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    Default Locomotive Boiler Explosion

    The Sunbury Boiler Explosion - Twisted History | Limelight Tours

    According to the below a repair plate was eroded by bad water and split at 130 pound pressure.

    18 Apr 1884 - THE SUNBURY BOI[?] EXPLOSION. - Trove

    Paul

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    Thank you for posting this article. It was interesting reading it, particularly since I have some experience with engineering on steam locomotive boilers.

    In recent years, we are fortunate to have ultrasonic thickness gauging available. We use it as a required method of inspecting boilers and determining their fitness for service based on minimum thicknesses found. UR is only a partial means of evaluating a boiler's condition.

    When steel plate is used for the sheets (any parts of a locomotive boiler formed from plate is known as a "sheet"), the direction of rolling is marked on the plate. This lets the rolling direction (similar to the grain in a piece of lumber) be oriented properly in relation to the direction of stress which will be developed in that sheet when the boiler is containing pressure. For many years, in the USA, we use a minimum factor of safety of 5. This means that, if steel plate used to build a boiler had a minimum tensile strength of 60,000 psi, the maximum allowable tensile stress is 12,000 psi.

    I have been doing the engineering to design a new firebox for a steam locomotive out in the western part of NY State. The boiler dates to 1920, so was built with riveted construction. The new firebox will be built using welded construction, with the sheets flanged to make the corners of the firebox rather than simply making squared corner seams. I have had two conference calls with the United States Federal RR Administration about the job. The most recent call lasted about an hour, and the FRA was asking engineering questions, particularly as to what factor of safety I was using in my design, and type of staybolts. They also questioned me about how the welded seams would be run, and about the replacement of the foundation ring (also known as the mud ring)- which I called for in my design.

    It was a good engineering discussion, and FRA was really respectful and professional. They told me that in the early part of the 20th century, in the USA, the ICC (Interstate Commerce Commission) handled steam locomotive boiler regulations. As such, back in the 'teens and 'twenties, the minimum factor of safety in locomotive boilers was only about 3.25. This led to the FRA asking if I'd ever experienced deformation of steam dome covers (a manway plate like a blind flange). In fact, I had. I had designed a number of replacement steam dome cover plates, and was always surprised at how thin the flanges on the original cover plates were vs what my calculations called for. I had also seen a number of these cover plates where the flange was actually deformed into a slight cone. Each time the locomotive was shopped to deal with leakage around the dome cover, the RR shops would take a facing cut on the existing cover plate flange and re-make the joint with a fresh copper wire gasket. Thinner flange = more deformation.

    The FRA men discussed boiler safety and the boiler explosion at Gettysburg, PA with me, saying they had seen the aftermath of one boiler explosion and hoped never to see another. I mentioned that I take the saying: "The boiler codes are written in blood" as an absolute or life-and-death thing. They agreed.

    I discussed some of the issues I have encountered when doing engineering on steam locomotive boilers to determine fitness for service and repairs required. The UT is not an absolute, and there are certain areas of the boiler where the UT can't be used. Certain areas of a locomotive boiler are subject to not only corrosion, but erosion from localized turbulence in the water due to circulation. Other areas of the boiler are subject to cracking due to stress cycling. Water chemistry is a whole subject unto itself. Water chemistry can change seasonally, even with using water from a town water supply (mains). A one-size-fits-all approach to water chemistry is not the answer, and daily tests of boiler water with changes to chemical treatment are the optimum. Unfortunately, a lot of small tourist railroads tend to go with the "one size fits all" approach to water treatment, or simply use no treatment. In the latter case, the rationale is that the boiler is steamed only one or two days a week and not steamed in hard train service. I have seen oxygen pitting attacks on tubes, even on these boiler which see only the light usage and seen localized corrosion and erosion on some of the bottom sheets of the barrels.

