Tuesday, July 31, 2001

Enthusiasts defend steam-driven tractors

Show officials requir farm machines to be inspected

By Walt Schaefer
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        GEORGETOWN, Ohio — Steam-powered tractors like the one that exploded in Medina County on Sunday, killing four people, are seldom seen at most local county fairs and won't be on display at the Ohio State Fair, which opens later this week. But they will be featured soon at a Brown County event, and are an annual tradition in Darke County, where antique farm machin ery associations have annual shows on their own grounds. Such events attract 30,000 to 40,000 enthusiasts.

        The explosion also injured 50 bystanders. But with precautions and inspections, steam-powered equipment will continue to be featured at the Georgetown and Darke County shows, officials said.

        “We do parade them, and they are made for pulley-and-belt work to run things

        like saw mills,” said Earl Pringle, board member of the Ohio Valley Antique Machinery Association near Georgetown. “We have some logs we're going to mill—saw into lumber” as a demonstration.

        The Ohio Valley Show will be 8:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Aug. 9-12.

        “Anything can be dangerous. A regular tractor is dangerous. Butwe've never had any trouble and this is our 31st year” Mr. Pringle said.

        Buzz Nealeigh, board member of the Darke County Steam Tractors Association, near Greenville northwest of Dayton, said his organization conducted its 40th show in early July. Steam- powered tractors “are as safe as any other piece of heavy equipment,” Mr. Nealeigh said.

        Georgetown and Darke County show officials said they require the steam machinery be inspected by state-certified steam engineers who have completed inspection training courses.

        Al Rhonemus, a director of the Brown County Fair and past president of the Ohio Fair Association, said many county fairs do not feature steam equipment. “We really don't have the space for them. There are so many other things we offer. And there are safety concerns — mostly about people climbing on them.”

        Christina Minier, spokeswoman for the Ohio State Fair in Columbus, saidthe fair is displaying 1920s gasoline farm equipment, but not in operation.

        In Medina on Monday, the county fair opened to crowds waiting at the gate. Twenty-one people remained hospitalized as the fair got under way two hours late because of setup delays related to Sunday's blast. Their conditions ranged from good to serious.

        It was not clear what caused the blast that shot hot oil and shrapnel up to 100 yards away, and shattered car windows. However, James R. Bigam, fair security director, said investigators were focusing on a possible failure of an escape valve or other safety device.

        The four dead, including the driver, were trained to operate the equipment, Mr. Bigam said. A niece of one of the victims said the machine had problems a few days earlier.

        The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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