Learning To FIRE THE BOILER

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419 E. Church Street , Stevens, Pennsylvania 17578

When I was a kid Dad ran a Frick, steaming tobacco beds. I watched but never helped to fire it. I finally got my own engine at age 40. (Older dog learning new tricks!) But how do I fire this hungry boiler? I read about firing and I knew about keeping the water above the fusible plug. I asked anyone and everyone for advice. At first I fired with wood. I found that if I used good, dry, hard wood, kept the firebox nearly full and controlled the fire with draft it worked well. As you know, keeping the steam up at a show, driving around, running empty or running the fan for five minutes or so is no problem.

Now my friend has a farm. One day he asked, 'Dan, will you run the silo cutter with the steam engine?' (I thought he would never ask!) This was going to be fun! AND IT WAS!!! I set up on Friday afternoon and we ran two or three loads that day. WOW! This was great! Did you hear that engine bark when the corn hit the knives?!! Firing? No problem.

The next day brought five wagons, two binders, twenty energetic helpers and several interested bystanders. Well, with wagon #1 I had no problem, wagon #2 I lost a little steam, wagon #3 lost more steam. Those guys loved to hear that Minneapolis bark so they piled on the corn, wagon after wagon with no breaks in between to build up steam. Soon I had to stop to build up steam. It was embarrassing, with the bystanders laughing and guys hollering, 'Hey, Dan let's go!' Well, soon I'd toot and start. Now the guys tried to run me down in steam and they did! There I was all red faced and begging the bystanders 'Hey, you steam men! Can't you help a beginner? Tell me what to do! Or better yet show me!!'

Well, one older gentleman finally said that wood wasn't good enough to get a hot fire, I needed coal. Someone went to fetch some. Now we'll see. I asked the man to fire for me but he replied, 'No, it's your engine, you'll learn.' I started out with some wood and some coal, it was getting better. Now we could run through three or four loads without having to stop. Then I ran out of wood. Now we were firing with coal and we were really getting bogged down. The coal had a lot of dust and it would just kind of sit there and not burn because the draft couldn't get through. I used the poker and that was better but soon the grates were full of clinkers and you can't get heat from them. I stopped and raked the clinkers out with everyone watching. Someone sadly said, 'He doesn't know what he is doing!' Doggone, he was right but he wouldn't need to rub it in.

A friend finally offered to help and told me to keep a thin fire and then add only two small shovel fuls at a time. It was going better but we still ran out of steam. Our fire was too thin. We would add two small shovels of coal, steam awhile, poke a little, steam a little, add coal, steam awhile, poke a little, etc. This burned the coal fine, but we still had to stop to build steam. Someone advised us to keep a pile of coal in the center of the firebox, then as you needed coal you break off the edges. I find this OK if you aren't working the engine hard, but for filling silo you need the whole firebox for fire. We did get some silo filled, about 50 feet of a 12 foot by 60 foot silo in 7 to 8 hours using a 20 HP Minneapolis. I'd like to run a sawmill someday. The engine pulls hard to cut, then backs up as you return the log and get another so you get a break. On the silo filler it's one solid pull, especially with this gang since it's their sport to get the best of Dan. OK, guys, it's not funny!

I did learn to keep the water as low as safely possible. Caution! When the fire is hot, the engine pulling: the water looks OK. When you close the throttle the water runs forward off the crown sheet about an inch or more so be careful. It seems that if I keep the sight glass more than one third full and the engine pulls hard, it will prime or draw water with the steam. At home I can keep the glass two-thirds full and not have that problem. I believe it is the difference in the water.

So far I've run the cutter once a season for three years. Each season it seems like I'm learning all over. I still can't keep the steam up for one solid hour without a break now and then to get the steam up, but it's getting better.

I do use some soda ash and cornstarch to keep down boiler scale. I feel it is important to open all plugs and handholds and wash out the boiler before putting it away. Don't drain the boiler when hot, as the dirt will dry on and will be hard to wash out. Leave all holes open so air can circulate and dry inside the boiler. Clean the firebox, tubes, and smokebox. Spray a light oil in the firebox and smokebox to keep down rust. Repairs are expensive. Let's take care of our engines and have fun for years.

Now, someone write an article and tell ME just HOW to fire that boiler!