    Reading the inquest report, I was impressed with the body of knowledge for the times. Interestingly, wrought iron was thought to be a nearly corrosion-free material. I remember in the 1950's, when I was a kid, my father went out of his way to get a length of wrought iron pipe for a condensate return line on our home heating system (the steel pipe having corroded thru). In this case, the fact the boiler sheet had wasted so thin speaks of some highly corrosive water chemistry. Wrought iron is a fairly tolerant material in this regard. Interestingly also is the fact that the boiler I am currently working on has firebox sheets and wrapper sheets that were originally 7/16" thick, and were steel. The boiler was being steamed at 170 psig with a factor of safety of 5, having had its maximum allowable working pressure reduced from 200 psig (original MAWP) in response to thinned sheets and increasing the factor of safety to 5 from that which was used in 1920.

    I have always held that wrought iron is an inconsistent material. It is not entirely homogeneous, due to it containing stringers of slag. It is of a more "fiberous" nature than steel. It was interesting to read that the rolling direction on the failed boiler sheet was discussed by the boilermakers at the inquest. I would think that the rolling direction on wrought iron boiler material is more critical than on steel plate.

    Plainly, had there been UT available at the time of this explosion, and had inspections been carried out with it, this explosion might never have occurred. The problem of corrosion or wastage of boiler sheets in inacessable locations was well known. For many years, the boiler inspectors and shop foremen checked thicknesses of boiler sheets in these inaccessable/suspect areas by drilling and tapping holes in those locations. A hooked boiler inspector's micrometer was offered by Starrett for miking sheets thru drilled/tapped holes. Even this method might have averted the explosion. I've run boiler calculations and evaluated about 24 steam locomotive boilers in the USA and Canada. I "walk myself through" each boiler, and learn something each time. I've never dealt with a wrought iron boiler, only steel, so this report made for some interesting reading.

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    A one-size-fits-all approach to water chemistry is not the answer, and daily tests of boiler water with changes to chemical treatment are the optimum. Unfortunately, a lot of small tourist railroads tend to go with the "one size fits all" approach to water treatment, or simply use no treatment. In the latter case, the rationale is that the boiler is steamed only one or two days a week and not steamed in hard train service. I have seen oxygen pitting attacks on tubes, even on these boiler which see only the light usage and seen localized corrosion and erosion on some of the bottom sheets of the barrels.
    When did water treatment become commonplace?

    Some years ago, I worked in close proximity to a High School that was still coal fired, built in the twenties. They had a head custodian that was pretty worthless and figured it was easier to not mess with treating the water. That lasted a while, before it got to be very difficult to push steam through the system and the other guys would grip about how hard it got to heat the building. I don't know if it came up during a boiler inspection or what, but somebody started testing their water. They doped the system and the crap started flowing...............they had to start replacing steam pipes too.

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    I believe water treatment became fairly commonplace by the latter part of the nineteenth century. By the early 20th century, boiler water treatment was in widespread use. It was a function of the type of boiler (design, pressure, steam flow, steam temperature/superheat) and type of plant (small/stationary, locomotive, marine/naval, powerplant, larger stationary plant, etc). In something like a steam locomotive, there is no condensate recovery and water is used once-thru the boiler and lost as exhaust steam. In stationary and marine plants, the water is recovered as condensate, and a fairly close control of water chemistry is more easily maintained.

    Smaller stationary plants, particularly very low pressure heating plants, were notorious for not addressing water chemistry. Various attitudes prevailed, such as: "It's only a low pressure heating plant and the water is captive in the system... all the dissolved oxygen was knocked out of it ages ago..." or: "We put in water treatment once a year, stuff we got at the plumbing supply house..." Or: "It's a cast iron heating boiler and cast iron radiators... not going to corrode out in my lifetime..." As a kid, we had a cast iron sectional heating boiler in our house. It was a new oil fired boiler my dad installed in 1948, replacing a 1920's coal fired boiler. Once each year, usually in summer when heating load (other than making hot water for the house) was nonexistent, Dad would take off the safety valve and we'd throw in some "pills". These were water treatment in the form of "pills" or "balls" that Dad got at the local plumbing supply, made by Hercules- who seemed to make a lot of chemicals and goods for the plumbing trade (pipe dope and cutting oil being the other stuff from them we had around our basement shop). During this same time, Dad would blow down the boiler via a 3/4" drain (hose cock). We'd also remove and clean the gauge cocks and try cocks, and sometimes replace the glass.
    I think that was more maintenance than most homeowners did.

