Tag Archives: fireboat duwamish

2008 Week 27 in review

An update from the John N Cobb

We hear that NOAA has decided to tow the John N Cobb back to Seattle before decommissioning the boat. This may give the engineers and mechanics a chance to determine the problem. All of us at the shop think the vibration dampener should be the first suspect component.

An update from the fireboat Duwamish

Work continues on the fireboat’s air compressor, but progress was interrupted by the Wooden Boat Show…

32nd Annual Lake Union Wooden Boat Festival

The Wooden Boat Festival, the big annual show put on by the Center for Wooden Boat, took place on July 4th, 5th, and 6th this year. It took over all of South Lake Union, between the boats on the docks and the booths on the grass. It was great to see all these people gathering to celebrate the old boats.

I ran the Washington in the Arthur Foss for the whole weekend. We kept almost the entire boat open to the public so that they could look around and get a feel for the boat:

Visitors to the ARTHUR FOSS's engine room

The engine really sounded great at 60 rpm, so I just left it there most of the time. The hiss of the air-starts and the rhythm of it going were enough to draw people into the engine room and then the sight of all the rockers going up and down kept some there for hours. Some danced, some talked shop, and some were literally brought to tears by the heartbeat-like thumping. At 60 rpm, you can hear and pick out each firing stroke of each cylinder. On top of that, there are hundreds of other interesting syncopated sounds coming from all over the 70-ton engine, like the whoosh of intake and exhaust, the squeak of the manzels, and a low rumble that you can feel rather than hear.

About three thousand people visited the tug during the show, and many said the engine was the neatest thing they saw all day. I would have to agree.

Old Tacoma Marine.com was represented well at the show by some very cute girls handing out our famous propeller stickers. Don’t forget about the photo contest!

Last but not least, the Excaliber (the former Langston Hughes that we talked about back in Week 21) and the Arthur were reunited at the dock for the festival:

tugboats Excaliber and Arthur Foss, at the dock together during the 2008 Lake Union Wooden Boat Festival

The Excalibur was built in 1908, but the crew is much younger and eagerly participated in the show with snappy matching red shirts. Salty captain Andrea, who is tougher than French nails, spent hours on the Arthur while the Washington was running. The Excalibur was also re-powered to a Washington in the 1930s, but it was replaced with a high-speed diesel in the 1950s – to Andrea’s lasting sadness. She’s now looking for an old heavy-duty of her own. I would love to see one — an enterprise, maybe — being lowered right through the galley in to the engine room someday.

OTM Inc Weekly eBay Auction

This week’s prize from the OTM Inc shop is this 1950s-era Henschel General Alarm Switch:

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2008 Week 26 in Review

This week, Old Tacoma Marine Inc. headed east to New York to see some neat old boats and engines. First stop was Waterford, New York

Tim in Waterford

I had a very nice talk with Tim Ivory in Waterford New York, who has some interesting projects going on. He spends a lot of time rebuilding PT boats for Robert Lannucci, and he helps out a friend with the Fairbanks-Morse in the tug Josie T (originally called the Scussit).

My favorite project of Tim’s is the fireboat John J Harvey (although he works on it less now because of his busy schedule):


The fireboat is limping along as many museum boats are this days, but they do run the boat often. After a serious shipyard period with extensive hull work, and then another shipyard period immediately after because the stern tube bearing failed, it’s good to hear the boat is now doing well. Since it bears repeating, I’ll say it again: running the boat is one of the best things any museum can do.

I wish that fireboat museums around the world could find funding easier, as the boat can still be useful even if not in full service. This is made very clear with a story that Tim told of when the Harvey responded to the need for fire-fighting water after the three World Trade Center buildings were demolished. He said that the engineers worked around the clock to supply water to Ground Zero for days after the collapses. The full story is at Fireboat.org.

In contrast, the fireboat Duwamish is essentially laid up and unused, despite its suitability for serving as an auxiliary fireboat. The city has resisted efforts to partially reactivate the boat despite several serious Lake Union fires that it could have minimized or prevented (the 2002 marina fire, the 2006 NOAA dock fire). The Seattle Post-Intelligencer did a fine write-up of how the city refuses to look at the Duwamish as a valuable tool for keeping Lake Union safe, archived here.

I think commissioning new fire boats and retiring old fire boats is a touchy political thing. Like any purchase with public funds, the cities tend to make a big deal out of commissioning new fire boats or shiny red fire trucks, with the expectation of using them a long, long time. When it eventually comes to decommissioning the boat, though, the city seems to hope that the boat is completely unusable or (like in the PI article) they’ll risk looking like jerks who have wasted public funds on an unnecessary “upgrade.” Re-commissioning or even just using an old fireboat can be seen as admitting that the boat didn’t actually need to be replaced – even though those of us in the marine repair industry understand how hard it is to keep an old workboat working.

If I’m right, then this makes getting municipal funds for fireboat preservation way harder than it should be (especially since the boats and their crews really do deserve credit for keeping the city safe). It also makes me wonder exactly why Tacoma’s Fireboat #1 and San Pedro’s Ralph J. Scott (both National Historic Landmarks, as is the Duwamish) were put up on blocks in city parks, preventing them from ever being used as fireboats again. Incidentally, this isn’t just an American thing; Hong Kong put the fireboat Sir Alexander Grantham on the beach in a park, too.

