Soot in the flues

Content Tools

By now, most of you know that Anna Mae Branyan, the author of this column, passed away last September. We want to see the Soot in the Flues continue, and for all of our readers to share information in this column, so please do write to us with you questions, your pictures or whatever you'd like to share with your fellow subscribers.

ROLAND S. BRODBECK, 6540 Clark Road, Ottawa Lake, Michigan 49267, writes: 'I wish to respond to the article of William Lamb and Robert Rhode in the January/February issue. There are a few facts that need to be clarified on butt and lap-joints.

'First, the butt-strap joint in a boiler is twice as strong as a lap-seam joint with the same number of rivets. Why? A lap joint has only a single shear area; this is the cross-sectional area of the rivet multiplied by its shearing, which gives you the force necessary to shear the rivet. The butt-strap has a double shear; it must shear the rivet on the outside strap plus that same rivet must shear in the inside strap. This makes a butt-strap joint twice as strong with its double shear area than the lap-joint. Other factors that affect joint strength are rivet size, spacing, number and installation. All these factors are equal in both joints. The only way to have a lap-joint proportionally the same strength as a butt-strap joint is if the butt-joint has half as many rivets as the lap-joint. I have yet to see a lap-seam boiler on a traction engine have more rivet area than a butt-strap boiler. Remember, two rows of rivets on a butt-joint is equal to four rows on a lap-joint.

'Second, in Audel's Engineers and Mechanics Guide #5, the main problem with the lap-joint is the barrel of the boiler is not a true cylinder in overlapping the sheet and riveting it together. This causes a crease in the boiler sheet. The crease makes it possible to get stress cracks and even possible failure of the sheet at that location, especially with poor quality metal. Most of these problems were because of substandard material and workmanship. That's why in 1915 the American Society of Materials Engineers issued its boiler code to try to standardize the industry with safe boiler rules.

'Third, size of the boiler is a main factor in the choice of a joint. The larger the diameter, the more force that is pushing on the sides and on the joints. Like a small and large hydraulic cylinder, both have the same oil pressure pushing on the cylinder, but the large one has more force because it has more surface area (Area x Pressure = Force). So the more area in a boiler, the more force it has on it. This is why you may see a lap-seam joint on the steam dome of a boiler, yet the barrel has a butt-strap joint. This is because the dome's area is less than a quarter of the barrel's area, so you only need 25 percent of the strength in the dome than in the barrel of the boiler. The same goes for the flue sheet. The flues take up a majority of the surface area so there is very little force on the sheet itself. Thus a lap-joint does fine.

'The butt-joint and lap-joint have their place in boilers, and if they were properly designed for the boiler area they were both adequate. Materially speaking though, the butt-joint is twice as strong.

'I do agree that 90 percent of boiler problems are human error. I believe the most common problems, and simplest to fix, are old hand-hole gaskets, worn water-glasses (yes, water-glasses do wear out), scaled-over soft plugs and old worn piping. Any of these in the right place and time could be very hazardous. So keep your engine well maintained yearly just because it looks good on the outside doesn't mean it's good on the inside. Keeping these parts clean and new should keep the steam engines running another 100 years but remember, these old engines are not as strong as they were new. Cast iron parts and piping may fail long before the boiler, so respect them like your grandparents and give them their due.'

NICK WERTH, Box 955, Bowman, North Dakota 58623, sent this picture and message: 'Dear Iron Men, Back in the '70s my grandpa wrote many articles and was also a subscriber. I now want to be a subscriber and would like to have a story and send some pictures of me finishing a model of a George White that Grandpa didn't get finished before he died. It needs the operator's platform, pop valve set are 100 p.s.i. wood and metal bunkers, and water tank. The picture below is of the George White and Grandpa, Ole Aslakson, New Rockford, North Dakota. This is one of the first firings. Notice no bunkers, governor or true water tanks.'

