Tragedy at the Medina County Fairgrounds

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Case 110 Steam Traction Engine

Five people were killed as the result of the explosion of a Case 110 steam traction engine in Medina, Ohio on July 29. The engine was being moved to the Medina County Fairgrounds, in preparation for the Medina County Fair, which was scheduled to begin the following day. The blast sprayed hot water and iron shrapnel as far as 100 yards away, according to the Associated Press, and has raised one important question: How did this happen?

While the actual cause of the explosion is still being debated, two separate reports indicate that, whatever the actual cause, the explosion was not a fluke and could have been avoided.

The first report, released two weeks after the accident, was based on an inspection conducted by Dean Jagger, Chief Boiler Inspector of the State of Ohio. In his report, Jagger and his team of inspectors blamed the incident on the crown sheet’s failure “due to overheating caused by a low water condition.”

The report explained: “Since the boiler was hand fired and feedwater was required to be introduced manually by steam injectors, it appears the operator allowed the water level to drop to a point at which the crown sheet was not fully protected by water. With the death of the operator, the reason for this error will never be determined.”

The engine itself, however, was also cited as having numerous instances of metal fatigue and inoperable safety procedures – such as fusible plugs which had been seal welded and, therefore, unable to blow to release pressure.

According to the second report on the incident, conducted by John D. Payton, Director of the Certified Boiler Engineers for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the physical failings of the engine were more at fault than possible operator error. The crown sheet of the boiler, according to the report, had thinned, in places, by 77%. “It is my evaluation that because of the very poor condition of the crown sheet,” Payton wrote, “with the reduction of the original thickness from.375′ to .087′, leaving only 23% of the original thickness, this was insufficient metal to hold the pressure of the steam, resulting in a mechanical failure of the boiler.”

Payton added that, had it been presented for its required inspection in Pennsylvania, “the boiler would have been placed out of service and not allowed to operate.”

Pronounced dead at the scene of the incident were owner Cliff Kovacic, 45; his son, William, 27; Alan Kimble, 46. Dennis Jungbluth, 58, and Bryan Hammond, 18, died later in the hospital. Dozens of others suffered burns and broken bones from the explosion’s shrapnel.

The explosion has revived debate about state or national licensing of steam engineers, as well as mandatory inspections of steam engines. Many states lack any certification process for steam engines. FC

For more in-depth information on the incident, see the November-December edition of The Iron Men Album.

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