In response to this, I am calling the port cities to look at a compromise solution to the retired fireboat problem. I think that semi-retiring the older boats – by turning them into museum ships while keeping them on “reserve” – would be mutually beneficial for both the city and the museum that takes them. An endowment or maintenance stipend would help keep the boats ready for when the extra waterpower is really needed, but make sure that the museum isn’t just leaching off the municipal government. I realize that gray deals like that look bad, but I think it would save a lot of embarrassment when the “decrepit” old museum boat pumps water for three days straight, or when a government dock goes up in flames right next door to the world’s second most powerful fireboat.

Some other thoughts on the museum industry

I visit (and work with) a lot of maritime museums and always wonder why some of them work and others struggle. Here are a few thoughts on this subject:

Volunteering versus ownership
In Seattle or New York, it is very easy for anyone who loves old boats to own their own boat and fix it up to cruise on very safe, beautiful waters. Compare this to San Diego, where it is very difficult to own an old boat and there aren’t that many places to go even if you own one (how many overnights to the Catalina Islands can you make, really?).

When you look at maritime museums in these places, you find that the San Diego Maritime Museum has hundreds of volunteers and lots of successful programs, while similar institutions struggle in New York and Seattle (with the notable exception of the Center for Wooden Boats, of course). I think that the easier it is to own and use an old boat, the less interest people have in volunteering for a maritime museum.

Given, though, that the CWB manages to be so successful despite the hundreds of old boats in Seattle, it’s clearly possible for maritime museums to succeed with the proper approach. What do you think makes this possible, and what can the struggling maritime museums do?

Next thought:

Board discrepancies
Folks who understand business, financing, politicking, and who have friends in high places do not seem drawn into maritime museum boards very often. I wonder if this is because when giving philanthropic time, these CEOs want to do something that touches many others and those with few volunteers and few successful programs (which sadly describes many maritime heritage organizations that start with a boat and a few people who love it) are less appealing. This then feeds into itself, because without a strong board, it’s very hard to build strong programs and a strong volunteer base.

Other thoughts:

It could also be that a boat is looked at as a liability far more than fine art or dead birds are, or that the maritime world tends to breed leaders who make it hard for newcomers to fit into the action. I’m sure there are other factors behind why some maritime museums are very successful and others aren’t. What do you, readers, think about this problem? What can maritime museums do to generate interest, raise funds, and recruit effective leaders with vision and means?

Tim and I discussed these problems late into the night, but woke the next morning feeling no wiser.

New York Trip

Next in New York (and on very little sleep), we visited Robert in Brooklyn. We met Robert through this blog, and he introduced me to three FDNY fireboats and their crews. He took us on a whirlwind tour of the shipyards, Staten Island, and Manhattan – all narrated with a heavy Brooklyn accent.

We started at the Governor Alfred E Smith, the fireboat Robert works on in the Brooklyn shipyards. The boat was built in 1961 and named after a New York governor. It has four DMM 363 Enterprise diesels: two that power the water pumps and two that drive the controllable pitch propellers. By heavy-duty standards, they’re very small engines, but they’re classic Enterprises:


Robert is a seasoned diesel mechanic and in the middle of overhauling the starboard main engine. He’s utilizing advice from many well-known Enterprise experts (including John Brunner and Steve Swanson) to be sure that all procedures are implemented correctly. The project includes straightening the crank shaft, inserting new counter-bore seats, and checking the line bore of the main bearings.

The crankshaft had a slight bend to it, possibly from the prop dinging something and seizing the engine. The shop hired to straighten it just used a heavy table with lots of rigging points and old-fashioned rigging. They got the shaft to within a thousandth of an inch.

The counter-bores in the main had been beaten down, which made sealing the heads difficult so Robert opted to insert new seats:


The rings are a perfect fit and this gives the liners the height they need to seal against the head.

They checked the line bore using the piano wire method. This is a method I thought was just for general bore inspections with little accuracy. Now I need to track down the whole story, since it sounds like an interesting technique.

We continued our tour to the Firefighter, a very shiny diesel-electric boat with two Winton/Clevelands 16 248:

Winton diesel engines on the FDNY fireboat Firefighter

The boat was built in 1938 and is kept all original. As it’s the New York Fire Department‘s oldest fireboat in the fleet, it may be retired soon-although I believe it should stay in service. This boat can reach spots the other boats cant due to its shallow draft, and it’s low enough to fit under all the bridges in the district. I really think the old boats can be kept in service for less money than the price of your new boats, FDNY-ask me how.

Then last – thank god since we were starving and the New York pace was killing us Seattleites – was the John D McKean, a very nice boat built in 1954 and that still has its original engine room equipment: two DSG-36s that power pumps and two DMG-36s as mains:

enterprise diesel engine and telegraph in the engine room of the FDNY fireboat John D McKean

This is a very powerful boat (though surpassed by Duwamish in 1949), and I think it was my favorite one of the day. By the way, for those unfamiliar with antique diesel model numbers, the DSG is a stationary engine: it only turns one direction and is typically used for power generation. The DMG is a marine engine, meaning that it is direct-reversible for maneuvering a vessel.