'Recently I called the Iron Men Album magazine to inquire about books on the Baker steam engine. I recently purchased a 1928 A.D. 23-90 Baker Uniflow steam engine. I would like to have any books or manuals on this engine.

'The only information I have is that the engine was built in Ohio. I wonder if you could help me out on this very popular model. I will appreciate any help on this matter. PHILLIP L. MASTERS, 17595 S. Avon Belden Road, Grafton, Ohio 44044.'

JAMES T. MARTINO, 4713 Booth Road, Oxford, Ohio 45056, writes: 'Although I have always been interested in steam and steam engines, I do not know enough about operating one to buy an engine and operate it safely. I attend shows and talk with the engineers, but have not pursued further education. I know these helpers are around, but have not looked for one since my wife's uncle sold his engine. He was trying to teach me the business, but due to health problems, sold his engine before I really felt comfortable operating it.

'He and I had talked steam on several occasions, but he didn't realize I wanted to learn about his engine until the last year he had it. He invited me to help him run it at one of the shows which leads to the following story.

'We agreed that I would meet him at the engine at 9 a.m. and he would teach me about it. A little explanation from him got me ready to start the fire. I had fired a coal furnace as a lad but was used to a rocker grate to shake down the ashes. This fixed grate firebox was different, and eliminating ash was a different experience. Other than that, there was little change, so I quickly learned to keep a decent fire in the firebox. Greasing the engine was also simple. As we got up steam, he explained about the operation of the Baker valve and how engines were rated. He also explained the operating procedure.

'By afternoon, he thought I knew enough that he could at least leave the engine platform and not have me destroy it before he got back. It was our turn on the sawmill so I got a good fire in the firebox and lots of water in the tank so as to keep water in the boiler, and soon found myself on the engine by myself. I knew enough to watch the sawyer and let him direct the operation of the engine but really didn't realize what was going to happen.

'The announcer kept talking about getting children over to the saw mill as we were going to saw watermelon after finishing this log. Uncle Walt was visiting with fellow engineers and also watching me finishing the log. From time to time, an engineer would climb on the platform, introduce himself and visit with me for a couple of minutes. I received such advice as, 'Don't stand behind the belt when it is moving. It could break and hit you.' or 'Remember to put the coal in on the side of the fire so as not to cool the fire by covering the whole fire.' They also kept telling me that I needed a real big fire for this watermelon sawing that was about to happen. Being new to the business, I made sure that there was a lot of coal in the firebox and, by putting it in on the side, rather than the middle, kept the boiler hot enough to satisfy the sawyer.

'Upon finishing the large log that we were cutting, the sawyer signaled me to stop the engine and then start it, turning very slowly. With the big fire these engineers had told me I needed, everything broke loose very quickly. The safety valve opened and would not shut because of the huge fire, the sawmill took almost no steam to run, and all the engineers were laughing so hard they could barely stand up! They had put one over on the greenhorn and all I could do was laugh with them. I still had an engine to run and sawing watermelon is not easy. It is dangerous for the person catching the slices and takes an alert engineer.

'The venting steam was frightening the children so not many of them wanted to stay around for their slice of watermelon. While they were still laughing, I put my knowledge of chemistry to work and started cooling the boiler by closing the air vents and adding water to the boiler. With no real pull on the engine, I knew that I could fill the glass full and not pull water over into the cylinder. We nursed it through several watermelons without too much noise from the safety valve, but I was kidded about watermelons for the rest of the show.

'The sawing occurred in the early afternoon, and there was still enough steam to practice belting the engine to the separator late that evening. I definitely had a good fire and a hot boiler.

'Maybe there will come a time when I can again get involved. It was fun!'

'I hope you will continue Anna Mae's Soot in the Flues,' says HOWARD G. MICKELSON, 1745 Redwood Road, Kirkman, Iowa 51447. 'We were very sorry to hear of her passing, she will be sorely missed.