    Boiler water treatment in the late 1800's was a matter of anything from folklore to actual science. In small plants such as heating of schools or local creameries or laundries, the stationary engineer might resort to anything from tanbark to lime, caustic soda, or anything that local wisdom held was good medicine for a boiler. In larger plants such as bigger mills, and aboard ships, water analysis and a more scientific approach to water treatment was done. By the late 19th century, steam plant operation was becoming more based in engineering and science rather than folk wisdom. The steam engine indicator was a well-established instrument for determining the condition of a steam engine by that point in time, and people were aware of the benefits of running an efficient steam plant. The use of the Orsat apparatus for analyzing boiler flue gas to determine efficiency of combustion was also in common use in the larger plants by the early 20th century. Boiler water chemistry fit into this time period as well. Something like a school heating plant was one of those situations which fell into a crack, being a low pressure plant and not given the same degree of attention a higher pressure plant would have received. It was also a function of the state/local licensing laws for operators of steam boilers as well as boiler inspections. If a low pressure heating plant was given short shrift in these regards, having a custodian who did the barest minimum to fire the school boiler to make heating steam and little else would be expectable.

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    Joe, I noticed your mention of the Orsat apparatus. I worked at a facility that used hundreds of millions of pounds of solvent a year. It was all evaporated and (mostly) recovered. The earliest solvent safety equipment in the plant used the Orsat method for solvent concentrations. Samples of the atmosphere in the machines were passed through red-hot platinum tubes where the solvent reacted to CO2. The Orsat technique was then used to estimate the solvent concentrations in the machine for safety purposes.

    Initially, the equipment was used as an indicator, with people in the loop, but after a bad accident in the early 30s, the equipment was tied into an automatic shutdown circuit.

    The facility moved on to infrared analysis, and then mass spectrometry, but the managing department was still the Orsat Department.

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    Joe Michaels,

    I was hoping you would comment. Thanks.

    I still think you should write a book. A gathering of your posts on PM would do it. With self publishing and print on demand, it is within the relm of possibility, if you wanted to bother.

    Paul

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    Regarding water testing, when I saw the Big Boy stop in Iowa a couple of weeks ago, one of the first things that was done was to blow down some water so they could catch a sample for testing. The sample taker said they were testing for Total Dissolved Solids, and a couple of others I don't recall.

    I imagine maintaining water quality on a traveling steam engine is difficult where every spot has different water quality.

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    gbent:

    Water for boilers (or condensate in plants where condensate is recovered) is typically tested for:

    -hardness
    -pH
    -dissolved oxygen
    -dissolved solids (minerals such as: calcium, magnesium, iron)

    pH is kept in the alkaline range, and is adjusted using acids or bases as required. Dissolved oxygen is removed with sodium bisulfite (as a typical oxygen scavenger),
    and the minerals are treated by adding chemicals with appropriate ions to bond with the dissolved minerals.

    A coagulent is also part of the water treatment. This causes the dissolved solids which have bonded with the treatment chemicals to precipitate out and collect in the "mud leg" of a locomotive boiler. Once there, opening the blowdown valve(s) will get rid of them. The mud leg on a steam locomotive boiler is the water space surrounding the lower part of the firebox. It is a relatively cool area and an area of relatively low circulation. If the boiler water treatment does its work properly, a combination of suspended solids (fine particulates such as silt, rust scale, organic matter, clay) and the dissolved solids (which have formed a precipitate and settled out by way of the water treatment) will be blown out with the water when the boiler blowdown valve is opened. This never gets all of the suspended and dissolved solids, but does get enough to reduce concentration in the boiler water.

    The dissolved oxygen is a big and bad item in its own right, and boiler water treatment is formulated to address it as well.