I am looking forward to visiting the McKean again when I have a little more time. We at Old Tacoma Marine Inc have the parts and tools for maintaining the G enterprises and would appreciate having the McKean as a customer. We have two more New York trips scheduled this year, so we’ll have to make getting back to Brooklyn a priority.

An Update from Chris in Salt Lake City

Chris in Salt Lake City reports to have the pistons in his Atlas-Imperial diesel, and has nearly fitted the rod bearing. Good work Chris; we can’t wait to hear it run.

Engine Demonstrations on the Arthur Foss

The 32nd Annual Wooden Boat Festival is this Fourth of July weekend. Come to Lake Union and check out the show and my favorite, the Arthur Foss. I will be running the Arthur‘s Washington occasionally throughout the show.

OTM Inc Weekly eBay Auction

This week’s prize from the OTM Inc shop is this Aluminum Momentary Switch with Brass Armor Cable:

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2008 Week 25 in Review

An Update on the Duwamish

Progress on the Duwamish air compressor continues. I’ve determined that it is, in fact, a Worthington (despite the “expert” opinions we’ve been receiving). We located an identical air compressor a little south of here and hope to install it in place of the newer air-cooled model. This will help keep the boat true to its 1940s configuration. I hope we can reach a deal soon.

An Update from the Maris Pearl

The Maris Pearl is doing fine and cruising around Southeast Alaska. Jay reports that the poor weather is not keeping them from having great times. We’ve been promised pictures and maybe video, so stay tuned.

An Update from the Arthur Foss

Northwest Seaport held its third Tugboat Night tonight. Usually I’m the Tugboat Night leader, but I was busy elsewhere this time so Diana and Nat the museum folks at NWS cranked up the Washington on the Arthur Foss for the evening. They’ve both been involved in every Tugboat Night I’ve done and have watched countless startups, so with many phone calls they felt confident enough to run it for their students. I’m told that this Tugboat Night featured the history of the boat and its systems far more than when I lead it (since my philosophy is “let’s exercise the systems by turning things on”), but they said it went well and their participants had a good time.

I hope I’m available for the next Tugboat Night, since they really need to run the big towing winch and that’s difficult to explain over the phone.

Heavy-Duties and Fuel Efficiency

The heavy-duty diesel engines that OTM Inc works on and advocates for (the Atlas-Imperials, the Washington diesels, the big old Enterprises, and the classic Fairbanks-Morses) are being replaced by new engines. Many folks think that this increases their fuel efficiency, but I want to know, does it really?

When you consider the entire power train (the entire propulsion system), the heavy-duties may be more fuel-efficient in some applications. Most of our customers don’t tow or do ship-assist work—jobs where high horsepower is really important. If the engine’s job is to get the boat near hull speed and maintain it forever, then it is safe to say there have been no significant fuel efficiency improvements made in the last 80 years of diesel innovation. There for no need to purchase new technology to do the same job.

Here’s five examples of how heavy-duty diesels may be more efficient than new engines:

1) A direct-drive system is more efficient. A reduction gear used to bring the RPM of a high-speed diesel’s crankshaft down to a useable RPM for the propeller takes energy out of the system through friction. Even when coupled with super-efficient computer-controlled fuel injection, the efficiency of the whole power train may be close to that of a comparable heavy-duty. In contrast, the direct-drive setup that most heavy-duties are part of connects the crankshaft directly to the propeller, transferring more power into propulsion.

2) A big cylinder is more efficient. The larger the whirling ball of hot air ready to accept fuel, the better.

3) A long stroke is more efficient. The long stroke can ensure that all of the useable energy in the ball of fire created in the cylinder is transferred to motion, rather than blowing part of the fire ball up the stack.

4) A big, slow-speed propeller is more efficient. This type of propeller wastes less energy in cavitation and slip, delivering more of the energy to the water.

5) Lower horsepower can be more efficient. Boats are often overpowered, and the extra
power is only usable when excelerating, planing, towing, or pushing. If you listen to the marketing department of the engine manufactures, you’ll think that more horsepower automatically equals better. This message is broadcast much louder than the engineers’ message: that the correct horse power is better. If you install that extra power, chances are that much of it is going up the stack for the gain of a big bow wave and 1/2 a knot:


In this time of high fuel costs, do your homework. When replacing one system for the next, don’t make the mistake of basing the decision on the efficiency of one component compared to that of the entire system. Remember that the heavy-duty owners that we talk with rave about the low fuel consumption compared to their newer competitors.

OTM Inc Weekly eBay Auction

This week’s prize from the OTM Inc shop is this Stainless Steel Ball Valve with Pneumatic Actuator:

Stainless Steel Ball Valve with Pneumatic Actuator

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2008 Week 24 in Review

Not a lot going on this week. I spent a lot of time in the shop, either doing work work or doing office work.

An update on the Duwamish

The Duwamish’s air compressor is in pieces in my shop:

fireboat DUWAMISH's air compressor, under repair at the Old Tacoma Marine Inc shop

I’ve been cleaning and honing the cylinders, but I still do not know the make or model. I’ve found a few numbers stamped into it, but that’s all.

