Letting off Steam

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Hard to believe, but somehow yet another year has passed by.

For my money, 2004 was a good year for the steam community. Steam show exhibitions and demonstrations across the country witnessed another year of safe, fun and educational steaming. That’s the norm, of course, a reality crafted by the practiced and dutiful operation of the equipment belonging to steam engine owners and enthusiasts every where.

But I can’t shake the feeling there’s a great deal of work ahead of us in preserving the active operation of our equipment. The feeling is motivated by continued pressures from some corners against the safe operation of the equipment we hold so dear.

I’m not suggesting the sky is falling. Far from it. But I do wonder if it isn’t time to craft an organization that can effectively address our concerns on a national level.

My thoughts on the subject are hardly unique, and are prompted in large measure by a reader’s e-mail expressing concern on this very subject.

“Let me get up on my stump again,” the e-mail began. “It seems to me that it would be beneficial for all of us steam enthusiasts to band together for political purposes. We are in a position where the varying states are able to do almost what they wish in regards to steam as a hobby.

“Each state’s enthusiasts are fighting a lonely battle, yet the state has as its ally national groups such as the ASME and the National Board. I am not saying we need to disregard basic facts on safe operation, nor am I proposing no inspection of boilers. What I am in favor of is a group that could encompass all steam traction owners, steam car owners, steam boaters, live steamers, and any others who would care to join to protect our privilege of being able to operate the equipment we love.”

The writer’s last few words, “the equipment we love,” really get to the heart of the matter. Nobody collects, restores and operates 100-year-old steam equipment because they have to. They do it out of a consuming interest in the history and culture of this old machinery, driven by an appreciation for what this equipment meant when it was working the land as a prime mover in America’s agricultural and commercial development. They do it out of love.

So the essential question remains, and that is simply; should we craft a national organization committed to furthering our interests and helping ensure legislative initiatives aimed at the antique steam hobby don’t shut our equipment down? And if we should, where do we start? Are there organizations already sufficiently educated in the intricacies of law making to spearhead this type of effort?

I welcome readers’ thoughts on the matter.

Richard Backus



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