The antique steam community was rocked late this summer by the tragedy of an explosion of an antique steam fired tractor at a county fair in Medina, Ohio. Our sorrow and prayers go out to the families of all those killed or injured in this tragedy.
Hopefully all will learn a valuable lesson from this incident. This site may concern fire engines and not tractors but this could happen to one of us just as easily. Steam is an incredibly powerful energy source, one often not fully respected and understood by many of those using it.
Initial speculation was that somehow the engine had lost water, causing overheating of the exposed metal areas of the boiler which then was supplied with make up water causing a BLEVE type of explosion. Still not satisfied with the answers, the County Sheriff asked Chief Inspector Payton, Boiler Division, PA Department of Labor and Industry to study the engine. His conclusion was that extremely poor condition of the boiler lead to an explosion well below the rated working pressure of the boiler. The boiler had not been inspected as Ohio does not currently have a requirement for inspections for antique boilers. Chief Payton concluded by stating that had the boiler been subjected to an inspection as required in Pennsylvania, the unit would not have been in service. Chief Payton's entire report will be available on this site in a short time.
It should also be noted that this is at least the second incident in Ohio this summer. The first, and far less serious, occurred in May and involved a steam fire engine that was leaking so badly that rather than exploding, the boiler water extinguished the fire in the fire box.
If you operate an antique steam boiler of any type, be certain to comply fully with inspection requirements. If your state has none, I would suggest that you have the boiler inspected annually by a code boiler shop.