Talk about feeling small.

Stand next to five gigantic steam pumping engines, each one six stories tall.

Each engine weighs as much as 27 tractor-trailers.

And each one could pump 30 million gallons of water in its day.

Those days are long past, but about 350 people stepped back in history Saturday to tour the Col. Francis F. Ward Pumping Station at the foot of Porter Avenue.

Led by the Industrial Heritage Committee, they walked through the same doors that thousands of Buffalonians once used to pay their water bills. Jerry Malloy of the committee explained the history of the plant, which is still in operation with much smaller, shiny blue electric pumps. But the big draw is the steam engines, a marvel when the plant opened in 1915, and an impressive engineering feat today. Many took photographs of the impressive engines.

Built by the Holly Manufacturing Co. in 1914, the Col. Francis G. Ward Pumping Station on Porter Avenue remains an impressive structure. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

Built by the Holly Manufacturing Co. in 1914, the Col. Francis G. Ward Pumping Station on Porter Avenue remains an impressive structure. Click on the photo to see more images from Saturday's tour. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

“I grew up here all my life,” said Pete Teluk as he sat on a bench, waiting for Malloy to begin. “I’ve always thought it would be interesting to see.”

Well?

“Fantastic!” he said.

Pump parts at the Pump Station at the Col. Francis G. Ward Pumping Station on Porter Ave,. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

Pump parts – and graffiti – at the Col. Francis G. Ward Pumping Station. Click on the photo to see more images from Saturday's tour. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

Pauline Ricotta of Derby read up on the pumping station before visiting with her husband, Roger. An industrial engineer, she said engineering feats interest her.

“It’s impressive, given the age,” she said, gazing at one of the engines. “In 1915 people were building these.”

Ward served as a lieutenant colonel during the Spanish-American War, and later became Buffalo’s public works commissioner, shepherding the plant through its construction. The pumps were made by the Holly Pump Co. of Lockport. In 1938, three electric pumps were installed at the station. The steam pumps remained the backups for nearly 40 years.

“The last time these operated was in the mid to late ’70s,” said Plant Superintendent Patrick J. Martin.

At its peak in the late 1960s to early 1970s, when Bethlehem Steel and other industrial consumers of water were going strong, the station’s peak demand was 120 million gallons of water a day. Today the city’s demand is between 60 million and 85 million gallons of water a day, he said.

email: bobrien@buffnews.com