Boiler InspectionsAnother Viewpoint

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3040 160th Street Sumner, Iowa 50674

This article is intended as a response to Peter Bouley’s
article which appeared in the January/February issue of
IMA, called ‘Boiler Inspector: Friend of Foe?’

First off I’d like to say I’ve been a steam engine owner
and operator for about 25 years and have owned various engines,
currently owning five traction engines. I’d also say I’m
not a boiler inspector hater and don’t want to convey that
through this article. During the years that Iowa had state
inspections on hobby boilers I had a very good relationship, and
still do, with the inspection department in Des Moines. I
understood they had a job to do and were merely trying to do it. By
the way, hobby boilers in the state of Iowa have been exempt from
state or federal inspections since 1988.

One of the big things that concerns me with articles such as Mr.
Bouley’s is that some engine owners or operators read it and
get the wrong idea. By this I mean that they may think that because
their boiler is state inspected the state will share in the
liability should an accident take place. We in the steam fraternity
must never be lulled into a sense of false security by this. We as
hobbyists must educate ourselves as to the safe operation of these
engines in public because we are solely responsible for this, not
the state or federal government.

Let me play the ‘devil’s advocate’ here for a moment
if I might. Let’s take the worst case scenario and I pray this
never happens: I’ve just gotten my 1912 Case engine state
inspected and it passed with flying colors. So with my inspection
certificate proudly tucked in my back pocket, I load the old girl
up and head for the local show for a weekend of fun. During the
parade the feed water pipe going into the side of the boiler
ruptures and several people get scalded! Lawyers are called and
litigation ensues. Now, if anyone thinks that because that engine
had been certified, the state will step forward and share in the
responsibility, they are 100% wrong. I’m afraid these
inspectors would tuck their tails between their legs and head for
the best defense lawyer money could buy. I always noted with a
certain amount of amusement, on the bottom of my inspection
certificate it always stated ‘no defects noted at time of
inspection.’ I think this says it all in a nut-shell!

Another point that Mr. Bouley tries to get across that
‘steams’ me a little is his statement that ‘The
original thought at the time your tractor was built was to figure a
life expectancy of 15-20 years tops! Today’s boilers will last
three or four times that long.’ I question where he gets his
information. In the first place, I seriously doubt if Mr. Bouley
was included in the designing or construction of any of these
boilers, around the turn of the century, so how could he possibly
know how long they were intended to last? Secondly, if this were
the case, I think that it’s remarkable then that I have an
Advance traction engine in my shed that just celebrated its 106th
birthday. Up until the time of hobby boiler exemption, it was state
certified to carry 100 psi working pressure year after year from
the time it was restored in the 1960s. And for Mr. Bouley’s
information, this engine has a single row of rivets on the
longitudinal seam. I was told by one of the last inspectors to look
at it that he thought it was one of the nicest boilers he had seen,
and I’m sure there are plenty of other hobbyists out there who
can relate similar instances.

As for R stamp repair shops, they are well and good at doing the
type work they are set up to do. However, I have seen the situation
where an R shop was called to repair the front flue sheet on a
traction engine boiler. The sheet had rusted thin and was leaking.
These people tried to pad-weld an area over top of the thin spot
and couldn’t do the job properly. Another repairman was called
in to do the job (who didn’t possess an R stamp). He properly
removed the tubes around the affected area, cut out the thin spot
and removed the old rivets that held the bottom of the sheet in
place. He then fashioned a new sheet out of boiler plate, welded it
in place and installed the new rivets and tubes. (The same type
repair was outlined in the last issue by Larry G. Creed on his
Nichols engine.) I was involved in this repair job and, this was
several years ago, the boiler was hydro tested and has been up and
running every year since.

It seems to me that Mr. Bouley is trying to paint the picture of
traction engine boilers as being rusted-out death-traps, bulging at
the seams, ready to explode at any given time. I think most of us
would agree that boilers of any kind don’t explode on their
accord any more than cars traveling down the highway in themselves
have accidents, or guns go off without someone pulling the trigger.
It takes competent people in each case for the safe use of these

I have always tried to make the point that I’d feel safer
near a ‘so-so’ boiler with a competent operator rather than
with a perfect boiler and an incompetent operator. And by the way,
new welded boilers can be exploded just as easily as riveted
boilers. I think our track record among steam shows speaks for
itself. We, as the people who own and operate these machines, have
the most to lose should an accident ever take place. I think we all
realize this.

Let’s all work together to make our great hobby even better
in 1996 than in the past. We can do this through education and by
getting more people involved with the proper care and maintenance
on these engines. They are an important part of our agricultural
heritage and deserve the best we can give them. This way they can
be around for everyone to enjoy for years to come.

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