Tragedy in Medina, Ohio

A Case 110 Steam Tractor Explodes Killing Five People


| October/November 2001


By now everyone in the old engine/old tractor hobby knows about the tragic explosion that occurred July 29 at the Medina County Fair in Medina, Ohio. While there is some confusion surrounding the cause of the explosion, the basic facts of the accident are known.

At approximately 6:20 p.m. on Sunday, July 29, Clifford Kovacic wheeled his 1918 Case 110 steam tractor into the Medina County Fairgrounds. Medina Patrolman David Soika and Special Officer Kristopher Conwill approached Kovacic to talk with him about damage his Case had caused to a freshly asphalted road leading to the fairgrounds. Soika and Conwill had traced Kovacic's tractor from the 1.3 miles of tracks it left as it drove toward the fairgrounds. As Soika and Conwill approached Kovacic's tractor, the tractor blew apart.

The resulting blast immediately killed Kovacic, 48, his son William, 26, and family friend Alan Kimble, 46. Dennis Jungbluth, 58, died a few hours later at a Medina General Hospital, and seven days later Bryan Hammond, 18, who was part of Kovacic's crew, died from injuries he sustained in the explosion.

On Aug. 10 investigators from the Ohio Department of Commerce concluded that low water level in the tractor's boiler caused the explosion. Investigators stressed that the low water level could have been caused by operator error, mechanical failure, or a combination of the two.

For whatever reason, Kovacic's boiler ran low on water, thereby exposing the crown sheet on the firebox. Without water covering the crown sheet it became superheated. Investigators say that when the boiler tilted as the tractor was being operated, water hit the superheated crown sheet. The water turned to steam instantly, creating so much pressure the crown sheet was blown into the firebox and then into the ground.

It has not been possible to determine exactly what transpired, since everyone operating the tractor was killed.