Farm Collector

A Red Hot Boiler

178 Emerson Place Brooklyn, New York 11205

I sent these photos to be used on the I back cover in color,
because color photographs are the only way to do this subject
justice. The pictures represent every engineer’s worst
nightmare, a red hot boiler.

The boiler was one of a pair of H.R.T.’s located in a
factory on the edge of the Pratt Institute campus in Brooklyn, New
York. The school had wanted to purchase this property for years to
complete our campus expansion begun in 1955, and in the late
’60s the opportunity came when the company, United Metals, got
into financial difficulty and sold us the building, retaining for
themselves a long-term lease.

Part of the deal was that we had nothing to do with the
maintenance, they had their own people, and so we did not set foot
inside the building.

In the late 70s, things fell apart financially, and they went
bankrupt in the fall of 1976. The bank immediately padlocked the
building, initially only allowing the former general maintenance
man in to run the boiler for heat, and this was followed by a
period of chaos as the factory contents were inventoried and sold.
Even though I hold the position of Chief Engineer with Pratt
Institute, I was told to ‘keep out,’ the bank was running
things.

‘ Your Worst Nightmare,’ a story by Conrad H. Milster,
178 Emerson Place, Brooklyn, New York 11205, will explain how this
boiler got to be in this red-hot and extraordinarily dangerous
condition. All operators of steam-powered machinery should read his
story . . . twice.

‘ Your Worst Nightmare,’ a story by Conrad H. Milster,
178 Emerson Place, Brooklyn, New York 11205, will explain how this
boiler got to be in this red-hot and extraordinarily dangerous
condition. All operators of steam-powered machinery should read his
story . . . twice.

One morning in early December, I received a phone call about
7:00 a.m. from Harry, the maintenance man. He informed me that the
electric feed pump had failed and the boiler had no water in the
glass and was hot, very hot. I told him not to
touch anything except to kill the oil burner,
which he had already done, and the feed pumps, and wait for me. As
we live on the campus, I was there in five minutes, and Harry and I
proceeded to open the doors on the boiler. The tube sheet was
glowing cherry red!

It was obvious that the boiler had breathed its last, and I went
back home for my camera, taking these two photo shots. By then the
tube sheet had stopped glowing but you can see that the tubes are
still orange.

My first question later that day was to find out why the low
water cutoff had not worked. When I opened it up I discovered that
although everything was in place control, conduit, wire it had
never been hooked up! Neither, as it turned out, had the control on
the other boiler!

The outcome of all this was that both H.R.T.’s were
abandoned (the other had died earlier), and a small boiler used for
the plating operation supplied heat for a year or so until we could
tie the building into our central plant’s steam supply.

I shudder to think of the result if Harry had decided to put
water into the boiler first instead of calling me! As these were
low pressure boilers, there was no requirement for a licensed
engineer, which in no way diminished the lethal potential they had
if improperly run.

There is, however, a more comical story connected with this
company. When Phyllis and I were married in Chicago, her home, I
went out there for the wedding. Looking over the presents I began
to laugh when I came to a nice electric coffeepot. No one
understood why, until I pointed out to them that it had been made
by ‘United Metals of Brooklyn, New York,’ only several
hundred feet from where we were to live!

  • Published on Sep 1, 1996
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