PHOTO: J. Keeler Johnson
August 8, 2018

Well, it was bound to happen eventually. It was cracked in a few places already, and nearing the end of its useful life. Finally, it gave way in overly dramatic fashion, prompting the quick purchase of a replacement.

The item I’m discussing is the square-shaped plastic 7-gallon water container that I use daily on my northern Wisconsin farm to distribute water to the various pastures. With cracks forming at the upper corners, it was only a matter of time before the handle became disconnected from the rest of the container, which is exactly what happened on a recent morning. Suffice it to say, that rendered the container useless.

Oh, I have plenty of other containers on hand—tall, rectangular ones that carry almost the same amount of water and are essentially identical to my square container in all respects except shape. You might find it hard to believe that the shape of the container could make any meaningful difference. But use them long enough, and I’m sure you’ll discover—as I have—that the difference is greater than one might expect.

Like most things, each of the two shapes has its pros and cons. If I just plan to grab a container and carry it by hand somewhere, I’ll take a tall rectangular jug every day of the week. The advantages are subtle, but not to be underestimated. Because they’re taller, you don’t have to lift them as high. And because they’re narrow, they ride smoothly alongside your leg and require less effort to lift. Compare that with the short, squat, square containers. You must lift those higher, and you must hold your arm out from your torso since the containers are wider and don’t ride alongside a person as easily. That shifts the center of gravity away from you, so if the jug is heavy, you lean to compensate for the load, and your arm tires more quickly.

But if you transport containers in a cart or trailer, the equation changes. Suddenly, the advantages offered by tall rectangle containers become disadvantages—their height and narrow footprint means their center of gravity is higher, so they’re more prone to tipping over during transport across bumpy and uneven ground. If your containers have their original caps, that might not be a big deal. But hobby farmers are often time-savers at heart and thus rarely bother with caps on busy workdays, so having a container tip over usually means spilling water.

In contrast, the short, wide, square containers have a lower center of gravity and ride out nearly any journey upright—I think you could pull a wagon full of square containers over a pile of boulders, or a rocky mountain, or a war-torn battlefield without worrying about them tipping over.

Hence, I like to keep both types of containers on hand, which is why I’ve already purchased a replacement for my hard-used square container. The next time you go shopping for water containers, keep these tips in mind and analyze how you intend to use them. Don’t be surprised if you find that having both will save you some trouble.

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