to move the loco depot to a new site on the down side of the line near the junction of the Eugowra branch some 600 metres south of the station.
The two water tanks are located within the confines of newer loco depot. The depot is leased to the Lachlan Valley Railway and is used as a museum and storage of the Museums rolling stock and locomotives.

Cowra Station Water Tank

The tank at Cowra Station is located on the top of a cutting above the tracks between the station yard and the road. The evolution of the watering facilities at Cowra are complex and require explanation. When the line opened in 1887 a pump house was provided on the Lachlan River to pump water to a 20000 gallon tank with an 8 inch swinging jib located at the Blayney end of the platform. As far as can be established this was the only watering facility at Cowra when the line was opened, this included the original loco area immediately opposite the station.
In December 1902 an additional 20000 gallon tank on a brick base was constructed as part of the enlargement of the loco depot. It is not known how many columns were supplied from this tank but it can be assumed that there was one column at the Harden end of the depot.
In 1923 construction commenced on the new loco located approximately 500 metres on the Harden side of the station. The tank with the swinging jib (located at the Blayney end of the platform) was relocated to the new loco area along with an identical tank from another location.
The second tank, which is still in situ, was constructed in December 1902 and was used for the first time on the 13 December of that year. This tank of 20000 gallons was constructed only four years after the last circular tank and was among the first of the ‘new’ square tanks. The tank was supported by steel RSJ’s on a fully enclosed brick base approximately 6 foot high. Four timber vertical supports are located under the tank as additional support.
With the move of the earlier tank to the loco depot in 1923 a 9 inch column was provided in its place.
The location of the tank on top of the embankment above the track required only a low level structure hence the low brick base rather than the usual type of stand. The reasoning behind it being fully enclosed can only be assumed to provide storage space with the removal of the building associated with the old loco.


Cowra Loco Depot Tanks

There are two tanks at Cowra Loco, located on the southern structure (closest to the turntable) was built with the line and was located at the northern end of the platform on the Up side of the line at Cowra, the panels of the tank were supplied by Albion Engineering Works of Pyrmont in 1886. A swinging jib was attached to the tank, the water flow being controlled from a screw valve at ground level. The structure was with the exception of an enclosed area under the tank identical to the water tank at the Down end of Swan Ponds.
The northern tank is an identical structure and was constructed at the same time by the same company although its history is more vague. The tank came from either the original Cowra Loco, Nargong or Carcoar/Coombing Park.
When both tanks were moved they were reassembled in a different manner. The panels of the tank when cast had an internal flange on three sides (bottom and two sides) with the top of the panels having no flange. The bracing was provided by flat bars secured to each side panel and the adjacent panel on the floor of the tank. When moved both tanks were reconstructed with the angle stays at the edges of each panel, this being the standard practice by 1924. The panels still have original attachment points for the bracing.
The stands of both tanks are identical in virtually every way and the construction used seems to be a combination of practices from the 1880’s (when the tanks were originally built) and the 1920’s (when the tanks were moved). The brick base/foundations are of a full brick construction around all four sides of the base with larger section at the piers, this is indicative of the method used in the 1880’s when the large majority of tanks were constructed by private contractor, the contractor invariably being the one that constructed the line. The piers and bracing are indicative of the standard construction used by the railways post 1920 when the standard design for wooden stands was used.
The timing of the movement of the tanks from the original positions to the new location suggests that the structure was either an experiment to assess the viability of the standard design or more probably a hybrid version reusing the available timbers from the old tanks. The actual piers are not the piers used in the when the tanks were built, the original piers being considerably lower at around 13 feet where as the current version is around 23 feet in height.
The two structures are an example of water tanks constructed in the 1880s and when relocated, modified using the updated practices of the time.
The two tanks supplied three 8 inch columns, one on the exit road from the turntable and two 8 inch columns at the entrance to the depot between the two coaling roads.

The two structures at Cowra Loco are also an example of the continued development that occurred over the 40 years between 1880 and 1920 in the Railways. This development being one of design and construction by private contractors through to the standard designs developed between 1915 and 1925.
There are also only three tanks of this type surviving, the other one being at Swan Ponds, but the adjustments made to the bracing when they were moved (as discussed above) make them unique. The stands are the only surviving examples of their type, both as the hybrid version and as a double height wood construction.

The original tank at the northern end of Cowra Station that was relocated to the loco depot.


  1. Hi,

    Some more absolutely priceless research material & commentary on a much forgotten & important lineside item from the steam era.

    You are to be congratulated!

    This blog never fails to fire up the inspiration for personal historical interest, modelling & furthering our kit releases

    Thanks Again,

    Rod Kelly