Monthly Archives: May 2009

2009 Week 22 in Review

Still scraping bearings

This week in the Indian Grave Drainage District pumphouse, I measured the bearings for Engine One, then bounced from engine to engine lapping, scraping, lapping, scraping, lapping, scraping, and cleaning.

Lia flew out to visit and we had a real Quincy lunch with one of the pumphouse operators – a snapping turtle pulled straight out of the drainage ditch.

OTM Inc goes to Erie

Diana the Museologist went to a conference this week in Erie, Pennsylvania. The Council of American Maritime Museums is a professional group that’s been meeting for years to talk about how they’re trying to save old boats and stuff that came off of boats. This year, the themes were “Collaboration” and more importantly “How to weather the recession.”

She gave two presentations during the conference. The first was about the Lake Union Park Working Group that’s been meeting for a few years now to coordinate heritage programming at South Lake Union. Apparently, everyone in the country is really pumped up about collaboration and working together, but us Seattle folks are some of the first to really get a good idea of how to work together on a week-to-week basis. Diana said that the other people at the conference were really excited to hear about the work that we’ve been doing around here, especially the kind of teamwork that went into the Holiday Spirit event last December (back in 2008 Week 50).

Diana’s second presentation was on hauling out the Arthur Foss:

Diana the museologist giving a presentation on hauling out the ARTHUR FOSS at the 2009 Council of American Maritime Museums conference

Sadly, we did that amazing project before OTM started blogging, but we’ll tell the full story soon. As a museologist, Diana wrote two huge long final reports for the haul-out (posted on Northwest Seaport’s website here, but had only twenty minutes to share it at the conference. The coordinators apparently were really interested in hearing about the “non-profit/for-profit partnership model” used during the haul-out. That basically means that Northwest Seaport, who own the Arthur, hired OTM Inc to manage the haul-out, rather than having their own volunteers and staff do it. This worked well for everyone, since NWS had experienced professional boat repair people working on the project, and OTM and the other boat repair people had a good contract on a great boat. The folks at the conference were apparently really impressed that the haul-out came out on time and under-budget – unheard of when the museum tries to negotiate with a shipyard. The “estimators” at a shipyard can smell inexperience in a project manager like sharks can smell blood in the water.

After the talks, the conference people also got to go sailing, in both smallcraft and aboard the museum’s replica brig, the Niagra. Here’s Diana and other museologists in a “dipping lugger”:

Cutter I, a dipping lugger carried by the brig Niagra

And here’s the crowd on the Niagra, a great replica of a 1913 naval brig:


One of these days, we need to send the entire OTM Inc crew to one of these conferences to show how we do it.

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2009 Week 21 in Review

This week, OTM Inc is still in Illinois, fitting bearings.

Still scraping bearings

Last week, three of us started scraping the re-babbitted bearings into the Fairbanks-Morse diesels in Illinois. We got everything set up and started barring the engine over so that the lapping compound could do its trick, but it was really painful. The bearings don’t fit very well yet, so it’s really hard to turn the engine over and we were dying. Keith went home on Friday vowing to invent a turning tool that would make it easier. I took pictures of the one I saw in Oblong and sent it to him, but he apparently came up with a couple different designs over the weekend.

He brought one in on Monday and spent all morning adjusting it. I didn’t pay close attention, since I was still working on the bearings, but finally I heard the “clang, clang, clang” of the the pawls riding on the flywheel as it turns. Sweet!

It turns out that Keith used an electric motor coupled with a gear box with something like thirty-to-one reduction. It’s also a ninety-degree gear, so the output shaft is on the side. He also hooked up a board and some wheels to give it leverage, and stretched two giant V-belts over the flywheel. Brilliant! It works really well and sped things way up:

Turning tool custom made for a Fairbanks-Morse diesel engine at the Indian Grave pumphouse in Illinois

The three of us got into a good rhythm: Keith and Nathan would set in the bearings on Engine Two, then lap them while I scraped bearings for Engine Three. Then, we would switch, so that Keith and Nathan were setting in the bearings that I’d just scraped. We we cruised through alota bearings, but we’ve got a lot of fitting to do before we’re done.

