Belt-Wheel Wreck at the Plant of the Tennessee Fiber Company

Content Tools

Reprinted from Power Magazine, August 1905 issue, was submitted by Richard Mock, 159 Dirkson Ave., West Seneca, New York 14224.

On June 14 a belt-wheel in the plant of the Tennessee Fiber Company at Memphis, Tenn., burst and did a considerable amount of damage.

The wheel was 20 feet in diameter, 30 inches face and weighed 25,000 pounds. It was located on a 24 x 48 George H. Corliss engine, running normally at a speed of 72 revolutions per minute.

The wheel was completely wrecked. Its rim was broken up into numerous small pieces and every spoke was broken off short at the hub. The engine was also wrecked completely. The main pillow-block was split from bearing to foot; the connecting-rod was pulled in two; the girder-frame was broken near the middle of its length; the cylinder-head was knocked out and the cylinder was split; the valve-motion was demolished. The entire engine was, in fact, a huge junk heap after this accident occurred.

Heavy pieces of cast-iron hurled from the bursting wheel badly damaged the building and destroyed a considerable amount of piping and other apparatus. Huge pieces, thrown vertically, crashed through the roof and fell back again, cutting wide swaths on both their upward and downward flights.

The escape of the engineer was most miraculous. He was passing in front of the wheel, and when the crash came was only a few inches to one side of the plane in which the flying missiles were hurled. He lost no time in getting out of his perilous position, and, fortunately so, for one of the pieces, hurled through the roof, fell back on the very spot where he had been standing.

The cause of the accident was not definitely determined. It is known, however, that it was not due to racing. Had racing occurred, the pieces of the wheel would have been thrown through much greater distances than they were.

All of the circumstances indicate that the pillow-block gave way first and that the wheel was broken by being hurled against the side walls of the wheel-pit.

There was a binder-pulley between the flywheel and the receiving pulley. The engine was carrying its maximum load. It is likely that a heavy pull on the belt, due to the combined effect of the binder-pulley and a sudden load on the engine, ruptured the pillow-block. When this occurred the shaft was pulled forward from its bearings, taking with it the wheel, the crank, the connecting-rod, the piston-rod and the piston. The wheel struck against the brick side walls of the wheel-pit and was broken; the piston struck against the front cylinder-head and caused the breakage of the connecting rod; the piston then being free was shot by the steam pressure rearward through the cylinder knocking out the rear cylinder-head in its flight and causing the splitting of the cylinder; the rest of the damage was caused by the pieces of cast-iron hurled from the wheel as previously described.

The Tennessee Fiber Company suffered no loss from this accident. They were protected by a flywheel policy, under which they were promptly reimbursed. The Fidelity & Casualty Insurance Company of New York were on the risk.