Mike Garvey wasn’t expecting to strike oil at First and Waco when work began there on his 36-unit apartment project.
Especially not an unidentified type of oil and some water contained in a buried railroad oil tanker car about five feet underground. The unwelcome discovery, though, is not going to stop Garvey’s Builders Inc. from completing downtown’s latest new housing project near the site of an old Missouri Pacific railroad depot.
“We are going to proceed,” Garvey said Tuesday afternoon. “We have no plans not to complete the project.”
Garvey said his company is working with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to remove the tank, which contains some water and a little bit of some form of oil. He hopes to get the tank out within the week and resume work on the apartment project.
“We had done our due diligence prior to working on the site, but there are things you just don’t know until you lift up the dirt,” Garvey said. “I guess that’s really no different than anywhere downtown.”
The project is being built on land once shared by Builders Inc. and the city, near an active railroad hub. The city sold out to Builders several years ago and the tanker appears to be located on the portion of the site that was never owned by the city, said John Philbrick, the city’s property manager.
How and why the tanker got there is less clear. Garvey said he thinks the tank may have served as a railroad storage cell. Philbrick agreed, saying the tank is probably decades old and is likely unrelated to a mid-1990s derailment in the area.
However, some downtown veterans aren’t as sure, telling The Eagle that similar discoveries have been made around the city as old oil tanks have been uncovered.
Longtime downtown barber Bob Shank, who cut hair in the area for five decades and remains a member of the downtown RiverWalk Church of Christ near the site, said similar tanks were buried to house fuel oil to heat downtown buildings.
“Not surprised by this at all,” Shank said. “I was at the corner of Broadway and Douglas in the 1970s in the 104 S. Broadway building when the city decided to widen it and put in new sidewalks. They found a tank just like this one under the sidewalks filled with fuel oil.”
And Shank’s downtown church turned out to be a warehouse of buried Wichita history when it was built in 1971.
“When they did the excavation for the church, they found an old city dump from around 1900,” he said. “There were a lot of hand-blown bottles from the old Wichita Pharmacy in that, a lot of interesting stuff.
“There’s just a lot of Wichita history in that old river bank.”