Natural Gas Storage Tank

San Diego Gas and Electric Storage Tank (Reservoir B)

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History -

San Diego, like most of the United States at the time, stored natural gas in expandable low-pressure tanks. Pumping was required to fill the tank, and pumping was also required as gas was extracted and distributed to increase the pressure supplied to the city gas mains. Improvements in tank technology has been the demise of these delicate structures. Very few survive today.

San Diego had, at one time, four such natural gas tanks. Modeled is "Reservoir B" located near the SD&AE freight yard. Today the tank has been refurbished and holds diesel fuel. Alas, it is just another steel tank now.

The Prototype -

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Reservoir B was constructed in three telescoping sections, with an oil seal between sections. Wheels on the tank sections meshed with rails on the inside of the cross-braced girders, thus keeping everything in alignment and preventing (serious) leaks. One could tell how much natural gas was stored by the height (expansion) of the tank.

Building the model -

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At 16 inches in diameter, this is a large structure in HO. The tank itself was constructed by layering ¾ inch alder wood cut to fit as a hexagonal ring. Alternate layers staggered the joints in the rings. Top and bottom sections were solid lumber. The entire laminated piece was then rough cut round on a band saw, and then the tank was turned on a large lathe. The concrete footing is part of the original wood laminate.

The superstructure was crafted from brass rectangular stock, and code 55 rail was soldered to the inside edge. Brass ears were mounted at appropriate locations, and Central Valley styrene girders were laminated to the outside of each vertical. Holes were drilled in the "concrete" base and the rail, which extended below the rest of the assembly, was pressed into the hole. Brackets with brass wheels fitted onto the rail track inside the superstructure, but this level of detail can only be seen from above. Finally, cross-bracing was accomplished by stringing 24 AWG wire through notches in the " ears" protruding through the styrene. The cross-bracing, as on the prototype, provides amazing strength and rigidity to the entire superstructure. A service staircase zig-zags up one side of the superstructure. The model is finished with flat engine black and concrete color paints. Dusting the tank top is a frequent task.

The tank is hollow and the interior can be reached from under the benchwork. It is planned to install red aircraft warning lights to the top ring of the superstructure, but has been put on hold. A 12 volt power supply will power all the lighting needs in the Imperial Avenue area of the layout

This natural gas reservoir model was constructed by Brian Satterlee. Technical consulting and supply of the brass wheels for the model from Parker Williams, our trolley expert and retired employee of San Diego Gas and Electric Company. He assures me that the close proximity of trolley wire to the gas storage was frequently done, and would not be an explosion hazard!

Historical Photo: Clifford R. Prather
Model Photo: Brian Satterlee