Boiler Safety

A Veteran Steam Traction Engineer Provides a Solid Program to Ensure Safe Steaming


| January/February 2003



Steam engine operators have always been vigilant about the condition of their boilers and engines. But since the events in Medina, Ohio, in July 2001, issues of boiler safety and operation have taken on increased importance, both within the steam community and outside. Operators want to ensure their equipment is in the safest possible condition, and spectators, perhaps now a bit shier about exposing themselves, want to be assured the equipment they're viewing has been honestly maintained and inspected.

Over 10 years ago Harold Stark, Indianapolis, Ind., put together a 20-point list of safety rules and recommendations and a safety check sheet to help steam operators ensure the continued safe operation of their equipment. Both of these have since been incorporated into the textbook for the Pawnee Steam School operated by the Oklahoma Steam Threshers and Gas Engine Association. Pawnee Steam School dean of students Joe Graziana, Woodriver, Ill., discussed these rules with the chief boiler inspector for Illinois, who is recommending their general adoption by all clubs and shows in Illinois.

Harold has expanded on his original list of safety rules, adding in a section covering contingencies that might arise in the operation of a boiler and how to properly respond in the event any of them do. This last section constitutes a quiz, if you will, a test of your knowledge and ability to spot problems and respond appropriately. Editor

Boiler Grooving

Since the events of Medina, I have been looking closely at boiler grooving, a condition I fear many operators may not have enough experience to recognize, and one I believe to be the most dangerous condition a boiler can have. I have many years experience with both steam traction engines and locomotive boilers, and much of my concern with grooving stems from situations experienced with locomotive boilers. Grooving in boilers was a major concern in the railroad industry in its formative years, and all railroads operating in the U.S. had their own safety and inspection rules. In 1911, the National Boiler Board and the ASME code were put into effect, drawing from these same railroad practices.

Kent Mechanical Engineers Handbook, 1895-1910, contains information on boiler inspections carried out by Hartford Fire Insurance Co. in 1893. Titled Steam Boilers as Magazines of Explosive Energy, a section detailing the Hartford inspections presents calculations showing the stored energy in hot water and steam in various types of boilers.

Looking at a plain tubular boiler of the form and dimensions adopted as a standard by the Hartford Steam Boiler Insurance Co., the article says such a boiler is 60 inches in diameter, contains 66 3-inch tubes and is 15 feet long. It has 850 square feet of heating area and 30 square feet of grate area. It is rated at 60 HP but is oftener driven up to 75 HP. It weighs 9,500 pounds and contains nearly its own weight in water, but it contains only 21 pounds of steam when under a pressure of 75 psi, which is below its safe allowance. It stores energy of 52,000,000 foot-pounds, of which all but 4 percent is steam. The handbook says this is enough to drive the boiler about one mile into the air, with an initial velocity of 600 feet-per-second.