Clamor about the John Cobb

Everyone is talking about the NOAA ship John Cobb – there’s a lot of interest in what will happen to the boat now that its engine is damaged (details last week). I won’t repeat all the rumors I hear here, but I don’t think that NOAA will just walk away from the boat even with a broken crankshaft.

It’s still slated for decommissioning this fall, and I’ve heard lots of speculation on what’s next for the boat. I hope that whatever happens, the engine will be repaired or replaced with a heavy-duty from the same era – maybe a direct-reversing Enterprise diesel.

Old Tacoma Marine Inc on eBay

In our latest effort to take over the internet one site at a time, OTM Inc is now open for business on eBay. We hope to sell some miscellany related to heavy-duty diesels and other old-time engines, starting with some neat things we’ve had around the shop forever but will never use in any of our projects.

First up: a vintage brass grease cup for engine bearings. We’ve got more information and pictures on the listing, so check it out – or buy it.

We hope to sell a new item each week, so keep checking in.

Slope of Grain versus Runout

While acting as a consultant to Northwest Seaport regarding the lumber purchase for the Lightship #83, we’ve been learning about the language used by shipwrights to define wood grades. Two terms we’ve encountered are “slope of grain” and “runout.” We’ve found that these are often mis-used even by the experts, so it’s been difficult defining them. While researching, we found that there are plenty of sources out there that tell you what causes slope of grain and runout, and how to cut boards to achieve a good slope of grain and runout, but not many firm definition of what they are in the first place. Different people and books also define the terms differently.

Despite all that, we’re now pretty sure that runout is the grain running off the top side of a board and slope of grain is the grain running off the sides. These definitions don’t leave us feeling very much more enlightened, though. If we’ve gotten them confused, or if you have a better definition, please leave a comment on this post – we want to get it right.

I think that maybe the reason it’s so confusing is that the only people who really care are the folks at the mill, who are known as “sawyers.” The slope of grain and runout have a lot to do with the strength retained in the board, so a sawyer will try to produce the best quality (strongest) wood by getting a good slope of grain and runout they can anyway. It’s rare that a wood buyer needs to include those figures in an order.

We did need to include them in the Lightship bid request, though. Our client is required to accept the lowest cost bid, so it had to specify exactly what quality wood they need for the job.

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2008 Week 22 in Review

Back to Business

I started this week with a lot of catching up in the office and at the shop. This meant billing, several trips each to the bank, Kinkos, and the post office.

I also spent several hours on the phone, including straightening out the mess I got into with AT&T for using my new phone in Canada. I can tell you all cell phone companies are jerks, but if you really hold them down you might get someone on the line who is really helpful. It can be entertaining.

I stalled the person who first took my call with all sorts of inane questions. He would tell me there wasn’t anything he could do and then ask “is there anything I help with, sir?” and I’d ask another question to keep him on the line. I also insisted that I want the same top-quality service that Tom Cruise gets (though this guy said they treat all their customers with the same respect) and I guess they wrote it down in my file. After stalling for another half-hour, they handed me off to someone who finally straightened it all out (and told me that all their customers receive the same great service).

The trouble all started because after ten years of abuse I just switched from Sprint to AT&T (to use my new iPhone). New customers are treated like untrustworthy criminals for 90 days, but I got around that by hanging on and had about $700 in “roaming charges” knocked off my statement.

Lightship Lumber Planning

I finally started the real work on writing the bid request for the Lightship #83 deck lumber. Brian Johnson of Ocean Bay Marine Inc and I took measurements and discussed quality requirements for the deck lumber. We also took some samples:


We need over 10,000 board feet of planking, plus nib planking, coverboards, marginboards, carlins, and winch pads.

We should have a draft to Northwest Seaport for review by next Wednesday.

Work on the fireboat Duwamish

Also this week, I disassembled the aft air compressor in the fireboat Duwamish. From looking at the make, I think that the aft air compressor was installed with the Cooper-Bessemers and the forward one was replaced more recently. After inspecting it, I don’t think that the replacement is able to produce the 600 psi required for the Duwamish’s high-pressure system. I’m going look in to repairing the damaged one, which has been stored on deck under a rain cover, but it looks like it’ll be a lot of work.

An interesting thing about the original air compressors is that they’re mostly brass, and may have been the same make of air compressor used to start the stainless steel Clevelands in minesweepers. These engines use the same high-pressure settings that the Cooper-Bessemers in the fireboat use, so it’d make sense that they have the same kind of compressors.

If anyone has any information about air compressors like those used in minesweepers, contact me, or write about it on the discussion board.

Old Tugboats Changing Hands

Craig stopped by for a tour of South Lake Union last week. He’s got some neat stories of large-bore Sulzers and crossing oceans on container ships. He is still looking for his dream steel tugboat with a heavy-duty to cruise the Sound with. Comment here with your recommendations.

I also learned that Skip bought another old tug: a Miki tug named the Galene down in Portland, powered by a 1,200 horsepower Superior. This sounds like a gigantic project and I hope he can handle it.