    Years ago, the railroads kept water treatment chemical firms on contract, and the bigger railroads had on-site labs for water testing in their engine terminals.
    It is not uncommon to see steam locomotives with what looks like whitewash splattered on the upper part of the boiler jacketing. This is boiler compound and the precipitates from the water that have been carried out of the boiler when safety valves were lifted.

    The tender tank on a steam locomotive, even on a small locomotive, will hold anywhere from 1500 gallons of water on up. Often, water in the tender tank is tested and treated in the tank. On larger railroads in steam days, water treatment equipment was in place at engine terminals to treat water stored in tanks for filling the tender tanks.

    A fascinating part of steam railroading was the business of "picking up water on the fly". On high speed steam locomotives on long runs, some railroads installed shallow pans "in the gauge" (the space between the rails is known as the "gauge"). These pans were kept filled with makeup water for the tender tanks. The tenders were fitted with a "scoop", a kind of rectangular duct which could drop down from the underside of the tender when passing over a track pan. The scoop was dropped low enough to get into the water in the track pan, and the speed of the locomotive caused the water to be rammed up the scoop and up a standpipe in the tender tank. The standpipe was just above water level in the tender tank. The scoop was raised and lowered with air from the braking system. Typically, a locomotive had to be moving at somewhere around 50-60 mph to have enough speed to ram the water up and into the tank. The track pans were something around 1/2 mile in length. The railroads had pump houses at each track pan location. These pump houses included a boiler plant to keep the water in the track pan warmed in winter and prevent ice forming. The pump houses filled water tanks up on high supports to provide a ready means of makeup in the pans after a locomotive had taken on water. The actual process of taking on water was hardly a clean proposition, with a good deal of splashing and water being hurled out of the track pan as well as up the scoop. I know the NY Central RR had a number of these track pans and pump stations, and they were manned 24/7. Raw water was tested and chemically treated at these pump stations. Finding information about the actual pump stations for the track pans is something I have had no success with. From the sounds of it, these pump stations had high pressure boilers to produce electric power, run the pumps, and keep the water warmed in winter. They also had a lab bench for water testing and treatment chemicals. Whether these chemicals were injected into the raw water as it was pumped up into the storage tanks, or into the raw water as it was piped to the track pan is unknown to me. I know the bigger railroads used companies such as Nalco and Dearborn- two big names in boiler water treatment in powerplants and marine boiler plants.

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    Quote Originally Posted by gbent View Post
    Regarding water testing, when I saw the Big Boy stop in Iowa a couple of weeks ago, one of the first things that was done was to blow down some water so they could catch a sample for testing. The sample taker said they were testing for Total Dissolved Solids, and a couple of others I don't recall.

    I imagine maintaining water quality on a traveling steam engine is difficult where every spot has different water quality.
    They might carry water behind them on/in a flatcar/box car, simply put up in totes, with a portable gas powered pump.

    I work around some boilers, 250 psi, and make up water is DI.

    And boiler water analysis is checking a couple of things, chemical area
    has 4 or more chemicals in totes with metering pumps.

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    No 49 was a VR O class 0-6-0 with outside frames,and the class were well known for boiler explosions and accidents......next in the fleet ,No 51 had two boiler explosions...The O class were all odd numbers........I would think maintenance was iffy too,despite the testimony at the coroners court.The VR was a very powerful organization pre the motor car,and to cross them would be fatal ,employment wise.

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    Picking up water using scoop & track pan. As referred by Joe Michaels above:

    Industrial History: Track Pans, Standpipes, and Water Bridges

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    I recently did a video on the steamboat Belle of Louisville YouTube I found it interesting that they were still using river water in the boilers. I assume no real treatment of any value could be done on pumped in river water. I should have tried to find somebody to ask. The current boilers on the boat were built by Nooter back in the 1960's, the same people that built the first portable nuclear power plant in 1956 so maybe they used some real good materials??

