It Works!

2009 N. 35th Terrace St. Joseph, Missouri 64506

This is a story about an old time steam engine remedy that I had
heard about several times but had never been around a situation
where it had been used.

We were firing the scale H. A. Poe steam traction engine, trying
to get enough steam to unload the engine from the trailer. This was
the first show of the year and the weather was fine. We had a good
fire and about 100 lb. of steam. My grandson, Michael, decided it
was time to add some water to the boiler. 1 cautioned him to check
all valves and verified the steam pressure. This injector needs
about 70 lb. of steam to inject water, so we had some leeway.

All of a sudden steam was coming from the firebox, steam was
coming from the injector discharge, and steam was coming out of the
reserve water tank. It seemed like there was steam everywhere. Not
dangerous, but certainly not good. An attempt was made to shut the
steam off. The main valve to the engine was closed. The master
valve to the injector was closed, but we still had uncontrolled
steam. By this time the water level was going fast! The only thing
to do was to pull the full box of fire. This was accomplished
without any uncontrolled fire.

The water level was low, but with the fire pulled, we felt there
wouldn’t be any further damage.

First assessments were that we had lost the soft plug in the
firebox. We let the engine cool off overnight and the next morning
we dropped the water and the soft plug was removed. Much to our
surprise it was good!

Well if the soft plug was good, why did we have steam and water
in the firebox? And why did we have uncontrolled steam through the
injector? In the haste to get the steam under control I had closed
the water makeup valve which is after the in line check valve, and
this did slow down the steam through the injector.

Conclusion Maybe some rust or scale got under the check valve
seat and was holding it open. Thereby letting steam and water
return from the boiler and thus going out the overflow and intake
lines of the injector. Sounds like a good explanation anyway.

Removing the check valve provided a better look at its seat. The
seat was neoprene and showed some dark areas but nothing
serious.

Okay, let’s fire the old girl up again and see what happens.
When the steam reached about 25 lb. there was a definite water drip
from the ash pan. And further inspection revealed some dampness on
the left hand side of the flue sheet in the firebox. One of our
good friends, a fellow engineer named Bob, asked if we had a flue
cleaner. We did, and so he proceeded to insert it in the lower
right hand tube of the smoke box. It came out dry. The cleaner was
then inserted in the next tube up, and as it was withdrawn, at
about two feet from the end there were vapors coming from the rod
and cleaner. The conclusion was the tube had developed a hole.
Further investigation revealed this tube was the one next to the
make up water inlet, and the turbulence of the steam and water
probably weakened the tube. When we went to inject water into the
boiler, the action was enough to cause a leak, sending steam and
water into the firebox.

Well, needless to say, we pulled the fire again and we
contemplated what repairs were needed. A quick fix would be to plug
the tube, which would mean the loss of firing power, but with 14
two inch tubes this should not slow her down much, and we would
plan the complete retubing for next winter.

Two tapered plugs were made with a
5/8‘ rod between them; this should seal
off the bad tube. It was suggested that these plugs might leak a
little until a seal was complete.

With the old girl’s intestinal problems doctored, it was
time for the second show, the 4th and 5th of July. She was given a
little more water than normal and fire was built. With about 25 lb.
steam there was a definite hiss coming out of the firebox.

Wouldn’t you know, the firebox plug was leaking and putting
out the fire on one side. Pull the fire again! Because there was no
way I could fire enough to build 70 lb. steam, which was needed for
the injector to work, so we could maintain the needed water
level.

With the fire pulled and boiler cooled, the plug rod was
tightened approximately 1/16 inch. Maybe this
would be enough to make a better seal. That evening as I was
relaxing and wondering what I could do to make a better seal, I
noticed a horse trailer with horses leave the area. I had seen them
earlier pulling a carriage around the area that afternoon. The
thought came to mind that I had heard an old timer’s story
where they used road apples to stop a minor steam leak. I said to
myself, maybe that would work here.

Grabbing a bucket, a friend (Jerry) and I went looking for road
apples. None were on the road (present day technology provides the
horses with diapers). However, the grass area next to where their
trailer had been parked proved to be fruitful. Returning to the
camping area was exciting, since we advertised we had fresh road
apples and would share some with the other exhibitors. No takers,
but a lot of laughs.

Reaching the engine I opened the boiler, and with some fanfare I
wondered (aloud) just how much medicine she needed. Old Poe was
told to open wide as I inserted a road apple, a little piece at a
time. It was suggested that when you take medicine you need to
double the first application. So, in went the second apple and of
course, you need water to help wash the medicine down. So Old Poe
was filled to above working level.

The next morning Old Poe looked like she felt better. Another
fire was set, and at about 25 lb. of steam she began hissing and
belching steam and water from the plug, but this time it was not
enough to put out the fire and so I kept firing. The steam pressure
gained to about 50 lb. and Old Poe decided she felt much better and
her digestive problems appeared to be remedied.

The time was about noon so I banked the fire and went to eat.
When I returned she had lost some pressure and water. It was
apparent that I could not get up enough steam to inject water and
keep a safe water level since the leak was back. Pull the fire
again! A couple of hours later the steam was down enough that Old
Poe could have her second dose of medicine.

She cooperated very well and of course, it was washed down with
more water. This time, enough was added to almost fill the sight
glass. Two hours later steam was at 100 lb. and the engine was
running. Blasts were given from the whistle, which pleased the
people gathered around.

The water level was good and with 100 lb. of steam, it was time
to see if the injector would work also. The steam valve to the
injector was opened as the water valve was opened. With the correct
positions water should go into the boiler. No matter what I did,
Old Poe would not take water. The fire was pulled again! But there
was enough heat and water that further running of the engine and
blasts from the whistle made a fair show. Now it was the time to
shut down for the night and watch the fireworks. While closing
valves, I noticed the make up water valve to the boiler had not
been opened. Surely that was the reason for the injector not
working. We will find out next time.

To conclude the story, if an apple a day is good for we humans,
then maybe a road apple at certain times is also good for an old
boiler!

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