Farm Collector

Engine Maintenance Over Winter Months

The following are just a few of many engine maintenance and repair items one might want to follow during the winter months while getting ready for the next show season. This is simply a list of items to consider for engine maintenance and repair, and it is presented in no special order of importance. Let me say that I am no expert, but I have gathered information from experienced engine operators such as Bill Roberts, Sam Lanter, John Schorck, Bill Dove, Charles Mayer, Tim Wade, Elliott Skeen and many others too numerous to mention, whom I would also like to thank for their input.

Winter Maintenance

  • Sandblast and clean all hand hole covers in preparation for the new gasket installation when you get ready to fill the boiler in the spring. I learned that by adding about a three-inch long 1/4-inch bolt to the end of the main bolt it makes life a lot better to help hold the cover in place while getting the gasket lined up and the holding fixture in place. Put a couple of extra hand hole gaskets in your toolbox – you never know when you, or someone else, might need one.
  • Clean all old packing out of the packing gland on the piston rod and valve rod, or where ever there might be packing that needs replacing. I have been told by old timers to remove all packing before winter storage since the packing retains water and will rust and pit the rods.
  • Check the condition of your piston rod and valve rod. They will wear at the point of contact with packing. I have seen some rods get so small at the center of travel of the packing nut that it is impossible to keep a tight seal around the rod. If your rods need replacing may I suggest chrome rods? We have replaced the rods on our Frick with chrome hydraulic rods, and what a difference it has made. No more changing packing every other event and no more removing it during the winter.
  • If you have had any trouble or concerns with your mechanical lubricator, now is definitely the time to clean and repair it.
  • Check the condition of your governor and governor belt. If the governor was giving you concern on the last sawmill run, maybe it needs some TLC. Remember the governor has packing on the shaft and maybe it was too tight and did not allow the shaft to move up and down freely.
  • If you had any check valves or valves not working properly, now is the time to repair them. Maybe a new seat is all that is needed or new packing around the valve stem. Either way, if there is any concern about these components, now is the time to tend to them.
  • Was the sight glass clean and tight on the last run? This is a good time to remove the sight glass and check your gaskets at the ends of the sight glass. This would also be a good time to check the valves for the sight glass, making sure they are working properly. Repack the stems if needed. This also might be a good time to make a cover to go over the sight glass in case the glass broke during operation. The cover will act as a shield and will not allow water and steam to blow onto bystanders should the glass break. We used a piece of 1/4-inch Plexiglas attached to the two rods that run beside the sight glass.
  • This is also the perfect time to take the safety valve and pressure gauge off and have them recalibrated. Keep in mind that, due to age and or make, not all safety valves can be recalibrated. If this is the case, you might want to investigate replacement options so you can ensure having a properly operating valve that can be serviced in the future.
  • Check your blower outlet and be sure it is not plugged with soot.
  • Clean out the old and dried grease in your grease cups. There should not have been any, but! Make sure all lubrication points are clean and open so lubrication goes through them. Once you have cleaned them you may want to put cotton in them to keep the mud daubers out.
  • Pull the fusible plug out and inspect it. Check the condition of the crown sheet stay bolt threads. This would also be a good time to do an ultrasound on the boiler. If you have any doubts about the fusible plug, replace it, and while you are at it, get a couple extras and put them in your toolbox.
  • There is no better time to do a complete inspection of the boiler than during winter storage. This will ensure that you are ready for the inspector when the time comes for your boiler to be inspected, depending on the requirements of your state, and will give you confidence in the integrity of the boiler.
  • Check for wear in the bearings and replace any that need replacing, or remove some shims to tighten things up a little.
  • Look for cracks in castings, making sure all attaching points are tight.
  • Look for those tell-tale signs of leaking tubes and repair as necessary.
  • Did you have injector troubles last year? Now is the time to replace or rebuild the injector. If you are someone who is using only one means of putting water in the boiler, maybe you should think about adding another injector or feed water pump. It is a good practice to have at least two sources of supplying water to the boiler.

In closing, I would like to say that one thing that was always said to me by my father and uncle was to listen to your engines – they will talk to you when they are running. Dad was no mechanic, and he could not repair his equipment, but he could always tell you when something was wrong, simply by listening to an engine running.

They squeak when not getting enough lubrication, hiss at you when a valve or fitting is leaking, or even slobber when things are not right. They go clank, bang and grind when the gears don’t work properly or the bearings are worn, causing the alignment of the gears to be off. But in order for this statement to work, you must be a good listener and pay attention. So let’s all get to it and make sure our equipment is up to task. It’s the only way to make sure we have another safe and fun year of steam.

Contact steam enthusiast Curtis Cook at: 3500 Martin Johnson Rd., Chesapeake, VA 23323-1210, or e-mail: or

  • Published on Jan 1, 2002
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