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-   -   Belle of Louisville Boiler Experiment (http://www.steamboats.org/forum/steamboats-history/1060-belle-louisville-boiler-experiment.html)

Alan Bates 02-24-2007 06:37 AM

Belle of Louisville Boiler Experiment
 
Here is a tale of spite. In 1966 the Belle of Louisville made an extended trip to Maysville, Kentucky. The Louisville Coast Guard machinery inspector came along as a guest. He promptly got into a round-the-clock poker game, even though he was among the world's worst gamblers. The concession lady, the captain, an engineer and a couple of deckhands took turns fleecing this fool. He spent all the money in his pockets, cashed his pay voucher for the month, wrote his last check and started on I.O.U.'s.
At the end of the season he came to the boat, electric drill in hand, to inspect the boilers. He riddled the bottom sheets until he found a thin spot, then condemned them. Even if he had not found a thin place, he had ruined enough plates to require heavy repairs. This may or may not have been vengeance for his losses in that disastrous poker game. The boilers had to be replaced. Now I am not saying he did this for spite, but I certainly do suspect it.
There was a notorious tightwad on the board of operators, a man so concerned with first cost that he was blind to all else. Bids were received from several boiler manufacturers and the board went to the Coast Guard Commander for advice. He told them he was forbidden by law to choose between manufacturers, but that they should take the boilers with the highest water capacity and lowest firing rate. The tightwad, however, prevailed over the rest of the operating board and they selected the smallest and cheapest boilers that were offered. They were jim-dandy, two-pass little things, which had fins inside the tubes that were supposed to increase the transfer of heat to the water. So they were installed. During the trial run it became apparent that the new boilers simply didn't have enough power. A quick inspection found that all of the wonderful fins had burned out during the trial run! Further, the back head had bulged outward 3/4".
Conferences were held. Blame was heaped on the innocent. Ties were installed between the boiler heads to prevent that bulge from increasing and a fire-brick shield was installed to protect the back head. Orders were given to the pilots to ring a slow bell before blowing the whistle because the added load caused water to carry over into the engine cylinders. The boat limped through the 1967 season while new bids were called for.
The chastened board, including the pinch-penny, bought three large boilers and had them installed during the winter of 1967-68. They are still serving the Belle. All in all this experiment in parsimony cost the boat more than a million dollars. All of the principals involved in these transactions are beyond punishment today owing to the grim reaper, so the story can be told.
The finless fin tube boilers were given to the county garage. They didn't last long even there.
The moral of this tale? Savings of first cost are not always economical.

David Dewey 02-24-2007 11:18 AM

Second moral: Pay attention to whom you are fleecing!! Remember, MOST of the time, you let the "boss" win--at least by a little! :)
Reminds me of what one contractor told me: always leave some small thing wrong when the building inspector is coming. They then find something to complain about and the inspection is finished, so the project can go on.
S'
David D.

Richard Weisenberger 03-01-2007 08:47 AM

It's a little late, but this certainly looks like grounds for a lawsuit in behalf of the Belle of Louisville to me! That's outright destruction of property, clear and simple!!


[QUOTE=Alan Bates;3931]Here is a tale of spite. In 1966 the Belle of Louisville made an extended trip to Maysville, Kentucky. The Louisville Coast Guard machinery inspector came along as a guest.

At the end of the season he came to the boat, electric drill in hand, to inspect the boilers. He riddled the bottom sheets until he found a thin spot, then condemned them. Even if he had not found a thin place, he had ruined enough plates to require heavy repairs. This may or may not have been vengeance for his losses in that disastrous poker game. The boilers had to be replaced. Now I am not saying he did this for spite, but I certainly do suspect it.

