Farm Collector

Let’s Play Safe

1125 North Main. St., Decatur, Illinois

Can’t help but comment on a letter printed in Jan.-Feb. 1966
issue I.M.A. written by a Mr. Mazilly of Starks, La. He seems to
take a critical attitude of articles written and published in the
several good steam magazines we have in the country concerning
boiler accidents. He asks by what authority steam shows would be
shut down should a boiler blow. On page 15 of this same issue is a
letter from a Mr. C.B. Gullekson from Grand Forks, North Dakota,
describing a boiler explosion not a very pleasant bedtime story.
Mr. Frank L. McGuffin of Washington, D.C. wrote a very timely and
worthwhile article in Engineers and Engines Magazine of March 1965.
Here he recalled some 8 or 9 articles on boiler explosions printed
in various issues of I.M.A. giving page, date, and year of
magazine, and several more which had been printed in E. & E. I
have checked back on some of these and most all were a mess of
blood and guts. Mr. McGuffin refers mostly to a certain type of
boiler. Yet, the same boilers Mr. Mc Guffin has reference to are
still in evidence at some of our reunions.

Boiler safety is stressed in a number of past issues of 
I.M.A., also in E. & E. L.H. Rennewanz of Ennis, Montana has
written several good articles stressing boiler and engine operating
safety, especially at crowded reunions.

Back to Mr. Mazilly. He attempts to compare deaths caused by
automobile accidents to deaths caused by steam engine accidents. I
would be inclined to agree that our highway toll in human life is a
national disgrace. But does Mr. Mazilly realize there are some 60
million passenger cars in this country plus trucks and buses? Each
one exerts more force than ever by a threshing engine. I wonder if
Mr. Mazilly has any conception what havoc a boiler failure would
cause should it occur at some of our larger reunions where some
20-40,000 people are crowded together in a comparatively small area
like, for instance, a fairgrounds. An explosion here might well
compare with the highway toll of one of our longest holiday
weekends. I’m quite sure were Mr. Mazilly asked to pick up
after a mess like this he would become slightly ill in the pit of
his gizzard. Or were he asked to mop up after a steam engine which
ran wild through a crowd of people after it was turned loose by
some irresponsible playboy who would pull a throttle wide open
before realizing his engine was on dead center and leaving the
throttle open while turning the engine off center. From the ground,
yet. No, Mr. Mazilly. There is no blaze of glory to go out in any
type of an accident; automobile or otherwise. I am confident I am
not alone in taking exception to this attitude of unconcern for the
safety of people attending steam shows. And I am sure that if you
would give this entire situation some real down-to-earth thought
and consideration you would realize that should a serious accident
occur at a steam show where thousands of people come and pay
admission, more damage suits would be filed in one day than you
could shake a stick at, and the authority you inquire about might
soon become evident.

I agree rigid boiler inspections are necessary but they are not
an assurance that a boiler will not be in an accident. A very good
boiler in the hands of an inexperienced operator can be ruined or
worse in a very few minutes.

I attended a steam show during the past year where a steam
plowing demonstration was one of the main events. Since one of the
first steam outfits I worked on in 1922 was a plowing outfit,
naturally, I was interested. However, when I came close and saw the
steam gauge pointing to 180 PSI on a 50 year old boiler built for
160 PSI when new, I lost interest in this event but quick; and the
demonstration lost one spectator but quicker.

I mentioned this incident, Mr. Mazilly, to show that inspections
and inspectors are one thing operators are another. I have all the
confidence and respect for the inspection service in the state
where this incident occured; but, as I said, operators are a
different story and incidents like this one will sooner or later
cause disaster.

You seem to take a fancy to holding at pressures recommended for
boilers when new. This is fine for when they were built. I am sure
you will agree 40 or 50 years will take its toll in deterioration
of the plates in the boiler. There are some traction engine boilers
in existence today which are safe to carry the steam pressures they
were built for. These, however, are more the exception than the
rule. Even for boilers which have had the best of care, over 50
years time, corrosion has taken its toll. And there is no question
that many did not have the best of care when in operation plus some
20-30 years of abandonment in some fence corner or thicket. Then
restored by smearing a coat of pretty paint over rust and scale;
and showing them at reunions expecting to run them at the same
pressure they were originally built for.

Mr. Mazilly, I would herewith certainly solicit your
wholehearted support instead of criticism of steam show safety
articles of which we have altogether too few. Let us not ever give
an impression of unconcern for the safety of spectators. Like So
What? Why close down steam shows just because we kill a bunch of
clods and deprive them of the glory of being killed in a shiny new

  • Published on Jul 1, 1966
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