Low Water-Look Out


| September/October 1966



Frog Smith

Courtesy of Mr. E. A. Smith, Sr., 219 Hubbard St., North Fort Myers, Florida Frog Smith and #3 in park at Gulf Hammock, Florida. Vulcan 2-8-0, 1913. Beside Route 19 in Florida.

E. A. Smith

219 Hubbard Street, North Fort Myers, Florida

On page 30 of Iron Men Album for Nov.-Dec., Mr. Ralph Thyng tells a hair-raising tale (and I'm Bald), about low water in a steam boiler. Well Brother, low water is no laughing matter until you see it in the glass. I feel I ought to know because I once burned two rows of flues in one end of a boiler while I had a full bottom gauge in the other.

The way it happened, I was boiler fireman for the Babois Lbr. Co., of Bonifay, Fla. in 1918, when keeping steam was something to crow about. We had three 150 H.P. Casey-Hedges return tubular boilers set in brick, with hardly thirty feet of stack on them. With the low stacks, we had to run big steam blowers in each stack. With a 150 H.P. Adams engine, an 80 H.P. Atlas antique driving the main saw, a worn out 14 x 20 Filer & Stowell twin with every port blowing a big Star unloader, several jump saws and a big dry kiln, the boilers were badly overloaded. One day, when due to a shut down, the steam was low, the foreman came into the boiler room to lend me a hand.

'You watch your fires,' said the boss, 'and I'll watch the water. Because of the emergency, he let the water drop to one gauge in all three glasses, and one Penberthy injector quit. I ran behind the furnaces to start a duplex pump and just as I turned water into No. 1, on which the injector had quit, I saw the bricks flying off the back arch bars of No. 3. I ran back into the firehold yelling that No. 3 was burned.

'Naw she ain't,' answered Reeves Brown, the foreman. 'I've had water all along and got a gauge now.'

'I don't give a Dwhat you've got,' I shouted. 'The arch bars are blowing off the back end.' And they were. What the boss had in the gauge was only foam. And anyone who has had experience with foaming water knows to hold his hat when the water runs low. That day at Bonifay, a big rain had fallen, cascaded through the slab burning pit and loaded with ashes, poured into the two ten foot square, thirty foot deep open wells. A made to order steam bomb if you ask me. But somehow not a boiler ever blew up. However, once when the maintence crew let enough bricks fall from the inside furnace walls of No. 2, the middle boiler, burned her side supports off and fell in, one day while the mill was running, tearing down all the steam pipes. That was the first integration on record in Bonifay. Every man in the mill, both black and white, went out together.