Monthly Archives: April 2008

2008 Week 17 in review

We started Week 17 with a whirlwind tour of Northwest Washington heavy-duty diesels. San Juan Island has at least one engine from each of the major manufacturers that I work on: Washington Iron Works, Atlas-Imperial, Enterprise, and Fairbanks-Morse — and that’s not even counting the boats in nearby Bellingham and Anacortes.

Cannery Tender David B

First up was the David B, one of OTM Inc’s regular clients. Following the party, we hung out with owners Jeffrey and Christine to recuperate in the sun:

hanging out on the David B with Jeffrey and Christine

We also took some pictures of the engine, a 1929 Washington-Estep:


We used to think that the David B’s engine was the oldest remaining Washington, but since then we’ve “discovered” two older engines (the Kodiak Maritime Museum’s and the Waimea Sugar Mill Camp Museum’s). That doesn’t make it any less awesome, though, since it’s still the oldest Washington installed in a vessel.

We would have stayed longer with Christine and Jeffery on the David B, but we had a ferry to catch to San Juan Island.

Tugboat Quail

Before hopping on the ferry, we stopped by the tugboat Quail in Anacortes, just to see how she looks these days (she’s been for sale for a long time) and take a few pictures. We hadn’t called ahead for an appointment, so we had to look through the portholes to see the engine.

While I was taking pictures, an older gentleman strolled up and also started taking pictures – several from the same spots I shot from. I said “It’s a good looking boat huh?”

He looked up at me from the view finder. “Until it sinks,” he said, and went back to taking pictures.

I hope a prospective owner who wants to cruise often finds out what a great boat the Quail is.

Valve problems on the Catalyst

After a long ferry ride, we arrived in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. Bill from the Catalyst has been having problems with his air compressor and asked me to come up and take a look before they start their summer season.

The Catalyst’s main engine-driven air compressor hasn’t been pumping air. While the boat (like any other air-controlled boat) carries an auxiliary compressor, it’s much nicer to use the engine-driven compressor while underway, as it’s quieter and uses energy already produced.

I inspected the air compressor and found the problem in the outlet valve. I took the head off and lapped the valve a lot, but couldn’t get the pattern I wanted. There was a spot near the outlet pipe that was not contacting at all. I started to think that corrosion or something like that cut into the seat. It took me a while of messing with the valve before I noticed that one of the flutes that guides the valve and blows air by was rubbing on a little bump in the bore that it rides in. I ground down the bump and touched up the flutes. I got good contact on the seat with just a little more lapping. I pressure-tested the compressor but then had to leave before turning on the engine and really testing it, but Bill later called and said the compressor has never pumped so much air for him.

Valve problems on the Oswell Foss

Our next stop was the retired tugboat Oswell Foss, also moored in Friday Harbor. The Oswell is powered by a “G” Enterprise engine, like the Briana Marin and the J. S. Polhemus:


Captain Jim and his wife Sue use the boat to cruise around Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands. Lately, its main start valve has been leaking, so they asked me to come by and take a look.

I thought the valve probably just needed some adjusting, but I needed to lap it a bit, too. The pilot valve will need to be replaced soon, but fortunately the owner has lots of new spares – an important commodity if you’re going to keep an old engine going.

The fishboat Vivian

Next up was the Vivian, also in Friday Harbor, a seine boat that’s been for sale for a while. Last week we got great news while tracking down the current owner to get a tour: the boat just sold to Max from Portland. This is great news for the heavy-duty diesel engine world, since Max intends to cruise in the boat (more on that subject later).

The Vivian is powered by an Atlas Imperial 4HM1125 with a 10 ½ inch bore:

the 1943 fishboat Vivian

The advertisement we saw circulated called it a “P 155” engine. I asked Dan what “P 155” meant, since I’ve never seen that kind of number associated with an Atlas before. Dan said “Any fool knows what a P 155” is. Ha ha, Dan. I waited and eventually he told me that whoever wrote the ad must have taken the information from the manufacturer’s plate. The “H” in the abbreviation for “horsepower” must have been worn off or obscured, making the plate read “P 155” rather than “HP 155.” At least this confirmed that the engine is a 4HM1125, since that model does indeed produce 155 horsepower. Dan also said that its serial number of 12479 dates its manufacture to around 1943.

