From The Panama Canal Company Review, December 4, 1953

Pictures of Red Tank

There are no more games of "Brown Girl in the Ring" on the sidewalks of Red Tank. The heated domino and draughts tournaments are no longer going on under the houses which have faced Gaillard Highway for 35 years. The market women from Chiva Chiva have stopped selling their plantain and yucca and yam at their little makeshift stands along the street.

For there are no more men or women or children living in Red Tank. The local-rate town, whose population swelled to over 2,200 in the decade between 1931 and 1941 is now deserted.

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The Town of Red Tank

The last residents, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Moseley, moved November 12 to Paraiso where many of their former neighbors had preceded them. A Panama Canal employee for 40 years, he had been the Salvation Army's Red Tank representative for the past three years.

Birds and a Dog

For two weeks, the Moseleys were the only people living in Red Tank. Rover, whose bark is worse than his bite, and the birds which came each morning to the Moseley's back porch to be fed, were the only other living creatures in the town.

The last Canal families had moved October 29 to La Boca. The Red Tank school which last year had 371 pupils had only two left when it closed its doors for the last time October 30. The Red Tank Commissary sold its last goods October 31.

Today Red Tank is a ghost town. Long pieces of wood have been nailed across the doors of the vacated houses which will soon be demolished. The remaining stock has been removed from the commissary. Along the back streets of the town the grass is beginning to grow high.

Pedro Miguel Tank

Red Tank's beginnings are hazy. A 1904 timetable for the Panama Railroad shows a stop called Pedro Miguel Tank, five-tenths of a mile south of Pedro Miguel proper. The same timetable, which lists the tank as a stop for all trains, indicates that it had a siding for 24 cars.

Old timers, like William Jump, recall that there was a big water tank, painted with red lead, on a hill behind what later became the town. From this undoubtedly came the name of Red Tank which is mentioned in a 1908 file in a letter recommending the demolition of three old "buildings at Red Tank . . .they are all in very bad shape."

The name of Red Tank does not appear again in official files until November, 1915, six months after a three-man committee was appointed to investigate and report on the number of quarters which would be needed for local-rate employees near Pedro Miguel and Miraflores. The committee recommended the construction of 80 apartments, to cost $56,000, and to "be located in the vicinity of the tunnel dump."

Census For 1916: 242

The first Red Tank quarters were completed that same year. The first occupants were 42 families and 42 bachelors, all the men employees at Pedro Miguel Locks. The first census report for Ted Tank showed 242 residents in June, 1916.

In 1917 more quarters were built and 83 families and 40 bachelors, were moved into Red Tank from Rio Grande. Later that same year Wards 7,8,9, and 10 from Ancon -now Gorgas-Hospital were re-erected at Red Tank as Building 536. This huge structure, housing 48 families, immediately and unofficially was christened the Titanic. The smaller building next door, which had also been an old Ancon Hospital ward, quite logically was known as the Iceberg. Both buildings had been built at the hospital in 1907. They were torn down in 1951.

By 1919 Red Tank's population had grown to 1,302 and six years later had increased to 1,672. In August 1927, four buildings were brought to Red Tank from Culebra and re-erected as 10-family quarters. Later that year three old Army barracks from Camp Gaillard on the west side of the Canal, were rebuilt into two 12-family quarters. These last were to house local-rate employees who were still living on the west side of the Canal in the Gaillard and Empire districts.

War Boom

Like all Canal towns, Red Tank mushroomed during the hectic days just before and in the early part of World War II. Barracks were put up for local-rate bachelors, the clubhouse enlarged.

The clubhouse, which had been built in 1919, was completely destroyed by a fire on February 23, 1945. The fire was caused by a break in the fuel supply line of a pressing machine in a tailor shop in the clubhouse basement. One woman, an employee in the shop, was badly burned. The heat from the burning one-story building was so intense that a wooden retaining wall across the street and along the railroad tracks was set afire and grass began to blaze beside the tracks. After the fire, clubhouse facilities were provided in an old school building.

A dispensary, Red Tank's first, was opened in June, 1946, but closed three years later when the town's population had begun to drop.

Deserted today, Red Tank had had 1,075 inhabitants when this year's police census was taken in June. Over half of these were children.

It was the children the Moseleys missed most during their two weeks as Red Tank's only residents.

"We were so used to the patter of children's feet," Mrs. Moseley said, "that after we were alone I thought time after time I heard children running, although I knew truly that there were no children there. I would go to the window and look. Of course there weren't children, or anyone else."

Last update: June 30, 2000

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