Boiler Inspector: Friend or Foe?

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1555 Wallum Lake Road Pascoag, Rhode Island 02859

The following article is reprinted with permission from Heritage Eagle, where it first appeared in issue No. 30, 1995.

I am quite sure that some of you have had a bad experience with your boiler inspector and consider him/her public enemy No.1. In this article, I'd like to try to convince you of the fact that your boiler inspector deserves your respect and attention.

Now that I have your attention by this statement, I'd like to continue as follows.

As the owner of an ASME Code boiler manufacturing shop, I deal with my insurance inspector and many jurisdiction inspectors throughout North America. I find that, for the most part, your boiler inspector doesn't have a clue how your tractor operates and surely does not appreciate or understand why this chunk of iron is the most important object of your affection, even superseding, in many cases, your family! You start off at odds as soon as the inspector wants to examine your tractor's inner areas. You shudder with horror when he/she (there are many female inspectors now) takes out that hammer and taps everywhere chipping some fancy painted areas with little or no concern, merrily tapping away, poking tubes, stays and sheets.

Your boiler inspector's vocabulary is insulting as you are informed that your boiler shows advanced signs of corrosion, thinning and, his big gun, red tag! This can't be your boiler he's referring to. You plead with him to pass it anyway, because there's that big show you got her all dolled up for, but he's suddenly deaf, packs his little bag, hands you an Inspection Failure Report and drives into the sunset with a smile. Surely no one can be this mean!

He's not mean. He may have saved your life by red tagging your boiler. Your boiler inspector is trained to look for telltale changes in the condition of steel that often may cause sudden, severe changes in the integrity of a pressure vessel. He is not blind to the beauty of your tractor, but he can't allow himself to be swayed by cosmetic trappings on and around the heart of your tractor which is the boiler. Many of you have no conception whatsoever how devastating a boiler explosion can be. I have been on site for cleanup and repairs of a few boiler failures, which have left a lasting impression on my mind. I cannot emphasize enough how critical it is to properly maintain and operate any boiler.

Did you know 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. No one dreamed that these rusty hulks found in the woods, behind barns or buried in the fields would be hauled out, cleaned up and run again at original pressure50-plus years after their life expectancy expired.

Many states are tightening their laws concerning these old tractors with good reason. They don't want one to blow up in their state and kill or maim people. Think what could happen at one of the shows you attend if one of these beautiful tractors let go. I think it would cause a domino reaction and all old riveted boilers older than twenty years would be condemned.

You can do a few things to keep you and your tractor safe. You should never

1. Weld on a boiler unless you are an ASME Code certified welder. Only an ASME Code certified welder working for an R stamp holder should ever touch a boiler. They have been trained and tested to use the proper procedures and materials to make a safe weld.

2.  Tamper with or adjust a safety valve. Only an ASME Code VR company should adjust and reset all safety valves. To be on the safe side, have your safety valves checked annually.

3. Put your boiler away dirty. Proper maintenance demands that your boiler be cleaned often to prevent unnecessary corrosion which can ruin any boiler.

4.  Run low water. This is the biggest cause of explosions or failures of a boiler and also speeds up metal fatigue.

5.  Open the firebox door while the engine is working. A sudden rush of cold air on the front tube sheet causes thermal shock and eventually failure. Wait until engine coasts as on a saw mill, then open the door and feed quickly. There are some situations when you must open the door at the wrong time. Be careful not to upset the heat zone in the firebox.

Take seriously any recommendations given to you by your boiler inspector it could save your life.

In conclusion, you should find a reputable ASME Code company with an R stamp familiar with your type of boiler to work with on all your boiler problems. These firms can save you a multitude of heartburn dealing with a boiler inspector. They speak the same language and respect each other's capabilities and responsibilities.

I hope you will see that your boiler inspector is indeed your friend and his concerns are based upon the safety of you and all those who will attend the many shows throughout this land.

If any reader would like a copy of Recommended Care and Maintenance of Steam Boilers, I would be happy to include you on our mailing list. We have made a sincere commitment to promote safe operations of all boilers and pressure vessels, and we will answer any questions asked of us. Write: Benson Mountain Company, P.O. Box 427, Thompson, Connecticut 06277-0427.