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Tobin's Service Station: 1926

Tobin's Service Station: 1926

Washington, D.C., circa 1926. "S.W. Barrow," the caption on this National Photo glass negative, name-checks District real estate developer Samuel W. Barrow, who may have had something to do with this work near his home on Monroe Street N.E. (a neighborhood last seen here) at the intersection with 18th. Note the gas station in the background. View full size.


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This is Henrietta, an Erie B set up as a crane with the bolt on second drum, awaiting restoration in 2018. She's mechanically complete, but the crane boom is in bad shape, may end up with a shovel front instead.

Once a site, always a site

So interesting that 95 years later, the same corner continues to be the location for a gas station. Thinking about how much the technology, around both the vehicles and the gasoline products, has evolved in the decades since. And it continues to evolve -- charging stations are bound to start popping up here and there. And yet that building across the street remains, as do some of the houses in the background.

Barber a Bush

I understand the straight line of trimmed bushes, but I’m not sure what to make of the stragglers in the area to the right. They look like a failed crop of bushes (if bushes could be a crop).

Erie B

Built in Erie PA. One of the first standardized mass produced steam crane/shovels, giving economies of scale. That's the reason there were so many of them sold, and a fair number of survivors.

The visible hoist drum is a bolt-on, for use as a crane with clamshell or dragline capability. When configured as a shovel, the single rear drum behind it is sufficient, the extra drum isn't needed. They are surprisingly fast, aided by a separate steam engine for each motion in shovel configuration.

The curved shape of the clamshell jaws pulled it into the ground while closing, although the bucket's weight and teeth were needed to start the cut.

Erie merged with Bucyrus in the mid-1920's, and was recently absorbed by Caterpillar.

The Erie B I see frequently is named Henrietta. It/she has the extra drum.

Gas for the automobiles ...

Coal for the shovel.

Fatcat beat me to it in linking the steam shovel in the foreground to a children's book.

Just this weekend I was reading "Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel" to my construction-obsessed great-nephew for the first time.

Virginia Lee Burton's 1939 story (which I read as a child in the 1960s) is about the demise of the coal-powered steam shovel, with the advent of the "new gasoline shovels / and the new electric shovels / and the new Diesel motor shovels" ... which "took all the jobs away from the steam shovels."

However, much like Mike Mulligan's beloved steam shovel, Mary Anne, this one pictured here could eventually be converted into a furnace (after successfully digging the cellar of a town hall in a single day!), and maybe its operator could then live out his career as the janitor of that building, maintaining his furnace, while enjoying "his rocking chair / smoking his pipe, / and [name of his steam shovel] beside him, warming up the meetings / in the new town hall."

Little round sign in the center

The only words I can make out is the word 'Stop' anyone else pick anything out. I like that little sign.

[WASHINGTON RAILWAY COACH STOP. There's another one over to the left. - Dave]


To answer Fatcat - technically it is not a shovel but a crane with a clamshell bucket. That bucket opens, clamshell-like, and is dropped to the ground, Its weight gives it some penetration and as it is closed by a separate cable, the jaws bite into the dirt.

We certainly hope that the operator is fully aware that he is working under power lines that appear to be within reach of the boom!

Neat old steam shovel.

Reminds me of reading "Are You My Mother" by P.D. Eastman to my son when he was little.

BTW, did the shovel dig into the ground strictly via gravity and the weight of the shovel?

My daily route, continuity and history

I figure I've driven through this intersection around 8000 times prior to March 2020, and I'll probably drive it again.

The lot where the photographer set up is John Burroughs Elementary School. Tobin's Service Station, on the southwest corner, is now Exxon. Kushner's Market, in the brick building on the northwest corner, has had a number of tenants and is now a nursing care service.

It's a decent neighborhood, but the intersection has some bad history. The proprietor of a corner shop in the brick building was murdered in the 1980s. More recently, a 2017 quadruple shooting at the gas station left one dead.

Pull Right Up! No Waiting!

With six of the gas pumps plainly visible and a seventh one partially visible behind the clamshell and the tree, I believe this is the biggest array of gravity gas pumps
I've ever seen in one setting.

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