• Turntables

  • General discussion about railroad operations, related facilities, maps, and other resources.
General discussion about railroad operations, related facilities, maps, and other resources.

Moderator: Robert Paniagua

  by Geologist
I am an environmental consultant, and have discovered that a site I am working on was once the location of a turntable. The source of the discovery is a USGS topo map and aerial photos dated 1947 and 1955. According to the map, the turntable had a single "side rail" leading to it, that branched from a single track that served an industrial area in Everett, Washington. No roundhouse is indicated on the map. An old photo that I believe was taken in the immediate vicinity of the turntable shows three small single story wooden buildings, all less than 1,000 square feet in area. It appears that the turntable was demolished sometime in about the 1960's. The former location of the turntable is now covered by a warehouse.

I am completely ignorant of railroad operations. I was hoping someone here could tell me what turntables are (or were) used for, other than turning engines around. Does this sound like some kind of maintenance facility? Does the lack of a roundhouse mean anything?

On the off chance that anybody knows of this turntable, it was located near the intersection of 36TH Street and McDougall Avenue.

Thanks in advance for any help!

  by LCJ
Turntables were (are) often used for merely turning locomotives. They also served (serve) as a means to get locomotives in and out of stalls in a roundhouse, or on or off of stub tracks used for temporary storage of locomotives.

Here's a link to an old turntable/roundhouse picture: ... 1017549717

  by ACLfan
The situation that you have described appears to be very unusual--a turntable by itself!. It would have been much cheaper to build a "wye" track, which is a "wish-bone" shaped track with two connections with the access track, enabling locomotives to turn around. Rountables were essential for steam locomotives, but not so much for diesel locomotives, most of which could easily be operated in both directions. Only when land was not available or too expensive for the construction of a wye track was a roundtable built just for the purpose of turning locomotives around.

The residuals left over from roundtable usage primarily consist of lubricants (for the turntable gears) and solvents (used in cleaning the turntable equipment). It is possible that some types of minor running repairs and locomotive servicing could have been performed on the turntable, but whether or not such happened in your location is purely conjectural without facts.

Sometimes, the bottom areas of the roundtables were covered with impervious materials, while in other cases, the bottoms consisted of pervious materials, enabling rainwater to percolate into the ground.

Old railroad records should be able to provide a good base of information about the roundtable facility, to include its construction and operation methods. Also, check with the nearest railroad historical society for some elder railfans/retired employees, etc. that may provide personal knowledge of the roundtable.

Best wishes!