Experimenting With Staybolts -
Common Sense and Current Practice -
Playing With Fire - A Simple Cure -
Are We Criminally Careless?

Skinny Skeevers, like Br'er Rabbit, "he la' lo' en' sa' nuffin'" for six weeks - for Skinny was sawing wood.

Everything was running along on an even keel, some things a little better than they had been, nothing worse, and the men in the shop and in the office began to think that Skeevers had found his level.

Sol. Swishel, nicknamed "Old Penselwaney," remarked that, "His nips haz bid off more as a mout'ful. He ton't been no suber'dend't motif bower for a tam; yob too pig for 'im." All the members of the pessimist party in the Stove Committee agreed with Sol., but soon dropped the subject to exchange experience and tell lies about the "good old times," when they had pumps and outside oilers - and no time-card.

Last Thursday the general manager pushed open the door to Skeevers' office and asked: "Where's Jim?"

"Out in the shop, sir," replied the stenographer, respectfully. "Won't you have a chair, Mr. Wider? I'll send for him."

"No, I'll go out. Where'll I be likely to catch him?"

"In the boiler shop, sir - he's been livin there for three weeks or more.

"Ha, ha," said the Old Man, "bet you 'leven dollar bill he's got an object lesson out there."

Skeevers was looking in the door-hole of a boiler set up on blocks when the Old Man showed up.

"What ye got, Skeevers?" yelled the Old Man, pitching his voice an octave above the music of the riveting hammers.

"New firebox," answered that worthy, laconically.

"Anythin' out of the usual?"

"Yes, I rather think it is - it's the only good job on the road. I've almost a notion to say it's the only safe one."

"Tut, tut, man! What if ye was called on a jury? Such talk would send us to, to - the next higher court - but that reminds me, Sullivan is cussin' mad about them new freight engines, and I've come up to see what ye got to say. What did ye reduce the pressure on 'em for? - they're bran new."

"I was afraid of 'em."

"Losin' your nerve, hey?"

"No; losin' crown sheets and side sheets and no end of staybolts, and awful afraid I'll lose some boilers - and some men."



"Look out for them - an explosion is the worst advertisement a railroad can have, and costs the most money."

Just here the shop whistle blew; the machinery stopped, and Denny Conway left his sledge in the air, just where it was, and made a bee-line for his lunch pail.

"Thank the Lord, we can talk now without shouting our lungs out," said the Old Man, taking a fresh chew of fine cut. "So you're afraid of 'em, eh? Well, tell me what you're doin' - what did you do to this one to make it so good?"

"Well, you know we've had trouble with broken stays, cracked sheets and endless firebox grief"

"Yes, and I remember two years ago, when you was foreman here, you showed me what poor staybolt iron Shaver was buying, and I let you order some fancy brands - what did ye ever do with it?"

"Well, I put a set of each of three kinds in the new fireboxes in the '78,' '79' and '80,' the old Grants; the '78' has Taylor iron; the '79,' Laurel Tennessee iron, and the '80,' Falls Hollow - been in from thirty to twenty-seven months."

"Any trouble?"

"Yes; just about the same as with the cheap - less of it, that's all."


"No, less breaks than usual; but stripped in sheet, cracked sheets, and leaks - made up my mind it was something beside the material in the bolts. Just come over here; I want to explain to you."

Skeevers steered the general manager up to a dust-covered boiler on another pit.

"This boiler has a new firebox half set, "said Skeevers, "and it's one I've experimented with a bit, to prove how not to do staybolt work.

"It was the day the '136' blew in her side-sheet at Downs, and the side-sheet and staybolt chill was on me in full force, that I happened in here and noticed the men putting in stays on this boiler.

"A big helper was screwing in stays on the side-sheet - the regulation staybolts, threaded all over and squared at one end to take the wrench. I noticed that he entered the staybolt in the outside sheet with his fingers, and then put on a little 6-inch wrench, running the bolt down to the inside sheet quickly, and then put on an 18-inch two-handled wrench, and threw himself on it and jerked and grunted to force the bolt into the firebox sheet. I thought that the outside hole had been tapped out a little to straighten up the threads and was a little larger, perhaps, until I noticed that the outside sheet at this particular point was a patch and new steel. Something wrong there, I thought; so I ordered him to take it out. He had a hard time of it, but it came out finally, and the thread that had entered the firebox was all 'chewed up,' half stripped. Then I commenced to think.

