Category Archives: repairs

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 17 in Review

OTM Inc in Illinois

I spent most of this week in the middle of an Illinois corn field, but it sure felt like the bilge. The worksite is called “the bottoms,” a huge area about ten feet below the Mississippi River. It’s part of the Indian Grave Drainage District, and is kept more-or less dry by the Indian Grave Pump House:

The Indian Grave Drainage District Pump House

The pump house has three five-cylinder 32E14 stationary Fairbanks-Morse diesels that couple to a ninety degree gear to power three large pumps below. They pump water from about 100,000 acres up to the Mississippi.

Here’s some background:

Back in June, the Mississippi levee broke and the lowlands were flooded, including the pump house and the three engines. The pumps are maintained and operated by a local municipality, but due to the amount of damage sustained by the levee failure, and the fact that the levee is maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers, the Corps is footing the bill to repair the pump house. The project includes replacing the windows that were blown out, repairing the pumps that were damaged, and rebuilding the engines that were flooded.

Any Corps job is swamped with requirements, assessments, a paper trail, bids, oversight, and certifications. The Corps stipulated that the project include rebuilding the engines and that the main bearings be re-babbitted. They entire project went out to bid, and a construction company called Lamar Construction got the winning bid.

They hired a great heavy equipment mechanic named Keith to work on the engines. Keith and his crew disassembled them, sent out the bearings, and ordered rebuild kits. When it came time to fit the newly re-babbitted and machined main bearings Keith called on OTM Inc to help with the job.

The Indian Grave Drainage District  engine #3, mostly disassembled during a rebuild

I arrived in St. Louis on Tuesday and drove the 100 or so miles to Quincy, Illinois. I showed up at the worksite, but immediately met with some disapproval. To some of the guys in this field, I just look too young to be the “expert” called in to do a finicky job like fitting in main bearings, so the Corps inspector lectured at me for a while about minimum experience requirements. Fortunately, I have ample experience in doing this and lots of other old-engine jobs. More importantly, I have a phone with all the old-timers and trade professionals on speed dial.

crankshaft in number three engine at the Indian Grave Drainage District Pump House

The Corps guy eventually left me alone and I began to measure things, starting with the journals and the bearings. I installed a shell as a test and found that it was really tight, so I kept taking measurements and started getting worried. None of the shells really looked right, and the fit was terrible. I started to doubt myself and I had got all these guys breathing down my neck and I was really sweating for a few hours. Then I realized that the bearings really wouldn’t do because they were also non-concentric (by fourteen thousandths of an inch!) and undersized, and the problem was probably with the original machine-shop re-babbitting process.

crankshaft and fitted bearing in number three engine at the Indian Grave Drainage District Pump House

I knew at this point that I couldn’t accept this kind of work, but I felt like I needed to build a case before I could just reject the bearings. The guys at the pump house were pretty skeptical; they were like “You’re here to fit the bearings; can’t you just scrape them to fit?” I had to explain that the scraping is part of a process where a perfect bearing is fit to an imperfect shaft. To attempt to scrape 14 thousandths out and then make it fit is way too much to ask.

They still weren’t convinced, so I measured the shells in a million spots, then installed a few to illustrate how bad the patterns were, then dug up a new bearing to show how they should be. The guys at the pump house eventually agreed with me, so I then drove to the machine shop to find out what process they used.

The bearing shells are straight with a 175 degree curve to them – like a pipe cut in half. The process that I’m familiar with for re-babbitting shell bearings goes like this:

Once the old babbitt is machined out and the steel shell is tinned, they chock it up and spin in a lathe while melted babbitt is poured into it. The centrifugal force helps ensure that the babbitt is seated well on the steel shell and any bubbles or impurities move to the inside surface of the shell. This shell is thin and warps after new babbitt is attached to it. Machinists hammer on the babbitt to relieve the tension, then fit the bearing into a saddle the same shape as the one in the engine. Then it gets squished in there really tight and machined to the diameter of the journal. This ensures concentricity.

In contrast, the machine shop selected for this job has never worked on shell bearing like these before. I don’t think they really knew where to start, and it showed in the “finished” bearings. They specialized in flame-spraying or “metalizing,” and they used this process to build up the babbitt, rather than pouring melted babbitt into the spinning shell, and the machining was done by holding the shell in an oversized fixture and with one bolt threaded into the back, instead of a clamp. This left the shells twisted and in some cases curled or flattened. The shells must be perfectly concentric or the shaft will be forced to one side and then the other.

