American Fire Engine Company Steam Engines
HANDBOOK OF THE STEAM FIRE ENGINE
WITH INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE RUNNING, CARE, AND MANAGEMENT OF THE
MACHINE AND DIRECTIONS FOR OPERATING HEATER
ALSO SUGGESTIONS FOR THE CARE OF HOSE, AND OTHER USEFUL
Copyright, 1897, By American Fire Engine Company,
Seneca Falls, N. Y., And Cincinnati, Ohio.
While some engineers of steamers may be of opinion that the
greater part of the information contained in this book is needless, being of a
very simple nature, it should be borne in mind that most men who run steam fire
engines are not practical machinists and have but a superficial knowledge of
the uses of steam and of hydraulics.
In view of this, the necessity for such plain and full
directions must be apparent: and it cannot be too strongly impressed upon those
interested, that the efficiency and durability of such a piece of machinery are
considerably enhanced by the care which it receives.
The safety of life and property is very often dependent upon
the skill and good judgment of the engineer, and as the maximum effect of such
apparatus is generally required at the most critical time and under the most
exciting circumstances, it is important that he should realize the
responsibility of his position, and endeavor by constant and persistent practice
to acquire that confidence and proficiency that will insure both a correct and
decisive action in all matters pertaining to the management of the machine.
During this course of self instruction, these directions
should be frequently reviewed, as the experience from actual practice insures a
more comprehensive understanding of the information herein contained.
A similar book containing instructions specially applicable to
engines constructed with the Silsby Rotary Pump, and another for engines with
the Ahrens Coil Boiler, are published by us, and will be sent, on application,
to those having charge of such engines.
AMERICAN FIRE ENGINE CO.
All things about the house should be kept in good order and
neat condition, particularly the engine, which ought always to be clean and
bright. Avoid neglect, which tends to waste and decay, as dirt often covers
While standing in the house, the engine should at all times be
kept ready for immediate service, with plenty of shavings and kindlings, in the
fire box, and as much kindlings and coal in the fuel pan as can be conveniently
In winter, if no heater is attached to the engine, the room
must be kept warm, to insure against frost. The joints and connections in the
suction must be perfectly tight. The stuffing boxes of the engine and pump
should be well packed.
All of the bearings and journals, as well as the oil cans,
should be well supplied with good oil. The best lard oil is recommended for
this purpose, and in winter it should be mixed with kerosene, in the proportion
of two parts of the former to one of the latter, to prevent its becoming thick.
From three-fourths to one inch of water should be indicated in
the glass gauge, except there is a heater attached to the engine, when from
four to five inches should be carried. The bottom of the glass tube being on a
line with the crown-sheet, when one inch of water shows in the tube the
water-line in the boiler is then one inch above the crown-sheet.
Every engine house should be provided with a force pump, for
filling the boiler with water, as well as for washing and other purposes,
fitted for one-inch hose, together with at least 25 feet of the latter.
It is advisable occasionally -say once a month- in towns where
fires are not frequent, to take the engine out for practice and drill, and to
make sure that it is in proper working order, after which the boiler should be
blown off and refilled with fresh water, as hereinafter directed.
LAYING OF FIRE.
Before laying the fire, see that the grate and fire box are
clean, also that the grate bars are fast, so they will not be liable to jar
out, and that all the steam outlets of the boiler are tightly closed.
Lay on the grate some dry pine shavings -not too many -spread
evenly over the grate, with a few hanging down between the bars; on the
shavings put some finely-split pine or hemlock wood, then some a little
coarser, and finally a quantity coarser still. It is well to put on the top
some finely-split hard wood. These kindlings must all be dry and split -not
sawed -and should be put in loosely, in layers, the layers being crossed, so
that there will be a free circulation of air between them.
Never start a fire unless a full gauge cock of water is in the
Always keep a good torch in the fuel pan, ready for use. This
can be made by taking a stick about two feet long and trying some cotton waste
on one end, and saturating the waste with kerosene.
STARTING AND MAINTAINING THE FIRE.
To light the fire: Apply torch, already described, below the
grate, never in the door; and while doing so move the torch around to insure
thoroughly igniting the shavings.
