Farm Collector

Back Home in Pawnee

Steam schools aren’t new, and neither is the issue of steam
safety. But with the tragedy of Medina fresh in their minds, owners
and operators of steam engines are pushing a little harder to
educate themselves and others on critical points of safety and

In a post-Medina world, many of us are re-evaluating the role of
steam schools and their importance in the steam hobby. As a
relative newcomer to steam, I was particularly interested in
attending a steam school this year, so on March 22 I headed to
Pawnee, Okla., for the 2002 Pawnee Steam School.

Pawnee Background

Hosted by the Oklahoma Steam Threshers and Gas Engine
Association, the Pawnee school’s modest beginnings go back to
1982. Founded by Chady Atteberry and the late Ivan Burns, the
school drew two students that first year. Interest grew with time,
but the school stayed relatively small, with an average of 15 to 20
students, mostly local steamers, attending in a given year.

But in the last five years the school has grown rapidly, aided
in large measure by the decision five years ago to take the school
on the road. That decision was a turning point for the school,
enabling it to help educate steamers who might not otherwise make
the trip to Pawnee and helping to build the school’s presence
within the steam community.

The last time the school was held in Pawnee was 1998, and in the
intervening years the Antique Steam and Gas Engine Club in
Booneville, Ind., the Pioneer Engineer’s Club in Rushville,
Ind., and the Lathrop Antique Car, Tractor and Engine Club in
Lathrop, Mo., respectively, have hosted the school. Approximately
130 people from 23 states made the trek to Pawnee this year,
traveling from as far away as Virginia, Washington and California
to share in the collective knowledge so generously provided by the
instructors assembled for this year’s school. As with most
steam schools in the hobby, instructors at Pawnee receive no
compensation for their time. Dedicated steamers to the last man,
the instructors at Pawnee possess a breadth of knowledge that can
only be garnered through time and experience, and the opportunity
to help educate members of the steam community in matters practical
and critical to the safe operation of steam engines would appear to
be payment enough for them.


‘It’s a lifetime study,’ says school founder Chady
Atteberry, ‘You never learn it all.’ Chady, who has been
around steam engines all his life, opened up this year’s class,
discussing the history of the steam hobby and giving some
historical background on steam engines and steam engine
development. ‘Getting along’ with your steam engine is
important, Chady stressed, and part of that is knowing your
equipment, understanding the risks of operation and working toward
keeping your engine in safe operating condition.

This has always been a goal for instructor Harold Stark, and
some 10 years ago he created an annual inspection check sheet and a
20-point list of safety rules and recommendations. That list was
pulled into the Pawnee Steam School textbook for the first time at
the Rushville school, and is included in the steam school textbook
to this day. A cohesive and comprehensive list of issues every
steam operator should have at the front of his or her mind, the
chief boiler inspector of Illinois is recommending its general
adoption by all clubs and shows in Illinois.

Harold also has a specialized interest in steam injectors and
injector repair, a subject he’s well versed in from years of
restoring injectors for steam owners around the country. Harold
takes his work seriously, and any injector he repairs is shipped to
its owner with a letter detailing what Harold found and what he did
to bring the injector back to proper working order. ‘His repair
letters,’ says Larry Creed, ‘are a sermon, telling you
what’s taking your injector to hell, and the path to

Judging Boiler Condition

Brain Vaughn (left) and Bob Gold of B & B Boiler
Restorations point out corrosion and stress cracking on boiler
plates. Photo by mark corson.

Bob Gold and Brian Vaughn of B&B Boiler Restoration in
Greensburg, Ind., conducted a fascinating session on judging boiler
condition. With sections of weak, corroded and stressed boilers as
graphic displays of the types of ills that befall old boilers, Bob
and Brian discussed with students the many ways corrosion sets in,
showing where to look for corrosion and how corrosion ultimately
manifests itself.

A boiler is a pretty tough environment, and when you add in the
effects of time it’s easy to see why boilers can weaken,
whether from the eroding effect on metal from expansion and
contraction (such as the grooving that can occur on the flange of a
firebox door or on a tube sheet) or from the corrosive action of
ash and moisture (such as often occurs at the firebox and front
tube sheet).

Water leaks are, of course, an obvious sign of problems, and
repeating a phrase that’s almost a mantra for him, ‘nothing
happens for no reason,’ Brian constantly stressed the
importance of thoroughly investigating the cause of any leak and
making sure repairs are thorough and comprehensive.

