1765 Hoover Pike Nicholasville, KY 40356.
Water becomes steam at 212 degrees F. at atmospheric pressure,
or possibly I should say at sea level pressure. One pint of water,
if boiled away, will produce 200 gallons of steam. If water and
steam are confined in a sealed container or boiler, and heat is
applied, it will exert pressure not only on the container or boiler
but on the surface of the water also, thereby causing the boiling
point to rise above 212 degrees F. The higher the pressure, the
higher the boiling point is raised.
If the closed vessel or boiler ruptures and the pressure is
reduced dramatically, the water will flash into steam immediately!
This continues until a new equilibrium is reached between the
liquid and the vapor. This is the reason for the awesome power
displayed in a boiler explosion.
In the fall of 1946, in the month of November, I was hauling
water to the school at Wilmore, Kentucky. On my way to the school
with my load of water, I noticed my friend, Dutch, steaming tobacco
plant beds by the side of the road with his 45 HP Case engine.
I was using an 80 HP Case engine on a sawmill and for steaming
tobacco beds at that time. I had been around steam engines since I
was big enough to go along and open the gates. My father and his
two brothers had operated two steam threshing rigs along with
clover hulling, saw milling and tobacco bed steaming.
So naturally, on the way back, after unloading the water, I
stopped the truck and got over the fence to smell the steam, steam
cylinder oil and smoke, and chat a few minutes with my friend,
I was where I could see inside when Dutch opened the door to
fire. I remarked when he put his shovel down, ‘Dutch, you sure
are keeping her hot.’ To which he replied, ‘You know I am
scared to death of this old thing. I had a fellow from a garage out
here a few days ago welding in the firebox.’ That statement
gave me a peculiar feeling that seemed to terminate in my feet,
making them want to move from where they were. It was about that
time I noticed the safety valve missing from the steam dome. I said
‘Dutch, where is your pop valve?’ Dutch replied, ‘The
old thing was leaking. I took it off and screwed a plug in the
hole. I just fire by my gauge.’ I decided right then and there
I had some pretty important things to attend to at home. So without
any hesitation I bade Dutch good by, climbed back over the fence,
fired up my old Dodge truck and headed home.
From where I was working the next spring on March 27, 1947 to
the Cam Patterson farm where Dutch was steaming his tobacco plant
beds is approximately six miles air line.
About noon, I heard an unusual noise. It sounded like
‘Worn’ or ‘Womp’. Others that heard it thought it
was a blast at the High Bridge Rock Quarry, but at the time I
didn’t think too much about it. Probably 1 to 2 hours later a
friend came by and said, ‘Did you know Dutch Drury’s old
engine blew up?’ We immediately went down to see what had
There is a saying however, I can’t recall who is credited
with saying it the first time: ‘A picture is worth a thousand
words.’ The accompanying pictures are pretty much self
It had been rainy and the ground was just getting dry enough to
start steaming beds again.
The crew had filled up the boiler that morning and Dutch had
gotten a fire started and begun to raise steam. Most of the
steaming crew were members of his family and he had sent them all
home to eat dinner. He was on the engine by himself when it blew
Dutch told me later that the last time he looked at his gauge it
showed 95 pounds and that he was going to turn the steam under the
pan when the gauge showed 100 pounds.
When it blew up, the old Case took off like a rocket, traveled
through the air, turned a somersault, landed upside down on the
smoke box and then rolled over. It traveled 45 feet from where it
started to where it landed. Dutch was picked up 180 feet away in
almost the opposite direction. His son, Johnnie, told me he was
hard to find as he was partially buried in the fresh plowed ground
and covered with mud. No one knows how high in the air Dutch went.
However, he sustained a broken right leg, right arm, right collar
bone, pelvis and was scalded about the face and arms.
He was given a 50-50 chance to live at the time. However, he
recovered and lived over 30 years after the explosion. He carried
deep scars on his face embedded with coal and coal soot.
It seems rather freakish that a 1939 1 ton Dodge truck was
parked close by with coal on it, and the side board was blown off
and broken and the name A. C. Drury that had been painted on the
door was completely erased.
When the truck was started up, it had no brakes whatsoever, even
though the brakes had been good before the explosion. For some
bizzare reason the brakes had to be adjusted and nothing more
These photographs were taken after Arthur ‘Dutch’
Drury’s boiler explosion in March of 1947. Counterclockwise,
Beginning At The Top Left: The engine landed
upside down on the smoke box and then rolled over the remains of
the 45 HP Case engine 4 the final resting place after the engine
turned a somersault and traveled 45 feet through the air; the rear
wheel partly buried in the ground; the crown sheet blown down; the
engine resting on the steam pan with the crown sheet blown down.
Photos submitted by George Ware.