More old Fairbanks-Morses

Over the weekend, I went down to St. Louis to pick up the next set of bearings. This time, I stopped at Keith’s house in Carlinville to drop off the outer “race,” or rod bushing. Unlike other heavy duties I work on, Fairbanks-Morse diesels use needle bearings between the piston and the piston pin. Lamar ordered new outer races made for Engine Three, which Keith will be installing at his shop.

While in Carlinville, we just happened to stop in during the tractor show. I got to see another Fairbanks diesel, this time a (2) 32E14 two-cylinder:

Fairbanks-Morse diesel in Carlinville, Illinois

Then on Sunday, I visited the Le Sueur Pioneer Power Show grounds, where there’s a (4) 32E12 that drives a generator. Their building was closed, though, so I had to look through the window. Lame. They’ve got some small pictures of it posted on their website here, though.

Anyway, these things are everywhere out here! I love seeing all these great old diesels. We’re trying to get them all up on the website so you can see them, too. I’ll be in Illinois for a while longer, so if anyone reading knows of another heavy-duty to see, let me know.

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2009 Week 20 in Review

Back to Illinois

On Monday, it was back to Illinois. I picked up the bearings with the rental car on my way to Quincy, and spent the rest of the week measuring the bearings and cautiously fitting them into the number three engine. There is no one “right” way to fit bearings: so much of it depends on the individual circumstances that it changes often.

This time, I needed to do a lot of extra measuring because the first time around the bearings were wrong (back in Week 17). Then, rather than bluing to fit, I installed each bearing and then installed the squisher tool, then lapped the bearing in a little, and then scrape down the high spots. This process insured that the bearing was the same shape it would be when running. The lapping shows the contact area much better than bluing in this case. It is a little extra work, but I’m getting great results, so I’ll continue to do it this way.

On the other hand, the rod bearings are very rigid and so bluing will work well on them.


KUOW, the local NPR station, ran a Weekday program on “field recording” the sounds of everyday life around us. They played a lot of different sound clips, including one from OTM Inc’s everyday life: old engine sounds!

The program is archived on the website here. They play the engine sounds clip at about 30 minutes into the program. Take a listen!

Thanks to David for letting us know we’re famous.

A Visit to Oblong

On Saturday, I needed to drive to St. Louis to pick up the next set of bearings. On my way, I thought “what’s another four hours of driving?” and continued on to Oblong, Illinois to see the Fairbanks-Morse (2) Y semi-diesel at the Oblong Antique Tractor & Engine Show grounds:

Fairbanks-Morse diesel at the Oblong Antique Tractor & Machinery Show

The engine is really neat: it was removed from the Mt Erie drainage district pump house in 1990, after 68 years in service. It has two cylinders with a 14 inch bore; it produces 100 horsepower and weighs about 12 tons. Mike met me at the grounds even though they’re not open yet to show me the engine and tell me about the Antique Tractor Association. They have about 200 members and a handful of them are very active on the grounds, acquiring and resurrecting engines and putting together working displays of how it all was done in the past.

The Oblong Antique Tractor & Engine Show formed in 1961, but was idle for a while, then in 1987 it picked back up. They partnered with the Illinois Oil Field Museum for a while, but then the Oil Field Museum got big money, grabbed up some old engines, and moved to the other side of town. Now, like bookends, the two museums display their collections: the sterile and seized-up Oil Field Museum to the west, and the open-air tractor show permanent displays to the east. Best of all is the second weekend in August: the tractor show roars to life, running all their engines and more than 200 visiting displays, while the western collection sits, rusted yet funded.

This year’s Oblong Antique Tractor & Engine Show is August 7th through the 9th at the Crawford County Fairgrounds in Oblong, Illinois.

