The Locomotive

The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company wrote a book in 1894, titled; The Locomotive. In the New Series, Volume XV, this article was published on page 185:

“The youngest son of John Drumheller, of Blanchester, Ohio, was experimenting in his back yard, on October 13th, after the manner of Watt. He had improvised a steam engine and was trying to run it by means of a boiler whose fundamental ingredient was a tin fruit-can.  The boiler exploded, scattering steam and hot water in all directions, and the boy was seriously scalded from head to foot.  An elder brother, who was watching the experiment, was also slightly burned about the face.”

Here is a bit of news from 120 years ago.  If a person looks at all of the YouTube videos of modern people making back yard steam things you will note that not much has changed in the last 120 years and any day things will start blowing up and giving modern steam a bad reputation.  What happens is that steel gets weaker when it is glowing a dull red color, which is what happens when the tank (boiler) runs out of water.  What else happens is that when water is boiled it will develop high pressures if it gets hot enough and is contained.  We have used monotube boilers which are technically steam generators because a boiler is a tank of water with a fire impinging on the outside of it.  Sometimes we use 3/8″ stainless tubing that has a burst strength of 16,000 psi more or less and sometimes we use 1/2″ schedule 40 welded black iron pipe that has a burst strength of 8,000 psi.  I have burst holes–tulip shaped holes–on several occasions in black iron tubing usually due to my errors in pumping water; actually always due to some problem with the water pumping business.  Our boilers are surrounded by thin sheet metal and the results of a burst tube is a loud noise and much steam and smoke and charcoal dust being blown into the air and nothing at all dangerous happening.  It is best to have a healthy respect for the explosive power of a lot of hot water under pressure.  With a monotube boiler there is not a pressure tank that can be turned into shrapnel and there is not a lot of water that will expand when pressure drops precipitously from an opening in the pressure vessel.  Try to be safe.  I was going to say try to use common sense, except that I have not  found it to be common enough.  Tom Kimmel

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