Newnan, Georgia 30263
The first time I ever saw a stay bolt was probably in 1924 when we kids used to play Buck on the R.R. water tank at Moreland, Georgia. They used to run several trains an hour back in those days. We saw pop valves stuck, whistles stuck, cylinders so bad they had to side track the passenger engine and put on a Mike 2-4-2 freight engine and pull the limited on in to Atlanta.
One day an old small passenger engine came in for water and all of the train crew and some of the dressed up passengers all started to crowd around the fire box on the left side. Water was leaking pretty bad around the side and coming out what I thought was rivets.
The rivets were funny though as they had holes drilled in the center and the water was seeping out but it was mostly steam. Everyone was talking about stay bolts, and I soon learned that the stay bolts were what held the fire box together and the tell-tale holes were drilled at each end on the outside so if they ever gave way or broke, it would do just as it was doing. Only this time, there were too many leaking and there soon was talk about the thing blowing up. If I remember right, the train fellows were not too concerned about the ones leaking as they were about two that were leaking around the rivet-like side. One man said if she blows these rivet-like bolts were good but the others giving away caused too much strain on the others and they were afraid it would strip out and really shoot out his water or blow on up. After much debating and talking and I expect wiring in telegrams to the dispatcher, they all agreed to take her in with it leaking like it was. Ever since that day I have always had an ear for stay bolts or be on the look out for them around a boiler.
About 1950 I watched the insurance inspector supervise the welders cut several patches on a boiler so he could examine the water leg on a loco type boiler. They would cut out pieces about the size of cigar boxes and cut around the stay bolts. Later they would cut out the stay bolts and ream out the threads and bevel the hole from the inside and also bevel the holes on the outside patch. The Hartford man would take one good look and say it was good for another 25 years. He would peck on a lot of the bolts and if he was in doubt about one, they would burn the stay bolt out and replace by welding. All of the stay bolts were welded back in.
Boy, but these were the best of welders. Ole Bo Blair had been welding code vessels even then 25 years, every day. And of course taking the test as often as the insurance company required. This boy can really weld. He has been all over the country welding Butane tanks that had insurance on them and all kinds of stainless and monel vessels inside food processing plants.
This job was Ole Charlie Naga's baby but Bo was his welder and the insurance man was at their heels every move they made. These two workmen are also the ones who can take only part of the flue sheet out and put back the rest. The whole head had to be made in the shop and Charlie and Bo would cut out only what they needed and drive rivets and cork where they could and weld the rest back, all to suit the inspector. Anyway, you don't go anywhere to find any better workmen on boilers than this pair. I am taking in the world or anywhere else. I mean they literally took that boiler a-part at the seams and the funny part was, there was not anything wrong with it; just an inspection that is required every so often on water legs to see if the plates are too thin for insurance.
I saw Charlie and Bo take only part of the flue sheet out where the tubes were and welded and riveted about half of the head back in. It was so they had to leave half of the holes in a line and leave half of the holes on the other part. They were 4' holes. This was all fixed back to suit the insurance inspector as it was the insurance company's job if the boiler failed. This was another boiler about 1955. Well, working with these fine mechanics every year or so gave me a pretty good picture of how stay bolts ought to look and stand up.
When I first bought my old Advance, I put the cold water test on her and ran it up to 250 psi and believe it stood the test O.K. My eyes are not too good and I did not notice the welded spots on the bottom of the water bottom fire box. We were popping her on a little over a 100 psi because the injectors worked so good at this pressure. (I wish I could find out what the original Advances were set at built around 1910.) We would take long trips down the highway and back.
One of these trips one Christmas day a little boy lost his head and ran the whole tractor in a deep ditch that had a high bank on the side opposite the road. This saved the day as it did not turn over but mired up in the mud. We spent several weeks preparing a road, hauling cross ties and jacking the engine up so as to get it out. I had two friends who had large wreckers but the Highway Patrol would not agree to block off the highway (U.S 29) so we could lift it out without pulling it apart. Down in the mud we had to jack on anything we could find. Sometimes it was in the middle of the fire box and other places. This I learned later was a stupid thing to do as it pushed the inside of the fire box up causing several stay bolts to leak a little.
We fixed these and gave her the test and a good looking bolt almost gave us a flood. This brought back memories 40 odd years ago when someone in the train crew had said that the good one that is doing too much holding will be the one that will blow. Everybody, including several boiler inspectors, seemed to think all I had to do was chip a vee a-round the leaking bolts and weld them. All except Ole Bo. He said the only way to fix it would be to cigar box it and replace the stay bolts with welding. Also he would not weld over old acetylene welding. It probably would not hold. Bo is not a try welder. He will do only what he knows will work and he never welds over acetylene welding on a boiler with the arc. So, as bad as I hated to start cutting on the inside of the fire box bottom, I did anyway.
I circled out an old plate about 4 inches in diameter and to my surprise, it lifted out without any trouble. The stay bolt was still sticking and was touching the plate I had just removed, but not holding anything. I started in like a lion after a piece of beef. I found 5 like the first one. One bolt was broke about in half; the cork or brad was still good and was holding water. So I would fix up a patch with circular corners with about a 2 radius that was about 14 inches long and about 8 inches wide and out of 3/8 inch code material.
