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
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
To explain some things, you take a piece of steel and heat it in
forge up to good red heat, then drop it in a slack tube. There will
be a gas form from that and that gas, inside of a boiler, after it
builds up to 50% of steam in the boiler, will explode under the
steam pressure, just like a diesel engine. Also it works just like
you had your house shut up and then gas filled it and a light
switch would blow your house up. With a boiler, if the engine is
running and that could save your life, and should it get a hot spot
or low water and you started the injector in time, you could get by
without an explosion, because the gas would work off with the
steam. Many a man will never know how close he came to going to
So I will sign off as of now and read some more in the Album. I
sure enjoy that and pass it around to my friends.