Be particular not to open the fire door oftener than
necessary, especially when getting up steam.
In addition to the wood in the furnace, an extra supply is
carried in the fuel pan. For convenience this is put up in bundles; their size
should not exceed four or five inches in diameter, nor much over a foot in
length. If these dimensions are exceeded they become cumbersome and cannot be
readily passed into the furnace.
The kindling should be carefully prepared, and the quantity
carried sufficient to generate a working pressure in the boiler before coal is
added to the fire.
When there is a pressure to 40 to 60 pounds of steam, begin
throwing in coal, a little at a time, broken up in pieces about the size of a
man's fist. Bituminous coal should be used, the same as that from which
illuminating gas is made. It should be of the very best quality, entirely free
from slate or sulphur.
The mistake is frequently made of allowing most of the wood to
bum out before putting in any coal. This should be avoided, as the kindlings
must be burning nicely in order to start the coal. If the supply of wood should
become exhausted, always begin throwing in coal while there is still enough
wood in the fife box to ignite it, even if the gauge does not indicate any
Do not put the wood or coal all close to the fife door, but
scatter it about and spread it evenly over the grate.
As soon as the engine is started, coal should be put in often,
a little at a time, and the grate should be kept nicely covered, but not
thickly -say to a depth of three or four inches. Be particular to fire evenly
and regularly, taking care that there are no air holes through the fire, and to
open the fire door only when necessary.
The grate bars should be kept well raked out from below, and
the fire and coal occasionally stirred off the grate bars inside the fire box,
using the flat side of the poker for the later operation. But do not
"clean" oftener than necessary; keep the fife door open as short a
time as possible, and use no more coal than is required.
OPERATING THE ENGINE.
The engineer should start up the machine gradually, but before
doing so he ought to satisfy himself that the joints and connections in the
suction hose are air tight, that the discharge gate is open and the churn valve
closed, and that the fire has been properly attended to. Let the cylinder cocks
be open and the exhaust nearly closed, and all the bearings and journals well
oiled. The wheels should be properly blocked, especially if standing on a
grade. When starting, the throttle valve should be opened slowly at first, or
condensed steam will be thrown out of the stack on the dome, and is liable to
The automatic air cocks on the upper pump heads must be opened
immediately after starting. They serve to promptly relieve the upper pump
chambers of air, and may be closed as soon as water is ejected from their
When condensation has ceased, the engine being warm, the drain
cocks should be closed and the machine speeded up gradually until a good
pressure of steam is obtained.
After the engine is fairly started, do not stand too close,
but let your position be a step back; and, with your face towards the machine,
endeavor to train your eyes and hands to command the entire situation. While it
is perfectly proper to be near the throttle, in order to promptly close it in
case of bursting hose or failure of the water supply, do not acquire the habit
of constantly clinging to the same, for there are other duties equally as
important that require your attention.
In the general hurry and rush, avoid all excitement, and let
your duties be attended to in a calm and collected manner.
Until the engineer has had some experience with the machine,
and is thoroughly familiar with its workings, it is not advisable for him to
use more than 90 or 100 pounds of steam, which is all that is required for
ordinary fire duty, and the necessity for more than 120 pounds will never
The water in the boiler should be carried as high as six or
eight inches in the glass tube as soon as the engine is fairly at work and a
good pressure of steam is obtained. The gauges will indicate more water in the
boiler when the machine is running than it will with the same quantity of water
if it is not at work. For this reason, the boiler should be kept well supplied
with water; and the feed tank (when there is one) should be kept always full.
In case the glass tubes get broken, the height of the
waterline in the boiler can be ascertained by means of the gauge-cocks, opening
them but a trifle. If opened wide the tendency would be to draw up the water. A
little experimenting will enable one to use them properly.
But sole reliance should not be placed on the glass tube at
any time, and the gauge-cocks ought to be used frequently. Both the gauge-cocks
and the glass water gauge should be kept clean, and water from the glass gauge
should be blown out occasionally.
The uniformity of the boiler's action is materially aided by
maintaining an even fire and a steady feed.
If there is a tendency to foam, the feed should be increased
and the surface blower opened quite frequently to relieve the boiler of the
scum and surplus water. If the foaming is unusually violent, it may be subdued
by stopping the engine for a few moments and permitting the water to settle.
