The Evolution Of On-Farm Fuel Storage

Manitoba Agricultural Museum release

In the summer of 2010, while looking through a scrap pile on a western Manitoba farm for Rumely silo filler parts, a Manitoba Agricultural Museum volunteer made a much more interesting find steel oil barrels.

While many readers might be thinking, Steel barrels! Do these people have nothing better to do? it should be pointed out that the barrels discovered were from the early days of petroleum on the Prairies.

The oldest barrel was shaped like a wood barrel, only using steel instead of wood. And rather than the ends of the outer wrapper of the barrel being welded together, rivets were used instead. The joint between the heads of the barrel and the outer wrapper appears to be a rolled joint.

There is a brass medallion set into the head of the barrel stating the barrel was the property of The Imperial Oil Co. There is also a number stamped into the medallion, 31550. This appears to be the barrel s serial number. Stamped directly into the head of the barrel is other information; Complies with ICC Specification No. 5, 7-13, Pat June 3, 1902.

ICC refers to the Interstate Commerce Commission, 7-13 may refer to the date the barrel was actually built, July of 1913 and Pat June 3, 1902 refers to the date the barrel design was patented.

As to why the steel barrel was shaped like a wooden barrel, a barrel with this shape, particularly when full, is easy to handle. When moving barrels any distance by hand, the barrels were usually laid on their side and rolled. With a straight wall design changing directions was a problem solved by brute force. However with a curved side wall, the barrel could be tipped in the direction you wanted the barrel to go while rolling it and the barrel turned in that direction.

There were three other barrels with this barrel. However, they were built to later designs and show the progression in barrel design.

The museum was pleased to accept donation of these barrels as they aid in the interpretation of the pioneer tractor era. The appearance of gas and kerosene tractors on farms posed many issues as there were no support systems in

place for early tractors. On-farm fuel storage was one such issue to overcome.

Wood, coal and straw used to fire steam engines could simply be piled on the ground for storage or stored in the wagon used to haul it. Obviously, one could not do this with kerosene or gas.

Wooden barrels were used to store fuel in the early days as evidenced by a letter to a 1908 edition of theCanadian Thresherman and Farmerin which a farmer talked about the economy of his tractor, but noted that the wooden barrels used to store kerosene on his farm did seep kerosene and so he was not quite sure how much the tractor had actually burnt. Steel barrels were the solution. And with barrels, if the local fuel dealer did not offer fuel delivery, the farmer could take the barrel with him on a trip to town and get it filled by the dealer. On-farm delivery of fuel by a fuel dealer was probably quite rare in the pioneer era.

The Manitoba Agricultural Museum is now open year round. Between the tractors, machinery, buildings and other artifacts of Manitoba s pioneer agricultural era, an interesting day can be spent at the museum. For more information, the museum s upgraded website is at

The Manitoba Agricultural Museum is located at Austin, Man.



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