'Now, I could use some help. I am in the process of building another half-scale steam traction engine. I have the boiler and engine, but it will be styled after a Nichols & Shepard or Gaar Scott with the cylinder to the rear. Would someone who has built a half-scale of either please write to me?'

A Z-3 Peerless 40-120 owned by Steve Anderson of Lewistown, Montana moving a house. The model T is probably a 1911 or 1912. Photo courtesy of Gary Yaeger, 146 Reemer Lane, Whitefish, Montana 59937.

MICHAEL P. MURPHY, 7115 W. Bleck Road, Michigan City, Indiana 46360 writes: 'I would be the third generation of steam men in the Murphy family. My grandfather was John H. Murphy, who owned a 16 HP Minneapolis with a 28 inch Minneapolis separator. He had a threshing run around Dike, Iowa. My father, E. J. Murphy, can remember as a young lad losing all the buttons off the front of his shirt from crawling in the rear end space of the separator, over the straw racks, down against the fish scales to make repairs.

'My father has been a subscriber to IMA for years, and I thought it would be high time I started.

'I am no stranger to shocking and pitching bundles. This is because my father owns several engines and separators himself. We found a little time to thresh, but only for the exercise. I don't own any engines as of yet. 'Still working on it. I work in a gray iron foundry, and I am getting ready to pour grates for a 40 HP under-mounted Avery. I don't know if this makes me a steam man or not.'

ROY WARREN, 2030 Alamosa Drive, Colorado Springs, Colorado 80920-1504 wants readers to know that he has 'recently acquired an 11 x 14 inch Chandler & Taylor horizontal steam engine, and would like to get some info as to when it might have been made. It's currently in the process of being restored.'

GLEN CHRISTOFFERSEN writes: 'I never had the pleasure of meeting Anna Mae, but it seems like I have known her forever. I will miss her. My wife and I both really liked the way you announced her passing by quoting her last words from her typewriter. It was a fitting way to remember a fine lady.

'I'm writing about the picture on page 23 of the January/February 1995 issue of The Iron Men Album. The tractor is undoubtedly a 110 HP Daniel Best, built in San Leandro, California, but it is missing the big water supply tank in front. The Oakland Museum in Oakland, California owns a 110 HP Daniel Best which is operated a few times each year at Ardendwood Historic Preserve in Fremont, California. Ardenwood is an operating farm park where we show our urban children what farming was all about in the olden days. The Daniel Best was purchased by the museum and restored by volunteers in the early 1970s; we have recently rebuilt the boiler, doing extensive non-destructive testing on the shell, replacing all 158 flues, and replacing numerous cracked stay-bolts. We are now certified for 100 psi operations. (The boiler was originally designed for 165 psi.) I am the museum Technical Representative and volunteer crew chief for the Best. There are three or perhaps four 100 HP Bests still existing in operating condition; the Oakland Museum's machine, one at Oscar's Dreamland in Billings, Montana, and two in private ownership, both in northern California. One of these two was operated in 1994; the other has not been operated since it was driven into the shed some 60 or more years ago.

This is my 1916 Buffalo 12 ton roller, which I put Christmas lights around the back wheels, roof and smokestack at Christmas of 1993. We have lots of snow here, as you can see, in Manlius, New York, ten miles southeast of Syracuse. Frank Allen, 4572 Pompey Center Road, Manlius, New York 13104.

Getting back to the picture if that elevated barrel by the tractor was the boiler water supply, it kept someone very busy keeping it full! We use about 50-60 gallons of water an hour just pulling a couple of wagon loads of children around. The supply tank on the tractor holds about 950 gallons of water.

'You can see photos of several Bests, including ours, in Jack Norbeck's Encyclopedia of American Traction Engines. There is a nice photo essay of our Best in Randy Leffingwell's The American Farm Tractor. I would be happy to correspond with anyone desiring more information about Daniel Best tractors.'

There you go, folks some questions and requests for you to help your fellow Iron Men with. If you've got the answers, or just have something to share, send it along to 'Soot in the Flues.'

'Til next time!