Historic steam boiler study group considers inspection, regulations


COLUMBUS – A study group charged with looking at what Ohio should do about regulating antique steam engines is collecting the information and opinions that it expects will lead to a policy.

The Historic Steam Boiler Study Group was formed at the request of Gov. Bob Taft following the July 29 explosion of a 1918 Case steam tractor on the Medina County Fairgrounds.

It is composed of officials from both the Ohio Department of Commerce, where the boiler inspection program of the division of industrial compliance is housed, and the Department of Agriculture, which has jurisdiction over fairs and amusement park safety.

When the study process is completed, the group will make recommendations to Taft about the regulation and licensing of historic steam boilers and their operators.

Meetings under way. It convened for the first time in August, and on Sept. 10 met again to hear about historic agricultural boilers and their repair.

John Hoh, assistant director of inspections for the National Board of Boiler and Pressure Valve Inspectors, and Ohio boiler inspectors and repairmen Bert Smith of Gurina Co. in Columbus and Hank Marsilio of H.M. Eagle Services in Youngstown, provided technical information about steam boilers and boiler inspection.

Hobbyists next. As the Historic Steam Boiler Study Group process continues, a group of hobbyists and representatives from the antique steam associations and clubs will meet with the board to provide their perspective on the question of regulation.

Another meeting will be with representatives of the insurance industry to determine what requirements they feel are necessary to allow antique steam engines to be displayed.

Finally, the study group will meet at the end of October with local representatives – fair boards, municipalities, county officials – for their perspectives on what would be necessary for the historic steam engines to be brought into their jurisdictions and safely displayed at fairs or steam shows.

Maintain heritage. John Bender, chief of policy and regulatory affairs for the Department of Commerce, said the study group focus is to take an objective look at how antique steam engines can be operated in order to ensure public safety and still maintain the equipment’s heritage.

The group is also looking at what other states are doing to require inspections of historic steam boilers.

If the group report ends up recommending new regulations, Bender said, it will need to decide who should inspect these boilers, how often that needs to take place, and whether or not the state ought to require operator licensing.

“If you don’t have operator training,” he said, “you don’t have safety.”

There is also the question of potential insurance requirements and of the role of the state versus the role of the localities.

The exhibition of these engines, he said, takes place in local jurisdictions. Many of the safety requirements concerning public display have to be determined at the local level.

Ag boilers exempt. Bender said the survey of other states’ regulations has shown that many states don’t require boiler inspections for agricultural boilers. That is the position that the Ohio Board of Building Standards, charged by law for establishing boiler standards, took in 1965.

Currently, inspections are available on request from the owner, but such inspections are on a voluntary basis only and there is no required certificate of inspection. According to chief boiler inspector Dean Jager, the department has been doing only a dozen or so inspections a year.

Last year, the Ohio legislature passed a bill adding agricultural boilers and historic steam boilers, “of riveted construction, preserved, restored, or maintained for hobby or demonstration use,” to the list of boilers legally exempted from the boiler law.

Bill introduced. Rep. Chuck Calvert, who represents Medina in the Ohio House, has already introduced a bill asking for new legislation (H.B. 344) to eliminate the exemption and to require the Board of Building Standards to “establish standards for operating historical steam-powered tractors and testing operators of these tractors.”

The survey of other state laws, Bender said, did find 28 different regulations requiring inspection of boilers, but most contained no specific language about antique steam boilers.

There were 23 states that exempted agricultural boilers, he said, and most, including Ohio, exempt in some way boilers that do not exceed 15 pounds of pressure.

There were, however, he said 16 states that exempted antique boilers from regular boiler requirements, but required some sort of inspection. And there were six states that adopted complete language requiring inspection and certification of all antique steam boilers that will be used for public display.

Local regulations. Even more interesting, Bender said, was a survey conducted by the national boiler board following the Medina explosion.

The board sent a survey out to 60 municipalities that would be directly involved in administering safety regulations.

Of the 37 that replied, 27 had some kind of regulations stipulating whether or not a piece of equipment could be started and run; 20 required equipment to be inspected on a yearly basis; and 27 required an operating certificate.

Bender said it is too early in the process to say what the study group might recommend.

However, the weight of the information the group has received so far, he said, would seem to indicate the group will move in the direction of recommending a regular inspection cycle for antique steam engines used for public display, and some kind of operator training and certification.

Group members. Members of the Historic Steam Boiler Study Group from the Department of Commerce include Bender; John Brant, executive secretary of the Board of Building Standards; Dean Jager, chief boiler inspector; Jerry Quick, assistant superintendent of the Division of Industrial Compliance, and Joe Hollabaugh, the department’s legislative liaison.

The Department of Agriculture is represented by Deputy Director Joseph E. Haines and by Dave Groff, chief of the department of amusement ride safety.

The next meeting of the committee will be at 10 a.m. Sept. 24, at the Department of Agriculture, 9885 E. Main St., in Reynoldsburg, Ohio. The meetings are open to the public.

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Antique engines weren’t designed to last forever

COLUMBUS – In a 1995 issue of the National Board of Boiler and Pressure Valve Inspectors’ National Board Bulletin, a set of safety precautions for antique equipment operated and displayed at steam shows was recommended.

They included having each boiler inspected annually by certified inspector.

“Even hobbyists who have operated boilers of this type for 50 or 60 years and feel knowledgeable should not act as inspectors,” the Bulletin said. “They are operators, not inspectors. Training and abilities regarding inspection are vastly different from operation. Inspections of any kind must always be performed by qualified individuals.”

The boiler inspectors board recently reissued this set of recommendations in the wake of the Medina explosion.

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“Antique tractor enthusiasts should be aware that state and jurisdictional regulations vary widely – from strict regulations to no regulations at all. A steam traction engine allowed to operate at nearly 200 psi in one state might be condemned in a neighboring state.

“A majority of the steam traction-type engines are more than 80 years old and are not built to a standard code… The original manufacturers of these boilers intended a 15- to 20-year operating life span before the engine would be retired. With this in mind, the manufacturer designed the boiler accordingly with the appropriate corrosion allowance built in.”

Deteriorated. “But now, decades later, the boiler material has deteriorated, and in most cases does not provide for safe operation at the original maximum allowable working pressure.

“Inspection of these steam traction engines reveals thinned areas of the pressure-retaining parts (boiler), unauthorized welds (uncontrolled, poor workmanship), and warping or metal distortion.

“The current owners of these steam engines are very concerned with the maximum working pressure of their steam engines, and with good cause. A steam engine with a high allowable pressure (125 psi+) could be worth more than $20,000. On the other hand, a lower allowable pressure (below 70 psi) may bring the value down to $5,000 or less. This does not even take into

consideration any historical value.”

Age always factor. “What makes these tractors valuable in the marketplace is also what makes them so potentially dangerous – their age. In fact, the safety factor deteriorates in direct proportion to age. Over the years, the metal has been subjected to numerous stress reversals, both thermal and mechanical, plus several forms of metal fatigue, erosion and corrosion.

While they may have been sturdily constructed, these antique tractors weren’t constructed to last forever.

More important than monetary value is the safety of not only the operator of the steam engine, but the innocent men, women, and children who enjoy attending shows that use this equipment.”

(You can contact Jackie Cummins at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 23, or by e-mail at jcummins@farmanddairy.com.)


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