Rail tanker car found buried in former industrial area may date to Depression
City of Lawton officials expect to have a crane in place today to lift a tanker car out of the ground on the site of the city's new public safety facility on Railroad Street.
City administrators said they knew a tank was in the ground of what had been a railroad yard in an industrial area just east of downtown, an area that dates nearly to the city's beginnings. But, they were surprised this week to learn that what they thought was a tank was something much larger a rail tanker car.
"We knew the tank was there," said City Manager Jerry Ihler. "We had an environmental (assessment) done a year ago, and knew we had to remove it."
City Engineer George Hennessee said city officials knew there was a structure under ground, because its cap is visible above ground. The city had anticipated a tank, based on initial measurements that it had made, and had placed removal of what was assumed to be a tank in the bid package for the new public safety facility.
"When we did the excavation, we saw it was a tanker car, from a rail system," Hennessee said, estimating the tanker car dates to the 1930s.
The tanker car is filled with diesel fuel, although given the age of the fuel, the old diesel on top has an almost tar-like consistency, Hennessee said. He said the tanker car had three or four concrete collars on it, to prevent the container from "floating" out of the ground, and when city officials removed those collars, a few gallons of the tar oozed out.
Hennessee said city officials contacted the Department of Environmental Quality, which sent a representative to look at the site and determine it is not hazardous material. But, that material still will have to be removed, and Hennessee said Tuesday afternoon that the city expected to pump that material out of the tanker car Tuesday night.
Removal of that diesel will free the city to remove the tanker car, something it plans to have done today. Hennessee said a crane is supposed to be in Lawton for another project and because the greatest expense involved in using a crane is transporting it to the site, City of Lawton officials wanted to take advantage of a crane that would already be in Lawton, to lessen their cost. While the construction project with FlintCo had included removal of a tank, the City of Lawton has decided to take on the expense because the removal project is much larger than anticipated when the bids were developed, Hennessee said.
Given the age of the steel and the fact it is coated with diesel, Hennessee said he believes there is limited salvage value to the tanker car.
"It would take quite a bit to clean it," he said, of the car's interior. "Cleaning is more expensive than salvage."
Hennessee said while the size of the tanker car was a surprise, city officials were expecting materials to be uncovered as excavations begin for the 112,000-square-foot public safety facility that will be the new home for Lawton Police Department and the city jail, the firefighting crews of Central Fire Station and the municipal court. City officials said the site between Railroad Street and Larrance used to be a rail yard, and some buildings and an above-ground fuel tank already have been removed from the site that also was thought to have contained a fuel station.