A Visit from Captain Jake

Captain Jake, currently of the San Diego Maritime Museum’s Californian, stopped by for a tour of South Lake Union. I sailed with him back in ‘96 on the Lady Washington. He’s still driving tall ships and has recently taken over the steam yacht Medea for the San Diego Maritime Museum. I showed him around the Arthur Foss and the fireboat Duwamish, and he rattled off a bunch of heavy-duty powered boats in southern California (with gossip). I’ll have to follow that information up now that I’m done with the Pearl.

New York Planning

I made some plans for the New York trip later this month. We’ll be visiting three fireboats (including the two powered by Enterprises that posted about here), South Street Seaport, and hopefully Staten Island and some of the cool boats over there.

July work on the Sobre las Olas

I’ve re-scheduled a trip to LA this July for some more work on the Sobre Las Olas, the Atlas-powered fantail yacht. The Sobre’s mechanic John got most of the snifters and all of the blow-down valves off of the two engines, and he’s going to send them up for me to overhaul in my shop. I’ll bring them down with me to reinstall. I’m looking forward to seeing the guys and the boat this summer.

International Retired Tugboat Association Party

On Saturday night, we attended the International Retired Tugboat Association party in Everett. Most of the party was onboard the Olmstead, a 95-foot retired Navy tug of the same class as the Maris Pearl and the Red Cloud. I took a picture of the hold, which I uploaded here.

Lia and I arrived just in time to take a ride on a 60-foot tug (I can’t remember its name) for a cruise on the Snohomish River, followed by drinks, snacks, and tugboat stories. We passed by many neat old tugs, one of which I know very well: the Island Champion.

tugboat Island Champion, powered by a Fairbanks-Morse diesel engine, in Everett

The Island Champion is a classic 100-foot wooden tug from 1944 with a (6)33f14 Fairbanks-Morse main. Hilbert and Jeanne, the proud owners, have had lots of work done in the last few years on the engine, the deck, and the hull, but unfortunately the boat spent one tide exchange under the Snohomish Slough.

Here’s the sad story:

Last spring, I was helping Hilbert move the boat back to her very inconvenient moorage, where she regularly sits in the mud (the Snohomish River has lots of space for old tugs to tie up, but it’s a tidal estuary and I wouldn’t call the moorage great). When arriving at the dock a little late on the tide, we decided to turn the boat around and quickly learned that we couldn’t rely on the prop-walk when we’re in such shallow water (the wheel is too close to the bottom). This made turning around very difficult and after using up all the air and failing to pivot the boat with the bow in the bank, we thought we’d better get back to the dock even if we were pointed the wrong way. While backing up to the dock, the boat got hung up on something – maybe a root ball. Even with the Fairbanks wound up at 350 rmp (50 over max rated) we couldn’t get the boat loose. A bystander took a video of our fruitless efforts from the riverbank that’s on YouTube here.

We put all ashore except for Hilbert and I. I called Global Dive and Salvage, who I worked for back in ‘98 and ‘99. Hilbert and I prepared the boat for listing over and hoped that she’d float again on the next tide.

Then the Global guys arrived with trucks and boats and big pumps. We got the pumps off the trucks and into the small boats and got to the Island Champion just as the tide came up over her decks. Before we could get the pumps installed, the water started flooding in through the salon doors and galley doors and completely filled the engine room. By the time we had the pumps set up, it was too late to make any progress against the tide and we shifted our efforts to containing the fuel and oil. We anchored an oil containment boom and plugged the fuel tank vents, trying to keep petroleum out of the river:

the tugboat ISLAND CHAMPION, aground in the mud in Everett Slough

Later that night, we saw fuel begin to appear in the containment boom and found that the base of the fuel tank vent was completely rusted away. The Global Dive crew and I worked through the night to soak up the fuel with pads. I don’t know how many piles of soaked pads we bagged up, taped closed, and hauled up the dock.

the ISLAND CHAMPION, while aground in Everett Slough

Around 7 AM, divers showed up to seal the tug up and pump out all the tanks and the engine room. That’s when I left, totally exhausted. The Island Champion was raised on the next tide and delivered to the Everett Shipyard to be cleaned out.

Since then, Hilbert and Jeanne have been working very hard to put the boat back together and have had lots of good work done. I wouldn’t say that the incident helped the vessel, but in a way it’s boosted the progress: they’ve had to work a lot faster to keep up with repairs and maintenance on the Island Champion. I look forward to seeing her cruise again soon.

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2008 Week Seven in Review

This has been a busy week for Old Tacoma Marine Inc. In addition to our usual winter maintenance load, the museum program schedule is picking up and we’re getting a lot of interest in old diesels following our increased web presence.

First, a variety of engine and vessel news:

Maris Pearl Updates
Jay, Charlie, and I started the week by moving the Maris Pearl from Lake Union Dry Dock back to Shilshole Marina. It was a pretty uneventful trip.

OTM Inc checked in with Alaska Copper and Brass again about the cooler for the tug’s Enterprise diesel. Wayne reported no progress, so I threatened to go down there and roll the tubes myself. Next Monday, I think I’ll show up at their plant with my work boots and hard hat.

I also talked with Rick Hamborg, new owner of the Red Cloud, about the extra control head that I’d like to purchase for the Maris Pearl. I think we might be able to reach a deal soon.

