R 2 Ellsworth, Wisconsin.
Gary Schacht plowing at Edgar, Wisconsin show. Gary isn’t
afraid to use his engine. If it gets dirty, he just cleans it
The following represents my opinions and methods that work good
The biggest enemy of the steam traction engine is corrosion and
rust. Many people simply open the drain and walk away and do not
return until spring. This often leaves up to one inch of water and
large amounts of scale, sludge and other material in the boiler.
This invites rust and corrosion while the boiler is in storage.
Many people do not remove hand hole plates due to the difficulty in
getting them to stop leaking again.
I use molded rubber hand hole gaskets, available from most
industrial supply houses. These gaskets seal well, don’t have
to be scraped off boiler surfaces, may even be reused if not
damaged and are well worth the small price. A leak is especially
bad in the smoke box area where water combines with ashes. A little
time spent in cleaning the boiler each fall will result in extra
years of service.
Remove all ashes and soot, tubes should be cleaned, all ashes
and soot removed from fire box, smoke box and ash pan. The boiler
should be drained, all hand holes removed and all scale and
sediment washed out. A high pressure washer works good for this or
a hose with a long piece of tubing attached will do. In extreme
cases it may be necessary to dislodge and rake out the material.
After the boiler is clean, pieces of rag should be placed in each
hand hole, poked into the low area allowing the end to hang out.
Capillary action will draw water into the rag and will run off the
outer end and/or evaporate. In a day or two the boiler will be
completely dry and rags can be removed.
I have seen cases where excessive accumulation had not allowed
boilers to drain and moisture had frozen warping the floor of wet
bottom boilers or tearing it loose of stay bolts. A little cleaning
would have done wonders.
Corrosion prone areas, bottom of smoke box etc., may be coated
with a brush dipped in waste oil, but don’t allow this to get
into water areas. Even stored indoors, metal surfaces will tend to
sweat due to temperature changes. It is my opinion that if smoke
box, fire box and draft door are left closed, sweating will be
minimized on fire box and flue sheet surfaces. Other opinions may
I purchased an engine that was stored for seventeen years with
the doors closed and it appeared as though it had been fired the
Another problem arises when engine boilers are filled with water
after storage. Take a glass of water and allow it to sit for
awhile, then observe the tiny bubbles which formed on the sides of
the glass. This also happens in your engine boiler. These bubbles
are caused by oxygen which is trapped in the water. It is true that
some of the oxygen will be driven off when the boiler is steamed,
but we are always introducing fresh feed water which adds to the
supply. The uniting of this oxygen with the metal in the boiler
results in oxidation and pitting which makes some boilers look so
rough inside. This effect is especially bad in boilers filled with
water that sit idle for long periods of time. This can be greatly
minimized or stopped by the use of boiler compound.
Surface water (rain water, stream or lake water) is bad as it
contains much oxygen and acid (acid rain), but it is all right if
properly treated. I like to keep around sixty to eighty parts per
million sodium sulphate, this takes care of the oxygen in the
water, and enough compound to keep the water slightly alkali and
not acid. Boiler test papers and sulphate test kits are available
from boiler chemical supply houses. Most of these places don’t
like to mess with individual engine owners, but perhaps clubs or
organizations could buy in enough quantity. I don’t claim to be
a boiler chemist, but would like to see articles on this subject as
it would help to make our boilers last longer.
Excessive treatment will make the boiler foam and prime which is
not good, but some treatment is better than nothing.
Before steaming up always drain the water glass and be sure it
refills. This will insure you that the passages to the boiler are
not obstructed. The water in the glass should rise as the water is
warmed and it expands. The glass should be blown down occasionally
while the engine is under steam and should refill with water
immediately, if it doesn’t there may be an obstruction. Know
how to use your tricocks, 350 degree water doesn’t look like
water from your kitchen faucet. The water level in your glass
should move about as the engine is moved on varying terrain. This
also indicates the passages are not obstructed. Know how much water
is over your crown sheet when water is at the bottom of the water
Some engines, Minneapolis for example, have a sloping crown
sheet about two inches higher in front. This minimizes the effect
of going down hill, and makes an easier steaming boiler. Be sure
some prankster hasn’t turned the valves of your water glass
overnight or when you were away, because youngsters like to climb
on engines and play engineer.
I have seen on engines where water could be showing in the
glass,, but the crown sheet was dry and it melted the safety plug.
This was due to the water column being repiped some time back. Do
not run an engine that has loose or floppy pipes that shake and
vibrate. All long pipes that shake or vibrate should be secured
with metal brackets, because a vibrating pipe could break off at
any moment and give the operator and spectators an unwanted steam
Be aware of what varying terrain can do to the water level over
the crown sheet. I have had one engine owner tell me his Case
engine was safe in any position as long as there was water showing
in the glass. Any competent engineer knows this is not true.
I realize most of you know all this, but with the increasing
number of new engine owners and engines being handed down to
relatives, it doesn’t hurt to mention it. I believe the schools
offered on steam traction engines are excellent, however in all
probability those that need it the most won’t attend.
These opinions will no doubt raise some discussion, but this is
good because if we are all aware of safety, our show areas will be