Of Steam Shovels and Operators

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225 Bucyrus steam shovel
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320 Bucyrus steam shovel

38120 S.R. 518 Lisbon, Ohio 44432

In this installment, I will give some of the experiences of my
first day firing boiler on the 320 Bucyrus shovel.

This shovel was operated by two persons John Duff, the head
engineer who operated the digging and the swinging of the shovel
and Bill Weigel, the craneman who operated the boom engine with
dipper sticks and who controlled the opening of the bucket, and
Charlie McCowan was the oiler.

I was told the day before the craneman was going to be off work
for a couple of days and the regular fireman, Wayne Martin, was to
take his place as craneman. I was to take the place of the fireman.
This was an exciting event for me! My regular job at this time was
as a pit man along with five other men. This particular shovel ran
on short sections of railroad rails about 6 feet in length which
had to be moved ahead after the overburden was removed and laced in
the cut where the coal was taken out. This shovel had four trucks
with two axles each and four double flanged wheels. Two trucks were
driven with power from the hoisting engine chain drive, to move the

On washout day I had always helped the regular fireman wash out
the boiler and in this way became familiar with most of the parts
of the boiler and the location of the pump, the injector, and most
other things necessary to be a boiler fireman. But there were other
things to do and learn.

I started my first day with great excitement and

On start up of each shift the fireman would blow down the excess
water from inside the boiler leaving only one gauge or 2′ or
3′ in the glass to get the water down to the proper operating
level. The oiler at this time would pour oil on the rolls which the
shovel swung on from digging to dumping the dirt. The weight of the
house part of the shovel sat on these rolls. There must have been
50 or 60 of these rolls. While the oiler was pouring oil the
operator swung the shovel around two complete rotations with the
bucket in the air. After their oiling was completed, digging

There were two ten-hour shifts on this shovel. The night
watchman who looked after the loading shovels and the saddle tank
engines that hauled the coal to the tipple would clean the fire on
the big shovel after the night shift was done. So I had a good
clean fire to start my shift.

The fire box was six feet across by 8 feet from the back to the
tube sheet and had shaker grates with a dump grate in the back. The
fire box grates were divided in the middle and the dump grates were
at the back. The fire box could be cleaned one-half at a time.
Extra coal could be thrown on one side and it would burn while the
other half was cleaned. After cleaning one side, the fire from the
other side could be moved over with a bar and the other half could
be cleaned.

As digging began, I had to replace coal regularly to keep the
steam gauge at a good operating pressure. When you first start off
with a fire that is not burning too hot, the steam pressure will
drop some. When this happens, the fireman has a tendency to throw
in too much coal and it takes a little while for the fire to burn
hot enough to raise steam pressure. The first 10 or 15 minutes is a
rather anxious time for a first-time shovel boiler fireman,
especially on a shovel of this size. Soon the fire will get to
burning hot and the steam pressure will return to where it was
supposed to be. Things went along pretty good. Water had to be fed
into the boiler continuously but it must not raise in the glass.
Just the right amount was needed to keep it at the level with which
you started. If the water is too high, it will pull over with the
steam and take the cylinder oil off of the throttle valve and make
it hard to open and close. This will soon bring the engineer back
to the boiler to explain a few things to the fireman about high

After about two hours of digging, I thought everything was going
along all right. The move was finished and time to move the shovel
ahead came. At this time the pit men would knock the clamps loose
on the rails that held the shovel from pushing back when it was

One thing they didn’t tell me was that I had to shut off the
steam valve that made distilled water to run on the inside of the
brake drum. With the steam left on, an accumulation of water got
into the brake drum and the channel inside the brake drum ran over
onto the brake band. More water slopped on the brake band when they
started to dig again and the brake wouldn’t hold very well.
This didn’t cause too great a problem, but I didn’t forget
this again! The brake bands were lined with wooden blocks and would
burn if the drum became too hot. On these big machines when the
bucket was being lowered back into the pit, part of the way down
the operator would not throw the friction ram out and the hoist
engines would turn over backwards and leave the bucket run
backwards. The throttle had a special bypass that would leave the
hoisting engine turn over backwards from the weight of the bucket.
When he was getting ready to dig again, he would throw the ram out
on the friction band and use the brake to lower the bucket the rest
of the way.

The rest of my morning went along pretty smoothly.

At noon the coal box had to be replenished with coal. Two of the
pit men came up on the shovel and worked in the coal box which had
a small boom that swung out over the side. A small steam hoisting
engine that was reversible was just by the coal box. A cable let
down a skip and the four pit men on the ground would load the skip
with coal and the fireman would pull the skip up. The men in the
coal box would pull it in and the skip would dump into the coal
box. It didn’t take too long to fill the box with coal. This
shovel used about a ton of coal per hour. Digging would then begin
again. About the time the next move was half dug out, I began to
have a little trouble keeping steam pressure up. Soon the pressure
was so low, the operator had to stop digging. I had gotten too
ambitious with throwing in too much coal and the fire was so heavy
it didn’t burn very well. But I wasn’t too bad off. I
turned the blower on and in about twenty minutes, the shovel was
ready to go again.

The rest of the day went along normally. So my first day
concluded with not too much difficulty.

On the second day, everything went along just fine.

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