Sunday, July 22, 2012

Water Towers

Almost everywhere you go in the industrialized world, the landscape is dotted by water towers that are used to pressurize water in most metropolitan systems. But not quite everywhere; growing up in Jacksonville, Florida, water towers were a rare sight for me. Back in the day the city's water system depended mostly on ground water from artesian wells. These wells were drilled deep into the Floridan aquifer where the pressure was high enough to drive the water up to the surface with enough pressure to spare to pressurize the water system so there were no water towers in my neighborhood and few indeed around the city. There was a water processing plant a few blocks from my home where the water was processed to remove some of the impurities. Pure enough for drinking and cooking, hard water” contained higher concentrations of calcium and other minerals than surface water did. This made it hard for detergents to work and you had to really exert some energy to work up a lather taking a shower.

I remember reading about water towers and I began to build a fascination with them. I saw them in movies too. It seemed that every ranch in the old “B” Westerns has a windmill and a water tower. Every train station had a low tower with a spout to fill the boilers of the steam locomotives. Even in desert settings these cisterns were brimming with water and usually a gang of outlaws bent on robbing the train.

Who can forget the scene in the movie “Twister” as the camera pans past the water tower in Wakita, Oklahoma on a quiet prairie night and you could just sense that sweet summer night with the light breeze was going to turn out to be a disaster of major proportions. An interesting side item: “Twister” is notable for being both the first Hollywood feature film to be released on DVD format and one of the last to be released on HD DVD. “Twister” has since been released on Blu-ray disc. We all cheered when the tornado probe “Dorothy” finally flew after the storm chaser team added aluminum from Pepsi cans to work as wind flaps.

In my travels across the country I have marveled at water towers of all types; the red white and blue towers in Columbia, the one shaped like a golf ball on a tee in Palm Coast in Flagler County, Florida near I-95, the tan, skirted water towers of Iowa. There is a water tower in Buffalo, SC that is only one story tall but sits on a hill overlooking the town. I have seen a peach shaped water tower in Gilbert South Carolina, the home of the annual July 4th Lexington County Peach Festival and an egg-shaped tower up I-26 in Newberry County. Some city water towers have the name of the city painted in large letters on the roof, as a navigational aid to aviators and motorists. Sometimes the decoration can be humorous. An example of this are water towers built side by side, labeled HOT and COLD. Cities in the United States possessing side-by-side water towers labeled HOT and COLD include Granger, Iowa, Canton, Kansas, and St. James, Missouri. (Eveleth, Minnesota at one time had two such towers, but no longer does). When a third water tower was built next to the Okemah, Oklahoma set of Hot and Cold towers, the town briefly considered naming it "Running", but eventually decided to use "Home of Woody Guthrie".

When I went to New York City, I was surprised to discover that water towers there were not self standing structures. Many of the tall buildings there have their own tower right on top. I took this picture back in 2004 from my hotel room in Midtown. Two movies released this year that are set in urban scenes, The Amazing Spider Man and The Dark Knight Rises feature numerous rooftop water towers. These are interesting adaptations of a technology that evolved at the dawn of the industrial age. Oh MY!

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