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Our holdings include hundreds of glass and film negatives/transparencies that we've scanned ourselves; in addition, many other photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs) in the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) They are adjusted, restored and reworked by your webmaster in accordance with his aesthetic sensibilities before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here. All of these images (including "derivative works") are protected by copyright laws of the United States and other jurisdictions and may not be sold, reproduced or otherwise used for commercial purposes without permission.

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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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Fossil Fuel: 1920

Fossil Fuel: 1920

Washington, D.C. "Penn Oil and truck." A relic of the Carboniferous Age circa 1920. National Photo Company Collection glass negative. View full size.

On Shorpy:
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Tracks in Rosslyn

Rosslyn was also served about this time by the Pennsylvania RR, on a branch that roughly parallels today's Metro Blue Line from Rosslyn to the Potomac Railroad bridge. There were also three electric lines running through Rosslyn, in addition to the W&OD, which was electrified for part of its history. The W&OD had a yard along Lee Highway adjacent to today's Key Bridge Marriott.


This truck most likely had a worm gear rear axle. This places the driveshaft high on the axle housing. And yes, ethanol doesn't work any better today then it did back then. Looks like it took a real man to power that steering wheel.


I wonder where the driveshaft is. Perhaps this is a portal-type axle where the driveshaft is high into the frame and the the power is converted to the axle via some kind of drop gear mechanism. Otherwise we'd see it angled down from the engine to the differential near the center of the rear axle.

Power Alcohol

Sounds a lot like ethanol, and yes, you're right. It's not working out. Lower mileage, maintenance worries for the engines, and higher food prices.

Steve Miller
Someplace in a cornfield near the crossroads of America

Alternative fuel 1920s-style

This photo and this one reminded me of a passage from the 1925 book The Romance of the Fungus World in which the authors, R.T. and F.W. Rolfe, predicted that alcohol would soon replace petroleum for use in combustion engines: "The advantage of alcohol over petrol for this purpose lies principally in the fact that whereas the world's supplies of petroleum, and therefore of petrol, are being gradually exhausted, the supply of Power Alcohol is practically inexhaustible. It is only limited by the earth's capacity of producing plant growths whose products are amenable to the fermentative processes which yield alcohol."

I assume that didn't pan out ....


If this is the main storage depot for Penn Oil, it would be located in Rosslyn, Va. This was the site of two spectacular fires: one in 1925 and another in 1927. Papers refer to the location as on the old Alexandria road. Not sure what that would be today. There were apparently other tank farms in the area too, so it must have had some rail connection. I don't think there are any tracks in the area now (except Metro underground). Does anyone know where the railroad tracks in Rosslyn used to be?

[Parts of I-66 were built on the Washington & Old Dominion R.R. right-of-way. - Dave]

SHORPY HISTORICAL PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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