Arthur Foss’s Bearing

OTM Inc picked up the throw-out bearing for the Washington diesel in the Arthur Foss:

tugboat ARTHUR FOSS's throw-out bearing, re-babbitted and ready for installation

Everett Engineering did a great job, although Dan Martin overrode my request for more fore-and-aft thrust clearance so that the tight fit will hold oil better. I’m afraid that it will be much harder to center the bearing every time the propeller shaft is engaged. The clutch on the Arthur Foss uses a set of links that flop over-center in a way that maintains pressure on the clutch without force from the throw-out bearing. When the throw-out bearing is backed off a little, there is no thrust pressure at all. The centering is sometimes hard, as the big wheel that moves the bearing is touchy. We’ll probably want to engineer a clamp or holder of some type to maintain the bearing position while underway. The collar and bearing were installed on Thursday, but the links need to be cleaned. They’ll be installed early next week.

David B Propeller Work
I talked with Jeffrey on the David B, which is hauled-out in preparation for propeller work. They also want to replace the stern bearing due to the 1/4 inch clearance recorded, but the rudder is in the way of the bearing housing. It looks like Jeffrey will need to remove the short intermediate shaft in order to remove the bearing housing, but the tail shaft will be even harder to remove. I’m wondering if they’ll replace the bearing without cleaning the shaft lining. Jeffrey’s frustration makes me think so.

Update on the Catalyst’s Cylinder Heads
The Catalyst’s owners have reached an agreement with Empire Motors to purchase the three new cylinder heads (previously mentioned here) as well as the patterns. I’m really looking forward to seeing them and I hope they work. I’m also really, really excited to see the patterns. I’ll post lots of pictures when they get here.

Fairbanks-Morse Parts
Steve from Striegel Supply is looking for some Fairbanks-Morse parts for a blower on a 16”-bore engine. I don’t know who would have these parts—does anyone reading this have any ideas? Leave a comment – or better yet, post on our discussion board!

A Fairbanks-Morse in Maryland
I talked with John in Maryland this week. He has a Fairbanks-Morse FM–A—6 engine, like the one on the John N Cobb. He’ll be sending us photographs and information soon. He’s also trying to locate spare parts just in case; I recommended Hatch and Kirk overhaul the injectors and pumps for him.

An Atlas-Imperial in Astoria
OTM Inc received an email from the Columbia River Maritime Museum in response to a letter we sent informing the museum of some small problems with their Atlas-Imperial on display. They don’t want to work on the engine right now (especially since it’s on display in the main lobby – though I think that working on it right there would be very interesting for visitors), but they do want a list of what to do and how to do it for future planning. I’ll come up with a detailed list and maybe make a copy of one of our manuals to hand-deliver in March.

An Enterprise in Astoria
I received an email from John Gillon of Portland, Oregon:

I am a volunteer with the amphibious forces memorial museum. Last October we sailed the Sakarissa from San Francisco to Portland Or. She is moored on the Columbia River next to our Landing Craft Infantry 713.

I was looking on your web site and we have a Enterprise engine on the Sakarissa and it is a beautiful engine. You can visit our web site and see more, or contact them for some good pictures of the engine.

I enjoyed your web site,


The Amphibious Forces Memorial Museum has hidden the pictures of its Enterprise too well for me to find, so I’ll have to see if I can visit the Sakarissa while I’m Astoria for the Columbia River Maritime Museum errand:

the SAKARISSA at dock

The Ballard Maritime Academy Engineer for a Day Program

Preparing for a course like this is a hectic process, as the boats always require some head-scratching and jury-rigging to get them running after a long idle period. The biggest puzzle we faced this time was getting enough air pressure to start the fireboat Duwamish’s diesel-electric system. The fireboat’s air compressors need a little work; one of them really doesn’t pump air at all, and the other one’s efficiency is suffering. It takes a long time for it to fill the tanks up to the minimum level needed to turn the main over, so for past Engineer for a Day programs we’ve run an air hose from the Arthur Foss to the fireboat to fill up the tanks.

This past autumn, though, we moved the boats on the Historic Ships Wharf around so that the Arthur and the Duwamish are separated by a big old Lightship (number 83). If we use a long enough hose to stretch up and over the lightship and down into the fireboat, it doesn’t effectively fill up the tanks. Grant and I spend most of Thursday running the air compressor on auxiliary generator, wondering if we’d get enough pressure to turn on the main. We thought about renting an air compressor, but couldn’t find a large enough one on short-notice.

Finally, late in the day, the Duwamish’s own air compressor filled up the tanks to the needed psi and Grant was able to start up the number one main generator:

We ran it and the generator for a while after that to ensure that we had enough air built up to start the engine several times, since that’s a key part of the Engineer for a Day program.

While Grant was working on the Duwamish, cleaning and oiling and turning over the three big Bessemer generators, I was doing some work on the Arthur Foss. We’d removed the base doors during the autumn 2007 Diesel Engine Theory course (pictures at Northwest Seaport’s Flickr account), and I needed to re-seal them using my own patented “goo” method. Five of these doors are the original aluminum with “Washington Iron Works” cast into them, but one is a replacement made of plywood. Northwest Seaport’s museum specialist is hoping to replace this replacement door with a piece of thick plexiglass so that we can see into the engine while it’s running, but they weren’t able to get it purchased and cut in time for this class. They’re aiming to get it installed in time for the summer tour season, though. I doubt that they’ll be able to see much through all the oil that’ll get splashed against the door while the engine is operating, but it’s a neat idea and no harm in implementing it (at least until I have a new door cast in aluminum).

