This is an article about a couple of tricks that just might come in handy for you sometime. The first one features my fictional buddies, Bruce and Bubba in an older adventure that is still very much current in content.
Bubba is on what was supposed to have been the last call of the day when he comes across a plugged boiler. The boiler and fluepipe are completely covered with soot, and, on top of everything else, the soot appears to be oil-soaked.
Bubba calls Bruce ‘ very upset since the whole situation is not making for what he hoped would be a fast getaway. ‘Hey Uncle Brucie, it’s me. You’ve gotta be kidding me, right? I told you I had to get out on time tonight. I got tickets to the Red Sox game. This boiler is plugged, and it looks like it hasn’t been cleaned since it was put in. On top of that, there is oil everywhere from the chamber to the smoke pipe! Give me a break, will ya?”
‘Take it easy will you?” advises Bruce. ‘You’re right. That boiler hasn’t been cleaned since it was put in because it was put in last week. Do me a favor and at least pull the burner, the front mounting plate and the fluepipe. Then you can take off, and I’ll finish cleaning it. And besides, I didn’t give it to you as a cleanout, the call came in as a ‘smells’ oil call. I’m on the way.”
When Bruce arrives, Bubba has the unit opened up and has begun to clean it. The fluepipe is on the floor and so is the burner and front boiler plate.
‘Thanks for getting things started for me,” says Bruce. ‘If you want to go now, go ahead and I will finish up. Boy, it is a mess, huh?”
‘Boy, you’re not kidding. I wonder what went wrong anyway,” says Bubba. ‘If this unit was only put in last week, something went screwy and all of the soot is oil-soaked too? I think I’ll hang around for a few more minutes and give you a hand. I also want to see what you find. The big thing I’m worried about is how we’re gonna clean up the boiler. I can barely get a brush through it. It’s like tar.”
‘You’re right, Bubba, it is like tar but let’s get as much out as possible. Then we can light it off and see what was wrong with the burner,” answers Bruce.
‘No way, Uncle Brucie. You’re gonna light this thing off? This I gotta see! This thing’s still wet with oil! I wouldn’t miss this for anything. The game can wait. I’d rather watch you burn down the house!” exclaims Bubba.
Bruce fires back with, ‘I’m not going to burn the house down, but I do need something out in the truck. Be right back.”
Like Bubba, you are probably asking yourself, ‘Has Bruce finally lost it?” No. This is where the trick comes in. What Bruce has gone out to the truck for is a dry chemical fire extinguisher, Figure 1. This can be Ansul powder or Purple K or any of the known fire extinguishing powders.
Bruce proceeds to shoot the extinguisher onto the chamber area and fluepass walls and also through the smokehood. The fluepipe has been cleaned out and wiped with rags. More powder has been applied to the fluepipe using rags.
It’s now time to fire off. What’s hopefully going to happen on light-off is that the dry chemical is going to act as it should, as a fire retardant. This will burn off the oil slowly, but still allow the unit to operate safely.
One other thing must be done, however. Any and all refractory materials must be removed during cleaning and dried out separately or disposed of properly.
In the case of wet-base boilers, they can be run until all of the oil is burned off. In a dry-base boiler, the chamber should be replaced to insure a safe light-off.
The boiler is closed up and the burner is fired. ‘Wow, look at that, will ya!” exclaims Bubba. ‘A slow burn and no flashback or a fire out of control. I’m glad I hung around. It was worth it. I’ll probably only miss the first innings of the game, anyway. See you tomorrow, Uncle Brucie.”
Here’s another trade secret. For many of you, this next trick will be a very familiar one and you may wonder why I would write it up. Please keep in mind that some of us do not know everything. Also, thankfully there are some new people who have just joined us. For their sakes, on to trick number two.
The problem here is that the customer has broken an old oil valve and nipple completely off the oil tank outlet. He has had the common sense to drive a stick into the remains of the tapped ferrule (or boss); therefore, the leak is merely a small drip. Golf tees are good for this too!
Your job, should you decide to accept it, is to replace the nipple and valve, remount the tank filter, and go on to your next impossible mission.
In Figure 2, we show a vacuum cleaner just like the one in the back of your van and we have removed the debris bag. ‘Why remove the bag?” you ask. We want all of the suction we can get out of it. Also, the hose must be in good shape, not repaired with duct tape every three inches.
The hose is connected to the vent (preferred) or fill pipe and the remaining pipe is air sealed. The vacuum cleaner is now turned on and voila! The oil is held in suspension in the tank. You can now remove the broken nipple, repair any damaged threads and re-pipe the tank. Pretty slick, or what?
A few words of caution. Do this only to tanks of 12 gauge steel or thicker, do not attempt this with 14 gauge or thinner tanks.
With the thinner tanks, you won’t have any problems when you first turn on the vacuum and pull in the sides of the tank with the oil left in it, but when you shut off the vacuum cleaner and release the tank sides, you may pop a weld or worse. If you destroy the tank, you also get to clean up the mess. Remember 12 gauge tanks or thicker only.
Also, be careful with full tanks since they will be more difficult to pull a vacuum on; in some cases it may not work at all. Be sure to place the vacuum cleaner well above the top of the tank since you do not want to get any oil in either the hose or vac.
George Lanthier can be reached at 608 Moose Hill Rd., Leicester, MA 01524, phone 508-421-3490, fax 508-421-3477 and through his website at www.Firedragonent.com