Saturday, November 14, 2015

Boiler Explosion of C&O T-1 #3020 on May 1948

Joe Dockrill shared Heritage Railway Magazine's photo
to the group: Railroad Engineering and Equipment Photos.
A dramatic reminder that a modern steam locomotive was full of superheater tubes. Also a reminder of the expansive power of steam.

Of the 139 comments on this photo, the following was informative.

Jerzy Niemiec It's explosion of Chesapeake&Ohio T-1 #3020 near Chillicothe, on May 1943

A comment at the end of that posting by Jim Whalen corrects the date as May 12, 1948. He also provides more information: "It happened on Charleston Pike, just south of Chillicothe. The fireman, brakeman and engineer were all killed by scalding water" on the C&O Railroad.

(Update: in addition to this accident in 1948, the C&O had an Allegheny explode in 1953 after it passed the Hinton Tower.)


Ben Motantes shared and Steve Gorham shared a Steampunk Tendencies post of 23 photos with the comment: "Bizarre Vintage Photos Of Steam Engines After A Boiler Explosion From The Late 19th And Early 20th Centuries." "A Picture is Worth 1000 Words" posted a collection of 23 photos. I did not analyze if it is the same set of photos but in a different order. Richard Altorfer added five photos to that post as comments that are new.

Mark Howell posted
C & O train whose boiler exploded in 1948 two miles south of Chillicothe, three people were killed. Lots of piping in those boilers. Ross Co.
Brian K. Cornish If the water gets too low then the crown sheet over heats and fails, then you get the above shown results.
Mike Gibbs Maybe the safety kept lifting and they wired it down to keep going. I have heard of this happening. Like the steam tractor that exploded at the fair.
Linn Keller Or ran the boiler dry, the crownsheet got red hot, they added water and superheated steam overpressured and exploded ... that's also happened ...
Mark Howell commented on his post
They don't put all those gauges on the engine just to look pretty. WHICH red valve lowers the pressure ?!?!?!?!?!?

A more dramatic example of the superheater tubes being blown out of the front end of the boiler when it explodes. This is from a book about the Ohio & Mississippi route of the B&O.
From the Ohio to the Mississippi, p 97

John Abbott posted
Boiler Explosion 1850
Geoff Flato Boilers​ explode twice when they go. You definitely want to be nowhere close.
Thomas Hilburn Twice? How so?
Geoff Flato First explosion is the initial rupture. Second is all the water it blasted out instantly flashing to steam. It's the secondary​ steam flash that causes the real damage. I've seen a steam tractor go off, it's not a pretty sight.
James Dove I never thought about an H2O BLEVE. In the chemical plant, the focus is on a hydrocarbon boiling. Good knowledge and perspective.Geoff Flato It's something alright. Luckily it was just a 6" inspection plate that blew out of that old Sawyer Massey. Still did some damage to things near by. If something bigger failed I probably wouldn't be here.
Robert Livingston Bury-type "haystack" boiler.
The next day I came across a "before" picture of a haystack firebox locomotive.
Carl Venzke posted
Baltimore and Ohio locomotive Lafayette build in 1837 is being unloaded for display at the Chicago Railroad Fair in 1948. — Chicago Tribune photo
All Things Vintage posted seven photos with the comment: "Steam Engine Boiler Explosions." Two were of the C&O explosion at the top of this posting, so I left them out. But one of the comments on that photo is of particular interest: "
Jeff Frost Crownsheet failure due to low water (ran around 10 miles without water in the glass) is what caused this one."





Bryson Hellman posted
1897 British Columbia. A haunting image of an boiler explosion.
Corey Fischer The front of the engine was separated and is attached to the rear now. Interesting that they could move it away from the wreck that way.
Bernd Schröter This image of destruction can be explained by the way how the pipes are fastened and sealed. The tubes are fixed on the tube wall of firebox by widening and pressing against the holes - and the short overhanging ends are hammered onto sides oround the holes getting a more flushed end. The reason is to avoid a "burning" of tube ends in the firebox by the direct fire and heat in it. This crimping gives the tubes an additional fixing. At smokebox wall the tubes are only widened because there is not a reason for addional crimping and so they tube wall of smoke box can be "slide" easier from the tubes without the retarding force of crimped ends. Modern steam engines have additional round rills in the holes of front tube walls so the tube walls are better fixed against stripping off from the tubes. 
Sorry, I hope for understanding. I know, my English isn't so good.
[The front end was blown off the locomotive, meaning the steam blew towards the front. Maybe the crew survived this one.]

Dan Gilmore posted

#1382 with cab in foreground
[Please follow the link for more photos and a description.]
"The entire boiler is pushed back about a meter on the frame and is tipped about 20 degrees to the right."

Even when there is no explosion, the super-heater pipes can get rather complicated.
Carl Venzke posted
Chicago, Illinois. Working on the piping of the boiler of a locomotive at the Chicago and North Western Railroad repair shops - December 1942 - Jack Delano photo

(new window)

Stephen Byrne also shared the YouTube link.
Paul Pierson: Those are super heater pipes, front flue sheet probably failed and took out the smoke box. A crown sheet failure normally destroys the cab.
Eric Shock: Paul Pierson It was a crown sheet failure. They were running upgrade with low water trying to increase the power to get up the grade. Crown sheet became exposed as they crested, and boom... The failure occured in such a way as to push the superheater elements out of the front. The three head-end crew were all killed. ICC report was available at one time online, but I can't find it anymore.
Nathaniel Watts: Eric Shock what doesn't get understood about it is the fact that once the boiler is vented all the water flashes extremely quickly because of the lack of pressure. Failure of a crown can also blow the front tube sheet out from this scenario.


  1. The first photo is Chillicothe, OH. And it was May 12, 1948, not 1943. It happened on Charleston Pike, just south of Chillicothe. The fireman, brakeman and engineer were all killed by scalding water. Chesapeake and Ohio RR

    1. Thanks for the update. I have changed the title and text of the posting accordingly.

  2. I read that there was a boiler explosion on the Southern Pacific RR (@ 1940s) The RR ordered a copy of the photo of the destroyed loco to be displayed in the cab of every steam loco where the crew could see it, as a reminder.

  3. Scary - to say the least. I'm just grateful that in all the years South African Railways ran under steam of every class and size, nothing like this ever happened here - all that is now left of our once magnificent steamies are in the caring hands of preservation groups here - Umgeni, Reefsteamers, Ceres Rail, Rovos Rail, Wonder Trains, and these groups are meticulous about the safety of the crews who undergo rigid training covering every aspect of these magnificent locos...

  4. That would have been hairy for the crew of the 3020 locomotive on that day, what could have been done to avoid the situation from occurring? I think it would have been wise to put water in the boiler and tender before leaving the depot. I wouldn't have been surprised if the locomotive wasn't cut up soon afterwards.

  5. Thank you all for your knowledgeable explanations. Very interesting.

  6. You have completely pricked my boyhood bubble. I was a train spotter (really loco-spotter) in the North of England (London Midland Region) from about 1951 to 1953, Right in the heyday of steam during the British Railways era. All a huge waste of time of course, but very nostalgic! I just wish that I had modern photographic equipment at the time. I can't remember ever wanting to be a train driver, and after this period I rapidly gravitated towards science, especially Physics and Electronics.