Water stop

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"Water Station" redirects here. For the former town in California, see Water Station, California.
For other uses, see Water stop (disambiguation).

A water stop or water station on a railroad is a place where trains stop to replenish water. The stopping of the train itself is also referred to as "water stop". The term originates from the times of steam engines, when large amounts of water were essential. In these times they were also called wood and water stops or coal and water stops, since it was reasonable to replenish engines with fuel as well.

United States[edit]

A water tank along the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad in Chama, New Mexico, 26 April 2006

In early times, water stops were necessary every 7–10 miles and consumed much travel time.[1][2] With the introduction of tenders, trains could run 100–150 miles (160–240 km) without a refill.

To accumulate the water, water stops employed water tanks, water towers and tank ponds.

In the United States, many water stops along new railways evolved into new settlements. When a train stopped for water and positioned by a water tower, the boilerman swung out the spigot arm over the water tender and "jerked" the chain to begin watering. This gave rise to a 19th-century slang term "Jerkwater town" for towns too insignificant to have a regular train station.[3] The variants were "Jerktown" and "Jerkwater", which are still in use in the meaning of "insignificant",[4] although today "Jerktown" is rather understood as a "town of jerks".

The water was initially pumped by windmills, watermills, or by hand pumps often by the train crew themselves. Later, small steam and gasoline engines were used.[5]

Isolated water stops were among favorite ambush places for train robbers.[6]

As the U.S. railroad system expanded, large numbers of tank ponds were built by damming various small creeks that intersected the tracks in order to provide water for water stops. Largemouth bass were often stocked in tank ponds, see "Bass fishing" for more.[7][8]

With the replacement of steam engines by diesel locomotives many of them, especially in deserted areas, have become ghost towns. The town of Coalinga, California, gets its name from the original coal stop at this location, Coaling A.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "History of Allen", a brochure about Allen, Texas
  2. ^ For example, a section of the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad running in the Mojave Desert between Ludlow and Amboy had water stops spaced by 5–10 miles: Lavic, Ragtown, Ash Hill, Klondike, Siberia, Bagdad, see Google Maps, all eight of them being ghost towns now.
  3. ^ Irving Lewis Allen (1993) "The City in Slang: New York Life and Popular Speech", Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-509265-1 p. 254
  4. ^ "Jerkwater", The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. (accessed: October 03, 2007)
  5. ^ Maury Klein (2000) "The Life & Legend of E.H. Harriman", UNC Press, ISBN 0-8078-2517-4 p. 142
  6. ^ Roy R. Roberg, Jack L. Kuykendall (1993) "Police & Society", Wadsworth Pub. Co. ISBN 0-534-19872-4, p. 81
  7. ^ Waterman, Charles F., Black Bass & the Fly Rod, Stackpole Books (1993)
  8. ^ Ryan, Will, Smallmouth Strategies for the Fly Rod, Lyons & Burford Publishers (1996)