As a fishboat, the Vivian is a very bare bones vessel. As with most workboats, there isn’t much else aboard other than the equipment needed to do its job: a hull that doesn’t leak (much), an engine that runs, and the rig for fishing. There’s very little else on board, but that’s part of her charm:

the 1943 fishboat Vivian

New owner Max plans on to haul her out for inspection and maintenance, then bring her home to Portland for more work in preparation for a South Seas expedition. We hope to hear more from you, Max, and maybe some pictures of a great old Atlas cruising the Pacific.

Roche Harbor Generators

After finishing up with the Oswell Foss, we headed up to Roche Harbor on the northern end of San Juan Island. The Roche Harbor Resort used to be a company town for the Tacoma & Roche Harbor Lime Company, which produced lime for cement and other applications. Parts of the lime production used to be powered by stationary Y-model Fairbanks-Morse diesel generators. These are still on the site, though they’re showing the age and the weather:


The generators, a two-cylinder and a three-cylinder, haven’t been worked on in years. I’ve contacted the resort’s manager in the past to ask about restoration or programming plans, but he’s been non-committal. I think it might be time to bring that up again, though.

For now, they’re an interesting feature in the middle of a fancy fancy resort and spa:


The Roche Harbor Fairbanks-Morses were the last stop on our heavy-duty tour of Northwest Washington. After that, it was back to work.

An Update on the Maris Pearl

Back in Seattle, I replaced the Maris Pearl‘s block heater element and the oil cooler’s sight gauge. I also drained the oil cooler to tighten the oil line, and picked up the fuel pumps and injectors that I had machined. The project is starting to wrap up — we’re set to leave for Alaska on May 14th. I’ve got lots to do before then, so I’ll wrap this blog entry up and get back to work.

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2008 Week 16 in Review

An Update on the Maris Pearl

I finally finished pipe fitting for the Maris Pearl‘s oil cooler and flushed all the lines in preparation for sea trials! On Wednesday, Jay, Dan, and I cruised the boat around Puget Sound to test systems. Everything went just fine. There are still some small issues to be worked out, but the oil did heat up like we’d hoped. Now I just need to get everything else finished before Jay takes the boat up to Alaska for the summer.

The Nokomis’s engine (and others like it)

I had a nice phone chat with John from Pasidina Maryland about his retired ice breaker Nokomis. The Nokomis is powered by a model (6) 31A6 1/4 (model list here) Farebanks-Morse, a neat engine with a big flapper on the front for a blower. This two-cycle engine runs with a growling sound at about 720 rpm when cranked up to full speed.

The boat was built in 1951 and is 70 feet with a 20 foot beam. John has put in a lot of work to clean it up and fires up many of the systems as often as he can. He reports finding two fuel pumps frozen from rust, which he’s sending out to be overhauled along with a spare. When they get back, he’ll be following the instruction manual closely to re-time them.

John is also looking for other engines like the Nokomis‘s to hear others’ experiences with the A model — plus where any potential spare parts may be obtained from.

Here in Seattle, we have the John N Cobb, a research boat still used by NOAA to conduct fisheries studies in Alaska every summer. The Cobb has a model (8) 31A10 engine – an eight-cylinder model similar to the Nokomis‘s six-cylinder. The other differences include the Cobb‘s larger bore (10 versus 6 1/4), the reed valve plates for each cylinder in addition to the ones at the blower, and a slower running speed. If anyone reading knows of another similar Fairbanks-Morse engine out there, leave a comment or join the discussion.

For extra experience, John also volunteers on the Chesapeake Lightship at the Baltimore Maritime Museum regularly. Good luck with the Nokomis, John — we are all looking forward to hearing a sound clip of her engine running, and hopefully a YouTube video or two.

Cooper-Bessemer for Sale

This week we got an email from Dave Thorson alerting us to the Cooper-Bessemer for sale very cheap in Cle Elum, Washington. It’s another neat old engine that no one I know wants to move. I hope someone eventually takes it on and fixes it up into a runner. Mike Wallaston has the same engine in the Northwest Marine Propulsion Museum, but has not yet turned it into a display. If anyone reading wants this engine, contact me and I’ll forward you to the owners.