Alan Bates 03-01-2007 09:48 AM

Just whom would the defendant be? Or the plaintiff, for that matter? The boiler manufacturer bid in good faith and described his product in accordance with the contract documents. The persons on the operating board who made the decision to use inadequate boilers, even when they were advised not to do so, are all dead. Should the boat sue its own board?
Placed in terms of other governmental waste and inefficiency, this is not even a pin-prick. There was no fraud - no one (excepting the blameless boiler manufacturer) made any money from it. A lawsuit, even then, would have enriched a few attorneys and profited no one else. A legal action would be about as helpful as beating a mule to death because it would not drink!

Richard Weisenberger 03-01-2007 01:44 PM

I was thinking about that vindictive inspector who damaged Belle of Louisville property. He's dead now, but he should have been sued at the time. I don't believe in destructive testing of someone's property.


[QUOTE=Alan Bates;4036]Just whom would the defendant be? Or the plaintiff, for that matter? The boiler manufacturer bid in good faith and described his product in accordance with the contract documents. The persons on the operating board who made the decision to use inadequate boilers, even when they were advised not to do so, are all dead. Should the boat sue its own board?

Alan Bates 03-01-2007 03:22 PM

The Coast Guard isw protected against suit by a rule of Illigitimus Rex, or somesuch. In English law, copied by the United States, "The king can do no wrong."
If the Belle of Louisville had had the temerity to sue the inspector, the boat would have been condemned in short order and would be gone, gone, gone today.
The boilers were old, even second-hand. The inspector knew that if he persevered he would find a weak place.
He showed up at New Orleans when the Natchez was being built. I warned the owners and the boatyard to be very careful with this man - no cards, no racetrack, nothing beyond a hamburger in the way of a free meal.
Now, I want you to understand that, by and large, the Coast Guard and its people are decent people, who are selected for intelligence and are exquisitely trained. I have met only one venal member and only two inept (even incompetent) ones in years of experience dealing with them. Even the best of them can make mistakes and the ones I've encountered are willing to admit them. This guy was the venal one.

Richard Weisenberger 03-02-2007 01:21 PM

This is a clear case for some new legislation, as the purpose of the law is to uphold justice and NOT let this kind of injustice go on.


[QUOTE=Alan Bates;4043]The Coast Guard isw protected against suit by a rule of Illigitimus Rex, or somesuch. In English law, copied by the United States, "The king can do no wrong."
If the Belle of Louisville had had the temerity to sue the inspector, the boat would have been condemned in short order and would be gone, gone, gone today.

Alan Bates 03-02-2007 01:37 PM

You try it, Richard! Go fight city hall. The inspector held none of the cards in the poker game and ALL of the cards in the regulations. That is a fact of life when dealing with bureaucracies. Even if you win the battle, you lose the war.

Richard Weisenberger 03-02-2007 03:35 PM

I'm not involved in it, but as long as unjust laws such as this remain in the books unchallenged, people will continue to suffer needlessly. That law sounds downright archaic! Someone or some organization needs to get this one rewritten before more damage is inflicted by someone else inclined to abuse it. How would you like your property searched and destroyed without even a search warrant?


[QUOTE=Alan Bates;4060]You try it, Richard! Go fight city hall. The inspector held none of the cards in the poker game and ALL of the cards in the regulations. That is a fact of life when dealing with bureaucracies. Even if you win the battle, you lose the war.[/QUOTE]

David Dewey 03-02-2007 09:42 PM

Thos of us who have had to deal with gov't. boiler inspection have learned that it's often a crap shot when it comes to inspectors. The neaby 15" gauge steam railroad I used to volunteer on had a fairly sweet deal, as the inspector was a former maritime officer, as was the railroad's locomotive builder--in fact, the builder out ranked the inspector! They were able to "talk shop" and trade lies, and the inspections usually went along properly, with no complications.
But, I knew of one railroad that was blessed (HAH!) with an inspector who didn't understand riveted boilers and was dirth to approve any. This kind of situation may happen more often as we move away from that technology. Unfortunately, I don't see this inspection problem ever improving, it's the nature of government!
S'
David D.


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