Boiler fireman.

Boiler fireman.

Coal unloading platform and bituminous coal  storage outside of bins.

Coal unloading platform with bituminous coal storage outside of bins.

Coal delivery on siderail with anthracite screening piles.

Coal delivery on siderail with anthracite screening piles.

Workers and Coal-Fired Steam Pumping

Some of the workers at the Chestnut Hill pumping station worked outside of the building. The station’s firemen, working out of the attached coal house, supervised coal delivery on the Boston and Albany railroad tracks just behind the station. They guided the coal into firing piles, and shoveled the coal into the three enormous furnaces in the boiler room, each supplying steam to an individual engine through overhead pipes that you can still see today. It was hard, hot, back-breaking work. After the firing, the firemen shoveled the ashes into an enormous pit located at the base of the station’s chimney.

Maintaining the boilers was not mindless work. A thoughtless mistake--firing an empty boiler, letting the steam pressure get too high, or putting cold water into a hot boiler--could spell disaster.

When the steam engine pump was working properly, there weren’t many tasks, so the shift crew was small. A typical shift crew might include an engineer, an assistant engineer, an oiler, a fireman, and a cleaner.

The men would constantly “walk the engines down” to polish brass, replenish oil, and listen. They were so accustomed to the normal sounds of the engines that they knew all was well just by listening to them. Experienced engineers could identify a problem and diagnose it quickly by listening to the engines at work.


Story: Political History of the High Service Pumping Station

Story: Employee Injuries at the High Service Pumping Station

Story: The History of Bringing Water to Boston

Original Document: List of Employees with Licenses, April 25, 1916

Pictures: Social History Photo Gallery