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    Interesting to read so many different claims as to the original thickness of the repair plate..from 3/8" to 5/8"

    And the "honeycomb" appearance of the corroded surface, as well as the low ultimate strength, suggest a bad piece of steel.

    So, how completely CAN ideal boiler water treatments prevent corrosion? I am sure every chemical provider will say his product is the best. Are sacrificial anodes of use? How complicate is it to arrive at an "ideal" treatment for a given boiler with water from a given source?

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    Brian:

    I do not think Nooter used any "very good materials" to build the boiler in the "Belle of Louisville". They most likely followed ASME Section I of the Power Boiler Code, and used something like ASTM SA 285 or A 516 steel plate. These are both "pressure vessel grade" carbon steel plate containing little more than carbon, some silicon sand possibly a small amount of manganese. These grades of steel plate are known as "Firebox grade" or "Flanging" plate since they are formulated to hold their strength up to 600 degrees F and are ductile enough to be formed or flanged to make parts of boilers. Nothing unusual about this material. Either grade of steel plate is used routinely for firetube boilers and pressure vessels. Quite easily formed and welded.

    The Belle of Louisville may be drawing raw river water for makeup, but I'd bet the farm chemical water treatment is in constant use. When the raw water is pumped aboard for makeup, it is likely first run thru some fine basket strainers to remove any larger debris or suspended solids. It then is pumped into a feedwater makeup tank. Without knowing how the Belle of Louisville is set up for makeup water, it would be likely that samples of the raw river water are taken and tested right aboard the vessel or at the pier where she ties up. Once water is analyzed, the correct types and amounts of water treatment chemicals are formulated. These are usually bought in bulk plastic drums. The amounts of each chemical needed (Oxygen scavenger, pH adjustment, cation/anion compounds to bond with dissolved solids, coagulent) are measured out and put into a mixing tank. A mechanical mixer stirs up the combined chemicals. A chemical injection pump is used to meter the amount of boiler water treatment chemicals into the raw water. In some installations, a water flowmeter is used to control the metering pump. The metering pump is a small piston pump of variable displacement, with a micrometer adjustment. Often, it is set up so that when there is flow in a water line, the metering pump runs and injects the chemical treatment into the line.

    The diligent use of boiler water analysis/testing and the use of the water treatment chemicals "tailored to suit" the water chemistry, and frequent boiler blowdowns to get rid of precipitates and mud are what has given the boiler in the Belle of Louisville long service life. The other part of it is the overall operating practices by the marine engineers and firemen on the Belle of Louisville. Proper firing practices and proper maintenance including boiler washouts and proper layups in the off seasons are also key to long boiler life.

    Magneticanomaly:

    Wrought iron is, by its nature, a "spongy" material. It is typically found to have "stringers" of slag rolled into the wrought iron, and something of a fiberous consistency. Improper water chemistry in the locomotive boiler could have caused a chemical attack on the wrought iron which attacked certain areas of the material, possibly leaving the slag stringers and attacking areas where the iron had a bit more carbon- wrought iron is essentially a "pure" iron with next to no carbon, hence it was more corrosion resistant than carbon steels. The non-homogeneous nature of the wrought iron would cause certain areas to be more prone to chemical attack than others, even in the same piece of wrought iron plate. Wrought iron begins as "muck balls" that are balls of raw iron with plenty of slag in them. These muck balls were worked hot through "squeezers" (rolls) to work out most of the slag and get some sort of grain flow. Making wrought iron was a strictly manual process with the iron puddlers going on instincts and feel, particularly at the time the locomotive in this thread was built.

    Wrought iron, being non-homogeneous, is bound to have a widely varying tensile strength. Later production of wrought iron was more closely controlled, and wrought iron was routinely specified for locomotive boiler staybolts, almost to the ending of the use of steam locomotives. By that point, the wrought iron was fairly consistent as to strength and internal structure. Back when this locomotive was built, wrought iron was a "vague" kind of material with no consistency to it from one heat to the next, and even within a single heat.