The Virginia V at least was ready to go — though this is only because we don’t start up her steam plant during the Engineer for a Day program (it would double the cost of the class). Her power plant is currently disassembled for winter maintenance, but that actually makes it even more interesting to observe.

After all that preparation, the Engineer for a Day program went great. John Foster, the instructor for the Ballard Maritime Academy, brought 16 kids down for one of the program’s annual field trips. He spends several classes before the field trip teaching the kids about marine engineering and engine theory so that they have a good understanding of it in their heads before they step aboard. When we have them actually start up an engine – either the Arthur’s Washington or the Duwamish’s Bessemers – they suddenly understand what the diagrams and explanations mean:

more photos of the Engineer for a Day program on Northwest Seaport's Flickr account

Despite this, I’m always a little nervous thinking about a big group of kids storming the boat. Once they arrive and we break them into three groups to cycle through the Arthur, the Duwamish, and the Virginia V, I usually calm down. They may be high schoolers, but they want to be there and are way smarter than I give them credit for — even if they play games and whisper and text message while they’re supposed to be listening. I had a great time leading them through the Arthur’s start-up and shut-down procedures, and both Grant and Gary say the same thing about their sections. I’m looking forward to doing as many of these as we can, and not just for Ballard Maritime Academy.

Inaugural Tugboat Night!
The week finally ended with OTM Inc helping run a new program with Northwest Seaport and the Center for Wooden Boats. Tugboat Night was designed to serve three different purposes: to provide a regular, low-cost program on the Arthur Foss, to exercise all of the tug’s equipment more often, and to get more people onboard and involved with the boat and the organizations.

On Saturday night, twelve people showed up for the program, all really excited. Several had never been onboard before, though they’d seen the tug at the dock. My original plan for the evening had been to lead all the participants through the boat starting in the engine room, turning on everything and then turning off everything. After running the auxiliary generator and the AC generator, though, we ended up getting distracted by the main engine and not going on to the steering equipment and other systems. Everyone loves watching the Washington Iron Works diesels, since they have so many exposed moving parts and ways to see into the engine. We played with the controls, trying to get the engine to idle as slow as possible before stalling, and I answered a lot of questions from both beginners and the professional electrical engineer who had run hydroelectric generators in Montana:

Tugboat Night at Northwest Seaport

This, however, is the great thing about Tugboat Night. Next time, we’ll do it differently; we could have other instructors up in the fo’c’sle or the wheelhouse while I stay in the engine room and let participants choose where they go, or we could spend less time on the pre-start checklists and just turn things on and off. We could have a “plumbing night” or a “wiring night” or a “steering and telegraph night,” as well as a “deck department” or an “engine department” night.

I’m really excited by the turn-out of this first session, since it shows that people are interested in learning about the gritty details of old boats. I think that it’s a great way to start building a volunteer engine crew for the Arthur, both to help keep up with maintenance and repair, and for in the future when the tug starts cruising again (though that’s barely on the horizon). I hope that see all the same people at the next Tugboat Night, plus more who hear about it from them.

NWS and the CWB have scheduled four more sessions of Tugboat Night, on April 19, June 21, August 16, and December 20. Depending on the popularity of the class, they may hold more this year, and they’re planning to hold one every month of 2009. Call the CWB at (206) 382-2628 to register now.

Finally, Tape versus No Tape: A Viewer Poll

Kirtland (a boat guy living aboard the Arthur Foss these days in a work-exchange arrangement with Northwest Seaport) and I had a “discussion” the other day about paint on boats. It went sort of like the Bud Light “great tastes” versus “less filling” commercials.

It is my philosophy that paint is an impermeable barrier that protects the ship from rot, rust, and other elemental damage. It is Kirtland’s philosophy that paint is a cosmetic that keeps the boat looking sharp and shipshape. Of course, what we actually said was something like “Next time, use tape, [censored]!” “You want tape? Beat me to it, [censored]!” and back and forth several times.

Now, I’m a big proponent of keeping the boats looking sharp so that the maritime groups have good “dock presence,” but before worrying about making them look good we should worry about keeping them protected from the rain and other agents of deterioration. If Kirtland wants to spend a lot of time fussing over masking and detailing and what should be painted green versus white, then that’s fine – as long as the boat is already protected.

Readers, what do you think? Paint as protective barrier or paint as a cosmetic detail? Please comment with your opinion.


Filed under atlas-imperial, enterprise, museums, programs, washington iron works, week in review

2008 Week Two in Review

Engineer for a Day Program for High Schoolers

Early this week, OTM Inc received a call requesting another Engineer for a Day session for Ballard High School. We put one on in February of last year, which was both successful and mentioned in a Seattle PI article here. John Foster, a teacher in the Maritime Academy program at Ballard High school, asked if OTM and Seattle’s maritime heritage community can host the program on February 15. Coincidentally, this is the day before a big work party and the first session of Tugboat Night on the Arthur Foss. This timing is excellent, as it maximizes the time and money spent preparing for the programs.

