Work continues on the Maris Pearl
We started this week at Old Tacoma Marine Inc by finishing up the service on the Maris Pearl‘s generators. Jay’s got more work lined up for me next week, though.
Field trip to the Washington State History Research Center
Later in the week, OTM Inc went to Tacoma to sort through the Washington Iron Works company collection at the Washington State History Research Center (remember back in Week 7 that we volunteered to put the collection in order). Diana and I put in two whole days organizing glass plate negatives from 1890 to 1924 or so. We took each negative out of its original paper file folder, found its original number, wrote its unique sequential catalog number on an acid-free paper sleeve, looked up the information in the original company catalog and wrote that on the sleeve, looked at the negative to make sure that the information matched the image, entered the number and the information into the computer, put the negative in the sleeve, and put it in order with the rest. This ensures eternal safe keeping and makes sure that the right information stays with each negative.
Diana as the museologist set up a system and continually streamlined the operation to process as many negatives as possible during our allotted time in Tacoma. She’s done a lot of museum cataloging and set up a whole system of sorted piles so that each negative passed back and forth across the work table three or four times. By the end of the day, we could both tell a skidder engine from a loader engine (which are apparently easier to tell apart than embroidery motifs from Golden Triangle cultures):
The most fascinating discoveries were plans and photos of the first Washington-Estep diesel, which went into the tug Elmore. It was beautiful and had interesting parts that I haven’t seen on any other engine, like two injectors set at an angle in each cylinder head. It also had an intermediate head that gave the firing chamber a very round shape, which maximized the fuel combustion. Designer Adrian Estep was clearly a fanatic about efficiency and had the drafting department, the pattern shop, the foundry and the machine shop all at his disposal. It seems to me he intended to build “the perfect engine,” and no one was going to stop him. None of the later Washingtons that I’m familiar with have those two angled injectors or the intermediate head, though, so I wonder what happened. Maybe we’ll find out next time.
Unfortunately, we had to stop just as we were getting to 1924, just before Washington Iron Works started putting out its diesel line. We probably processed about a third of the collection over those two days, but the good stuff will have to wait until next time, which will be when we find funding to continue.
Programs on the Arthur Foss
On Saturday, I helped Northwest Seaport run a session of Tugboat Night on the Arthur Foss. Sadly, we had to cancel the earlier Engineer for a Day program because of low participation, but next time I’ll advertise more to make sure we can run it.
Tugboat Night went really well, though, and I feel like we caught up on a few maintenance items. We serviced the batteries and the air compressor, and did a little cleaning – not to mention exercising all the equipment. We ran both generators and the main engine, and turned the rudder back and forth to work the steering system.
Make sure you come to the next Tugboat Night, on April 11!
Limited-availability Winton parts
I’ve heard rumors that the Circle Line 11 and the Circle Line 15 are slated for demo, and their Winton diesels will likely be scrapped… unless folks from the tug Luna or the lightship Ambrose can use them. I hear through the waterfront telephone that neither organization can find the resources to get the parts. This is the sad truth about owning and old diesel engine: it actually takes a lot of effort (both time and money) to get spare parts even if they are selling at scrap value.
Keeping the past relevant
Historians have an up-hill battle to keep the past relevant to the masses. People and culture are growing at a rate too fast to look back, but looking back to see where we came from is as important as looking forward to see where we’re going.
Looking back is my business. I spend a lot of my time hammering on old engines, but I have to spend an equal amount of time trying to explain why it’s worth keeping the old heavy-duty diesels running. With records broken every day, new ideas shot down by newer ideas, and innovation trumping tradition, it’s easy to ask “why bother?” Why spend a lifetime taking care of a dwindling handful of old junk that society says are worth more as scrap than as artifacts? These are questions that I share with museums and other institutions that are struggling to reach out to six billion people to try to make some kind of difference in the world.
When I was working in Alaska on the Mist Cove, I went with Ted the Chef to the Sitka Historical Society and Museum, which had a native “halibut hook” on display:
I had seen them in tourist shops and museums and never cared, but Ted the Chef pointed to it and said that these hooks are designed to catch the perfect-sized halibut. He said that the Tlingits and Haida traditionally targeted the 30-pounders because they taste better, are easier to manage, and were most likely males. These folks realized that fewer male fish were required to keep a healthy fishery alive, so they let the females grow old and hatch more fish every year.
All through that summer, Ted the Chef and I had constantly tasted and judged fish caught on the Mist Cove. We agreed that a 30-pound halibut tastes better than any other size, even though everyone wants to catch a 300-pound fish and get their picture taken with it. Well, the next week Ted and I made a halibut hook (though I used a nail instead of a piece of bone) and tried it out. It took a few tries, but I did land a nice twelve-pounder and it was delicious.
Now, I do like museums, but my fishing trip with Ted the Chef taught me more about halibut hooks than looking at a hundred hooks in a museum. Using an artifact (or at least a replica) really helps you understand its significance, especially if it’s something as finely and carefully designed as a halibut hook or a heavy-duty diesel. I think that experiences like this are really the best way to interact with historic artifacts, but not everyone can go fishing with Ted or turn over a heavy-duty with me. What can I do, and what can museums do, to reach out to everyone else and share how significant history is?
It takes a personal connection like this to make any kind of artifact relevant and interesting, but there are so many distractions that get in the way of making that attachment. I wish fewer kids and adults were content sitting in their basement playing Grand Theft Auto and more were interested in venturing outside to a museum or an old boat. I’m finding that the internet is a good way to reach some of these people with some of this connection. A video on YouTube, a picture on Flickr, a paragraph on this blog – they all help bring some of the relevance to the “general public” out there living their lives without looking back. Still, it’s hard to make a real connection over the internet, just like it’s hard to make a real connection through a glass display case.
Readers, what are your thoughts? This is a big topic to take on, and this won’t be the last you hear of it.