The guys in Oblong told some great stories from the last 20 or so shows they were a part of. My favorite was the one about a huge horizontal Superior with an air-starter. Before the owner hits it, he winds a string around the governor shaft and pulls while hitting the air, so the crowed thinks it’s like the lawnmower. I love it!

I’m really glad that I made the trip out to Oblong, and I hope that I can make the big summer show someday. Thanks for the tour, Mike!

A new season for the Cape Cross

The 1941 fish packer Cape Cross (formerly the Cape Scott) with the six-cylinder G Enterprise is preparing to get underway. Dan reports that the new owners are working hard to prepare the boat for a season of fish packing and that the Enterprise runs well. This is great news and we are all very happy to hear that the new owners have the patience and boat-maneuvering skill to run the direct-reversible.

That’s saying a lot – one must be patient to wait for reverse; observe the boat’s motions; and use forethought in predicting currents, wind, and prop walk (and in shallow water, lack of prop walk). One of the best recommendations we can make for these direct-reverse captains is to count your starts or have someone else count them, then log it in the ships’ wheelhouse log book and review it occasionally. This way, the measurable goal is to come in with fewer starts as you get better at maneuvering.

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2009 Week 19 in Review

Breaking down the party

I spent the first part of the week finishing the big M4 Party. Volunteers and I worked around the clock to clean up and return all the stuff, following the amazing show. Thanks to all those who helped this year!

If you want to be involved in the next M4 party, please contact me and I’ll put you in touch with the crew.

M4 Factory Party

Preparing for Illinois

I talked two weeks ago about how I’d been talking with the Indian Grave Pump House in Illinois about installing re-babbitted main bearings in their Fairbanks-Morse engines. I ended Week 17 hearing “we’re waiting for the bearings to come back from the shop,” and by this week they were back to “hurry hurry hurry,” so I’m getting ready to go to Illinois again.

I picked up more lapping compound (a big 5lb bucket this time), and cleaned up the shop. This time, the trip is indefinitely long, so I had to be sure the bills are paid and the chickens have feed. It’ll probably be two or three weeks, so stay tuned for blogs from the Midwest.

Business as usual

OTM Inc got audited by the insurance company. Lame.

Elliott Bay Tugboat Races

On Saturday, OTM Inc went to the tugboat races on Elliott Bay aboard the Maris Pearl. It was a great day for racing, and we had a blast:

Tugboat Races on the Maris Pearl

We also saw the Fearless out in fine form:

Western Towboat tug Fearless at the Elliott Bay Tugboat Races

Tugboat Night!

We had another session of Tugboat Night aboard the Arthur Foss. The next session is June 13, so we’ll see you there!

Labor versus Capital

There’s been lots of talk about our ideas of labor changing these days, but I want to know if our ideas of efficiency will change. I think it might have to.

Let’s say we give billions to the auto industry so that they can keep people employed. We as tax payers will pay them to make cars, but then no one wants to buy them. Did it work? No but if we give billions to an auto industry that makes cars by hand, using hand tools. And turn out less cars people keep their jobs.

By the same token, if we give billions to highway improvement, it will be under the banner of creating jobs and employing people. It sounds like a good idea, but I’m worried that what will happen when the government starts awarding contracts. If the lowest bidder is the company that wants to buy a big automatic highway re-paving machine that was made in China and can be driven by one person, then did the plan work? I say that it didn’t, if the original plan was to create jobs (unless we’re counting off-shore manufacturing jobs).

I’m worried that billions will go to replace old diesels for no reason except to keep the Chinese who build Caterpillars employed for another day. Ultimately the money earmarked for a cleaner and better running fleet should be spent to have engineers and mechanics replace the rings and injectors. A billion dollars can service a lot of engines and keep people employed right here – plus it will help protect the environment by both cutting emissions and preventing new engines to be shipped around the world and old engines to be shipped to the scrappers.

