• Railroad Artificat Identification Help Needed

  • General discussion about locomotives, rolling stock, and equipment
General discussion about locomotives, rolling stock, and equipment

Moderator: John_Perkowski

  by trainmuseum
Posted by Site Admin

I signed up for Railroad.net because I need help with identification of an artifact. I cannot attach my photos and can’t decipher who the administrator is. Difficult site!
I was trying to post in Southeastern Railfan.

I am going to take a chance and include my photos here in case they need some sort of approval. Perhaps you are not the forum I need, but I will try anyway. Any help is greatly appreciated.

I am trying to determine what I have. It was located beside an obvious, abandoned railroad bed in western Bolivar County, MS.

Thank you
  by MEC407
Parts of a steam locomotive?
  by Allen Hazen
Is the object shown in the top photo the same as the one shown in the background of the bottom photo, seen from the other side?
Definitely looks like part of a boiler, partially scrapped (it looks as if it has been cut at the sides: so maybe it is the top of a boiler, with sides at maybe something like 10:30 and 1:30 as seen from the front?).

The "straps" at the ends would be stays connecting the front and rear sheets of the boiler (which, as flat surfaces, need help resisting boiler pressure) to the boiler barrel. Could (as Mtuandrew says) be from a steam tractor (=traction engine). Could also, I would think, be from a small locomotive: the sort of locomotive that might have been built for industrial switching.

Can you say anything about the abandoned railroad line it was found next to? Was it part of the main railroad network or was it a (perhaps) narrow gauge (perhaps) logging line? If the latter, it would have been more likely to use very small locomotives.
  by Eliphaz
Definately the top of a boiler shell, but a stationary boiler, not a locomotive boiler. The diagonal stays supporting both heads indicates there was no internal firebox, which traction engines had in common with locomotives. I'm sure it was an HRT boiler mounted on a brick setting.
look at this lovely model- found here
Boilers like this provided heat and served steam engines for saw mills, machine shops, and whatnot from about 1820 right up until modern times. Welding replaced riveted construction in the 1940s. New welded ones not much different are still being built in fact.
Wood or coal is still a viable alternative to oil in some applications.
  by trainmuseum
Thank you for your replies. I believe it is too big for a steam tractor and expecially the dome is too large. Yes, the piece is cut. One end is somewhat ragged, with a piece sort of hanging. It was found next to what is very obviously an old rail bed--complete with narrow gauge rail, plates, spikes, and pieces of rotted cross ties. It was located on an old plantation close to the Miss. River. The Delta was a big logging area for a relatively short period of time. (from after the Civil War, especially when the railroads were built in the 1880's through the early part of the 20th century) Spur tracks were built all over the county and I have maps showing many of them, but not one in this location. The "circumstantial" evidence is pretty strong that this is a piece of a steam locomotive boiler but with no marks to identify it, I am not sure.
Last edited by trainmuseum on Wed May 02, 2012 1:34 pm, edited 1 time in total.
  by John_Perkowski
There is a possibility the boiler was a narrow guage or industrial unit. Before dump trucks and mobile heavy equipment, there were capabilities to move these things around a construction job as an on-site miniature railroad.

I personally go for the stationary steam engine theory.
  by Eliphaz
I can't say there never was a locomotive boiler built without an internal firebox, but Ive read a few books on the subject and I've never seen such a thing described.
I dont recall seeing diagonal stays applied to a locomotive boiler either, not to say they were never used, but through stays were pretty much universal, whereas diagonal stays were and are pretty common practice in stationary boilers.
Another feature of the artifact is riveted on lugs, where the rigger has secured his chains in fact, which were used to support the boiler shell on it's setting, a feature you will not find on locomotive boilers which are bottom supported.
The area is known for lumber, an activity that undoubtedly made use of many portable steam powered saw mills. In fact power boilers likely outnumbered locomotives by a wide margin.

The thing I find intriguing about this, is why the shell was cut so neatly just above the tubes, evidently not simply for scrap, and what became of the lower part.
  by trainmuseum
Will most likely never know for sure, but the theory is the bottom half was used for a trough. No way to know unless I find it, too, perhaps. There could have been a sawmill in the area as they were once plentiful, but the railroad presence there is so strong--based on the rails, the beds, the plates, the spikes, etc. that it is hard to say. Plus so much is missing from the piece I found. Thank you for your input and you may be exactly right.
  by CarterB
Eliphaz wrote:The thing I find intriguing about this, is why the shell was cut so neatly just above the tubes, evidently not simply for scrap, and what became of the lower part.
Re: Bottom part........A huge barbeque grill for catfish???
  by trainmuseum
Thank you all for your replies.

