Barrels of Gasoline, Kerosene Jugs and Hand-Cranked Pumps

It’s All Trew: Before modern conveniences, gasoline and butane gas were stored in jugs and barrels and moved using a hand-cranked pump

Onsite fuel storage became a necessity with increasing mechanization on the farm.

Onsite fuel storage became a necessity with increasing mechanization on the farm.

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I can still see my mother standing over a new floor furnace grill, print dress billowing out as heat from the furnace rose into the room. No more kerosene jugs to fill or ashes to carry. No more coal, kindling and firewood to fetch. Like magic, the new-fangled thermostat turned the furnace on and off as needed. The future was truly at hand. 

At first, butane gas came in large, 20-gallon steel bottles. Most people bought two bottles so one could be refilled while the other served. Initially, the bottles were taken to town for refilling. Some time later, dealers refilled the bottles on the farm from distribution trucks.

Enterprising dealers soon began furnishing large tanks to users if you bought all your butane from them. As prosperity came, after the Dust Bowl and Great Depression ended, most users bought their own storage tanks to take advantage of gas bargains. No matter the storage container, gas was here to stay.

The same evolution worked with gasoline. At first, with the switch from horse-and-buggy to automobiles and workhorse teams to tractors, all fuels were stored in 55-gallon steel barrels.

I remember a long row of barrels lined up in front of our shop, all leaning at an angle to keep the rain water from leaking into the barrels’ bung holes. Dad cautioned all employees to keep the bungs tight to prevent evaporation of gas and leakage of water into the barrels. At first we had a four-wheel John Deere trailer on which we hauled barrels of gasoline back and forth to tractors working in the fields. We used a crank-type pump to transfer fuel from barrel to tractor tank. When a barrel emptied, the pump was moved to another barrel.

I think it was in the 1950s when barrels became obsolete and steel storage tanks came into use. Our tanks and pumps came from Wilborne Mfg. Co., Amarillo, Texas, which remains in business today. We converted to overhead storage with gravity flow, thus eliminating the crank pumps.

We always kept safety in mind as many a wheat field was destroyed by fire. Ironically, most of our old, obsolete, steel fuel barrels were eventually used as trash-burning receptacles.

I wonder just how many millions of gallons of fuel were cranked through the old pumps down through the years. How many revolutions of a hand-cranked pump did it take to empty a barrel of gas into a tractor’s fuel tank?

We also bought engine oil, grease for bearings, transmission oil and other lubricants by the barrel, drum or 5-gallon bucket. Every year, Dad bought the latest invention built to grease or lubricate quicker and more effectively. No expense was spared in order to plow or plant more acres in a day.

I am thankful for all the new practices, innovations and improvements now available for farming and ranching. But let us not forget that, not so long ago, barrels, buckets and hand-cranked pumps were an important part of every operator’s world. FC 

Delbert Trew is a freelance writer, retired rancher and supervisor of the Devil’s Rope Museum in McLean, Texas. Contact him at Trew Ranch, Box A, Alanreed, TX 79002; (806) 779-3164; email: trewblue@centramedia.net.