Daily Archives: June 29, 2008

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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