The Runaway Boiler
As most farmer know there’s nowt like going to a good sale, be it farm sale dispersal sale or a general furniture sale. The sale I am describing is a furniture come house clearance sales rooms which took place once a fortnight.
When we moved to a larger farmhouse in the 1980’s we went regularly to this sale room as larger brown furniture would be knocked down at next to nowt, If I had not put my shilling on it, it would have been broken up for scrap.
Well then it got round to what did the sale room do with all this furniture that no one wanted, and asked could I have it for the collecting, they readily said yes. So every other week the day after the sale I went down with my cattle trailer broke up the wardrobes tables chairs into so called flat pack and filled it to the roof.
You see at home I had one of these large wood burning boilers, one big enough to take four small conventional bales and regularly burned oilseed rape straw which was rapidly running out. Some of this furniture was far too good the break up and some found its way into our front rooms.
At this point I might add that when the full heating was first put on in the old farm house, after a month the whole staircase came loose from the wall and had to re-fixed, that due to it being dry and shrinking so much.
On this one day when I had stoked up the boiler with this light dry and brittle timber before going in for tea, and by then it had gone dark, we had just settled down in our arm chairs, the radiators started to rattle and gurgling being red hot with very hot water, I took not too much notice though the misses she was getting jumpy.
Upon going outside across the yard to the boiler, the boiler house was enveloped with steam, not unlike that of the Royal Scot locomotive about to pull out of the station. I looked in and the draught flaps on the front of the boiler were closed but the huge pile of thin red hot coals inside would not cool down and the boiler was running on “latent” heat.
I installed the whole system a couple of year before, so I knew what the problems could be. I was warned not to install a plastic header tank way up in the loft above the boiler, as a “runaway” boiler like I had that night would melt and soften the plastic down to look like a flat Christmas balloon. Fortunately I had taken heed and installed a galvanized tank and the vent pipe from the top of the boiler hooked over it to blow off the steam. Another thing I was warned about as well was not to put a plastic ball cock, got to be a metal one, this again I had done as they too would collapse.
It was blowing off steam in a spectacular fashion so much so that the cold water feed through a slow ball valve could not keep up with replacing water that had boiled off. The force of the steam hitting the water splashed most of it over the side of the tank. You may have seen folk in these cafes putting a cup or a teapot under the hot water come steam tap to heat the coffee or tea, blowing and gurgling, well this was the same but a few hundred time bigger
Inside the hot water tank, the cylinder, that had two coils to transfer the heat to the bath/domestic hot water system and to try to alleviate the overheating we turned all the hot water taps on in the house, there again that ball valve could not keep time with what we were running off the cylinder.
Still it kept boiling and the water pump that circulated the water to the radiators was on the flow side to force the water up round eighteen rads, there would be too much faffing about bleeding radiators that would have a vacuum if the big pump was drawing water from the rads to force water back to the boiler.
(Are you following this, if not read it again and concentrate more.)
It was not till I checked the pump that I realized that the pump was not designed to pump steam, liquid it will pump very hot but boiling it was useless.
When things cooled down and the steam receded I was able to assess the fact that no damage had been done, the house stayed too hot all night, it was a winters night, and into the next day. I stoked up the boiler but to only to half what I had stoked it the night before. As time went on we had trouble with some of the rads in the house only feeling hot in less than half the surface area, we tried bleeding them to get rid of the air but three or four of the biggest radiators still not working properly. So come summer when we did not want heating on I took the rads off and took it outside onto the yard only to find it was full of rusty silt obviously blown in there from the boiler getting into too much of a sweat on. After they were swilled out thing went back to normal and was careful not to over fill it with brittle dry thin timber that burned in the boiler like a blow torch.
During a foot and mouth period we burnt the odd dead calf and the odd dead sheep, I remember the sheep burnt for three days first laying her on and between two big oak logs, being such a fat old ewe, the tallow ran down out of the front vent forming a tall candle stalactite, or is it stalagmite, ar dunt know, one forms up and tuther forms down, well this one formed up from the boiler house floor into a tall pyramid, if had thought at the time I should have hung a piece of string from the boiler vent flap to make a wick good enough to form a spectacular large replacement candle for the vicar at church. (But I dint know how to get rid of the dead mutton stink)
During the period we had the boiler there was the fuel crisis and the Dutch elm disease which coincided quite well where we had a lot of mature elm trees to cut up.
Eventually the old farm buildings on next door farm across the road from the boiler house came up for barn conversion, and the folk who moved in did not like the wispy wood smoke that came from the chimney, by now I was careful not to burn anything that would make smoke if the wind was in that directions, god know how they would have coped a few years before.
I did not know that they objected to the slight smoke, and without me knowing they rang trading standards, who, sent a man with a clip board to sit in a van down the village road a hundred yards away for four whole days monitoring the smoke emitted from my boiler chimney.
The upshit (or is it upshot) of it was that I had an official letter banning me from using the boiler from immediate effect. However the boiler now getting old, I had repaired leaks in the floor of it below the ash line and it was getting beyond repair, so I installed an oil boiler in the house and paid good money out for fuel and a fuel tank, a very depressing experience.
So the old farm house that I moved out of has now being renovated and in order to re-plaster the walls all my owd radiators were taken out and a new system installed. Bet it wonna ever get the owd house as hot as what we had it.
Quotation ----- Wit is brushwood; judgement is timber; the one gives the greatest flame, and the other yields the most durable heat; and both meeting make the best fire.