    Boiler water chemistry can minimize corrosion to the point that boilers will last a long time. If the boiler is used in a system where the condensate is returned, then a very close control can be maintained on the water chemistry. Boiler water treatment companies were generally a staid and conservative bunch. Outlandish claims were not made by the reputable and larger boiler water treatment companies. The hotshot salesmen of the "one size fits all" type of water treatment are another story.
    The big companies like Nalco and Dearborn would either arrange to pick up water samples from a customer's steam plant and do their lab analysis, with formal reports and "prescriptions" for the chemical treatment; or, they would set the customers up with an on-site water testing kit (or lab bench in the bigger installations) and the bulk supplies of the needed chemicals.

    Getting the correct concentration of boiler water treatment chemicals in the system was another matter. Just figuring out what treatment was needed and what concentration was not enough. Metering the treatment into the boiler water had to happen. This varied with the installation. In some plants such as those with open hotwells or feedwater makeup tanks, if the volume of the tank was known, the correct amount of chemical treatment might be dumped in at the start of a day's steaming or once each watch with the tank full. Mixing in the hotwells or feed tanks might happen using a boiler feed pump with the bypass/return valve opened to recirculate the water in the tank or hotwell and "turn it over" to get mixing done. In other plants, such as on some of the old Great Lakes ore carriers, boiler treatment was mixed in an open vat in the engine room. It was mixed with water, and a steam injector was used to pull the chemical solution out of the vat and push it into the hotwell or makeup tank. The injector, having direct steam contact, provided very thorough mixing action.

    I've seen some very old boilers from the inside which were well maintained. COndition of a 110 year old Scotch Marine Boiler internally was quite surprising for how little pitting and wastage there was. I've seen much newer boilers with severe loss of material from corrosion and oxygen pitting. It is a function of water chemisret and firing/operating practices. It is also a function of when and where the steel in the boiler was made. For some reason, the older open-hearth steel plate used in the older boilers seems to hold up better as far as resisting corrosive attack. I've seen this same thing on old steel bridges which have shed their paint ages ago and seem to have only minimal corrosion. I am not sure why this is, possibly it had to do with the furnace lining in the Open Hearth furnaces (some being acid, some basic), and with the fact that a lot of new pig iron was used in each melt with a lower proportion of scrap steel -hence, less tramp elements. Newer steels tend to corrode and be more susceptible to chemical and corrosive attack than the older open hearth steels. I am no metallurgist, but I have seen enough to have some data to support this.

    Boiler blowdowns will get rid of mud and the precipitates that the boiler compound knocks out of the water. The design of the boiler, whether it has good circulation, and no places where mud can collect despite blowdowns, also has a lot to do with it. I've seen the "mud ring" or "foundation ring" area on locomotive boilers that had severe wastage or loss of material right at the corner between the sheets and the top of the mud ring. The reason is mud lays there. Good boiler washouts and having properly located washout plugs is key to minimizing this. Laying up a boiler for storage is also key- the boiler has to be dried out after being drained down, and ideally, some dessicant is placed inside it. With the increased fear of asphyxiation hazards, the use of nitrogen to purge and fill boilers in layup is not done much anymore.

    There are a great many factors which influence how well a boiler holds up in service. How hard a boiler is steamed is another factor. Something like the "Belle of Louisville" probably goes out on short cruises, makes some lazy turns and comes back to the dock. No hard steaming, boiler kept nice and hot between runs, and good firing practices and good water chemistry are likely all there to account for the long life of that boiler. No outlandish claims by the water treatment salesmen.

    As for complications in arriving at the ideal water treatment, the answer is a test kit not too much different than a swimming pool water test kit can be used. Different reagents are provided. A conductivity meter is also used. Boiler water treatment can vary daily when drawing something like raw river water for boiler makeup. On some of the tourist railroads, makeup water, even from the local town mains, is tested daily to determine treatment. It is not complex to test the water, but it does require a little figuring to determine how much of each chemical is needed once the presence of certain dissolved minerals and content of dissolved oxygen and pH are all determined.