Eliphaz, as it turns out, diagonal stays were indeed used in locomotive boilers. For the record, this piece is just over 15' in length, and appears to be the top 1/3 of the boiler drum. After calculations, the diameter would have been 44" with a circumference of about 132". There are very clear markings on one end that show where the sand dome was once positioned. There is also the threaded attachment for the bell, right behind where the stack was removed. The ragged end, when straightened, is the scalloped edge opening for the stack. I cannot say for sure what was carried on the sides but I can say for sure this was indeed part of a locomotive, most likely a Shay.

After much research and a few lucky breaks, I have been able to verify the railbed beside which this was found. The levee for the Mississippi River broke just near this spot (less than a mile away) in 1912. After the flood waters receded, levee re-building was done and extensive rail lines were laid in this area. There are numerous photos that may or may not show the exact location, actually. The rail never showed on a map because it was for repair and because it was largely destroyed in the historic flood on 1927 which broke just a little further south of this location. There are records of Shay and other locomotives sold in this area and across the River. There had been a transfer ferry out of this county over to Arkansas City and it would have been possible for this to have come from there originally. I cannot say for certain how the piece got to its location, but I can say it was submerged at one time because of what all I have been able to extract from it.

The piece does in fact, fit to a T a diagram of a Shay that would have been built just after 1900. At that time, this was big, virgin timber country and many, many operations had geared locomotives and sawmills located along their "spur" lines. This location had a flagstop about 100 yards from it, but the biggest clue was the levee and the rebuilding and the photos. Since I posted the first time, several other artifacts have been recovered other than the piece and the 30' piece of narrow gauge rail. Rail plates, spikes, more rail, and brake assembly pieces off a locomotive. Too soon to be absolutely certain the brake parts belong to my piece, but it looks that way.

I don't know what the pieces on the sides of the boiler were for, but I am 99.9% certain that they were not for a brick wall. After much research or timber companies in the area and even steam powered cotton gins, this piece still does not fit that mold. After checking with the continuously operating implement dealers, of which we have several, none of them believe it to be off a tractor, either. No records or recollections of anyone here having a steam tractor that would have taken a 15' foot long boiler. I have had several people look at the piece and all agree, it is off a locomotive.

All indications are that it was submerged in the flood of 1912, ruined, scrapped, used for whatever. However, I am going back and will be looking for more clues. It may not be a Shay, but most likely it is. After ruling out anything else it could be, then matching what I have with locomotives from the 40 year period of 1890 to 1930, I am certain it is from a steam locomotive. And no, it was not and will not be used for a catfish grill. Many of our artifacts were scrapped after years of flooding and the railroads began leaving us during WWII. The mechanization of farming is one major reason for population decline and by 1965, the passenger service was discontinued. Freight remained and I guess no one ever dreamed that after 100 years of having train service that one day the railroad company would abandon the lines.

In the years from 1941 to just a few years ago, there was no effort to preserve this history. It may not look like much to some of you, but to me it is a huge find. I do not wish to make it a locomotive boiler if it is not, but I have done the work and I believe it to be, and so do older train engineers and one Miss. Power & Light Delta Steam Electric Station Plant Operator--my dad. He is 84 but he knew it when he saw it and so did the others. I am still in hopes that I find a manufaturer's mark other than the scalloped edge cuttings and that I find some more pieces and parts. Thank you.

Edited by a Moderator (paragraphing) 28 May 2012 338PM CDT
  by Eliphaz
That's quite a fascinating story about the flood and all. thanks for sharing your research here.

you said
The piece does in fact, fit to a T a diagram of a Shay that would have been built just after 1900
would you be able to share that diagram? It would be unlike every Shay locomotive boiler I have seen described, in having no stays of any description in the steam space above the firebox.
There is also still to be explained the flanged in manhole in the top of the rear head. On a locomotive boiler, that location would be occupied by the throttle valve bushing, consisting of a built up boss containing a packing gland.

Can you measure the thickness of the shell plate? now that we know the diameter, given the thickness, we can work out the maximum allowable working pressure.