Montana Boiler Inspector's Certificate

An 1889 Montana Boiler Inspector's Certificate.

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Since boiler care and maintenance is getting more important all the time, we asked Paul Rafferty, state boiler inspector for Montana, for some information on this vital subject.

Rafferty, whose office is in Helena, says the Montana inspections are based on the ASME Code, Section 1, relating to boiler repairs. He urges that anyone interested in the subject write to the National Board of Boiler and Pressure Vessel Inspection at 1055 Crupper Avenue, Columbus, Ohio 43229.

We talked to Rafferty last year and this year. Jerry Lee, also an inspector took part in the discussion in 1982.

Nobody is replacing boilers, they said, but new tubes are being installed. Rafferty insisted that if any welding is done, it be done by a certified welder. He also emphasizes the need for operators to know the pressure limitations of their boilers, and to stay within them for safety.

Montana has 57 steam traction operators with licenses throughout the state. The number of engines is estimated at 70.

'Under our state laws,' Rafferty said, 'you must have six months of training under a licensed operator before you can take the state test to operate. We re-license every year.'

While we interviewed Paul and Jerry, we also picked up leads on Montana traction engine history, which is included in this article.

This is what Rafferty related on boiler exams:

'We do an internal exam stay bolts, scale conditions on the water side of the boiler, the firebox and the tubes. Lots of fellows don't use compound, since they only use the engines two or three days a year. We hydro the boilers (water test) 11/4 times'.

'On the hydro test, we can find whether the motor mount bolts are loose. It doesn't take much, with the thrust of the engine, to loosen those bolts. Many times the owner doesn't catch this. We check all seams and rivets everything, for leaks'.

'When boilers are stored, they should be covered. Otherwise, if the boilers are outside, weather will erode the hand hole plates. If the hand hole plates are not in, mice and birds will get inside and build nests, and that will be a problem when you fire up'.

'We check the pipe lines and valves. We won't allow galvanized pipe on a steam engine. We want black pipe'.

'For pressure, we mag engines up to 100 pounds. It should not be over 150 for safety these days'.

'We inspect engines every year, before they are put out before the public. Our last boiler explosion that killed a man was in 1902a father and son around Townsend. A repair person was killed on a stationary boiler in 1981, while changing over fuels diesel to propane.'

Montana has a long history of use of steam traction engines and inspections by the state. The oldest report goes back to 1891, and can be read at the Montana Historical Society museum in Helena.

J. J. Layton, Inspector, reported in 1891 that 393 boilers had been inspected; 5 condemned and 48 ordered repaired. Numerous parts were condemned, and replacements ordered8 safety valves, 23 safety gauges, 18 burned sheets and so on. No boiler explosions had occurred in the year.

The 1893 boiler inspections report contained this comment:

'The use of steam as motive power for mechanical devices has reached so high a degree of popularity that while it may, in time, be diminished, it can never be entirely superseded by electricity. And until the time shall finally come when the galvanic battery occupies the place of the steam boiler, it is wisest of legislation to inspect and license both the boiler and the engine, because this means of power must be tolerated in populated districts, in mines, mills, smelters, factories and all the large public buildings in our State, where human life is constantly exposed to the disaster of explosion.'