Fourteen-thousands non-concentric is a lot when you’re talking about bearings — on other jobs, I’ve scraped and scraped for days and only taken off two or three thousands for all that work.  The machine shop guys said that something like “well, fourteen thousands is the best we can do.” My smart-ass reply was “look, the bearings were perfect in the 40’s and we are, I’m guessing, more technologically advanced now.”

I haven’t encountered using the flamespray process to re-babbitt a bearing shell before; I’ve only used centrifugally cast in my other jobs. I’ll do some homework over the next few weeks and report back about what I find.

For this job, though, the flamespray shop people were in way over their heads, since they’d never worked with these kind of bearings before. The whole situation could have been eliminated if some resourceful person had called a few people and asked a few questions, then a few more, since ultimately that leads back to Dan. I’ve found that the moral of any story like this is to ask yourself “What would Dan do?” and then do it.

So, at the end of the week, I sent the bearings back to be re-babbitted again and I’ll be back in Illinois soon enough.

Tour of the Anheuser-Busch Busweiser Brewery

While I was in St. Louis, I took the tour of the Anheuser-Busch Budweiser brewery and got my two free beers:

Anheuser-Busch Budweiser Brewery in St. Louis

The tour was pretty good, but I was really mad that they didn’t talk about how the brewery used the first non-experimental diesel engine in America. It turns out that Mr. Adolphus Busch got the American rights to produce diesel engines in 1897 and retained Mr. Diesel himself as a consultant. The Busch-Sulzer Diesel Engine Company eventually produced both stationary and marine diesels, installing them in big ships, ferries, and public utility electricity plants. They also got lots of US Navy contracts during WWI and WWII.

The tour didn’t go into any of this, but I guess that’s fair since they were talking more about how they make beer and the brewery’s history, rather than about the awesome emerging technology at the time. They did mention that they used refridgeration, which was pretty special back then.

Aside from that, I was totally impressed by the whole production and how industrial it all is. The buildings take up many many city blocks with pipes connecting them all and trucks going in and out. If I didn’t know it was a brewery, I would have thought it was a refinery or something.

All that for beer.

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2008 Week 53 in review

Important winter warning

Now that winter is here, Old Tacoma Marine Inc reminds you to winterize your engine room! Use anti-freeze in your cooling system, turn on a heater in the engine room, and make sure to run the engines occasionally, even if you don’t leave the dock. These are very important precautions to keep your boat and its old engine safe during the winter.

Just last week, one of our favorite boats severely cracked some large castings in the Pacific Northwest’s cold snap and blizzards. We are very sad to hear about the damage and feel that we need to get out the word that the brittle cast iron easily cracks if the coolant freezes. Drain and pickle if the engine will be left for long periods of time, but using antifreeze, a block heater, and occasionally running the engine is the most effective to prevent freezing and cracking.

Work continues on the Catalyst

This week, I’ve continued work on fitting the main bearings into the engine. During the initial fitting, I used bluing and scrapers to get them to about the right shape; now I’m using lapping compound, which is a very fine grit, to get the perfect. This shows me exactly where the bearings and the journals actually touch so that I can scrape down any places that aren’t quite right.

Part of this process is using a squisher tool to hold the bearing in place while I work. This is two pieces of aluminum that push the bottom half of the bearing down into the saddle:

bearing squisher tool on the MV Catalyst

Once the squisher tool is installed, I put the bearing in, put the lapping compound into the bearing, crank the engine around, take the bearing out, clean off the lapping compound, and look at the pattern of scratches that lapping compound left on the babbitt. If the scratches are in just a few areas, that shows me where to start scraping to get it to the right fit so that I can test it again. If there’s scratches all over the bearing, I know it’s getting good contact and is ready to go.

Once I know the bearing is getting good contact with the crankshaft, I need to test how high it is – how far up it’s pushing the crankshaft. If one bearing is holding the crankshaft up higher than the others, then the crankshaft will bend. This shows up when I do a strain test to determine how far apart the throws are. If the strain test shows that the bearing is too high, I roll it out, scrape it down, re-fit it with lapping compound to make sure that the contact is still good, and do the strain test again.