During temporary stops the fire should be cleaned, the
clinkers removed, and the moving parts of the machinery examined and oiled.
When the engine is not running, the fire may be replenished if
necessary; and it can be kept bright by slightly opening the blower valve, by
means of which a steam jet is blown into the smoke-stack for the purpose of
improving the draught.
The boiler is usually fed by force pumps, the plungers of
which are secured directly to the yokes of the main engines. Both pumps are
arranged to work in unison; and the supply is generally taken from the
discharging chamber of the main pumps, and is controlled by an ordinary globe
Should the water being delivered by the main pumps be
unsuitable for feeding the boiler, this valve must remain closed, and a supply
from some other source introduced through the opening provided for that
Every engine required to pump salt water, or other water unfit
for the boiler supply, should be provided with a freshwater feed tank.
The purpose of the automatic air cock (if there is one) is to
prevent the rattling of the check valves when the pumps are being only
partially filled; if the supply is to be draughted from a barrel or tank, the
entrance of air through this cock must be prevented.
In any engine, to feed the boiler directly from the main pump
the water pressure gauge must indicate a greater pressure than the steam
gauges; and it may be necessary, in order to obtain the desired water pressure,
to partially close the discharge gates of the pump if a large nozzle or two or
more streams are being used.
When feeding the boiler, it is a good plan to occasionally
feel the pipe leading from check to boiler with the hand, as one can tell by
this means whether the pump is feeding properly. If feeding all right, the pipe
will be cool. If the pipe is hot, the pump is not feeding properly, and it
should be attended to.
In case of low water, and it is found impossible to feed the
boiler in any of the different ways provided, the fire must be drawn instantly.
Don't turn on the feed, start or stop the engine, nor open the safety valve;
let the steam outlets remain as they are, and allow the boiler to cool down.
This is a device attached to the discharge main of the pump,
and connecting with the suction chamber, its purpose being to relieve the hose
of undue pressure. It is used in connection with a shut-off nozzle. When such
nozzle is either partially or fully closed the valve is operated automatically,
like a safety valve, and the surplus water not required for the duty being
performed is diverted from the hose into the suction chamber of the pump,
without any cessation to the machinery. Its operation is similar to that of a
churn valve, the difference being that the relief valve works automatically
while the churn valve does not.
If your engine is supplied with a relief valve you should
familiarize yourself with its construction and working. It is not practicable
for us to give directions here that will apply to all the several different
types of relief valves now in use, most of which are no longer made. Care
should be taken, however, whatever the style of valve, to see that all
connections are kept tight, in order to prevent any leakage of air into the
suction chamber of the pump.
There ought always to be a valve between the relief valve and
the suction chamber of pump, so as to cut out the relief valve in case same
should from any cause become disabled.
The priming valves, in cases where such valves are attached to
a fire engine, control small passages leading from the discharging side of the
main pumps to the upper receiving chambers of the same. If the air cocks fail
to show water promptly, flood the upper pump ends by opening these valves for a
moment provided, of course, that the lower ends of the same have already taken
THE VARIABLE EXHAUST.
In connection with good coal and good firing on the part of
the stoker, the engineer must make proper use of the exhaust level, to maintain
an ample working pressure of steam. When there is plenty of steam the exhaust
should be kept wide open; if more steam is required push in the lever. This
will diminish the opening, and the velocity of the exhaust will be increased,
improving the draught, but creating a back pressure on the engine. The variable
exhaust is particularly useful when fire starting, but as the boiler steams
more freely open it to the fullest extent.
THE CHURN VALVE.
The principal object of the churn valve is to permit the
operation of the pumps without discharging any water through the natural
channels; it controls a passage by which the discharging side of the pumps is
connected with the suction chamber.
In draughting water, when the pumps are first started, this
valve must remain closed until the pumps are filled with water, thereby
excluding the air which would find its way into the suction chamber if the same
It should also be closed when the pumps are at rest, to
prevent the dropping of the water in the suction pipe.
It may be opened slightly with good effect when pumping
through long lines of hose, or when first starting against a heavy resistance,
thereby increasing the piston speed of the machinery without actually
delivering a greater quantity of water.