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    Thanks for the insightful reply. I do know that the Belle uses a sediment tank under the boilers to feed the 3 boilers then there is a collection system on top. I talked to the fireman and when they do a cruise they do run full blast for about 2 hours and try to fire it to maintain about 180psi at full so that when they make their turn and are doing forward and reverse actions it will not climb above 200psi and lift the safeties. They may just know about what the river water is like and inject a metered set of chemicals into the feedwater pump bringing water from the river to supply the boilers. I too have noticed the superior corrosion resistance to open hearth steels. A few years ago I decided that I attribute that to the use of the basic oxygen furnace to make steel. I believe the basic oxygen process makes the steel have a higher affinity for oxidation and thus corrosion.

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    I have a weakness for obsolete forms of transport. I found this about the Belle of Louisville:

    Electronic Field Trip to the Belle of Louisville

    Paul

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    I've known that boat since I was little.

    I used to see it regularly, steam calliope and all when it came upriver to St Paul as the Avalon. I am pretty sure the calliope was on it prior to 1966, possibly the old one was replaced at that time. Then I didn't see it for many years. Later, I was in the boat as the Belle, in the mid 1970s or so, I had a girlfriend who was then working in Louisville, and went out on it then. Have not seen it since, and had no idea it was still in operation.

    I used to have a book about the restoration of it when it was bought as the Avalon and refurbished into the "Belle". Dunno what happened to that book.

    Don't look to Nooter for any replacements, they do not do fabrication any more, so "Nooter boiler" is gone, and the building was torn down years ago.. "Nooter" does other things now.

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    I watched the youtube with the "electronic tour" of the "Belle of Louisville". It was interesting, and I was glad they devoted a fair portion of it to the engines and boilers and the role of the engineers and firemen.

    From what little I could see of the boiler front (portions of the youtube with the fireman explaining things), the layout of the multiple burners was different than a Scotch marine boiler would have. My guess is the boilers are some design used on shallow-draft riverboats. This would be a boiler which would not raise the center of gravity of the vessel too much. Probably, these are boilers having two (2) fairly small diameter barrels with fire tubes in them, and some watertubes below the barrels in the fireboxes. This type of boiler likely has a mud drum, and the water tubes are configured so circulation will deposit solids (whether suspended or dissolved, coagulated by the water treatment) in the mud drums. With regular blowdowns when the boilers are being steamed, the solids are blasted overboard. The key is in the water treatment.

    The boilers in the youtube are obviously oil fired. In the old photos, the boilers were coal fired. Chances are the design of the boilers did not change too much from the old coal fired boilers. Space limitations and overall design of the vessel would pretty much limit how much the new boiler design could have changed from the original.

    I am sure with the kind of operation that the "Belle of Louisville" is operated by, the boilers get proper maintenance. At off season (I would imagine the vessel is laid up for winter), the boilers are likely opened for inspection and maintenance. The steam drums or barrels likely have manways on them, so are entered for inspection and cleaning. A good water tube design will allow "turbining" of the water tubes. This is a method of cleaning with a small turbine driven cleaning head. The turbine is driven by either water or compressed air, and turns a variety of cleaning heads. Some are like rotary well drilling heads to get through heavy mineral scale, but more often, wire brushes are used. Turbining cleans the insides of the water tubes throughly. With today's fiberoptic 'scopes and miniature video cameras, a good internal inspection of the water tubes is also able to be made. UT gauging and eddy-current thickness measurements of the water tubes and fire tubes can also be done to keep a handle on tube life/condition.

    The "Belle of Louisville" is obviously a showpiece aside from being one of the lone surviving operational steamboats. The degree of maintenance that she receives is likely right "up to the mark" rather than the proverbial "coat of paint" and the minimum to keep her going.

