Remember a couple weeks ago I got my hands on documentation of the oil shipments to the power plant? There were other things in that batch of papers that turned out to be quite intriguing, most notably this innocuous seeming set of notes. Quite clearly, someone before me was asking questions about the history of the power plant and writing brief, cryptic notes about it. (I might guess who that person was but it would be only a guess so I won’t.)
My first reaction was emotional: I loved Alan Chapman and miss him to this day. (One of the many things I’ve learned from my job is that melancholy is always just a breath away.)
My second reaction was also emotional: it was elation. And to celebrate what I’ve learned I’m going to drag you guys all the way through this, starting today.
I’ll begin where I began, with J.T. McCants, Rice’s first and long-time bursar. In 1955 McCants put together a volume, part memoir and part collection of documents called simply “Some Information Concerning the Rice Institute.” It hadn’t occurred to me to check this for answers about the power plant but this is in fact exactly the kind of dry, technical material that comprises most of this little book. When I went for a look here’s what I found: Because this country was wide open, it was not difficult to secure a spur track of the San Antonio and Aransas Pass railroad to the campus. This spur came into the campus from the northwest and stopped at the site of the power plant. Practically all of the materials used in the buildings and for the roads were brought in by this spur. After the first buildings were completed, the spur was still needed to bring fuel for the power plant. The plant was equipped to burn either coal or oil. The principal fuel was oil. Coal was used several times but only to meet emergencies when oil was not available. Later when the plant was equipped to burn gas, the railroad spur was removed. The removal of the track was made necessary by the great development which soon took place in the Southampton addition. By this time also Main Street had been sufficiently improved to carry much of the materials needed for later construction, which were brought in from the railroad track at the Blodgett Street spur.
Thankfully this answers many but not all of the persistent questions I have. I’d hate to work myself out of a job.
And as of last week we have the first evidence I’ve seen that the plant was set up to burn coal, an image from the Watkin photos, taken on August 30, 1911 and labeled “Centering for coal bin floor” :
This is most interesting, of course, but the true pleasure for me was having Alan Chapman once again tell me where to find what I needed, just as he did so many times when he was alive.