It also permits the force pumps to be kept in motion, for the
purpose of supplying the boiler at times when it is undesirable to deliver
water through the hose lines.
When the engine is put to suction, acquire the habit of
feeling this valve to assure its complete closure.
Owing to the contracted diameter of ordinary fire hose, as
well as the roughness of its interior surfaces when under pressure, the flow of
the water is resisted; the loss of power due to friction increases directly
with the length of the line and nearly as the square of velocity. In other
words, if the loss due to a given flow be 12 pounds for 100 feet of hose, then
24 pounds will be required to maintain the same rate through an additional 100
feet. To double the velocity will require four times the pressure, or 48 pounds
for 100 feet and 96 pounds for 200 feet. In addition to the pressure required
to overcome the resistance due to friction, a margin is required to deliver the
water from the nozzle with suitable velocity.
From this brief explanation, it must be plain that the
capacity of any engine is diminished as the length of the line is increased;
and although the source of supply may be abundant, the amount of water actually
available at the nozzle is greatly reduced. Since it is necessary to keep
within the limits of the strength of the hose, it is essential that the
velocity of flow be diminished; to accomplish this end, and also retain the
discharging pressure necessary at the pipe, a nozzle of smaller bore is
The cause and effect of the different conditions met in actual
practice should be carefully observed and studied. The evils of many
unalterable obstacles may be frequently modified, if not entirely overcome, by
an intelligent disposition of the factors in the case.
The suction basket or strainer should always be attached when
draughting water, and every precaution taken to insure tight connections in the
suction. The basket must be kept well under the surface, and kept from clogging
if the water be foul. Additional strainers should be provided, placed just
inside of the suction inlets of the pump when the suction is carried
disconnected; when the suction is permanently connected to the pump, the
strainer is set in the end of the suction. These strainers must always be
examined and cleaned before the engine is returned to quarters, and at all
other times when there is any reason to suspect that they are obstructed.
When the supply is taken from a hydrant, satisfy yourself that
the same has been fully turned on; if opened before water is wanted through the
hose the discharge gates on the engine must be closed. Unless the pressure is
excessive, the hydrant is usually permitted to remain open while the steamer is
attached, the discharge during temporary stops being controlled by the engine
Frequently the first water taken from a hydrant is stagnated;
hence, if necessary to feed the boiler before any considerable quantity has
passed, it is advisable to permit it to waste by opening an idle gate.
The apparatus should always be halted, or placed at a proper
point, with reference to the source of the water supply. Good judgment on the
part of the driver will often obviate short and awkward bends in the suction
hose, and also facilitate the work of making the necessary connections. The
suction hose should always receive considerable attention; oil is very
injurious to the rubber, and when allowed to remain long in contact with its
surfaces it will cause decay. Ordinary precaution will be sufficient to prevent
injury by chafing on sharp stones or rough surfaces when the pumps are in
When attached to a hydrant or plug, do not run the engine
faster than you can get water to supply the pump, and if the pressure is not
sufficient to allow the pump to work to its full capacity, avoid using too
If it is suspected that one of the joints in the suction is loose,
the speed of the engine may be slackened without stopping entirely, until water
is thrown eight or ten feet from the nozzle, when if the pump is taking air the
stream will crack and snap instead of flowing out smoothly. If it is found that
the pump is taking air through the suction, and the leak cannot be located in
any other way, it may be found nozzle should be used; if 20 feet, 1-inch; and if
25 feet, 7/8-inch.
Care should be taken not to use too large nozzles if two or
more streams are being thrown.
The sizes of nozzles named below will give the most
satisfactory results, those in italics being the ones best adapted for fire
EXTRA FIRST SIZE ENGINE.-1,100 to 1,150 gallons capacity.
Through short lines of hose: One 1 1/2-inch smooth-bore nozzle for one stream;
one 1 3/4-inch ring nozzle, or one 2-inch ring nozzle; 1 5/16-inch ring nozzles
for two streams. With 1,000 feet of hose, one 1 5/16-inch ring nozzle.
