Last issue, I discussed the concern expressed by many of us over the title of Morris Snow's planned presentation, 'Potential for Disaster - Historic Boilers,' to the National Board of Boiler & Pressure Vessel Inspectors' 73rd general meeting. I had yet to read the text of Snow's speech, but since then the Board has posted it on its website and it's been passed around by members of the steam community. Our concern appears to have had some foundation.
Snow, who is chairman of the Board's historic boiler committee, discussed in his presentation an article from the October 1985 issue of The National Board Bulletin about a steam traction boiler explosion that took place in 1984, resulting in the loss of two lives. What Snow evidently did not know, however, is that the episode he was citing had already been discredited almost 20 years ago.
A reprint of the October 1985 Bulletin article ran in the March/April 1986 Iron-Men Album. At that time, the editors of IMA failed to recognize that the reported 1984 explosion was actually the July 17, 1971, explosion of a Case traction engine in Mitchell, S.D. Two people were injured in the 1971 explosion; there were no deaths. The Bulletin article blamed the explosion on corroded stays.
After the article appeared, the steam community roundly chastised IMA's editors for failing to connect the dots and tie the Bulletin article to the 1971 Corn Palace explosion. Subsequently, the May/June 1986 IMA carried three pages devoted to readers' comments on the Bulletin reprint. Richard Jagger, responding as director of inspections for the National Board, responded as well, saying: 'Our face is red! We were obviously given misleading information and carelessly accepted it at face value.'
The 1971 explosion was not without cause. Arnold Janssen, owner of the Case, was paraphrased in the May/June 1986 IMA saying the Case's crown sheet was thin and should have been replaced. He was also quoted, saying, 'The safety valve was welded - it was that way when I got the engine.' Clearly, the engine should not have been operating under those conditions, a reality we respect today more than ever.
Now more than ever, we respect our role and responsibility as members of the steam community to work toward a common goal: The safe and continued operation of our historic engines.
I seriously doubt Morris Snow would have included his reference to the original Bulletin article had he known its history, and I don't think he's working to put an end to the safe operation of our equipment.
What bothers me the most, however, is that the Board clearly failed internally to correct its knowledge of the explosion, thereby enabling further reference to a historic steam boiler explosion that never occurred as reported.