Boiler Level Indicators


Nov 14, 2005
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So I was re-reading Mr. Halpern's propulsion paper and in it says boiler water level was maintained manually. But if it was in there I missed it. Did they have sight glasses or some other level indicator? I looked around other places/sites/pictures but couldn't find it. Also if they did have have sight glasses on the boilers and other tanks how often did they blow the glass?
 

William Oakes

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A circulating valve-"In the Scotch boiler, water in the upper part was apt to become much hotter than that at the bottom unless there was some form of circulation. To assist this process a valve was fitted to the boiler near it's bottom to and was only used to produce an artifical circulation of the water when raising steam. The circulators used on Titanic were Ross-Schofield boiler circulators."
( page 54)

A water guage- "Probably the most important fitting which was never mounted on the boiler, but on a stand pipe, which was connected by a copper pipe at each end, with cocks mounted on the boiler shell at the top and bottom. The guage itself consisted of a verticle glass tube, then ends of which were made steam tight by stuffing boxes and glands at ends of the guage cocks mounted on the stand pipe. The water in the tube showed the water level in the boiler. A drain cock below the lower guage cock, allowed the blowing through of either guage cock with the other turned off to make certain that neither end of the tube was choked with scale or impurities, such that a false water level was indicated.
It was generally best practices to mount the guages such that the lowest part of the glass was loacted 4 inches above the combustion chamber crowns.
Ordinary guage glass burt occasionally, generally when the guage was being blown through after the drain cock had been opened." ( pages 49-50)

SOURCE: Down Among The Black Gang- The World & Workplace of Titanic's Stokers by
Richard P. de Kerbrech
 
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B-rad

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This is from "Marine Boilers: Their Construction & Working, Dealing More Especially with Tubulous Boilers; Louis Emile Bertin; 1898:
 

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This is from "Marine Boilers: Their Construction & Working, Dealing More Especially with Tubulous Boilers; Louis Emile Bertin; 1898:
William, B-rad thanks for your replys. So they had a pretty typical set up. Pretty much the same as I used to work on with a few differences...as in no parallel taps for alarms and such. I tried to find some pics of the set up on the Olympic class ships but didn't see any. Probably out there but I didn't find any. By todays standards there condensate was probably pretty poor quality so they needed to blow the glass fairly often. But thats just a guess on my part. Thanks again.
 

William Oakes

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William, B-rad thanks for your replys. So they had a pretty typical set up. Pretty much the same as I used to work on with a few differences...as in no parallel taps for alarms and such. I tried to find some pics of the set up on the Olympic class ships but didn't see any. Probably out there but I didn't find any. By todays standards there condensate was probably pretty poor quality so they needed to blow the glass fairly often. But thats just a guess on my part. Thanks again.
They had to blow the glass on every shift.
And the protocol was to "Turn around so if the glass breaks, the shards won't get in your eyes."
Can you imagine today with OSHA........
Mind boggling!
 
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They had to blow the glass on every shift.
And the protocol was to "Turn around so if the glass breaks, the shards won't get in your eyes."
Can you imagine today with OSHA........
Mind boggling!
Yes. Back in the day some of that equiptment was pretty scary to operate. Some still is but nothing like back then. Ours were typically in a cage with another piece of glass sheilding the glass tube. But ours usually only got blown down when the I&C tech used them to calibrate the level transmitters and alarms. But your right about OSHA and todays standards. As been stated many times before on this board they would never let them build a ship like Titanic today.
 
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Rancor

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So I was re-reading Mr. Halpern's propulsion paper and in it says boiler water level was maintained manually. But if it was in there I missed it. Did they have sight glasses or some other level indicator? I looked around other places/sites/pictures but couldn't find it. Also if they did have have sight glasses on the boilers and other tanks how often did they blow the glass?

I jumped on the old googletron thinking this would be a simple image or diagram to find. Not so! I found a few diagrams of scotch single ended boilers, in this case the watergauge seems to be mounted on the back of the boiler so as not to get in the way of the uptakes. But what about a double ended boiler with uptakes at both ends?

The best image I could find was the original boiler from the paddle steamer Waverley, a double ended scotch boiler built in the 40s originally coal fired but converted to oil so should be pretty close to those found on the Olympic class.

The gauge glass itself is missing but you can see the pipes it would have been mounted to, above and slightly to the left of the centre furnace poking through the uptakes. Not sure if there would have been a second one on the other end of the boiler for redundancy.
 

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Good find. Yes just a standard level gauge setup. I guess in 1912 their system was state of the art but overall a pretty poor design for level control if they just had someone open and closing a valve. But good for the workers I guess. Job security. I say that because when we upgraded to the computer control system ...DCS (which worked so much better than the old system) the I&C dept got by with half the people we had before. Level control is one of the easiest things to do especially on large capacity systems where the rate of change is slow. Anyway thanks again for the pic. I couldn't find any.
 
