Boiler InspectionsAnother Viewpoint

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3040 160th Street Sumner, Iowa 50674

This article is intended as a response to Peter Bouley's article which appeared in the January/February issue of IMA, called 'Boiler Inspector: Friend of Foe?'

First off I'd like to say I've been a steam engine owner and operator for about 25 years and have owned various engines, currently owning five traction engines. I'd also say I'm not a boiler inspector hater and don't want to convey that through this article. During the years that Iowa had state inspections on hobby boilers I had a very good relationship, and still do, with the inspection department in Des Moines. I understood they had a job to do and were merely trying to do it. By the way, hobby boilers in the state of Iowa have been exempt from state or federal inspections since 1988.

One of the big things that concerns me with articles such as Mr. Bouley's is that some engine owners or operators read it and get the wrong idea. By this I mean that they may think that because their boiler is state inspected the state will share in the liability should an accident take place. We in the steam fraternity must never be lulled into a sense of false security by this. We as hobbyists must educate ourselves as to the safe operation of these engines in public because we are solely responsible for this, not the state or federal government.

Let me play the 'devil's advocate' here for a moment if I might. Let's take the worst case scenario and I pray this never happens: I've just gotten my 1912 Case engine state inspected and it passed with flying colors. So with my inspection certificate proudly tucked in my back pocket, I load the old girl up and head for the local show for a weekend of fun. During the parade the feed water pipe going into the side of the boiler ruptures and several people get scalded! Lawyers are called and litigation ensues. Now, if anyone thinks that because that engine had been certified, the state will step forward and share in the responsibility, they are 100% wrong. I'm afraid these inspectors would tuck their tails between their legs and head for the best defense lawyer money could buy. I always noted with a certain amount of amusement, on the bottom of my inspection certificate it always stated 'no defects noted at time of inspection.' I think this says it all in a nut-shell!

Another point that Mr. Bouley tries to get across that 'steams' me a little is his statement that 'The original thought at the time your tractor was built was to figure a life expectancy of 15-20 years tops! Today's boilers will last three or four times that long.' I question where he gets his information. In the first place, I seriously doubt if Mr. Bouley was included in the designing or construction of any of these boilers, around the turn of the century, so how could he possibly know how long they were intended to last? Secondly, if this were the case, I think that it's remarkable then that I have an Advance traction engine in my shed that just celebrated its 106th birthday. Up until the time of hobby boiler exemption, it was state certified to carry 100 psi working pressure year after year from the time it was restored in the 1960s. And for Mr. Bouley's information, this engine has a single row of rivets on the longitudinal seam. I was told by one of the last inspectors to look at it that he thought it was one of the nicest boilers he had seen, and I'm sure there are plenty of other hobbyists out there who can relate similar instances.

As for R stamp repair shops, they are well and good at doing the type work they are set up to do. However, I have seen the situation where an R shop was called to repair the front flue sheet on a traction engine boiler. The sheet had rusted thin and was leaking. These people tried to pad-weld an area over top of the thin spot and couldn't do the job properly. Another repairman was called in to do the job (who didn't possess an R stamp). He properly removed the tubes around the affected area, cut out the thin spot and removed the old rivets that held the bottom of the sheet in place. He then fashioned a new sheet out of boiler plate, welded it in place and installed the new rivets and tubes. (The same type repair was outlined in the last issue by Larry G. Creed on his Nichols engine.) I was involved in this repair job and, this was several years ago, the boiler was hydro tested and has been up and running every year since.

It seems to me that Mr. Bouley is trying to paint the picture of traction engine boilers as being rusted-out death-traps, bulging at the seams, ready to explode at any given time. I think most of us would agree that boilers of any kind don't explode on their accord any more than cars traveling down the highway in themselves have accidents, or guns go off without someone pulling the trigger. It takes competent people in each case for the safe use of these items.

I have always tried to make the point that I'd feel safer near a 'so-so' boiler with a competent operator rather than with a perfect boiler and an incompetent operator. And by the way, new welded boilers can be exploded just as easily as riveted boilers. I think our track record among steam shows speaks for itself. We, as the people who own and operate these machines, have the most to lose should an accident ever take place. I think we all realize this.

Let's all work together to make our great hobby even better in 1996 than in the past. We can do this through education and by getting more people involved with the proper care and maintenance on these engines. They are an important part of our agricultural heritage and deserve the best we can give them. This way they can be around for everyone to enjoy for years to come.