Monthly Archives: December 2008

2008 Week 53 in review

Important winter warning

Now that winter is here, Old Tacoma Marine Inc reminds you to winterize your engine room! Use anti-freeze in your cooling system, turn on a heater in the engine room, and make sure to run the engines occasionally, even if you don’t leave the dock. These are very important precautions to keep your boat and its old engine safe during the winter.

Just last week, one of our favorite boats severely cracked some large castings in the Pacific Northwest’s cold snap and blizzards. We are very sad to hear about the damage and feel that we need to get out the word that the brittle cast iron easily cracks if the coolant freezes. Drain and pickle if the engine will be left for long periods of time, but using antifreeze, a block heater, and occasionally running the engine is the most effective to prevent freezing and cracking.

Work continues on the Catalyst

This week, I’ve continued work on fitting the main bearings into the engine. During the initial fitting, I used bluing and scrapers to get them to about the right shape; now I’m using lapping compound, which is a very fine grit, to get the perfect. This shows me exactly where the bearings and the journals actually touch so that I can scrape down any places that aren’t quite right.

Part of this process is using a squisher tool to hold the bearing in place while I work. This is two pieces of aluminum that push the bottom half of the bearing down into the saddle:

bearing squisher tool on the MV Catalyst

Once the squisher tool is installed, I put the bearing in, put the lapping compound into the bearing, crank the engine around, take the bearing out, clean off the lapping compound, and look at the pattern of scratches that lapping compound left on the babbitt. If the scratches are in just a few areas, that shows me where to start scraping to get it to the right fit so that I can test it again. If there’s scratches all over the bearing, I know it’s getting good contact and is ready to go.

Once I know the bearing is getting good contact with the crankshaft, I need to test how high it is – how far up it’s pushing the crankshaft. If one bearing is holding the crankshaft up higher than the others, then the crankshaft will bend. This shows up when I do a strain test to determine how far apart the throws are. If the strain test shows that the bearing is too high, I roll it out, scrape it down, re-fit it with lapping compound to make sure that the contact is still good, and do the strain test again.

Continually rolling the engine over by hand to test the bearings like this is a work out. I only have three main bearings to test, but it takes a long time to get them just right. At least as I go, the bearings start to fit better and barring the engine over gets easier.

More information on the Olympic

I forgot to mention back in Week 49 that the ferry Olympic‘s main air compressor was surplussed and sold on eBay a few months ago. Nick just sent me an email with the link to the expired eBay listing with information about it. Since eBay eventually deletes old listings, here’s a screencap rather than a link:

eBay listing for an air compressor from the ferry Olympic

It’d sure be nice to get it back for the boat.

Happy New Years!

We’ll be spending the night of the 31st on the Skillful to watch the fireworks on the Space Needle. I hope that everyone reading has similarly fun plans!

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2008 Week 52 in review

Work continues on the Catalyst

This week, I finally finished up filing and sanding and polishing the Catalyst‘s crankshaft journals. I also continued fitting the main bearings in using plastigauges. The project is coming along nicely.

Ever expanding the web presence

To better serve you, dear readers, I joined the Media Bloggers Association and took one of their online media blogger law class to further educate myself about this medium.

I also signed up for a Twitter account, under the username oldtacomamarine. Now, you’ll be able to keep up with my on-the-go status reports even easier.

Annual board meeting

Every year on December 25th, Old Tacoma Marine Inc’s board of directors and share holders meet to elect officers, review the past year’s activities, look at the budget, and forecast the next year. The president also buys a round or two of drinks for the shareholders to get into the spirit of things.

Topics on this year’s agenda included:

  • continuing to balance jobs between commercial, pleasure, and museum boats and engines, but in the up-coming year increase customers in the collecting sector up to 10% of the annual gross.
  • hiring Diana the museum specialist as a part-time employee, instead of continuing a contractual arrangement for technical writing, interpretation, and online presentation
  • continue to expand the company’s web presence and weekly blogging

These were all great things to report and reflect on during the yearly meeting. Unfortunately, the final topic was to announce that the president (me) will receive a pay cut – but there will be occasional bonuses.

All in all, it’s been a good year. We’ll release the annual report and 2009 objectives very soon.

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Happy Holidays from Old Tacoma Marine Inc!

Happy Holidays from OTM!

More blogs, videos, pictures, and of course old engines to come in the new year!

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2008 Week 51 in review

Work continues on the Catalyst

This week, I kept filing and sanding and polishing the crankshaft journals to fit the newly-poured bearings. I am very thankful that this is almost done.

I also installed the main bearings in the engine. Since we had them machined to be thicker on the sides, they were a little hard to roll in, but we got them in anyway. Once they were in, I used plastigauges (remember Week 45) to measure the clearance. We’re shooting for four to five thousands of an inch clearance on the main bearings.