"If that staybolt was cut by one die, it must be practically true. But here's a place where 'practically true' is not true enough, so I measured the threads on several new bolts. They were 'out.'

"I then went and got the tap that the sheets were threaded with, took it to the tool room, and measured it carefully. It was one of the regulation kind - long reamer on one end, gradually becoming a tap near the shank, marked 12 threads per inch - it was a half thread too long.

"I went around the other side of this boiler and watched 'em tapping out holes. They put the tap through, entered it in the fire-sheet hole, and drove it through with the air motor. When the thread was being cut in the inside only the plain shank of the tap was in the hole in the outer sheet - no excuse for the threads being matched so that a bolt would screw through both sheets without trouble. The tap was not obliged to start at the same point in each sheet - I could fix that, and I did.

"I made a new tap, 12 threads to the inch, United States standard instead of the 'V.' I made the thread tap proper only 2 inches long, and a second threaded hob behind it, and the same distance from center to center as the average distance between sheets in firebox sides - 4 inches.

"Now, this tap being solid, the threads are true and in line, and after the threading tap has done its work in the outer sheet, the tap drops through, and the hob, or second set of threads, enters the threads of the outside sheets and holds the tool in position to cut the thread on the inside sheet, so that these threads will match the threads in the outside sheet - do you follow me?"

"Yes, yes; go ahead."

"On the end of this tap I made a rose-bit, as you will see, and no reamer on the shank. We punch all holes in the sheets before they are rolled up; we punch these 7/8 in diameter. This rose reamer cuts out this hole 1-64 inch, and trues up the inside hole with the outside one.

"Now, I have here a true thread in both sheets, and a threaded bolt ought to screw through both sheets easy - but they wouldn't.

"My tap was true, but my staybolt was wrong.

"I had provided United States standard 12-thread dies, but the bolt-cutter wouldn't make a bolt and maintain 12 threads to the inch, do what we would. We could screw these stays into the outer sheet easily, but it was as hard as before to make the bolt enter the firebox sheet, and, after thinking it over, I decided that we could only succeed with a bolt cut with a lead screw machine. Then I was in despair, for I had no die machine, and to cut 'em in a lathe would make 'em as costly as silver. But Massey came to my relief."

"Massey! Didn't know he ever helped a mortal out of a hole in his life. Why, it was him that put all these staybolts in the wrong way!"

"The old way, Mr. Wider; everybody puts 'em in that way, even the best makers - but Massey helped me out.

"I went over to see him the last time I was up, and he was whining about what I'd like - a lot of extra tools.

"You know the Keyser Car Works, over on their line; been shut up for two years - failure - you may know that it was a wheel within a wheel - Midland officers all in it - well, they had to take the works, and they turned over all the machinery to Massey to fit out his shops. It was all practically new, too. On a car I found an Acme bolt-cutter with a lead screw. It had been stopped with a job in its teeth, the threaded end of a truss-rod. I got this out and measured it, and it was 10 threads to the inch exactly. It had a lead screw for every pitch used, and in ordinary work the whole thread was used - no change gears, no worn screw in one place; it had United States standard dies, and was all ready for business. I wanted that tool worse than anything I ever asked for, but I didn't tell Massey so.

"Before I came away I bought that bolt-cutter; but Massey would not let it go unless I took the bolt-header that went with it. The header was just what I wanted, but I didn't say so. You will get a bill for these tools at half the list. I wrote Shaver about it yesterday.

"I got those tools to work day before yesterday - and here's the result.

"This firebox was put in with screw stays that fit in the thread. They were all put in with a 6-inch wrench by hand, and I watched 'em all go in. You could not tell when the bolt entered the second sheet. If there are any strains there, it is due entirely to the riveting, and is uniform and all in one direction. I believe its' the only good staybolt job on the road.

"In this half-finished job I have made some experiments. I found that the fire-box sheets had to spring, sometimes in, sometimes out, to take the bolt - indeed, the boiler-makers often used a sledge on the side sheets to make a bolt enter. We cut off one bolt in there with a hack saw, and when two-thirds cut through, it broke with a report like a pistol, and the ends separated about 1-64 inch. The second bolt from it in the same row did not snap when sawed, but when the saw blade cut it through, it pinched the blade so that we could not get it out - and it's there yet.

