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Flatcar Follies: 1920

Washington, D.C., circa 1920. "Washington Times -- Oil Co." is all it says on this glass negative showing a rusty coal-fired boiler, a crate on skids and a guy holding a beer bottle. National Photo Company Collection. View full size.

Washington, D.C., circa 1920. "Washington Times -- Oil Co." is all it says on this glass negative showing a rusty coal-fired boiler, a crate on skids and a guy holding a beer bottle. National Photo Company Collection. View full size.


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Morgan Engineering

The hook block is marked:


-- still very much in business in Alliance, building newer versions of this crane.

There are quite a few Farrar & Trefts engines, and at least one F&T boiler, on display in various places in the Pennsylvania oil country. There are several F&T engines at Coolspring Power Museum, including one that runs, powering an oil pump jack. Long life was partly due to a tapered rotary valve that was easily adjusted for wear.


For what little I know, this is what's called a donkey boiler that is usually mounted on a wheeled frame. They are used to steam winches, drills and other portable equipment on docks, mine sites and the like. The examples I've seen like this were at the Quincy Mine museum in Hancock, MI.

"Locomotive Style" Boiler for Stationary Use

This is a "Locomotive Style" firetube boiler designed for stationary use. The large steam dome over the firebox is consistent with this identification. In use, it would be mounted on a brickwork "setting."
I don't think it's "rusty", rather it looks to be brand new with a "shop coat" of red lead paint which is now peeling in some places.

The maker's plate says "F&T", which a correspondent identifies as "Farrar & Trefts"
There are parts visible on that flat car which may be components of a steam-powered cable-driven oil well drill.
The crane hook is said to have something written on it, but I can't see it. There is also lettering on a part resting on the flat car to the left of the firebox.
There are two horse drawn freight wagons on the other side of the flatcar. In one case, the feet of the horse are visible.

F and T

The plate on the boiler reads F&T, which stands for Farrar & Trefts. The company manufactured stationary boilers and steam engines for the oil industry.


This is a Farrar & Trefts boiler used to power an oil pump.

The name plate at top front says "F&T", with a buffalo in between, as the company was located in Buffalo, NY. The article below notes the company's connection with the NY Central RR -- the same company whose logo is on this freight car.

Better picture of a similar boiler, and some oil field usage history here:

F&T history and view of the Buffalo plant here:

Excerpt: " Chilion M. Farrar , inventor of a reversible steam engine, much used in boring oil and artesian wells, formed a partnership, in 1864, with John Trefts, and Theodore C. Knight, and the firm established a modest plant that year, on Perry Street, for the manufacture of engines and boilers and for general machine work. Mr. Knight retired from the firm in 1869, and the business, grown large with the years, has continued ever since under the name of Farrar & Trefts. In conjunction with Rood & Brown, manufacturers of car wheels, the firm established also the general foundry business of the East Buffalo Iron Works, on the New York Central Belt Line, near Broadway. In 1869 Knight left the company at which time it became known as Farrar & Trefts. They had seen great potential in the oil business and wanted to build a superior steam engine that would run for 25 years with very little care for the engine. During the course of the buisness many patents were aquired including a patent for the palm link. In 1900, the company was taken over by the Erie Pump & Engine Co.

At some point in time a boiler shop was opened to supply boilers for their engines. They were able to produce any European or American boiler design and they were of utmost quality. According to The Derrick's Handbook of Petroleum published in 1898 over 25,000 engines and boilers had been produced, sold, and delivered.

An account of Chilion Farrar's life states that he was born in Detroit, MI in 1829. He married Almira Siver of Buffalo in 1845. At the age of seventeen he moved to Buffalo and started to work as a machinist at the Shepard Iron Works later known as the King Iron Works. He later became a Superintendent.

After the death of both the partners, George M. Trefts , John Trefts son, has carried on the business."

Boiler Type

I'm at a loss on this one. My guess is that it is a water-tube stationary boiler perhaps for marine use or heating a building. It is certainly not a locomotive fire-tube boiler; the massive steam dome rules that out.

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