Another One Bites the Dust

We heard a rumor that the Oregon’s Enterprise is out and on the beach for sale very cheap. It is so sad to hear that another heavy-duty diesel bites the dust. Once out of a boat, a classic engine like that rarely escapes the scrap yard.

I wish I could report that a fancy new yacht (like the Discovery) intends to install it for the smooth propulsion, great low rumbling sound, the interesting history, the beautiful shape, the fuel economy, and the reliability of an old diesel—not to mention how fun they are.

If anyone does want the engine installed, you can contact me and I’ll forward the message along to the owners.

Life on the Arthur Foss

In brighter news, we ended the week at Northwest Seaport for a work party and the second session of Tugboat Night aboard the Arthur Foss. During the work party, I led a crew that moved all the main engine’s spare parts from the boat and outbuildings at Lake Union Park to Northwest Schooner Society’s warehouse on Northlake Way.

In addition to getting all the parts together in a secure on-land location, this was a great chance to get a full inventory of all the spares. During our last two Diesel Engine Theory programs (this year’s class at Northwest Seaport’s program page), we rebuilt the valve cages and the fuel injectors from spare parts. I knew that there were more components for more injectors in the spare parts collection, but now I (and NWS) know just how many of each there are. Once they compile the list, we’ll try to post a copy here.

Following the work party, I helped run Tugboat Night. Last time (at the end of Week Seven in Review) we ran the generator (just a jimmy) and the main. This time, we turned a lot more things on. Before the class started, we ran the generator to make air, then turned on everything in the Arthur that we could: the interior lights (including all the reading lights over individual bunks), the navigation lights, the radar, and the radios (though something’s busted and I couldn’t get them to stay on). When the participants showed up, we had them light the stove and then we cranked up the main several times.

Then we did something new: we split the participants into two groups. One group stayed in the engine room with me to practice bell drills and starting the main, the other group went up to the wheelhouse with Diana to “steer” the boat. The Arthur Foss has two steering systems: the manual steering that uses the big wooden wheel and the armpower of whoever’s in the bridge, and the power steering that uses a small bronze wheel and a hydraulic-over-pneumatic system. Since the Arthur’s rudder is about 14 feet high and six feet wide, the power steering can really make a difference when handling the boat.

Since the tug’s steering gear really hasn’t been exercised much since she stopped cruising in 2001, and since the goal of Tugboat Night is to turn everything on that we can, we powered up the steering gear and let participants turn the rudder back and forth at the dock. The difference between the two systems is pretty interesting to feel: the manual steering is really stiff but you can yank on the wheel as hard as you want, while the power steering is smoother and needs a light touch to not sheer a delicate pin in the system.

Everyone had a great time at this Tugboat Night, like the last. We didn’t have any repeat participants, but a couple people were out of town or already booked for the evening and swore they’d come next time. The next session is Saturday, June 21. Everyone should come. No excuses.

We didn’t get to linger much after Tugboat Night, though; Diana had to drive out to Port Angeles to help friends move, while Lia and I jumped in the truck and drove to Bellingham for Jeffrey’s (of the David B) birthday party.

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Filed under fairbanks-morse, museums, programs, tugboats, week in review

2008 Summer Sticker Contest!

Old Tacoma Marine Inc is pleased to announce its 2008 Summer Sticker Contest!

submission to the 2008 Old Tacoma Marine Inc Summer Sticker Contest

We have thousands of vinyl OTM Inc stickers free for the asking and we want to see what you do with them! As incentive, we’re offering cash prizes to the best submissions, which will be awarded at the 2008 Olympia Harbor Days.

The First Prize is $100, the two Second Prizes are $50, and Runners-Up will receive OTM Inc T-shirts. Prizes can be accepted in absentia (though everyone should go to Harbor Days).

To participate:
1) Get OTM Inc stickers by sending us your mailing address
2) Take pictures of your OTM Inc stickers used in creative ways or stuck in interesting places.
3) Upload your submission to the 2008 Summer Sticker Contest Photo Pool on Flickr (preferred), or email digital photographs to OTM Inc, or send photographs to:

Old Tacoma Marine Inc
902 NW Leary Way
Seattle, WA 98107

The rules are simple:
1) Submissions must include the OTM Inc stickers in the composition
2) Do not violate any laws in your nation or municipality while creating your submission(s)

Remember: OTM Inc’s panel of judges have a diverse range of tastes and interests–submissions should be visually appealing, creative, and engaging to a wide audience.

