Cashton Water Tank

By Russell J. Decho

The Homestead Act passed by Congress in May, 1862, gave access to free land to thousands of families.  The only condition to obtain title to 160 acres of public land was to live on the land for five years and to improve the land.  Now you might ask, what has this to do with a water tank?  The railroads were also given options to develop free land as an incentive to expand their railroads westward.  Since there were few roads beyond a city limit west of the Mississippi River and a locomotive engine required lubrication about every ten miles, towns were plotted and developed to accommodate the expanding railroad system.

The railroad depot became a place to service the locomotive and its telegraph operator became the primary means of train control. During this period of train depot expansions, it was discovered that the hand dug water well was not reliable and more often ran dry in extremely hot weather.  To resolve this problem, the Des Moines Bridge and Iron Company developed a 21-foot diameter tank with a capacity of 80,800 gallons.  The company was comprised primarily of engineers, manufacturers and contractors.  Des Moines Bridge & Iron Co. also subcontracted firms that could drill fresh water wells through bedrock.  The water from these deeper wells was pumped into the water tank then for storage.  These water tanks were built throughout Iowa, Nebraska, the Dakotas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois and Indiana.  I recently found one of the Des Moines Bridge & Iron Co. water tanks in Monterey, Tennessee.

The water tank shown in the photographs is a one-inch scale replica of the Des Moines Bridge & Iron Co. tank design.  It stands twelve feet high.  In the process of replicating this tank, it was found that the bottom of the tank "scaled down" to be the exact diameter of a Weber Grill.  After a telephone call to the Weber-Stephen Product Company in Palatine, Illinois, and an explanation of what we intended to do with their product, they donated a bottom grill portion without porcelain, vent holes, and brackets for use in the water tank project.

The drawing board was the next step in the project.  When the necessary drawings were complete, parts and materials procured, construction of the tank began.  It took three years to complete the water tank.  The results are shown in these photographs.  The tank is anchored to four reinforced concrete pads that measure 8 inches in diameter and are forty-five inches deep.  It is extremely strong and has a red beacon light on its roof.

The town of Cashton, Wisconsin, represented on the water tank, was chosen because a charter member of the Illinois Live Steamers spent his childhood days in this town.  Since he spent his childhood in Cashton, WI, he was able to supply additional photographs of the actual tank which still stands today.  In addition, he helped fabricate the platform railing and other small tank parts while work progressed on the tank superstructure.


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