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Jo Ann Schoen 03-28-2008 09:30 AM

Boiler explosion question
I've just been asked when was the last boilder explosion aboard a steamboat?
Then as I was thinking about it, we probably need to ask when was the last boiler explosion aboard a steamboat that resulted in death of a passenger? And while we're at it, when was the last boiler explosion on a steamboat that resulted in the death of a crew member?

THANKS for the info.

R. Dale Flick 03-28-2008 10:16 AM

Str. SAM P. SUIT, May 9, 1937:
Jo Ann;
*The steam towboat SAM P. SUIT, exploded a boiler here in Cincinnati [*WAY'S STEAM TOWBOAT DIRECTORY Entry No. T2248]. Veteran Emory Edgington was master and Clyde Morrow pilot. It was some big BANG! here at the time heard by members of my family up the hill at their home. Lumber/debris shot up in the air and rained down on the water. Emory Edgington was reported to be visiting the boat's lavatory when a porcelain skin shot up in the air in front of his face. She was rebuilt but sank in ice Feb. 13, 1948 at Hungtington, W. Va. and destroyed in the ice. I remember that big ice gorge being led by my dad out on the ice near Coal Haven Landing to see another steam towboat frozen in solid. I 'think' it was the VICTORY but will check with my 91 year old mother. Anyway, they had steam up and the cook tossed out a bucket of food scraps that landed on the ice. Things we remember.

*The famed packet SENATOR CORDILL [WAY'S PACKET DIRECTORY Entry No. 3080] exploded her main throttle at Pt. Pleasant, W. Va., March 2, 1928, killing three men--two engineers and a boiler maker. Attributed to a 'cold hammer' in the steam line. My grandmother's brother was there when it happened describing the men as "boiled like chickens."

*The steam towboat JOE COOK [WAY'S STEAM TOWBOAT DIRECTORY Entry No. T1384] exploded a boiler April 1, 1947 at Ravenswood, W. Va. killing three. This also just after boiler work when raising steam. I 'thought' I heard some story that a plane was flying low taking pictures of the river at the time and caught the whole thing just as it happened. Locals around here recall the COOK as always "scapin' hard and sharp." Can some poster/lurker with a longer memory confirm this story about the explosion being caught on film? Hope this helps a little.

R. Dale Flick

Bob Reynolds 03-28-2008 10:46 AM

Thanks, Dale, for this info. These explosions happened far later than I would have thought for such a thing. Now, maybe Capt. Walnut or Dennis Schenk can get on and let us know: was this type of thing before the USCG required a cold "press" test of a boiler before raising steam on a repaired boiler? Is such a test always an indication of what will happen after the boiler is hot? Were these boats operating with a tampered-with safety valve?

R. Dale Flick 03-28-2008 11:22 AM

Hi, Bob,
Good questions above and I don't know any of the answers. Doc Hawley stood many a watch on the AVALON with Capt. Emory Edigington and, no doubt, heard accounts/memories of the SAM P. SUIT directly from the lips of one who was there then. I knew Emory until his last days at an ancient age but, unfortunately, didn't think to ask him about the explosion. I figured there were some things you just didn't bring up or press the point too much. Like in our military from my experiences, there no doubt have been some 'close calls and near misses.' These things also just not mentioned after the sweat dries on the palms of your hands.

John Burns, son of Jim Burns, recalled the incident on DELTA KING, I 'think,' during the big maritime strike in San Francisco when they attempted sneaking the boat from her pier for Sacramento to dock in fresh water up there. She was going along when John, then a licensed fireman under his dad, walked to the boilers and saw all of the indicators showing no water level!...Dry!...Zilch...-0-. Old Jim Burns was manning the throttle. John's eyes bugged and he quickly pulled the fires to prevent a virtual 'melt down' [Or worse] and the boat drifted against the battlements of Alcatraz Prison. She grounded there on the gravel while prison guards stood on the ramparts with machine guns pointed down. Problem was debris had been sucked against her intake pipe during the time the boat was moored at the pier and no water was being pumped in. John was a good swimmer and jumped over the side, dove down and cleared the debris. John told me that story in person and Stan Garvey incorporated it in his 'KING & QUEEN of the River book.'

Cheers, with chills running down my neck,
R. Dale Flick

Bill Judd 03-28-2008 12:47 PM

Dale the famous plane photos were of the Str. J.C. Rawn blowing up at Huntington on December 7, 1939. The aircraft was photo mapping the city and caught all of the explosion in sequence. The J.C. Rawn blew two of her three boilers, killing three crew. There is a book written by I believe Michael Walters on boiler explosions on Western Rivers up to 1965, the date published. In it he stated there were NO boiler explosions after the Joe Cook.