Steam Gauges and Steam Oil

A jeweler by trade, Mace Archer has been working with steam
gauges for decades, and he’s well known for his restoration
work on gauges. Drawing from his years of gauge restoration, and
working with gauges he brought for the school, Mace guided students
through a primer on gauge construction and operation, detailing the
items in a gauge most likely to fail – and why – and showing
students how he calibrates gauges to ensure proper readings. Mace
showed students the correct way to disassemble a gauge and the
process he goes through in examining a gauge for needed

Larry Creed launched into a comprehensive discourse on the
proper selection and use of steam oil, a critical element in
ensuring effective and safe operation of a steam engine. Explaining
the importance of steam oil ratings and the ingredients that make
up effective steam oil, Larry counseled students on issues
concerning the proper point at which steam oil should be introduced
into the system and how to ‘read’ engine parts to determine
if proper lubrication is being achieved. ‘Buying a good
cylinder oil and turning up your lubricator,’ Larry says,
‘is the cheapest insurance you can get for a steam

Steam Piping and Water Chemistry

Focusing on the merits of different types of piping available
and its material content, Ross Staggs led students through an
informative discussion on selecting and properly installing boiler
piping. Ross cautions against using imported pipe (due to its
tendency of having a high remelt content), and stresses the need to
use only schedule 80 pipe, never schedule 40. Due to its thinner
wall thickness, schedule 40 pipe is inherently weaker than schedule
80. Add to this the loss of material when threading pipe ends and
it becomes clear why schedule 80 should always be used for piping

Pawnee Steam School dean of students Joe Graziana leads students
through a class on governor maintenance, adjustment and repair.

Ray Vaughn led an informative session on boiler water chemistry,
his 35 years as a high school chemistry teacher giving him a firm
grasp of the subject. He advised the class on aerating water to
push excess chlorine out, and gave tips on treating water for
boiler cleaning and maintenance. Sodium sulfite, for instance, can
be useful to dissolve oxygen from boiler water, minimizing the
harmful effects of oxygen-pitting corrosion.

As with every session at the school, Ray stressed the need for
following a thorough regimen to ensure proper maintenance. From
first fill to final drain, Ray walked students through proper
boiler care and maintenance. Ray advocates firing boilers as soon
as practical after filling (he says enough to show pressure is
adequate), a practice that helps drive off excess oxygen. He also
advised against leaving water in boilers for prolonged periods, as
oxygen will start dissolving into the water after a few weeks,
allowing corrosion to set in.

Governors and Tube Rolling

Dean of students Joe Graziana has been restoring steam governors
for years, and with sample Pickering governors as demonstrators Joe
explained in detail the inner workings of a steam governor and how
to assess its condition. Showing the class how speed changers work,
Joe stressed the importance of first having a properly set up and
functioning governor before trying to tune governor speed with the
speed changer. Joe cautions against ever trying to change engine
speed by changing the tension on the governor’s spiral spring,
an exercise that essentially negates any base-line calibration and
pretty much ensures an improperly working governor.

Brian Vaughn’s session on tube rolling covered the basic
requirements for rolling and seating tubes, along with practical
pointers on removing and installing tubes. When he’s replacing
boiler tubes, Brian says he works a section at a time, never
removing all the tubes at once. For one, it’s surprisingly easy
to run tubes through the wrong holes in the firebox tube sheet and
the front tube sheet, and additionally, it’s hard on the tube
sheets if, for instance, you cut all the tubes at one end, leaving
their dead weight hanging on the tube sheet.

For these reasons Brian recommends working in sections, and he
says this is an excellent time to check the condition of the tube
sheets. As tubes are removed it’s easier to closely inspect the
sheets for cinder-cutting at the firebox sheet and ash corrosion at
the front tube sheet.

At last count we knew of approximately a dozen steam schools
around the U.S., and while these schools vary in size and scope,
they all share a common goal of ensuring the safe operation and
public display of steam engines. The long-term health and success
of the steam hobby hinges on a healthy respect of the inherent
dangers of steam and the responsibilities steam operators incur
every time they fire up, and it’s clear there’s common
agreement on this. And it’s also clear there’s agreement
that the best way to meet this challenge is through education, a
challenge that’s being met at the Pawnee school.

The school hits the road again next year, heading to Forest
City, Iowa, and we’ll post the dates once they have been set.
Also, the Pawnee Steam School textbook is available to those who
didn’t attend the school. The book, which is both a guide to
the school curriculum and a collection of steam essentials, can be
ordered separately by writing to Larry Creed, RR 13, Box 209,
Brazil, IN 47834. Cost is $12.95, and it’s money well

Special thanks to Mark Corson for helping with photographic
duties at Pawnee.

Richard Backus is editor of Iron-Men Album. Contact him at: 1503
SW 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609-1265, or e-mail:

  • Published on Jul 1, 2002
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