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2008 Week 15 in Review

An Update on the Maris Pearl

I spent most of the week wrestling an octopus called the Maris Pearl’s oil cooler. It has four lines running to it, all welded pipe going to threaded fittings on the cooler. It all needed to be carefully fitted and welded together just so.

This may be straightforward in a shipyard or a working facility, but the Maris Pearl is docked at a recreational marina that doesn’t allow hotwork or other “industrial” activities. I had to measure, fit, and mark up the pipe fittings, then take them up the 800-foot dock, drive a mile to my shop, weld the pipe, drive back to the marina, take it back down the 800 foot dock, get it down the engine room ladder without breaking the new welds or bending the pipe, bolt the flanges together, then measure, fit, and mark the next fitting… and so on. This turned the procedure into a week-long ordeal that really is best described as wrestling an octopus. The four-inch seawater line especially was torture, but I finally got it all done.

The next step is to test and flush out all the lines.

And in other news…

Actually, there is no other news. The oil cooler really took up all my time this week.

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A follow-up to the Tugboat Dream

Two weeks ago, I posted a blog entry that was pretty harsh on the Tugboat Dream and the folks who try to make it a reality. I didn’t consider how my words would sound to those folks, and I hurt some feelings as a result. Determination is worth a lot – more than I gave it credit for in that entry, I think – and I really wish the best to all owners of boats powered by heavy-duty engines. I’m genuinely sorry for posting such a discouraging note and for violating the trust of people who came to me for help.

My intention for this blog is to share the state of the heavy-duty diesel world as it stands now through weekly entries. I am very discouraged by the condition many of the old diesels are in, and sometimes vent. Now that I post it in a blog, my venting reaches a lot more people than it ever did during coffee breaks or at the bar.

The engines I am interested in – the large-bore, slow-speed heavy-duties that re-powered America’s workboat fleet in the 1930s and 40s – are in a strange transitional period now. Twenty years ago, there were more than a thousand of these engines left, many still powering working tugboats, ferries, and other vessels. Today, there’s maybe three- or four-hundred, and many of these are in museums or open-air tractor show parks. Those that remain installed in boats are increasingly rare, and often doomed anyway. If the boat’s hull is good, they are often replaced with a new engine and either scrapped or left outside in some back lot to rust away. If the boat’s hull is bad and its cruising days over, the boat often spends its last years afloat as a “museum ship,” a cheap apartment, or for sale until it sinks at the dock.

Since both these fates tend to destroy the heavy-duty, I want to promote other ways to use old workboats and keep their engines intact. The best way to do this from my experience is to turn the old boat into a cruiser. Owners that cruise often and really invest (both money and time) into keeping the boat going are the ones who end up saving their boats. Since, this type of owner is getting rarer and rarer, I want to really promote how great cruising on a boat powered by a heavy-duty engine is. I think that as people realize how much better the big slow diesels are for cruising, more people will be interested and invested in keeping them running.

This is why I sometimes get upset when I hear about folks who don’t seem to understand how important it is to keep the boat and the engine running, and how bad just keeping it sitting at the dock can be. I’ve seen a lot of great boats die at the dock from benign neglect of owners who talk about “next year” and “in the future” for cruising in their boats. I hope that you can forgive me for forgetting that not everyone is just talking.

Those of you with the tugboat dream are still an important part of the maritime community and I am sure nothing I say or write can ruin that for you. Every new tug owner starts out with all the hope and enthusiasm that some of us have lost. Moorage is expensive, insurance is expensive, maintenance is expensive, and trying to take care of all that can make us forget about the real goal of owning a boat: to cruise.

I once lived the Tugboat Dream. I lived on the Seattle waterfront in an old tug and cruised Puget Sound as often as I could. It was hard, hard work that I dedicated all of my time to, and it was the best thing I ever did. I loved every minute of it – even though I was terrified by the potential to sink or burn. I would not be where I was now if I hadn’t spent those years pouring all my time and energy into keeping the boat afloat, the engine running, and the dream alive.