On the automotive bail-out

This week, Old Tacoma Marine inc. chose not to send the CEO in his jet to beg the United States government for a bail-out, because to do so would completely undermine the survival of the fittest in the free market and promote poor products and inefficient operations. Though such a trip would most likely have gained OTM Inc a few billion dollars (the way they’re giving it away these days), we decided to make it on our own.

The billions from Washington would have been distributed to the shareholders, with a bonus and a luxury California spa retreat for the brave CEO who made the trip to Washington. Instead, though, OTM will proudly say that we beat out Detroit without needing free money, because we are smart and dawgonit, people like us.

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2008 Week 50 in review

Work continues on the Catalyst

This was the third week that I spend filing and sanding the Catalyst‘s crank journals. It takes me about a day to get each journal cleaned up enough that I like them, so I’ve been spending a lot of time down in the crank pit.

We got the main bearings back from St. Louis Bearing, and they look good. We’ll install them next week. The new piston rings I ordered from Safety Seal also arrived, but I haven’t had time to inspect them yet.

I got the wrist pin bushings back from Asco (which, you’ll remember back in Week 50, I had honed in preparation for flame spraying), so I took all six wrist pins and six of the cam followers out to be flame-sprayed at Flamespray Northwest, down in South Park. Flame-spraying is a process to build up a coating over a metal part and then grind it down to a precise size (Wikipedia has a pretty good article on it here). I have stuff flame-sprayed when it’s worn down and needs a little more material to fit right.

The wrist pins needed to be built up a little to fit the newly-honed bushings in the rods. The Washington book just says that the wrist pin clearance should be one-thousandth of an inch for every inch of diameter, since the book was written to cover many sizes of Washingtons. The Catalyst‘s pins are two-and-three-quarters of an inch, so I told Flamespray to grind them to between two-and-a half and three thousandths of an inch, and the followers to two thousandths.

The cam followers needed to be built up a bit, since both they and the guides they ride in are a little worn down. It’s really important the that the followers and the guides fit together tightly, since a bad fit can make them break. The lobe on the camshaft will kind of slap the follower every time it comes around, and the fit of the follower in the guide is important to transfer the energy quickly to up and down motion. Side-to side momentum can build up if there’s too much clearance in this set of parts, and this force can break the guide. We reamed out the guides to make them straight, then had the cam followers flame-sprayed and ground down for a tight fit.

I also honed the cylinders with a ball hone. This is quite a work out, plus we use brake cleaner so it’s pretty fume-y – and this was just to clean up the cylinder a bit, not to fix any tapers or deep scratches. First, we tie a bucket under the cylinder to catch all the grinding gunk:

Using a bucket to catch slop while cleaning up the CATALYST''s cylinders

Then, I stand up on the engine with a ball hone attached to a drill motor, while a helper (in this case, Captain Bill) sprays brake cleaner into the cylinder. The ball hone has lots of little grinding stones mounted on wires that spin around and cleans up the cylinder liner:

Ball hone used to clean up the CATALYST''s cylinders

The honing has two phases. First, I run the ball hone up and down pretty fast to clean up all the scratches in the liner, while the helper sprays solvent in to wash away cut material and grit. Then, I slow the drill motor down to make a 45-degree cross-hatch all over the liner surface. If the liner is just polished smooth, oil doesn’t really adhere to it and you don’t get enough lubrication between the piston rings and the liner. The cross-hatch pattern helps hold the oil against the liner walls so that the piston rings glide up and down without actually touching the liner. If everything is aligned perfectly, the engine can run for years without any friction between the rings and the liner, and the cross-hatches will be perfect when you inspect them.

We finished honing all the cylinders in just a few hours, then cleaned them really well with solvent and hot soapy water. We finished up by oiling all of them, so they’re all ready to be re-assembled when we get the other parts done.

New Years cards from OTM Inc

Old Tacoma Marine Inc’s annual 2008/2009 New Years cards are in the mail!

New Year's card from OTM Inc

If you don’t get one, send your address and we’ll put you on the mailing list.

Show your concern for the Bristol Red Salmon

Lia and I hosted a Red Gold gathering at the house, where twenty concerned citizens came to eat Bristol sockeye and watch the documentary Red Gold projected on the basement wall. We passed around Aquavit, generously provided by Pacific Fishermen’s Doug Dixon.

Red Gold is a good conversation starter, though it doesn’t tell the whole story (but what does?). I really hope that progress on the mine can be slowed and that more people get involved in the discussion. I wrote Alaska’s senators about it, and I hope some of you write those who can call for more investigation into the plan. Addresses for the Alaska senators are here on the United States Senate website.