FIRST SIZE ENGINE.-900 to 1,000 gallons capacity. Through
short lines of hose: One 1 3/8-inch smoothbore nozzle for one stream; one 1
1/2-inch ring nozzle, or one 1 5/8-inch ring nozzle; 1 1/4-inch ring nozzles
for two streams. With 1,000 feet of hose, one 1 114inch ring nozzle.
SECOND SIZE ENGINE.-700 to 800 gallons capacity. Through short
lines of hose: One 1 1/4-inch smoothbore nozzle for one stream; one 1 3/8-inch
ring nozzle, or one 1 1/2-inch ring nozzle; 1 1/8-inch ring nozzles for two
streams. With 1,000 feet of hose, one 1 118inch ring nozzle.
THIRD SIZE ENGINE.-600 to 650 gallons capacity. Through short
lines of hose: One 1 1/8-inch smoothbore nozzle for one stream; one 1 1/4-inch
ring nozzle, or one 1 3/8-inch ring nozzle; 1-inch ring nozzles for two
streams. With 1,000 feet of hose, one I-inch ring nozzle.
FOURTH SIZE ENGINE. -500 to 550 gallons capacity. Through
short lines of hose: One 1 1/16-inch smooth-bore nozzle for one stream; one 1
1/8-inch ring nozzle, or one 1 1/4-inch ring nozzle; 7/8-inch ring nozzles for
two streams. With 1,000 feet of hose, one l-inch ring nozzle.
FIFTH AND SIXTH SIZE ENGINES. -300 to 450 gallons capacity.
Through short lines of hose: One 1-inch smooth-bore nozzle for one stream; one
1-inch ring nozzle, or one 1 1/8-inch ring nozzle; 7/8-inch ring nozzles for
two streams. With 1,000 feet of hose, one 7/8-inch ring nozzle.
In extremely cold weather, if it is desired to stop doing duty
for any reason, it is a good plan to keep the main pump constantly but slowly
revolving, even if it is just barely moving, and to keep a light feed on the
force pumps, to prevent freezing. This should be done, also, when necessary to
change positions at fires, while the engine is being transferred. In small
towns it is well to have a good supply of water in the boiler, and sufficient
steam to revolve the engine and pump slowly while returning to the house.
Preparatory to the final shutting down of the apparatus, with
a view of returning to quarters, permit the steam pressure to rise to the point
of blowing off; also let the fire be burned clear and bright before the
withdrawing the same from the furnace, which may be readily done by closing the
fire door and opening the blower valve. This will burn off most of the soot
adhering to the heating surfaces. Allow water to drop down to the first gauge
cock, which will insure your obtaining dry steam; when the blower is opened
with a high water line, water is apt to rush through the blower, and wet steam
is not so effective in blowing off the soot.
There should be a steam pressure of about 30 pounds when the
grate is dumped, after which all remaining soot and ashes should be blown with
steam from the top of the smoke-stack down through the smoke flues into the
fire box, using for this purpose the small cleaning hose. Then the soot should
be blown from the fire box and water tubes, and the ashes from around them,
using the cleaning hose and steam through the fire door; the grate may then be
Not less than once a month, after dumping the grate, with from
15 to 20 pounds of steam, all of the water and steam should be blown out of the
boiler through the blow-off cock, in the water-leg of the boiler.
RETURNING TO QUARTERS.
Promptly refill the lubricators and all other oil cups, and
thoroughly examine the mechanism, and also the running gear, as soon as the
apparatus is returned to its quarters.
If, however, the work has been of long duration or the water
bad, the boiler should be thoroughly washed out before again placing the
machine in service.
To do this properly, a one-inch hose with suitable nozzle must
be provided, and if there be no hydrant connection or pressure, a force pump
may be substituted. Remove all the plugs at the bottom of the boiler, and with
the hose and scrapers free the shell of the sediment lodged therein.
While the water is out of the boiler, examine the stop cocks
on the ends of the glass water gauge, and see that their openings are clear;
always coat their surfaces with cylinder oil when replacing, and adjust them to
be easily closed should the glass be broken.
After pumping dirty or salt water, the pumps should be emptied
and well rinsed, and then refilled or primed.
