2009 N. 35th Terrace St. Joseph, Missouri 64506
This is a story about an old time steam engine remedy that I had heard about several times but had never been around a situation where it had been used.
We were firing the scale H. A. Poe steam traction engine, trying to get enough steam to unload the engine from the trailer. This was the first show of the year and the weather was fine. We had a good fire and about 100 lb. of steam. My grandson, Michael, decided it was time to add some water to the boiler. 1 cautioned him to check all valves and verified the steam pressure. This injector needs about 70 lb. of steam to inject water, so we had some leeway.
All of a sudden steam was coming from the firebox, steam was coming from the injector discharge, and steam was coming out of the reserve water tank. It seemed like there was steam everywhere. Not dangerous, but certainly not good. An attempt was made to shut the steam off. The main valve to the engine was closed. The master valve to the injector was closed, but we still had uncontrolled steam. By this time the water level was going fast! The only thing to do was to pull the full box of fire. This was accomplished without any uncontrolled fire.
The water level was low, but with the fire pulled, we felt there wouldn't be any further damage.
First assessments were that we had lost the soft plug in the firebox. We let the engine cool off overnight and the next morning we dropped the water and the soft plug was removed. Much to our surprise it was good!
Well if the soft plug was good, why did we have steam and water in the firebox? And why did we have uncontrolled steam through the injector? In the haste to get the steam under control I had closed the water makeup valve which is after the in line check valve, and this did slow down the steam through the injector.
Conclusion Maybe some rust or scale got under the check valve seat and was holding it open. Thereby letting steam and water return from the boiler and thus going out the overflow and intake lines of the injector. Sounds like a good explanation anyway.
Removing the check valve provided a better look at its seat. The seat was neoprene and showed some dark areas but nothing serious.
Okay, let's fire the old girl up again and see what happens. When the steam reached about 25 lb. there was a definite water drip from the ash pan. And further inspection revealed some dampness on the left hand side of the flue sheet in the firebox. One of our good friends, a fellow engineer named Bob, asked if we had a flue cleaner. We did, and so he proceeded to insert it in the lower right hand tube of the smoke box. It came out dry. The cleaner was then inserted in the next tube up, and as it was withdrawn, at about two feet from the end there were vapors coming from the rod and cleaner. The conclusion was the tube had developed a hole. Further investigation revealed this tube was the one next to the make up water inlet, and the turbulence of the steam and water probably weakened the tube. When we went to inject water into the boiler, the action was enough to cause a leak, sending steam and water into the firebox.
Well, needless to say, we pulled the fire again and we contemplated what repairs were needed. A quick fix would be to plug the tube, which would mean the loss of firing power, but with 14 two inch tubes this should not slow her down much, and we would plan the complete retubing for next winter.
Two tapered plugs were made with a 5/8' rod between them; this should seal off the bad tube. It was suggested that these plugs might leak a little until a seal was complete.
With the old girl's intestinal problems doctored, it was time for the second show, the 4th and 5th of July. She was given a little more water than normal and fire was built. With about 25 lb. steam there was a definite hiss coming out of the firebox.
Wouldn't you know, the firebox plug was leaking and putting out the fire on one side. Pull the fire again! Because there was no way I could fire enough to build 70 lb. steam, which was needed for the injector to work, so we could maintain the needed water level.
With the fire pulled and boiler cooled, the plug rod was tightened approximately 1/16 inch. Maybe this would be enough to make a better seal. That evening as I was relaxing and wondering what I could do to make a better seal, I noticed a horse trailer with horses leave the area. I had seen them earlier pulling a carriage around the area that afternoon. The thought came to mind that I had heard an old timer's story where they used road apples to stop a minor steam leak. I said to myself, maybe that would work here.
Grabbing a bucket, a friend (Jerry) and I went looking for road apples. None were on the road (present day technology provides the horses with diapers). However, the grass area next to where their trailer had been parked proved to be fruitful. Returning to the camping area was exciting, since we advertised we had fresh road apples and would share some with the other exhibitors. No takers, but a lot of laughs.
Reaching the engine I opened the boiler, and with some fanfare I wondered (aloud) just how much medicine she needed. Old Poe was told to open wide as I inserted a road apple, a little piece at a time. It was suggested that when you take medicine you need to double the first application. So, in went the second apple and of course, you need water to help wash the medicine down. So Old Poe was filled to above working level.
The next morning Old Poe looked like she felt better. Another fire was set, and at about 25 lb. of steam she began hissing and belching steam and water from the plug, but this time it was not enough to put out the fire and so I kept firing. The steam pressure gained to about 50 lb. and Old Poe decided she felt much better and her digestive problems appeared to be remedied.
The time was about noon so I banked the fire and went to eat. When I returned she had lost some pressure and water. It was apparent that I could not get up enough steam to inject water and keep a safe water level since the leak was back. Pull the fire again! A couple of hours later the steam was down enough that Old Poe could have her second dose of medicine.
She cooperated very well and of course, it was washed down with more water. This time, enough was added to almost fill the sight glass. Two hours later steam was at 100 lb. and the engine was running. Blasts were given from the whistle, which pleased the people gathered around.
The water level was good and with 100 lb. of steam, it was time to see if the injector would work also. The steam valve to the injector was opened as the water valve was opened. With the correct positions water should go into the boiler. No matter what I did, Old Poe would not take water. The fire was pulled again! But there was enough heat and water that further running of the engine and blasts from the whistle made a fair show. Now it was the time to shut down for the night and watch the fireworks. While closing valves, I noticed the make up water valve to the boiler had not been opened. Surely that was the reason for the injector not working. We will find out next time.
To conclude the story, if an apple a day is good for we humans, then maybe a road apple at certain times is also good for an old boiler!