R. Dale Flick 03-28-2008 01:53 PM

Str. J.C. RAWN explosion, Dec. 7, 1939:
Hi, Bill:
Thanks for not only shedding light on the 'airplane photographing the explosion' story but for adding the J.C. RAWN to the list of casualties. I'd plumb forgotten about her. Capt. Fred Way had lots to write about her in his STEAM TOWBOAT DIRECTORY Entry No. T1236. RAWN exploded two boilers killing three men. The RAWN, according to Fred, ran aground twice and, like the celebrated packet VIRGINIA, was twice floated out by building earth works etc. to aid the process. Sounds like something of a 'bad luck lady.'

*A 'shy lurker' on the web E=Mailed asking why they wanted to steam the DELTA KING out of San Francisco and up to Sacramento? Well, the big maritime strike was going on and on with the KING laid at the pier in San Francisco--and salt water. The QUEEN was already docked in Sacramento. The company officials, in tandem with Jim Burns etc. wanted her out of town, away from any potential danger, and free of the rapidly growning barnacles on her hull. John Burns on the boilers, his dad Jim on the engines and throttle, and a skeleton crew composed of the captain and a few others, formed a plan and casually slipped aboard to steal away.

R. Dale Flick

Alan Bates 03-28-2008 03:54 PM

Bob, I do not know when hydrostatic tests were first required by law, but it was well before 1900, not only for steamboats but for practically ALL boilers On the Belle of Louisville we called it "squeezing." The technique was to run the pressure up to 1.5 times the allowed pressure, close the valve at the pump and wait a required time watching a pressure gauge. If the pressure dropped a search was made for the leak(s) throughout the steam system and repairs made. Safety valves had to be gagged to prevent their opening at the allowed pressure. I do not recall how long the test pressure had to be sustained. The reason for testing with water is that water under pressure will not explode - at least not like steam. In addition a water leak can be seen. Steam is invisible. The tests had to be observed by a Steamboat Inspection Service inspector.

There are a lot of reasons for boiler explosions other than tampered-with safety valves. Dirt, excessive foaming, tubes or flues not covered by the water in the boiler, dirt, scale formation, tools carelessly left inside, the list is endless.

Chet Foster, engineer on the Belle of Louisville served on a couple of boats with the old-time lever safety valves. He said they did not hang extra weight on the lever because it could still open and they would "lose their water," so they jammed a post between the lever and the deck overhead! That way the valve absolutely could not open. They were careful to let the pressure drop before removing the post.

Those lever safety valves were "grandfathered" into the 1930's.

Shipyard Sam 03-29-2008 07:03 AM

A JEE Story About Boilers
A picture of Capt. J. Emory Edgington hangs in my pilothouse on the GV2. Although my exposure to that sage 19th Century riverman was not as often as Cap'n Hawley's, I did spend every moment with him I could on the AVALON.

A story he told concerning steamboat boilers was that there was a fellow on a certain steamboat, sometime before the turn of two centuries ago, who was especially hateful and therefore despised by most of the crew. So much so that when he was working in a boiler on "cleaning day", he was shut up inside, the water pumped up, and the fires lit.

[I]"There was nothing left next time the boiler was opened a week later. Not even a bone."[/I]

JEE was just a young lad on the steamboat and had no participation in the foul deed, but whenever the AVALON was laid-up for cleaning boilers, it always brought back the memory and consequently the retelling of the tale.

Bob Reynolds 03-29-2008 09:23 AM

Alan, this brings up yet another question from a dummy: Does regular cooling, then refiring to operating temp weaken boilers more quickly than holding the fire for a very extended period? I realize the modern chemical additives and (at least) every watch water tests keep the scale, etc. to a minimum. So, which is better -- cooling and manually cleaning the boilers every week, or using clean, treated water and keeping them fired for weeks or more, and keeping the whole package at temp?

Lexie Palmore 03-29-2008 10:44 AM

Today's boilers, in most applications, are kept hot all the time. With the water treatment, there is no need to physically clean a boiler on a regular basis, and in most facilities, that would be out of the question. Factories, for instance, are usually 24/7. And, as you know, most of our favorite contemporary steamboats are kept hot during the operating season. It takes a long time to cool down a humongous boiler and then fire it back up and get it on line, and time is money. It is also inconvenient. They are like air in some situations, something you don't want to do without for long. We cool ours down every day, but it doesn't get that "cool" from one day to the next. Even without a fire for several hours, the water is hot enough to scald you. It is stressful to cool down and fire up frequently, but today's steel can handle it. If the water is really cold, you might want to take your time, getting everything hot gradually. We do hear popping sounds as the steel expands, but that is normal.

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