R 2 Ellsworth, Wisconsin.
Gary Schacht plowing at Edgar, Wisconsin show. Gary isn't afraid to use his engine. If it gets dirty, he just cleans it up!
The following represents my opinions and methods that work good for me.
The biggest enemy of the steam traction engine is corrosion and rust. Many people simply open the drain and walk away and do not return until spring. This often leaves up to one inch of water and large amounts of scale, sludge and other material in the boiler. This invites rust and corrosion while the boiler is in storage. Many people do not remove hand hole plates due to the difficulty in getting them to stop leaking again.
I use molded rubber hand hole gaskets, available from most industrial supply houses. These gaskets seal well, don't have to be scraped off boiler surfaces, may even be reused if not damaged and are well worth the small price. A leak is especially bad in the smoke box area where water combines with ashes. A little time spent in cleaning the boiler each fall will result in extra years of service.
Remove all ashes and soot, tubes should be cleaned, all ashes and soot removed from fire box, smoke box and ash pan. The boiler should be drained, all hand holes removed and all scale and sediment washed out. A high pressure washer works good for this or a hose with a long piece of tubing attached will do. In extreme cases it may be necessary to dislodge and rake out the material. After the boiler is clean, pieces of rag should be placed in each hand hole, poked into the low area allowing the end to hang out. Capillary action will draw water into the rag and will run off the outer end and/or evaporate. In a day or two the boiler will be completely dry and rags can be removed.
I have seen cases where excessive accumulation had not allowed boilers to drain and moisture had frozen warping the floor of wet bottom boilers or tearing it loose of stay bolts. A little cleaning would have done wonders.
Corrosion prone areas, bottom of smoke box etc., may be coated with a brush dipped in waste oil, but don't allow this to get into water areas. Even stored indoors, metal surfaces will tend to sweat due to temperature changes. It is my opinion that if smoke box, fire box and draft door are left closed, sweating will be minimized on fire box and flue sheet surfaces. Other opinions may differ.
I purchased an engine that was stored for seventeen years with the doors closed and it appeared as though it had been fired the week before.
Another problem arises when engine boilers are filled with water after storage. Take a glass of water and allow it to sit for awhile, then observe the tiny bubbles which formed on the sides of the glass. This also happens in your engine boiler. These bubbles are caused by oxygen which is trapped in the water. It is true that some of the oxygen will be driven off when the boiler is steamed, but we are always introducing fresh feed water which adds to the supply. The uniting of this oxygen with the metal in the boiler results in oxidation and pitting which makes some boilers look so rough inside. This effect is especially bad in boilers filled with water that sit idle for long periods of time. This can be greatly minimized or stopped by the use of boiler compound.
Surface water (rain water, stream or lake water) is bad as it contains much oxygen and acid (acid rain), but it is all right if properly treated. I like to keep around sixty to eighty parts per million sodium sulphate, this takes care of the oxygen in the water, and enough compound to keep the water slightly alkali and not acid. Boiler test papers and sulphate test kits are available from boiler chemical supply houses. Most of these places don't like to mess with individual engine owners, but perhaps clubs or organizations could buy in enough quantity. I don't claim to be a boiler chemist, but would like to see articles on this subject as it would help to make our boilers last longer.
Excessive treatment will make the boiler foam and prime which is not good, but some treatment is better than nothing.
Before steaming up always drain the water glass and be sure it refills. This will insure you that the passages to the boiler are not obstructed. The water in the glass should rise as the water is warmed and it expands. The glass should be blown down occasionally while the engine is under steam and should refill with water immediately, if it doesn't there may be an obstruction. Know how to use your tricocks, 350 degree water doesn't look like water from your kitchen faucet. The water level in your glass should move about as the engine is moved on varying terrain. This also indicates the passages are not obstructed. Know how much water is over your crown sheet when water is at the bottom of the water glass.
Some engines, Minneapolis for example, have a sloping crown sheet about two inches higher in front. This minimizes the effect of going down hill, and makes an easier steaming boiler. Be sure some prankster hasn't turned the valves of your water glass overnight or when you were away, because youngsters like to climb on engines and play engineer.
I have seen on engines where water could be showing in the glass,, but the crown sheet was dry and it melted the safety plug. This was due to the water column being repiped some time back. Do not run an engine that has loose or floppy pipes that shake and vibrate. All long pipes that shake or vibrate should be secured with metal brackets, because a vibrating pipe could break off at any moment and give the operator and spectators an unwanted steam bath.
Be aware of what varying terrain can do to the water level over the crown sheet. I have had one engine owner tell me his Case engine was safe in any position as long as there was water showing in the glass. Any competent engineer knows this is not true.
I realize most of you know all this, but with the increasing number of new engine owners and engines being handed down to relatives, it doesn't hurt to mention it. I believe the schools offered on steam traction engines are excellent, however in all probability those that need it the most won't attend.
These opinions will no doubt raise some discussion, but this is good because if we are all aware of safety, our show areas will be safe.