The Final Report on the Tragedy at the Medina County Fairgrounds

The Medina's sheriff's office releases its final report on the Case 110 explosion at the Medina County Fairgrounds

| January/February 2002

Members of the steam hobby have been holding their collective breath since the tragic explosion of Cliff Kovicic's Case 110 at the Medina County Fairgrounds on July 29, 2001. Initial reports on the precise cause of the explosion were confusing at best, and now, with the Oct. 5, 2001 release of the Medina County Sheriff's final report, hope that any confusion surrounding the tragic accident would be laid to rest has been, in some measure, extinguished.

The Medina County Sheriff's final report states its conclusion simply: "It is obvious from physical examination, photographs, and testing, along with computer generated stress analysis conducted on the stay bolts and crown sheet fastening points, that ninety plus years of corrosion and erosion had taken its toll on this boiler." If Medina Sheriff Neil F. Hassinger was trying to quell further discussion on what caused the July 29 explosion with this statement, he doubtless failed to that end.

Primarily, this is because of strong sentiment in many circles that even a weak boiler, if properly tended and its water level kept up, will not fail in the cataclysmic fashion as experienced in Medina. This is not to suggest that anyone within the steam community would suggest in any way that any owner/operator should run a steam engine in less than a safe operating condition – the truth is quite the opposite. The steam community is universal in its embrace of the need for greater considerations of safety when operating steam engines and the attendant need for owners/operators to have their equipment properly tested and inspected to ensure its safe operation. What appears to be the greatest bone of contention is the idea that Kovicic's Case 110, simply due to its age, was inherently unsafe at any operating pressure and that, by extension, all antique boilers are unsafe at any operating pressure.

More Details

While some sources have said that Kovicic's Case 110 was of 1918 vintage (this date appears in the "General Details" section of the final report), serial number dating shows that engine number 20753 was constructed sometime between 1908 and 1909. This is also the date that appears through most of the final report, and it appears that any confusion surrounding the Case's date of manufacture stems from dating the boiler number (9487) versus the engine number.

While the history of Kovicic's Case 110 is not entirely clear, it is known is that Kovicic bought the tractor from Clarence (Junior) Christian, New Carlisle, Ohio, in August 1997. Christian had bought the unit at auction in Minnesota in 1993, had brought the tractor to Ohio, removed the engine to commence repair work, and, with the Case still disassembled, sold the unit to Kovicic in an "as is" condition.

Testimony given to investigators from the Medina County Sheriff's Office fails to give a complete picture as to just what work Kovicic did to the Case 110 to get it operable. Kovicic did, over the course of three years, return the Case to operation, and testimony in the report suggests Kovicic knew the Case's pressure gauge was reading light, showing about 25-30 psi low. Testing of the pressure gauge after the accident showed that it was consistently reading 25 psi low across a wide range of operation.