The Engineer for a Day programs involve the steamer Virginia V, the fireboat Duwamishand the tugboat Arthur Foss. I’m already signed up to show participants how to start up the Arthur‘s diesel, so next I called Gary Frankel at the Virginia V to get him onboard for his famous steam lecture. Gary is always happy to talk about steam, especially since he’s convinced that this diesel thing is just a passing fad. Then I called Justin Blair, an engineer for the Washington State Ferry system who has helped teach the Engineer for a Day program before. He didn’t answer, which makes me worry since his schedule is hard to change and he is the only person I know who can teach students how to run the Duwamish’s generators.

I’ve been helping run the Engineer for a Day program for three years now. The classes each start by dividing the participants into three groups, which each spend one hour following an engineer through the start-up procedure and then operating the engine. After the hour is up, they shut it down and then switch boats. After every group has been on every boat, we gather again to discuss the similarities and differences of each power plant. The class is very fast-paced and gets people excited about the engine rooms—not just the decks and the bridges. If we’re lucky, we turn out some engineers, too. Northwest Seaport has information about this year’s programs on its website here–including the dates for the open-to-all Engineer for a day program.

The Engineer for a Day program is really amazing for two reasons. First, the students are able to get up close to three very different power plants: a direct-reversing diesel, a diesel electric, and a reciprocating steam engine. I can’t think of anywhere else in the world that a member of the public can see all of these in one day—let alone one where high schoolers can be at the controls of each.

Second, it requires the corporation of many different organizations. A typical Engineer for a Day program involves Northwest Seaport, the Center for Wooden Boats, the Virginia V Foundation, the Puget Sound Fireboat Foundation, the Youth Maritime Training Association, and Old Tacoma Marine Inc—plus other supporters like the Seattle Parks Foundation that owns the Historic Ships Wharf at Lake Union Park where the program is held.

This is really encouraging, since the maritime heritage community that I worked in ten years ago almost never collaborated. Now, people are recognizing that collaboration is essential to preserving the historic ships in Seattle and in other ports. I think that preservation groups and museums need to follow some of the principles of for-profit corporations. Rather than treating some of the groups like a sick friend (high hopes, no demands on performance, and often no action), collaborative programs helps pull them together by holding each accountable and demanding that they pull their own weight. The program also gives the collaboration an attainable goal to drive the weak organizations forward, while the strong organizations receive a new set of resources and a broader audience. I really enjoy watching the Engineer for a Day programs and other collaborative efforts pull the different groups together.

Web Updates

OTM Inc’s new discussion board is awesome, but it doesn’t quite work yet. Early this week, the whole OTM Inc team was very excited by our launch into Web 2.0 with the new discussion board and a presence on many networking sites ( like Flickr and YouTube). We are now web interactive and want to see your posts with questions, answers, pictures, stories, and warnings from the whole heavy-duty diesel community… just as soon as we get the discussion board back online now that the trial session has run out. SO STAY TUNED…

OTM Inc is working very hard to broaden and deepen the heavy-duty diesel engine community and the web is our most important tool. We are committed to keeping these engines running, but unfortunately the world is losing the most valuable information available: that gained from experience. Now is the time for the next generation of heavy duty diesel engine mechanics to make recording the retiring work force’s stories as much a priority as repairing the engines. The web is the best meeting room available for this exchange and OTM Inc wants to be at the table.

And Now a Little “Real” Work

First, OTM Inc put in a call to Bob the foreman at Everest Engineering to check on progress of the throw-out bearing for the Washington Iron Works diesel engine in the Arthur Foss. The bearing failed due to operator error while cruising in 2001. When the clutch needed adjustment and slipped, the engineer on duty leaned on the clutch wheel, thinking this action would engage the propeller shaft. Instead, this maneuver just melted out one side of the babbitted throw-out bearing. While this damage is not necessarily debilitating, the owners want to keep the engine in good condition and sent the bearing to be re-babbitted.

Babbitt is a soft alloy of tin and other metals that serves as a low-friction contact surface when it’s kept properly lubricated and machined. It’s melted and poured into moulds around the bearings, then machined smooth down to the fractions of an inch required by the engine specifications. Here’s a picture of melted babbitt:

and another picture of a mold just after melted babbitt was poured in:

Everett Engineering replied to my call that “we are making progress on it.”

OTM Inc also put in a call to Wayne Dutton at Alaska Copper & Brass to check on progress of the heat exchanger tubing bundle for the Enterprise diesel in the Maris Pearl. Here’s a diagram of heat exchanger tubing like that in the tug:

The company positioned the brass end plates of the tube bundle in the original configuration, slid in about 400 new copper-nickel tubes (a pricey option), and then installed a clamp around the end plates to hold its shape while all the tubes are rolled in using a little tapered mandrill with three rollers. This expands the tube to seal it against the brass end-piece. Here’s a picture of the tube bundle on the factory floor:

Alaska Copper & Brass also replied to my call that “progress is being made.”


Filed under museums, programs, week in review