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Published: Thursday, 3/13/2003

State nears draft of rules to run steam engine relics

REYNOLDSBURG, Ohio - A state licensing board developing rules for historic steam engines should complete its work in time for season this summer, a state official said.

Thomas Ratcliff, a spokesman for the Department of Commerce, which oversees the licensing board, said, “Safety is the paramount concern” in developing rules designed to prevent an explosion similar to the accident July 29, 2001, at the Medina County Fair.

Five people died, and 48 were hit by shrapnel and soot propelled across the fairgrounds.

The explosion was blamed on a low water level in the boiler of an antique steam-powered tractor. The tractor's engine exploded when a gush of water hit overheated steel in the boiler.

A task force, assembled after the incident, followed by the Ohio General Assembly authorizing a licensing body. The new Historical Steam Boiler Licensing Board has been meeting frequently in order to complete the rules by summer, he said.

“We're trying to get emergency rules in place before this year's exhibition season,” Mr. Ratcliff said.

The task force recommends annual inspections of steam-powered tractors and training and licensing for those who exhibit them publicly.

Because of their historic nature, antique equipment will be exempt from some current laws governing boiler operation, while acknowledging the need for safe operation, he said.

The board will issue operators licenses to people who have at least two years experience before the proposed rules go into effect, Mr. Ratcliff said, provided the operator can pass an examination that tests for competence in operating historic boilers.

About 200 to 300 steam-powered tractors in Ohio participate in public events, the task force said. Many more are inoperable or are not shown publicly.

The National Threshers Association, which had announced support for the state law, has predicted that new requirements would not deter steam-engine owners from exhibiting them, although some owners may drop out of exhibits, while some venues may not allow the engines to be operated.

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