It must be the holiday party season

Speaking of Pacific Fishermen, they invited us to the 56Th annual Fishermen’s Night, hosted by the Norwegian Commercial Club. I love this event, since it’s another great Ballard seafood feast. We ate almost our weight in king crab, oysters, pickled herring, fried cod, shrimp, and gin. The food was amazing and probably 80% of Ballard’s wealth attended.

A couple days later was Jensen Boat Works’ holiday party, which we attended with the folks from Catalyst and Newt. It very nice to see the community that Jensen’s Motor Boat has built. Anchor was there in spirit.

On Saturday, the folks down at Lake Union Park hosted “Holiday Spirit at Lake Union Park.” They had a lot of activities for kids and families on the old boats, like ornament making and kids choir recitals. The Arthur Foss the kids’ favorite because of the giant Washington… Okay, no, it was the gingerbread tugboats! Diana helped dozens of kids smear frosting and stick gumdrops on the cookies, the boat, and their parents. It sounds like a lot of fun, and everyone I’ve talked to says they had a blast. Next year, maybe OTM will set up a booth with engine-shaped fruitcake to give them some competition.

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2008 Week 49 in review

Inspecting the Olympic

This week, OTM visited the Olympic, a 200-foot decommissioned Washington State Ferry with an eight-cylinder Fairbanks-Morse diesel engine. It’s currently tied up at the ferry graveyard in Eagle Harbor on Bainbridge Island, as it has been since the mid-1990s. It’s starting to show:

retired Washington State Ferry Olympic

We were asked to inspect the engine room systems to evaluate whether the engines were still operational. Apparently, the boat is currently owned by a non-profit foundation that sells boats at a profit to fund scholarships and other worthy causes, and they have a buyer lined up on the condition that the engine works and she can be re-commissioned. We started the process with some background research. As usual, the Evergreen Fleet proved invaluable, as did the venerable Ferryboat Book.

The MV Olympic was built in Baltimore in 1938 as the Gov. Harry W. Nice, with a riveted steel hull and a direct-reversing Fairbanks-Morse engine rated for 1,400 horsepower at 300 RPM. She and sister ship Gov. Herbert R. O’Conor worked the Kent Island-Sandy Point Bay route across the Chesapeake Bay. In 1952, the route was replaced by the Bay Bridge and the two ferries were sold to the Washington State Ferry system. Renamed Olympic and Rhododendron, the ferries went into service in 1954 to work the Clinton route. In 1969, the Kulshan started on the Clinton route, and the Olympic became the overflow boat. In 1974, she was moved to the Port Townsend-Keystone route, but when the new Issaquah-class ferries took over the route in 1979, the Olympic was scheduled for retirement.

In 1983, the Rhododendron was mothballed, but the Olympic kept running despite Coast Guard concerns over operating a single-engine ferry (following an engine shut-down that left her drifting in the Sound for three hours before engineers brought it back online). She was moved to lower-traffic routes (mainly the Point Defiance run) and scheduled for refurbishment with the Rhododendron, but cost over-runs on her sister ship meant that the Olympic was mothballed in 1993. She was surplused and auctioned off in 1997, and has been in Eagle Harbor since.

I don’t think that the boat’s been touched since she was mothballed the second time – she even has newspapers from her last cruise laying in the lounge:

passenger deck of the retired Washington State Ferry Olympic

More importantly, she still has the original Fairbanks-Morse diesel, an eight-cylinder with a 16″ bore and 20″ stroke:

Fairbanks-Morse diesel engine in the retired Washington State Ferry Olympic

The only major problem that I found is that the main diesel-powered air-compressor is missing. This is really the key to the boat, as, like almost any boat powered by a heavy-duty diesel, the Olympic needs compressed air to power nearly all of its major systems, including the generators and main engine. It still has two electric air-compressors, but they require 120 volts DC electricity to run, which in turn can be supplied by one or both diesel generators, but these each need compressed air to start. Oi.

As far as I can tell, everything else is in decent condition and looked like it had been well-maintained during its working career, but without that main air compressor we couldn’t turn it on and tell for sure. Anyone getting the boat back to operational condition will be fighting corrosion every step of the way, and that every valve will need to be exercised and every pump will need to be freed up before putting the systems back online. It also means the new crew will need to do a lot of cleaning to make it possible to work in the spaces:

Engineer's office in the retired Washington State Ferry Olympic

After the trip, I put together a list of recommendations for the organization and any potential buyers. Most importantly, I told them to change one of the small air compressor motors to AC power and a voltage that can be provided at the dock, in order to let them exercise the machinery and demonstrate that the main engine runs (or doesn’t run, whichever the case may be). Both DC air compressors look like they’re fine, so just switching out the motor should be pretty easy:

