This story is taken from the Stationary Engine mailing list. It was originally written by John Byers and is reproduced here with permission.
I took Sunday afternoon off, and began the tasks involved in getting the Advance Rumely ready for another season.
The engine has sat large and looming in the shed all winter, and has accumulated more than just dust during its hibernation. First, I cleared away the boxes full of kindling that I had stacked on the platform from various carpentry projects over the winter. Next, I re-stacked the extra lumber from those same projects that has somehow managed to accumulate underneath the beast. Finally to clear the path, I moved the 75 feet of steam hose that Hank T. gave me last month. Thanks Hank, I can hardly wait to use it to run my semi-large stationary engine that has no boiler.
Next I took inventory of my hand hole gaskets, and decided to replace them all with new. They would probably do for another season, but with up to 140 psi of steam and hot water on them, why take chances? The Advance Rumely has 13 (count 'em) hand holes that allow inspection and cleaning of the boiler. In later models of this engine, some were eliminated, but even though they are a pain to install sometimes, I'm glad this boiler has this many.
Using a flashlight and a mirror, I inspected the inside of the boiler, looking for weak or broken staybolts, heavy scale accumulation, and other potential problems. I washed the boiler out last fall, but it seems no matter how clean I get it, by spring new scale has loosened, and another "bath" is in order. First, however, I'll take the shop vac with my custom-made attachments (cannabilized from my wife's dead Hoover) and suck up as much of the crud as I can.
Then it was time for a trip into the fire box! Donning my special fire box coveralls, boots and sock hat, I dived in head first into that sooty lair which would later hold the life of the engine. I ping-ed around with my hammer, listening for dead-sounding places which would indicate problem areas. I also decided to replace the safety plug that is supposed to melt if the water gets too low, in hopes that the escaping steam will put out the fire and prevent a boiler explosion. I don't know how long it's been in there, and though it may be all right, why take chances? ( a recurring thought for all engineers, I hope!) The boiler is one of the best features of this engine and I want to keep it that way.
After crawling out of that claustrophobic nightmare, I continued pinging outside, paying special attention to the mud ring and other important areas. It was mid-afternoon by then, and the sun was below the yard-arm (somewhere) so I figured I deserved a beer.
With break time over, I began dusting and wiping down the engine and boiler. Now, I don't keep the thing spic and span. There's oil and grease accumulated in places, and for the most part, I think it looks pretty much as it did when it was earning a living for someone - well maintained, yet showing signs of use. As I was cleaning, I was making mental notes to re-pack the stop valves, clean out the oil pump, and polish the whistles. I turned the engine over by hand, as I usually do once a week or so throughout the winter.
Finally, I decided to re-plumb the exhaust from the steam water pump. With the help of my good friend, and retired machinist, John Ragle, I got the pump working for the first time last year. Pumps are such a pain in the butt to keep in order! If they aren't in steady use, something sticks or gets out of adjustment and they just won't work. The way the exhaust was plumbed had it shooting out at an angle from the top of the boiler. I had always been careful not to start it when someone was standing in the line of fire, but by sending the condensate down the side, it's one less thing to worry about. Over the course of the winter I've run the pump on air once or twice a month after liberal doses of WD-40 to the innards. I did it again today, and it still works.
Sometime in the next week or two I'll make a trip to Hutson & Sons Boiler Supply in Indianapolis to get new hand hole gaskets and a safety plug. Then I'll wheel the engine out by hand. Yep, I throw the clutch in and start turning the flywheel with foot and hand. For a 15 ton plus monster, it rolls pretty easy on the concrete floor of the shop. And so far it hasn't torn up the floor too bad. ;>)
Once outside, I'll clean the boiler, install the hand hole plates, and fill the boiler completely full of water for a hydrostatic test. I'm allowed #150 psi of steam, but the pop valve that came with it is set for 140, and works really well, so that's what I carry. When the State of Indiana was still inspecting hobby boilers, they wanted a hydro test of 1.5 times the maximum pressure carried on the boiler. The Monon railroad tested their boilers at maximum operating pressure, arguing that going beyond that placed an undue strain on the boiler. I figure the state was partially right and the railroad was partially right, so I split the difference. I'll pump it up around #200 and check for leaks all over, especially inside the fire box. Before I pump it up, I'll build a small fire on the grate to warm the water and boiler to allow it to expand easier under the pressure.
If everything checks out ok, I'll drain the water down to the operating level, drag out a box of kindling and a little liquid boy scout (fuel oil), get a couple three wheelbarrows full of wood, strike one match (hopefully) and another steam season will have begun.
"All Yours For Steam"Advance Rumley #14440 John Byers