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Rancor

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Good find. Yes just a standard level gauge setup. I guess in 1912 their system was state of the art but overall a pretty poor design for level control if they just had someone open and closing a valve. But good for the workers I guess. Job security. I say that because when we upgraded to the computer control system ...DCS (which worked so much better than the old system) the I&C dept got by with half the people we had before. Level control is one of the easiest things to do especially on large capacity systems where the rate of change is slow. Anyway thanks again for the pic. I couldn't find any.

Have often wondered how much of a juggling act keeping the level correct would have been. Perhaps when 'full away on passage' it would have been possible to get pretty close to balancing water input with usage and have the valves in a mostly 'set and forget' position. One of the members here told me in another thread that water level was the responsibility of the leading fireman. Given the potential consequences of having the water drop to low one would think checking the gauges would have been a full time job, especially with 5 boilers to look after in each section (except BR6 of course).
 
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Have often wondered how much of a juggling act keeping the level correct would have been. Perhaps when 'full away on passage' it would have been possible to get pretty close to balancing water input with usage and have the valves in a mostly 'set and forget' position. One of the members here told me in another thread that water level was the responsibility of the leading fireman. Given the potential consequences of having the water drop to low one would think checking the gauges would have been a full time job, especially with 5 boilers to look after in each section (except BR6 of course).
They were probably pretty good at it with experience under their belt. Especially if they weren't getting a lot of changes from the bridge so they had to make a lot of adjustments. Once they got up to cruise speed and the stokers maintained the fires good the set point on their fill valve probably didn't change much. But that would depend on how good the operators were. I've seen operators that could run a system in manual as good the automatic controls. Others, some of the newer one's were almost terrified when they had to go in manual. Sometimes I prefer manually controlled systems in some applications...its just a human controller rather than an electronic one. But as I said before, level control is not that difficult to set up.
 
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Doug Criner

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I briefly stood watches in a boiler room (what the Navy called a "fire room"). Each boiler's water level was controlled by a manual valve operated by a full-time water tender. The water tender would continuously watch the gage glass while keeping one hand on the valve wheel. He would frequently make minor adjustments to the valve. When a new speed change was rung down from the bridge, the entire engineering plant, not just the boiler water levels, would be in a transient. Even when the ship was steaming at a constant speed, minor speed adjustments were frequently made to maintain our station in formation. Besides ship's speed, there were quite a few other things that could affect the boiler water level. Steam was used intermittently for soot blowing. Also, steam was used for auxiliary machinery such as feed pumps, turbo-generators, forced-draft fans, distilling plant, condenser air ejectors, and the ship's whistle. Condenser vacuum could change if the seawater temperature changed. So, controlling the boiler water level was kind of like playing "whack-a-mole" - definitely not "set it and forget it." Hope this helps.
 
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Nov 14, 2005
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I briefly stood watches in a boiler room (what the Navy called a "fire room"). Each boiler's water level was controlled by a manual valve operated by a full-time water tender. The water tender would continuously watch the gage glass while keeping one hand on the valve wheel. He would frequently make minor adjustments to the valve. When a new speed change was rung down from the bridge, the entire engineering plant, not just the boiler water levels, would be in a transient. Even when the ship was steaming at a constant speed, minor speed adjustments were frequently made to maintain our station in formation. Besides ship's speed, there were quite a few other things that could affect the boiler water level. Steam was used intermittently for soot blowing. Also, steam was used for auxiliary machinery such as feed pumps, turbo-generators, forced-draft fans, distilling plant, condenser air ejectors, and the ship's whistle. Condenser vacuum could change if the seawater temperature changed. So, controlling the boiler water level was kind of like playing "whack-a-mole" - definitely not "set it and forget it." Hope this helps.
Most interesting. Yes that helps to understand it better. I had a friend who was on a older WW2 destroyer. He told me they had a periscope in the engine room to look at the stack. Thats how they adjusted air flow to the firebox. Too much black smoke..add some air.
 
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From my experience with marine systems, they would likely have just had a pressure gauge on the boiler itself.

Other system components would have had different indicators. The main condenser, for example, would likely have had or a sight glass on the hot well to view water level depending on if it was an open or closed hot well, and a pressure gauge on the condenser itself to measure the vacuum contained within it.

The boilers themselves would have been part of a larger interconnected series of steam systems.

If you have any questions, I'll try to answer them, but the steam propulsion systems I worked on were Nuclear-based, so I can't answer everything. Many of the basic concepts are pretty universal, though.
 

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