Since boiler care and maintenance is getting more important all
the time, we asked Paul Rafferty, state boiler inspector for
Montana, for some information on this vital subject.
Rafferty, whose office is in Helena, says the Montana
inspections are based on the ASME Code, Section 1, relating to
boiler repairs. He urges that anyone interested in the subject
write to the National Board of Boiler and Pressure Vessel
Inspection at 1055 Crupper Avenue, Columbus, Ohio 43229.
We talked to Rafferty last year and this year. Jerry Lee, also
an inspector took part in the discussion in 1982.
Nobody is replacing boilers, they said, but new tubes are being
installed. Rafferty insisted that if any welding is done, it be
done by a certified welder. He also emphasizes the need for
operators to know the pressure limitations of their boilers, and to
stay within them for safety.
Montana has 57 steam traction operators with licenses throughout
the state. The number of engines is estimated at 70.
‘Under our state laws,’ Rafferty said, ‘you must
have six months of training under a licensed operator before you
can take the state test to operate. We re-license every
While we interviewed Paul and Jerry, we also picked up leads on
Montana traction engine history, which is included in this
This is what Rafferty related on boiler exams:
‘We do an internal exam stay bolts, scale conditions on the
water side of the boiler, the firebox and the tubes. Lots of
fellows don’t use compound, since they only use the engines two
or three days a year. We hydro the boilers (water test)
‘On the hydro test, we can find whether the motor mount
bolts are loose. It doesn’t take much, with the thrust of the
engine, to loosen those bolts. Many times the owner doesn’t
catch this. We check all seams and rivets everything, for
‘When boilers are stored, they should be covered. Otherwise,
if the boilers are outside, weather will erode the hand hole
plates. If the hand hole plates are not in, mice and birds will get
inside and build nests, and that will be a problem when you fire
‘We check the pipe lines and valves. We won’t allow
galvanized pipe on a steam engine. We want black pipe’.
‘For pressure, we mag engines up to 100 pounds. It should
not be over 150 for safety these days’.
‘We inspect engines every year, before they are put out
before the public. Our last boiler explosion that killed a man was
in 1902a father and son around Townsend. A repair person was killed
on a stationary boiler in 1981, while changing over fuels diesel to
Montana has a long history of use of steam traction engines and
inspections by the state. The oldest report goes back to 1891, and
can be read at the Montana Historical Society museum in Helena.
J. J. Layton, Inspector, reported in 1891 that 393 boilers had
been inspected; 5 condemned and 48 ordered repaired. Numerous parts
were condemned, and replacements ordered8 safety valves, 23 safety
gauges, 18 burned sheets and so on. No boiler explosions had
occurred in the year.
The 1893 boiler inspections report contained this comment:
‘The use of steam as motive power for mechanical devices has
reached so high a degree of popularity that while it may, in time,
be diminished, it can never be entirely superseded by electricity.
And until the time shall finally come when the galvanic battery
occupies the place of the steam boiler, it is wisest of legislation
to inspect and license both the boiler and the engine, because this
means of power must be tolerated in populated districts, in mines,
mills, smelters, factories and all the large public buildings in
our State, where human life is constantly exposed to the disaster