    Incidentally, a US Navy Admiral, Arleigh Burke, had earned the name "31 knot Burke". The story is that during WWII in the Pacific, Burke was in command of some destroyers. USN Destroyers had watertube boilers, and typically carried 600 psig steam pressure at some high superheat. At regular intervals, even in war time, boilers were maintained. In port, one boiler would be taken off line for cleaning, cooled down and opened up. The crew then cleaned firesides and watersides of the boiler, repaired any damaged refractory, serviced the burners, etc. As the story goes, Burke was ordered to proceed at flank speed (maximum possible speed) with his destroyers to some place where their support/screening was needed. Burke discovered one of the destroyers would not make flank speed, only managing a bit less. The problem was later found to be whatever was used to clean some of the watertubes had been left inside the boiler, restricting flow in some of the water tubes. Burke was later hailed on the radio (at some later point in time, after that problem was corrected) and asked if his destroyers were underway per orders. Burke's reply was: "proceeding at 31 knots". From then on, Burke, who made admiral, was known as "31 knot Burke".

    I have to wonder if there was damage to that destroyer's boiler from having blocked or partially blocked tubes. With the kind of hard steaming the destroyer boilers were subjected to, a blocked or partially blocked tube would wind up overheating due to lack of water circulation. The result of this overheating could be a bulged/blistered tube or a ruptured tube. On a watertube boiler, this will release water/steam into the firebox, but will not result in an explosion. When the destroyer could not make flank speed, chances are the engineering officer and "black gang" realized they had a problem with that one boiler and may have cut back on the burners and not fired it so hard, or cut it off line and proceeded on the remaining boiler. Watertube boilers are a very different animal than firetube boilers.

    Any good design of watertube boiler will have provisions for cleaning the insides of the watertubes. Early designs of watertube boilers as used on small marine plants were a nightmare of piping, often made up with screwed joints on the smaller boilers (Almy being an example). The "Belle of Louisville" got the replacement boilers at a time when a great deal more knowledge (and boiler codes) was existant, and when welded boiler construction and modern non-destructive testing and inspection methods were in use. I find myself wondering and remembering that the Henry Vogt company was in Louisville. Vogt made a line of forged steel pipe fittings and valves, often used in steam service. Vogt, many years ago, had also made watertube boilers. There was a thread on this 'board about the scrapping and demolition at the old Henry Vogt plant. I wonder if any of the valves and fittings on the "Belle of Louisville" came from Vogt ? Certainly, a lot of the bronze valves, lubricators and "steam specialties" came from Lunkenheimer, located in Cincinnati, Ohio. Lunkenheimer located in Cincinnati as it was a river town and a good portion of their business was supplying valves, steam specialties, and most famously their steam whistles to the riverboats.

    I noticed in the youtube that the calliope on the "Belle of Louisville" is worked by solenoid valves. This is a more modern version of the oldtime calliopes. The solenoid valves let the keyboard be located away from the steam whistles. The person playing it does not get soaked with condensate and deafened entirely. I believe the old style of calliope had the keyboard located close to the banks of whistles and used mechanical linkages to the whistle valves. The result was it took a lot more effort, literally "pounding the keys", and anyone playing it was likely getting deafened, if not wet from condensate. The calliope on the "Belle of Louisville" probably has more notes in it that the original types. Sounded like the best kind of music to my ears.

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    There are some pictures and a vaguely detailed description of the riverboat boiler setup in the ASME paper.

    https://www.asme.org/wwwasmeorg/medi...louisville.pdf

    Some more boiler and interesting boat pictures of unseen details here.
    Belle of Louisville winter layup 2006 | steamboats.org

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    Brian:

    Thank you for posting the additional photos of the "Belle of Louisville" during the 2006 winter layup. The very last picture was taken inside the boiler. It is a firetube boiler. The operating water level can be seen on the barrel sheets (the inside plates of the boiler barrel). The tubes look to have some scale on them, nothing serious, though. The screwed pipe in the foreground of the photo may be an auxiliary steam pipe, set high above the operating water level, and maybe drilled with a number of holes at 12:00, to act as a steam separator (prevent carryover of water from the surface of the water in the boiler barrel during hard steaming or if the vessel is pitching or rolling).


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