Really, if we clean up the engines that are already in use, the benefits will be compounded. We’ll have cleaner air, more work with less capital investment, a better life for mid-level educated folks, and no artificially-created demand for the new products. All the equipment serviced will already be in demand due to the fact that someone owns it.

So, government folks, please stop creating meaningless capital investment and buy labor, instead. There are millions of ways to improve the world with out making anything.

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2009 Week 18 in Review

M4 Factory Party

Every year, OTM Inc drops everything to help with the annual M4 party. This year, it was held in the loading dock of the Big Building in South Seattle.

I spent most of the week preparing for the party. I even borrowed a bucket truck to hang lights, projectors, and rig the aerialist rope:

setting up for the M4 Factory party

The party itself went great: we had a big crowd and it was a lot of fun. We took tons of pictures that are slowly getting uploaded to the party’s Flickr pool here. Here’s a quick preview:

band Titanium Sporkestra at the M4 Factory Party

All the performers were great, from the graffiti artists to the burlesque dancers, and OTM Inc wants to thank everyone for being a part of it.

dancer Fuscia Foxx at the M4 Factory Party

No Smoking

OTM Inc has heard a rumor that the EPA will start to fine noncompliant diesel exhaust-emitting boat operators. To verify, we made some calls.

The EPA said existing diesels are not required to comply with the new requirements – except in some cases, such as when the engines are large, polluting way more than others, and have a certified technology that will significantly reduce emissions available for the type of engines.

This means the there are only a few engines that are effected, but the most notable is the Washington State Ferry System. They’re still running some EMD two cycle engines that can be modified to run cleaner. If they can be modified, then the requirement may be in effect.

Most of the changes to the rules are for new engines, so this is a battle for the manufactures.

Voluntary compliance is a nice thing though. There are a few things to consider for owners trying to reduce their emissions.

First, how does the EPA test exhaust? Apparently, there are lots of ways to figure out the exact chemical breakdown of an engine’s exhaust, but the most important test to pass in the one that measures Particulate Material Density by opacity. This is a scientific visual test, where the engine runs at full rated speed to produce 100% rated horsepower. Then, without much relative wind, the inspector (engineer) looks at the exhaust and determines the percentage of light that passes through the plume. Black as night is 100%, dark haze is 50%, and a vapor trail is 0%. Most trucks on the road are allowed a score of 40%.

Second, smoke can signal that something is wrong with your engine. The concerned owner and engineer should take immediate action if they see smoke, as it is more than just a signal. Smoke will carbon up the valves, causing more leaking, and then more smoke, and so on until the power is reduced to nothing and the engine stops. This is why one of the ten diesel commandments for engineers is “Never let thy engine smoke, else thou shalt suffer thine owner’s wrath.”

Third, the best way to prevent smoke is to physically clean your engine inside and out, replace the piston rings regularly, and service the injectors regularly. A diesel is a diesel, and the only thing that can be done to clean up its emissions in any circumstance is to add more clean air, squish the air better, and mist in the fuel better. Servicing rings valves and injectors regularly will get any engine closer to the sought-after vapor trail.

The EPA requires some engines to do more: specifically implement something that the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act calls “Certified technology,” which is available at a relatively low cost through government programs. Certified Technology (CT) is some product that the EPA has tested and can prove creates a significant reduction in emissions. CT is hard to create and no company is going to attempt it unless it is profitable. It helps that the technology is required and a large number of the engines are in use, but if designing the technology will not be profitable, then there are grants available to help an “emerging technology” becomes a “certified technology”.

OTM Inc is currently preparing its own application for a grant to pay for the R & D to design a Certified Technology kit for the remaining Washingtons. This kit will include step-by-step instructions on how to service the rings, valves and injectors. We hope that this emerging technology (about to begin clinical trials this June on the Arthur Foss) will be quickly recognized by the EPA as a certified technology.

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