"That is where the trouble comes from - the threads are stripped or the bolt is under compression or tension when it is put in, and before it is asked to carry any load. If a bolt is short, and under initial strain, while those around it are normal or under slight compression, the load it has to carry is many times that of its neighbors, and it breaks. That throws its load upon those next to it, and in time these give way and cause a disaster.

"You may not realize the trouble we have. Last Friday one of our new moguls came in for a broken rocker. Being a good chance, I had the inspector look over her staybolts and test them with a hammer. He reported seven broken. We took them out, and only five were broken. When fired up, one bolt leaked, and when tested under pressure, we found fifty-three broken on one side - that's enough to make your flesh creep.

"No one but those who are held responsible know how dangerous this stay-bolt matter is, especially with the higher pressures - it's a veritable powder magazine. Almost every day we hear of locomotive boiler explosions.

"Our new engines are just as bad as our old ones - the staybolts are put in in the same way. Here's one of the bolts we took out of that new mogul. Look at it. It's threaded its whole length with a sharp V-thread. Now, if you wanted to break a bolt, you'd nick it. This has twelve nicks to the inch (more or less) clear around the bolt and sharp at the bottom - it would be a fool if it didn't break.

"Come over here and I will show you how I made the bolts for that firebox there in the '115.' This is my bolt-header - the one I got from Massey. I use staybolt iron 7/8 inch in diameter, and use this header to upset the ends to 1 inch diameter, the firebox end an inch long, the outside end 1 1/2 inches long. Now, my cutter threads only these two ends; does far less cutting - hence more of it and more uniform work, and leaves the center of the bolt 1-64 inch smaller than the root of the thread. The skin is left on the iron; it is more flexible, does not rust, and, having fillets at each end of enlargement, has no nick for a breaking point. It has 7/8 inch of clear, straight iron for strength, with the threads put on the outside altogether.

"I have ordered a set of these taps for each shop on the road. When they come, I shall order in all staybolt taps of every kind on the system and destroy them. I am going to order in all staybolt iron also, and make every bolt used on the road right here on this machine and send them out ready cut. In this way we will in time get to a standard, and I am sure we will have safer and better boilers."

"Gosh, Skeevers," said the Old Man, dryly, "I was goin' to ride down to the office on the switch engine - but dogged if I don't believe I'd better walk."

"I guess she's all right," said Skeevers, "I reduced her pressure to 120 this morning."

"You practice what you preach, don't ye, Skeevers?"

"Well, try to; but really this staybolt question is a serious one. It is costing railroads thousands of dollars a day to watch and repair staybolts, and I believe half the trouble is solved by the use of the United States standard thread, a tap with correct lead for both sheets and a staybolt with a thread that matches the tapall kept by gages to a standard. The trouble is not so much in the abuse of the staybolt after it's once in - it's the abuse it gets in putting it in.

"The old bolt had a drunken thread in a drunken hole; it was nicked to break; the thread was the worst form to secure even contact; the firebox end was often stripped in entering it - it is now, and always has been, a bad job.

"What we want in this country is more conscientious boiler-making - more brains and less bull strength. Go to the builder and see the piece-work rush in putting in stays, and then wonder we have trouble.

"Why are we running those boilers naked? To calk leaks in seams, because of that same rush and no care and or thought in the work.

"These builders and most of the master mechanics of the country will quote you the name and price of the boiler materials they use when disaster comes to their work, and perhaps they use the best materials. But suppose you bought a nickel-plated engine with all the latest kinks, and put her into service - wouldn't she go into the creek just as quick as a Black Maria, if you built a bridge pier on sand?

"The firebox is the foundation of the locomotive boiler, and, no matter what the material, if the work is done wrong - if there are any sand foundations - there will surely be trouble.

"The more care and pains and knowledge used to properly construct the bridge pier, the more permanent and substantial the structure.

"Every minute of good work on a fire-box means hours of safety on the road. Every ounce of neglect means a pound of repairs - every atom of ignorance, an ocean of trouble.

"And if careful work will save anything on the Great Air Line, I don't propose to tolerate any 'good enough' boiler work."

"Correct you are, James," said the Old Man, reverently; "do so some more, from everlastin' unto everlastin', world without end. Amen!"

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