After every working, and while the parts are still warm, pour
a small cup of good cylinder oil into each of the oil cups on the top heads of
the engines; have the pistons at a point preventing the oil from entering the
ports, and after allowing sufficient time for the same to distribute itself
over the piston head, give the engines several turns by hand, thereby coating
the sides of the cylinders with a film of oil and effectually preserving them
No oil should be allowed to come in contact with the suction
hose, which must be kept free from oil, both inside and outside, to insure its
The engine should at all times be kept scrupulously clean and
WHILE STANDING IN THE HOUSE.
The boiler should be kept safe, clean, and perfectly tight.
See that no water comes in contact with the exterior of the boiler, and if a
leak is discovered it should be repaired as soon as possible. Such a defect as
a small leak, unimportant in itself, if allowed to continue is liable in a
short time to corrode and weaken a boiler.
It is a matter of the greatest importance that all of the
joints and connections in the suction should be kept tight at all times. Every
little while the engineer ought to take the wrench furnished for that purpose,
and see that every joint in the suction is provided with a piece of
good packing and that is perfectly tight. From standing in the house unused,
the packing is liable to get dry and the joints become loose, and they should
be attended to frequently.
The steam gauges should stand at zero when pressure is off,
and should agree with each other while the machine is working, as well as show
the same pressure as the safety-valve when that is blowing off. If a gauge is
found to be wrong at any time, it should be sent to the engine builder or to
the manufacturer for repairs.
If necessary to clean the glass tube in the water gauge, close
the cocks on top and bottom, fill the tube with benzene, and allow it to stand
an hour or two. Then draw the benzene out, open the cocks, and let water in
again. Never pass a stick, cotton waste, or anything of that sort through the
tube. If touched on the inside with a stick it would be liable to break the first
time water is let into it.
If there is anything about the engine that is not fully
understood, or if it fails to do its work properly from any cause, the maker
should be communicated with at once. In our own case, inquires will be promptly
answered, and required information or suggestions will be cheerfully furnished.
The fire engine is essentially an apparatus adapted to
emergencies, and owing to the intermittent nature of the duty performed, it is
quite likely, unless the proper precautions are observed, that its several
parts, more especially its interior mechanism, will suffer more deterioration
while standing idle than from actual service. It is necessary that these
interior parts, as well as those more readily apparent, be cared for with a
view of keeping them constantly in condition to endure the most severe and
protracted strains at the shortest notice.
The engineer should aim to keep all joints tight, the piston
rods and valves well packed, and all working parts thoroughly oiled.
If the journals or other working parts require taking up,
remember that a little play is preferable to an adjustment liable to cripple
the engine at a critical moment. To insure perfect safety, always thoroughly
test the apparatus after making such repairs, by subjecting the parts effected
to the strains usually encountered in actual service.
The principal requirement of the steam cylinders is proper and
constant lubrication. Let this one item be attended to, and its mechanism will
practically take care of itself for many years.
As in the course of years the working parts of steam fire
engines -like those of other machines -will wear out. We build such parts of
our machines in duplicate; we can, therefore, promptly ship any part of one of
our engines. In sending orders, the number on the builder's plate of the
machine should be given, as a complete mechanical record is kept by us of each
engine shipped from our works.
THE ENGINE HEATER.
A stationary heater for the fire engine consists of a small
boiler, placed at some convenient point near the same when in quarters. It is
connected with the engine boiler by means of automatic couplings and suitable
circulating pipes, the entire arrangement being adapted to maintain the water
contained therein at any temperature desired.
Although the best types of fire engines boilers require but a
few minutes time to generate a working pressure from cold water, the general
adoption of the many modern improvements for facilitating the movements of the
men and apparatus has made the stationary heater an essential part of a
A very reliable and satisfactory heater for this duty is built
by the American Fire Engine Company. It is fully shown in the accompanying
illustrations, and explicit directions for operating the same are appended.
Experience proves that the life of the boiler is prolonged by
being kept constantly in a state of activity, and the elevated temperature of
the water insures prompt and efficient work by the steamer at the very time
when a few moments delay may breed disaster.
This text was created by Mike Legeros in December 2011, using OCR software from
a transcription that appears in Those Magnificent Old Steam Fire Engines
by W. Fred Conway, published 1997 by FBH Publishers, New Albany, IN.