Let's Play Safe

Keck-Gonnerman Engine

Courtesy of Mr. Garold Blakley, 850 So. Illinois St., Springfield, Ill. Here is a picture of my 19 H.P. side mount Keck-Gonnerman Engine, No. 1788. This is the engine used in the sketch Soot in the flues.

Garold Blakley

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1125 North Main. St., Decatur, Illinois

Can't help but comment on a letter printed in Jan.-Feb. 1966 issue I.M.A. written by a Mr. Mazilly of Starks, La. He seems to take a critical attitude of articles written and published in the several good steam magazines we have in the country concerning boiler accidents. He asks by what authority steam shows would be shut down should a boiler blow. On page 15 of this same issue is a letter from a Mr. C.B. Gullekson from Grand Forks, North Dakota, describing a boiler explosion not a very pleasant bedtime story. Mr. Frank L. McGuffin of Washington, D.C. wrote a very timely and worthwhile article in Engineers and Engines Magazine of March 1965. Here he recalled some 8 or 9 articles on boiler explosions printed in various issues of I.M.A. giving page, date, and year of magazine, and several more which had been printed in E. & E. I have checked back on some of these and most all were a mess of blood and guts. Mr. McGuffin refers mostly to a certain type of boiler. Yet, the same boilers Mr. Mc Guffin has reference to are still in evidence at some of our reunions.

Boiler safety is stressed in a number of past issues of  I.M.A., also in E. & E. L.H. Rennewanz of Ennis, Montana has written several good articles stressing boiler and engine operating safety, especially at crowded reunions.

Back to Mr. Mazilly. He attempts to compare deaths caused by automobile accidents to deaths caused by steam engine accidents. I would be inclined to agree that our highway toll in human life is a national disgrace. But does Mr. Mazilly realize there are some 60 million passenger cars in this country plus trucks and buses? Each one exerts more force than ever by a threshing engine. I wonder if Mr. Mazilly has any conception what havoc a boiler failure would cause should it occur at some of our larger reunions where some 20-40,000 people are crowded together in a comparatively small area like, for instance, a fairgrounds. An explosion here might well compare with the highway toll of one of our longest holiday weekends. I'm quite sure were Mr. Mazilly asked to pick up after a mess like this he would become slightly ill in the pit of his gizzard. Or were he asked to mop up after a steam engine which ran wild through a crowd of people after it was turned loose by some irresponsible playboy who would pull a throttle wide open before realizing his engine was on dead center and leaving the throttle open while turning the engine off center. From the ground, yet. No, Mr. Mazilly. There is no blaze of glory to go out in any type of an accident; automobile or otherwise. I am confident I am not alone in taking exception to this attitude of unconcern for the safety of people attending steam shows. And I am sure that if you would give this entire situation some real down-to-earth thought and consideration you would realize that should a serious accident occur at a steam show where thousands of people come and pay admission, more damage suits would be filed in one day than you could shake a stick at, and the authority you inquire about might soon become evident.

I agree rigid boiler inspections are necessary but they are not an assurance that a boiler will not be in an accident. A very good boiler in the hands of an inexperienced operator can be ruined or worse in a very few minutes.

I attended a steam show during the past year where a steam plowing demonstration was one of the main events. Since one of the first steam outfits I worked on in 1922 was a plowing outfit, naturally, I was interested. However, when I came close and saw the steam gauge pointing to 180 PSI on a 50 year old boiler built for 160 PSI when new, I lost interest in this event but quick; and the demonstration lost one spectator but quicker.

I mentioned this incident, Mr. Mazilly, to show that inspections and inspectors are one thing operators are another. I have all the confidence and respect for the inspection service in the state where this incident occured; but, as I said, operators are a different story and incidents like this one will sooner or later cause disaster.

You seem to take a fancy to holding at pressures recommended for boilers when new. This is fine for when they were built. I am sure you will agree 40 or 50 years will take its toll in deterioration of the plates in the boiler. There are some traction engine boilers in existence today which are safe to carry the steam pressures they were built for. These, however, are more the exception than the rule. Even for boilers which have had the best of care, over 50 years time, corrosion has taken its toll. And there is no question that many did not have the best of care when in operation plus some 20-30 years of abandonment in some fence corner or thicket. Then restored by smearing a coat of pretty paint over rust and scale; and showing them at reunions expecting to run them at the same pressure they were originally built for.

Mr. Mazilly, I would herewith certainly solicit your wholehearted support instead of criticism of steam show safety articles of which we have altogether too few. Let us not ever give an impression of unconcern for the safety of spectators. Like So What? Why close down steam shows just because we kill a bunch of clods and deprive them of the glory of being killed in a shiny new automobile?