AC air compressor in the retired Washington State Ferry Olympic

Here’s the total process that I recommended:

  • clean the vessel, giving it at least a once-over
  • change the air compressor motor
  • start the auxiliary generators
  • put systems on line and test
  • install switches for steering and jury rig manual wheel; test steering
  • blow down main engine; bleed fuel lines; repair oil filter
  • tow the vessel out and test-run the main engine
  • re-assess the condition and determine the next steps

This would be a great project, since the Olympic is a great boat in very good condition, considering that it’s been basically untouched at the dock for over ten years. It’s also pretty historically significant as an example of state-run ferries from the 1930s to 1970s, since most of the other ferries of this era have been re-powered, scrapped, or otherwise lost. I hope that the potential new owners get as excited about the project as I am, and that they call me in as a specialist to help re-commission the boat. Stay tuned (I hope)…

Work continues on the Catalyst

I spent the rest of the week on Catalyst, continuing to file and sand the oil hole ridges off the crankshaft. I feel like I’ve been sanding forever, and I’ve still got some left.

The rod bearings also came back from Everett Engineering, freshly babbitted and looking good. I inspected them again and found two things. First, one of the check valve balls was rusty and sort of pitted. These check valves are in the top half of each rod bearing, right against a hollow tube that runs up through the rod itself to the wrist pin. This keeps the rod full of oil after shut-down, so that oil gets up to the wrist pin as soon as pressure comes up. Since balls for the check valves are cheap, I bought new ones for all six bearings and put them in.

Second, some of the peel packs, which are a set of shims stuck together with solder that fit between each half of each bearing set, were replaced with plain shims. This isn’t really a big deal, except that I like peel packs better. I might get new ones, but I haven’t had the time to look into yet.

We also decided to send some of the cam followers and wrist pins to be flame-sprayed. In preparation, I stripped the followers and sent the wrist pin bushings to Asco to be honed down. The bushings (which are made of brass) wear down unevenly during normal operation, so it’s important to get them straight and round before the wrist pins are fit in. Honing is done with a specialized tool made up of three or four stones (they’re sort of leg-shaped) that push against the outside of the bushing and grind a small amount of material off while they turn.

I sent the wrist pin bushings off while they were still in the rods:

Connecting rods on their way to be honed

OTM’s tips for getting your heavy-duty through the economic crisis

All owners of heavy-duty engines are going to feel some pain from the current tough economic times, but OTM has some easy tips to help your engine (and your boat) survive the recession.

Get to know your boat, and want to get to know your boat. This will not only save money, it will make cruising safer and more pleasant. Get a flash light and get under the deck plates.

Clean the whole boat – especially the engine. I cannot overemphasize the importance of cleaning. This simple task addresses nearly all problems with the engine or other systems. If cleaning doesn’t actually solve the problem, it at least will keep the problem from getting worse – plus it makes it much easier to find and note problems so they can be addressed before they get worse. I have heard customers say “I haven’t wiped down the engine for a while so you [the mechanic] can find the leaks easier,” but I then have to spend the whole day cleaning the engine in order to find the leaks. This adds to the bill. It’s also just easier to work in a clean engine room, so the mechanic will be more efficient and productive than in a dirty engine room.

Simplify. In all situations, it’s important to just keep it simple. Good examples include:

  • selling the crane and using davits and block and tackle instead. It looks more elegant and is not much more work (and you hardly ever lower the boats, anyway)
  • removing the hydraulics in a small boat, because you don’t need them. Hydraulic systems are very powerful and few small boats need that kind of extreme power
  • forget about the second radar unit, and clean the windows in the wheel house instead
  • insist on smaller systems. Try to install “normal” systems: no one thinks a whiz-bang radar-guided autopilot is impressive unless the rest of the boat operates flawlessly, is used often, and has demonstrated a need for the device

Focus on need. Often the neatest-looking boats are that way because of how the owners meet their needs simply. I mention often how I like the “lived in” feeling of any structure that is well worn in. Another example is a small line attached to a door and frame to keep it from opening too far and slamming, which is a simple and elegant solution. A megayacht outfitter will try to get you to spend $2,500 on a mechanism to accomplish the same task, which needs to be greased monthly and rattles at full speed.

Break down jobs. See the trees in the forest and make a list with four-hour tasks. Don’t put things on the list like “rebuild engine”. It’s okay to cruise with broken parts as long as you know your limitations. Break the jobs into manageable pieces, and do some now and others next year.

Stay busy. If laziness sets in, the complacent attitude will sink the boat. Stay on task, look at the list, and keep making forward progress – even if it’s slow.

If you follow these tips, you’ll both keep your engine in good shape without spending too much money, and get greater satisfaction out of being proud of the work put into your boat.

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