One of the greatest causes of waste from elevators is the wearing out of the piston packing, this being particularly troublesome in most of the Western cities, where the water supplied is to a large extent from turbid streams, carrying more or less fine sand or "grit," which cuts out the packing of the pistons very rapidly. The only practicable remedy for this is close inspection, to see that the pistons do not allow water to pass, a fact that can readily be determined from the noise made in the cylinder when the elevator is in motion going upward.
I have reserved one of the most annoying features of elevator supply for the last, hoping to work myself into a mood to do the subject justice, but doubt if it can be done in language proper to use before this dignified body. I remember on one occasion the mayor of our city, in discussing a job of plumbing, said that it seemed to him "that even a plumber ought to know something about plumbing." Now it would seem that even elevator agents ought to know something about elevators, but from the following incident, which is but one of many, I am led to believe that they are not infallible to say the least. Only a short time since, one of these very reliable (?) agents reported at our office that he had just attached a new indicator to the elevator of a leading hotel. He was asked: "What does it register?" and promptly replied, "Cubic feet." In this case our inspector had already made an examination, and had correctly reported as follows: "Hale elevator; indicator started at zero February 28; internal diameter of cylinder, 12 inches; travel of piston for complete trip 30¼ feet; indicator registers for complete trip, 4."
When it is understood that we had for a long time been assuming that elevator agents knew about all there was to know on the subject, a comparison of statements of this agent and our inspector is somewhat startling. Now let us see what the difference amounted to: At the end of the month the indicator had registered 12,994; calling it cubic feet, this register would equal 97,195 gallons. According to our inspector, this same register would equal 578,233 gallons, or a difference of nearly half a million of gallons for a single month. Our experience with the agents in Kansas City has shown that they will, if allowed, put any kind of an indicator on the most convenient point of any sort of an elevator, without the slightest regard as to what it was intended to indicate; then report it as registering cubic or lineal feet, whichever they find the indicator marked. On the same principle they could as well change the fulcrum of a Fairbanks scale, and then claim it weighed pounds correctly, because pounds were marked upon the bar.
We have lately prepared a blank, upon which these agents are required to make a detailed report upon the completion of an elevator before the water will be turned on, which it is hoped will to some extent correct this trouble.
I have come to regard an elevator indicator with a feeling of wonder. Some years ago, when the "planchette" first came out, I remember that it acquired quite a reputation as a particularly erratic piece of mechanism, but for real mystery and innate cussedness, on general principles, commend me to the indicator. Why, I have known an indicator after registering a nice water bill, to deliberately and without provocation commence taking it all off again, by going backward. This crab-like maneuver the agent readily explained by saying the "ratchet had turned over," but even he was unable to show us how to make the bills after these peculiar gyrations. I also find that it is quite a favorite amusement for indicators to stop entirely, like a balky horse, after which no amount of persuasion will bring them to a realizing sense of their duty.
Even at the best, these indicators are very apt to get out of order, necessitating greater watchfulness in supplying elevators than for any other purpose for which water is furnished.
Accidents in connection with the use of elevators are common throughout the country, and in Kansas City had, until within a short time, become of altogether too frequent occurrence. The great cause of this I believe to be due to the fact that the parties who usually operate elevators are the very ones who know least about them; the corrosion of pistons, crystallization and oxidation of cables, and many other disorders common to elevators, being matters they do not comprehend. The frequency and fatality of these accidents in Kansas City finally led the city authorities to appoint an Elevator Inspector, who is under heavy bond, and whose duty is to examine every elevator at least once a month, and to grant license to run only such as he deems in safe condition. Thus far since the establishment of this office we have had no serious accidents, which leads me to the belief that in most cases a monthly examination will discover in time the causes of many terrible casualties; also that it is not safe to operate elevators unless so inspected by some competent person.
The hatchways of elevators in large buildings are points greatly feared by firemen. They well know that when a fire once reaches this shaft, it takes but a moment for it to be carried from floor to floor, until the building is soon past saving. Although this great danger is well known, it is the exception rather than the rule to provide elevators with fire-proof hatches. A properly constructed elevator should, it seems to me, be provided with hatches, or better still, built within brick fire-proof walls, with openings to be kept closed when not in use. In this way costly buildings, valuable merchandise, and many lives would be saved from fire every year.
Although considerable has been said on the subject of elevators, I am aware that the ground has not been covered, and that difficulties have been pointed out more than remedies suggested. There is much yet to be brought out by the engineers, to whom the subject more properly belongs.
In the mean time, although elevators claim many of the objectionable features in the business of water supply, most of them are not of a nature that should condemn their use; on the contrary, I hope that with the joining of our experience there will be an improvement in the methods of their supply. Inasmuch as they must be furnished with water, all that can be done is to adopt such rules and fix such rates as will compensate in some degree for their objectionable qualities.