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Steam & Excursion > Wilson Feedwater Heater

Date: 06/14/19 08:36
Wilson Feedwater Heater
Author: LarryDoyle

A recent thread mentioned the Wilson Feedwater Heater used on some Milwaukee enigines

The late Bill Wilkerson, retired Milwaukee engineer, wrote an article about this device.  Some of his comments are quoted below:

"To get more efficiency, the Milwaukee started applying the newly developed Feed Water Heaters (sic) in the late 1920's.  By the 1930's all the Miles City L3's were equipped with feed water heaters.  Most of them were the Wilson feed water heater.  In the Wilson system, a hot water well was built into the left front of the tender.  A large exhaust pipe (about 6" in diameter) brought 10% of the exhaust steam from the cylinders to the hot water well to heat the water. The exhaust steam went through an oil skimmer to remove any valve oil and dump it overboard.  The exhaust steam was controlled by a large thermostatic valve located at the top of the well.  When the water in the well was hot enough, the thermostat was supposed to shut off the flow of seam.  Like everything else, the thermostat valves were not properly maintained.  In hard water districts of Montana and the Dakotas, they would crust up with scale and stick closed or open, usually open.  When stuck open it would get all the water in the tender boiling.  There was a hand control valve located in the exhaust pipe that we could use to control the exhaust steam into the tender well.  For some reason, these valves were all located in the most inaccessable place on the engine.  All the return steam valves were routed right under the cab floor, but I was never on an L3 that had a valve extensionup into the cab.  Some had the valve located under the cab where it turned down in front of the tender steps to adjust it.  Most of the Miles City L3's had it under the running board ahead of the cab and you had to climb out the cab window and crawl out onto the running borard then lay down and reach down to get the valve.  The S2's were even worse as you had to stop the engine to reach the valve behind the left cylinder.  It was too far down to reach from the running board and too high to reach from the ground, so you had to have a ladder to climb up on the cross head which was always covered with oil.  If the thermostat stuck closed, there was a boiler booster line* that put boiler steam in right behind the boiler check valve. It wouldn't heat the cold water much, and the engine would not steam, so you had to use the non-lifting injector on the right side.

"The trouble with the Wilson system is that you were pumping nearly boiling water with an impeller pump that would get steam-bound on you.  When it got steam-bound, the loss of load would would let the steam turbine over-speed and kick out.  Then  you had to get down on the tender steps and reach in behind the pump to reset the trip lever.   If we had one that was prone to kicking out, we would vent a little water and steam through the deck hose into the stoker conveyor, or overboard, and it would usually solve the problem."

* [Note:  I've never heard of a "boiler booster valve" elsewhere - LD]

-John Stein, aka Larry Doyle

Edited 4 time(s). Last edit at 06/15/19 13:41 by LarryDoyle.

Date: 06/14/19 13:03
Re: Wilson Feeedwater Heater
Author: santafe199

Good grief! And here I thought it was a pain in the ass to walk back and reset a ground-relay switch 2-3 times a trip...

Posted from Android

Date: 06/14/19 13:50
Re: Wilson Feeedwater Heater
Author: Tominde

Wow.  How many fireman just said that the darn thing is broken and found some way to bypass the whole thing.  Did the guy who esigned this ever really work on a real locomotive????

Date: 06/14/19 14:21
Re: Wilson Feeedwater Heater
Author: wcamp1472

For similar experiences see early design mechanical stokers .... buckets & chains, etc....
there were a lot of teething pains ....

Closed FWH systems, Elesco, Coffin, etc., when used with bad water, tended to build up with layers of hard, calcium salts-build up...over time, .the build-up ( inside the small tubes)  became an insulating layer....and the outside of the tubes, (exposed to the exhaust steam) became coated with condensed valve oil, another insulating layer....
Elesco sold acid-recirculating, pump-equipped, washing-rigs...which commected to ‘Y’ fittings  on the goes-zinta piping and the goes-outta piping, to the heater,—— when being acid-flushed in the service tracks.   Using very strong acids...

Why I prefer Worthington’s ‘open-type’  FWH systems ....


Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 06/14/19 16:01 by wcamp1472.

Date: 06/14/19 14:49
Re: Wilson Feedwater Heater
Author: LarryDoyle

I would suspect, from Wilkersons description, that these things were probably very noisy in operation, as well. 
I'd think it would be about like closing the overflow valve on a lifting injector and fully turning on the steam to it.

To those who havn't experienced that, it's sorta like boiling a large potatoe kettle on a kitchen stove, but several hundred times louder.  The whole tender shakes.


Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 06/14/19 15:20 by LarryDoyle.

Date: 06/14/19 16:41
Re: Wilson Feedwater Heater

Are there any locomotives left that have this system?

Posted from Android

Date: 06/14/19 17:57
Re: Wilson Feedwater Heater
Author: NathanNon-Lifting

I believe five of the NP’s A-2 4-8-4s were built with the Wilson system.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 06/16/19 21:30 by NathanNon-Lifting.

Date: 06/18/19 15:05
Re: Wilson Feedwater Heater
Author: LarryDoyle

> Are there any locomotives left that have this
> system?
> Posted from Android

No, but there is an S-2 tender for one in Ingomar, Montana.

That would have been from one of the last 10 engines of this class, with an all-weather cab.


Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 06/18/19 15:19 by LarryDoyle.

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