With a hole in the bottom as big as this, a fellow could look around for rust spots and examine lots of the stay bolts that could not possibly be done any other way. Everything looked good to me and I got Bo and Charlie to also take a gander and see if we were on the right track to put it back just as good as if the insurance inspector was there with us. By the way, three had already looked at it and thought it O.K. where the bolts were concerned. They pecked with little hammers and examined it pretty good. I do not think any of them ever saw the old welding as it is against the code to completely weld over a stay bolt. You must leave a little spot in the center so if it pulls loose, it will blow or leak.
Ole Bo's hunch was right when he said the only way to fix it was to cigar patch it but that is a several hundred dollar job in a first class boiler shop and I hated to get started but it paid off. I found what we were looking for. I worked about a week fitting the patch and grinding a vee at the seams and reaming out the old stay bolts holes and then veeing the holes out with a 60 degree-reamer so the weld could do its best. Everyone decided to use 1 inch stay bolts instead of the old size 7/8 so as to fill up the old hole on the outside on the bottom.
Well, I had everything ready and had to wait until Bo was not working on his regular job so he could do my welding, the patch back. We already had it jacked up so he could get under it so he did the bottom bolts first. He then stuck his head in the fire box and with his knees on a boiler plate floor with no padding, he kept an arc going a solid hour in the fire box which soon let out so much smoke everyone along the highway thought we had it fired up. I repeat, he stayed in this position with his head in the hot fire box burning 5/32 and 3/16 rods set hot for one hour by the clock without coming out even for air or to rest. When he finally came out, he had all of the stays and all of the main seam around with 2 passes in some places. It looked like someone had taken an air hammer and cut a deep even groove inch wide all around the patch. Hardly a ripple in the weld; just as even as though it had been done in a milling machine with an end mill. Of course, it looks easy but if you don't believe it is hard to do without a leak, well just try it. It didn't take Bo long to finish up and we put a test on it and it did not leak one drop where he welded, not even a sweat. 250 psi of cold water.
As you know Georgia is not a state that has a code for pressure vessels. I eat out a lot in this small town and get to talk to a lot of the boiler inspectors and, too, I work on boilers and get to know several of them. They tell me the insurance company does not have any rigid unreasonable codes that condemn boilers that are a certain age and built with rivets.
One reason there are nearly always some insurance inspectors in town is because of the two large steel fabricating plants here in Newman. A code vessel must have several inspections while it is being built and be made from steel or material that has the steel mill papers that follow the steel marked for the papers all the way through until it is finished and recorded. This really runs the cost up to probably 50% more just so it can be on record.
Sometimes some of the high pressure vessels fail that are as large as a box car and 3 cars long and one inch thick. This is Bo's specialty welding up the cracks along with the insurance company's inspector. Of course, a lot of the work is X-rayed.
My personal experience on this small job of rebuilding a section in the water bottom fire box gas taught me how much better a welded stay bolt is over a screwed in and braded one is. After a screwed one gets old, the threads are bound to rust up in the holes and making it easier than it was to strip out as the flare on the head is practically none on the ends braded to hold the water. One good thing is they are designed to hold probably 20 times more load then they will ever have to unless the rust or freezing gets them.
I cannot help but believe my old Advance stay bolt trouble was started from freezing as the rest of it is in too good a shape. The rust spots are practically none This old engine was always used up in the mountains where the river and streams run the year round clear as spring water. They say when water runs and falls over rocks like it does in North Georgia and picks up air and gets aerated every few feet, it gets about as pure as it can get for a boiler. Anyway, something has paid off because it must have never had much mud in the bottom and I am told this is what really eats up a boiler or pipe. Mud so thick the water cannot carry off the acids.
Looks like I have changed the subject away from stay bolts but I wish some of the expert firemen would write a story on firing in detail and what to do when soot gets in the tubes and the different ways to burn it out, using zinc, pasteboard, etc. Detail ways to fire up a cold boiler and when to use coal, where to put the coal when getting the fire going, when to stir the fire, if ever. What kind of fire is really the all round best when you are really loaded?
Just because I have an Advance does not mean I do not like all of the other kinds. I would probably have loved any other kind if I had been lucky enough to find one for sale that could be restored in good working order. I will quote the late Will Rodgers a little; or take part of his maxim and fit in the Iron Men a littls; 'I have never seen a steam traction engine I did not like.'
My old engine does have quite a history behind it. The gold mining company bought two Advances; one to run the pumps and the other to run the stomp mill and the other machinery. They went broke soon after getting the tractors and then each started out on its own being bought and sold several different times, but all the time both of them stayed within gossip distance of each other.
I talked to several old men that had run one of the engines but he could not tell which one I had. They were about 5 serial numbers apart, one fellow said. About the time of World War II, mine done a lot of distant hauling the sawmill from one place to the other is why the gears are worn so. I understand the junk man got the other one and it had perfect gears. A railroad man had mine a long time so he kept up the engine like a train locomotive. My old Advance was retired from the sawmill in 1954 with a bad set of tubes. I bought it in 1960 and have worked ever since. I doubt if I will ever get through.
I hope all of you Iron Men friends will enjoy this. If not, throw the brick bats at me like you did when I goofed and called an Advance an M. Rumely, May-June 1966 Iron Men Album. Elmer was good to me and printed a nice article asking forgiveness, which I hope everyone has by now. One old gentleman out in Iowa wanted to fight me and sent me a bill of sale and a lot of stuff to prove that he was not a school boy like myself on steamers. I worked all day making him a tiny model whistle the size of a pencil for his watch charm, but I have not heard from him since. I sure hope he has not passed on and, too, I hope he has forgiven me.