Of Steam Shovels and Operators

Bucyrus steam shovel

225 Bucyrus steam shovel

Content Tools

38120 S.R. 518 Lisbon, Ohio 44432

In this installment, I will give some of the experiences of my first day firing boiler on the 320 Bucyrus shovel.

This shovel was operated by two persons John Duff, the head engineer who operated the digging and the swinging of the shovel and Bill Weigel, the craneman who operated the boom engine with dipper sticks and who controlled the opening of the bucket, and Charlie McCowan was the oiler.

I was told the day before the craneman was going to be off work for a couple of days and the regular fireman, Wayne Martin, was to take his place as craneman. I was to take the place of the fireman. This was an exciting event for me! My regular job at this time was as a pit man along with five other men. This particular shovel ran on short sections of railroad rails about 6 feet in length which had to be moved ahead after the overburden was removed and laced in the cut where the coal was taken out. This shovel had four trucks with two axles each and four double flanged wheels. Two trucks were driven with power from the hoisting engine chain drive, to move the shovel.

On washout day I had always helped the regular fireman wash out the boiler and in this way became familiar with most of the parts of the boiler and the location of the pump, the injector, and most other things necessary to be a boiler fireman. But there were other things to do and learn.

I started my first day with great excitement and anticipation.

On start up of each shift the fireman would blow down the excess water from inside the boiler leaving only one gauge or 2' or 3' in the glass to get the water down to the proper operating level. The oiler at this time would pour oil on the rolls which the shovel swung on from digging to dumping the dirt. The weight of the house part of the shovel sat on these rolls. There must have been 50 or 60 of these rolls. While the oiler was pouring oil the operator swung the shovel around two complete rotations with the bucket in the air. After their oiling was completed, digging began.

There were two ten-hour shifts on this shovel. The night watchman who looked after the loading shovels and the saddle tank engines that hauled the coal to the tipple would clean the fire on the big shovel after the night shift was done. So I had a good clean fire to start my shift.

The fire box was six feet across by 8 feet from the back to the tube sheet and had shaker grates with a dump grate in the back. The fire box grates were divided in the middle and the dump grates were at the back. The fire box could be cleaned one-half at a time. Extra coal could be thrown on one side and it would burn while the other half was cleaned. After cleaning one side, the fire from the other side could be moved over with a bar and the other half could be cleaned.

As digging began, I had to replace coal regularly to keep the steam gauge at a good operating pressure. When you first start off with a fire that is not burning too hot, the steam pressure will drop some. When this happens, the fireman has a tendency to throw in too much coal and it takes a little while for the fire to burn hot enough to raise steam pressure. The first 10 or 15 minutes is a rather anxious time for a first-time shovel boiler fireman, especially on a shovel of this size. Soon the fire will get to burning hot and the steam pressure will return to where it was supposed to be. Things went along pretty good. Water had to be fed into the boiler continuously but it must not raise in the glass. Just the right amount was needed to keep it at the level with which you started. If the water is too high, it will pull over with the steam and take the cylinder oil off of the throttle valve and make it hard to open and close. This will soon bring the engineer back to the boiler to explain a few things to the fireman about high water.

After about two hours of digging, I thought everything was going along all right. The move was finished and time to move the shovel ahead came. At this time the pit men would knock the clamps loose on the rails that held the shovel from pushing back when it was digging.

One thing they didn't tell me was that I had to shut off the steam valve that made distilled water to run on the inside of the brake drum. With the steam left on, an accumulation of water got into the brake drum and the channel inside the brake drum ran over onto the brake band. More water slopped on the brake band when they started to dig again and the brake wouldn't hold very well. This didn't cause too great a problem, but I didn't forget this again! The brake bands were lined with wooden blocks and would burn if the drum became too hot. On these big machines when the bucket was being lowered back into the pit, part of the way down the operator would not throw the friction ram out and the hoist engines would turn over backwards and leave the bucket run backwards. The throttle had a special bypass that would leave the hoisting engine turn over backwards from the weight of the bucket. When he was getting ready to dig again, he would throw the ram out on the friction band and use the brake to lower the bucket the rest of the way.

The rest of my morning went along pretty smoothly.

At noon the coal box had to be replenished with coal. Two of the pit men came up on the shovel and worked in the coal box which had a small boom that swung out over the side. A small steam hoisting engine that was reversible was just by the coal box. A cable let down a skip and the four pit men on the ground would load the skip with coal and the fireman would pull the skip up. The men in the coal box would pull it in and the skip would dump into the coal box. It didn't take too long to fill the box with coal. This shovel used about a ton of coal per hour. Digging would then begin again. About the time the next move was half dug out, I began to have a little trouble keeping steam pressure up. Soon the pressure was so low, the operator had to stop digging. I had gotten too ambitious with throwing in too much coal and the fire was so heavy it didn't burn very well. But I wasn't too bad off. I turned the blower on and in about twenty minutes, the shovel was ready to go again.

The rest of the day went along normally. So my first day concluded with not too much difficulty.

On the second day, everything went along just fine.