| January/February 1968

Ray, Indiana 46737

I cannot agree with some of my friends in regard to this for I have retubed and repaired boilers on traction engines for 67 years. Most people think that when a boiler gets old, it is ready to explode. That is not so. Old toilers will not explode any sooner than a new boiler, but the old boiler will blow out like a tire. There is a vast difference between a blow out and an explosion. The better the boiler if it does explode, the more it will tear things up.

In the fall of 1933 a Mr. Gus Burn-ham of Prattville, Michigan, Hillsdale County, had a 16 H.P. Nichols & Shepard simple engine that he purchased new from Battle Creek, Michigan. It had a standard boiler with 5 inch stay bolt spacing. This engine was old and down through the years and as it was a water bottom boiler, the tubes leaked at times and bits from ashes had removed the stay bolt heads in the bottom next to the flue sheet, Of course, the bottom sheet became rather thin at that point. Mr. Burnham and his boys knew the boiler was thin and they carried only 1.25 lbs. pressure. At the time this happened they had the old engine pulling a large size insulage cutter. Mr. Burnham's son Steadman was with the engine. As Dr. Burnham was rather old and lived 5 miles away from the engine at this time. The day before this happened, there were children on wagons behind the engine, wagons loaded with corn ready to drive up to the cutter. As this happened, no one was around the engine, only Steadman and as he shut the throttle, she blowed. It killed him blowed him with grates and fire door about 80 feet up against a bar roller. This happened on the William Hale farm 4 miles southeast of Pittsford, Michigan, Hillsdale County. They called me to come down and see what went wrong.

Well, that was easy after looking the fire box over. The bottom sheet rolled back off the stay bolts heads and that was the blow out. Some force at that as the engine jumped her blocking. Her crown sheet was in perfect condition and the water was plenty as the ground was real wet. What caused it no one will know but my guess is that Steadman, in order to fill that large cutter, screwed the opp down and the old boiler could not take it. As we all know, when you shut the throttle, there is a little hunch to the boiler. His last act was shutting the throttle. This could have been avoided with a cutting torch and arc welder and sheet of boiler plate. Old Mr. Burn-ham heard it blow and he said, 'There goes my old engine.'

What makes an engine blow up, the main thing is low water and hot crown sheet or in a return flue boiler hot top row of tubes. You could melt the boiler right down and if you did not inject cold water, it would never blow. I know of a 19 H.P. Port Huron owned by Mr. Jerome Newell, Osseo, Michigan, that set on a barn grade husking corn and she dropped her crown sheet right over the stay bolt heads. She sure was hot. We jacked her back and installed oversize stay bolts and she went back to work. Why didn't this engine explode? I know the reason they could not get the injector to work, so no cold water.

Now I will try and give some young men advice in regard to purchasing an engine. Remove hand hold plates and see that the boiler is clean. Look the fire box all over and if it is an old boiler and has an uneven crown sheet and if sides of fire box is. wrinkled or shows any signs of blisters and is an old standard boiler, forget it; not worth your effort and you might live longer. On the other hand, if it is a high pressure boiler and in good condition, you will be safe. Don't let tubes worry you. It's no trouble to retube a boiler. You can tell a light pressure boiler from an old standard boiler. The stay bolt spacing will be about 3 inches center to center. Also it will have a fisher plate with 4 rows of rivets and sheet will be to 5/8 inch thickness.


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