To you folks trying to live the Tugboat Dream, I hope you prove me wrong and someday cruise your tug up and down the Sound. I am sure you will think it is the best thing you ever did as well.

Again, I am very sorry for letting the negative far outweigh the constructive, for publishing the hopes and dreams entrusted to me, and for mis-representing the story of two folks whose company I enjoyed. I’m still new to this blog idea and trying to find that balance between providing useful information and not being an asshole.

To those I’ve offended, I hope to see you again – and this time, the beer’s on me.

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2008 Week 14 In Review

An Update from the Maris Pearl

We are still cleaning up the Maris Pearl’s tool room and parts container. It’s a really big job, but I can totally see that I’m making progress. I also found the pipe fittings I removed from the jacket heat exchanger three years ago when I started the project. I finally need them again and I’m really glad that they were still around.

OTM Inc Summer Sticker Photo Competition

Old Tacoma Marine Inc. is holding a sticker photo competition this summer, using the stickers we ordered and your own creativity. We posted the details over here. Now go request your stickers and start taking photographs.

Visit to the Red Cloud
On Saturday morning we visited the Red Cloud, a neat ex-Navy tug powered by an Enterprise diesel:

This is neat enough on its own (as you’ve probably noticed), but it also is the exact same class vessel as the Maris Pearl (ex-Sea Fox, for those of you paying attention). The Red Cloud looks just like the Pearl did ten years ago, before an extensive conversion to cruising tugboat yacht.

Rick Hamborg, the proud new owner, is very excited about converting the Red Cloud into a comfortable cruising tug as well:

He showed us the plans he’s drawn up to remodel the main deck into a swanky lounge space surrounding the galley and even has the furniture picked out. We’re looking forward to seeing the process unfold in the future. More importantly, though, the engine:

The Red Cloud‘s engine and engine rooms look almost exactly like the Maris Pearl‘s, too. Walking around as Rick showed us through the boat was like walking through a ghost-twin of the Pearl – all of the major equipment was in the same place, the rooms were the same shape, and it “felt” the same, minus ten years of conversion. The main difference is the color and the round cam windows (rather than the Pearl‘s square windows) — and how the Red Cloud really isn’t ready for cruising yet:

Nothing a little clean-up won’t fix, though.

There is one big barrier to getting the engine going again, though: Cosmoline.

Cosmoline is the trade name for a specific petroleum distillate that’s used as a rust-preventer. It’s sort of like vasoline, except that it has long-chain hydrocarbons that make it waxy as well as greasy. The military and plenty of other people smear it on metal things – guns, jeeps, engines – to keep them preserved for years or even decades. It works really well to keep the rust from eating a mothballed engine long before the boat is activated again.

The problem is that cosmoline is very hard to remove when the boat is reactivated — and it’s hard to know where it is and where it isn’t on an engine. It’s hard to remove from any engine, but the Red Cloud‘s engine is covered in cosmoline. I think that the Navy workers on cosmoline duty hated their jobs and they sprayed it everywhere out of spite while they were mothballing the boat (here‘s a dark blurry picture of the cylinder heads; the dark yellow greasy stuff is the cosmoline). It’s going to be really, really hard to get it out of the engine, since every little bit has to be removed before starting up the engine. I know of cases of cosmoline-filled oil lines that prevented oil from getting to the bearings that in turn destroyed the engine.

The only way to recondition the engine safely is to completely disassemble the engine, clean out all the cosmoline, and reassemble it once you’re sure it’s all out. The stuff doesn’t disolve in oil, so it’s really easy for chunks of it to come off, circulate through the engine, get stuck in the oil lines, and destroy the bearings. One of the only chemicals it’s soluable in is laquer thinner, which makes it hard to clean out of a system. There’s a few tricks to make it a little faster (I might circulate laquer thinner through the engine using the prelube pump), but it’ll still be a nightmare and you have to ventilate the entire engine room with explosion-proof pumps.

Bringing the Red Cloud‘s engine room back to life is going to be a big job what with all that cleaning up after the Navy, but just think how great it’ll be to hear that DMQ-8 rumble back to life. Make sure to invite us to the party, Rick!

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