Continually rolling the engine over by hand to test the bearings like this is a work out. I only have three main bearings to test, but it takes a long time to get them just right. At least as I go, the bearings start to fit better and barring the engine over gets easier.

More information on the Olympic

I forgot to mention back in Week 49 that the ferry Olympic‘s main air compressor was surplussed and sold on eBay a few months ago. Nick just sent me an email with the link to the expired eBay listing with information about it. Since eBay eventually deletes old listings, here’s a screencap rather than a link:

eBay listing for an air compressor from the ferry Olympic

It’d sure be nice to get it back for the boat.

Happy New Years!

We’ll be spending the night of the 31st on the Skillful to watch the fireworks on the Space Needle. I hope that everyone reading has similarly fun plans!

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2008 Week 50 in review

Work continues on the Catalyst

This was the third week that I spend filing and sanding the Catalyst‘s crank journals. It takes me about a day to get each journal cleaned up enough that I like them, so I’ve been spending a lot of time down in the crank pit.

We got the main bearings back from St. Louis Bearing, and they look good. We’ll install them next week. The new piston rings I ordered from Safety Seal also arrived, but I haven’t had time to inspect them yet.

I got the wrist pin bushings back from Asco (which, you’ll remember back in Week 50, I had honed in preparation for flame spraying), so I took all six wrist pins and six of the cam followers out to be flame-sprayed at Flamespray Northwest, down in South Park. Flame-spraying is a process to build up a coating over a metal part and then grind it down to a precise size (Wikipedia has a pretty good article on it here). I have stuff flame-sprayed when it’s worn down and needs a little more material to fit right.

The wrist pins needed to be built up a little to fit the newly-honed bushings in the rods. The Washington book just says that the wrist pin clearance should be one-thousandth of an inch for every inch of diameter, since the book was written to cover many sizes of Washingtons. The Catalyst‘s pins are two-and-three-quarters of an inch, so I told Flamespray to grind them to between two-and-a half and three thousandths of an inch, and the followers to two thousandths.

The cam followers needed to be built up a bit, since both they and the guides they ride in are a little worn down. It’s really important the that the followers and the guides fit together tightly, since a bad fit can make them break. The lobe on the camshaft will kind of slap the follower every time it comes around, and the fit of the follower in the guide is important to transfer the energy quickly to up and down motion. Side-to side momentum can build up if there’s too much clearance in this set of parts, and this force can break the guide. We reamed out the guides to make them straight, then had the cam followers flame-sprayed and ground down for a tight fit.

I also honed the cylinders with a ball hone. This is quite a work out, plus we use brake cleaner so it’s pretty fume-y – and this was just to clean up the cylinder a bit, not to fix any tapers or deep scratches. First, we tie a bucket under the cylinder to catch all the grinding gunk:

Using a bucket to catch slop while cleaning up the CATALYST''s cylinders

Then, I stand up on the engine with a ball hone attached to a drill motor, while a helper (in this case, Captain Bill) sprays brake cleaner into the cylinder. The ball hone has lots of little grinding stones mounted on wires that spin around and cleans up the cylinder liner:

Ball hone used to clean up the CATALYST''s cylinders

The honing has two phases. First, I run the ball hone up and down pretty fast to clean up all the scratches in the liner, while the helper sprays solvent in to wash away cut material and grit. Then, I slow the drill motor down to make a 45-degree cross-hatch all over the liner surface. If the liner is just polished smooth, oil doesn’t really adhere to it and you don’t get enough lubrication between the piston rings and the liner. The cross-hatch pattern helps hold the oil against the liner walls so that the piston rings glide up and down without actually touching the liner. If everything is aligned perfectly, the engine can run for years without any friction between the rings and the liner, and the cross-hatches will be perfect when you inspect them.

We finished honing all the cylinders in just a few hours, then cleaned them really well with solvent and hot soapy water. We finished up by oiling all of them, so they’re all ready to be re-assembled when we get the other parts done.

New Years cards from OTM Inc

Old Tacoma Marine Inc’s annual 2008/2009 New Years cards are in the mail!

New Year's card from OTM Inc

If you don’t get one, send your address and we’ll put you on the mailing list.

Show your concern for the Bristol Red Salmon

Lia and I hosted a Red Gold gathering at the house, where twenty concerned citizens came to eat Bristol sockeye and watch the documentary Red Gold projected on the basement wall. We passed around Aquavit, generously provided by Pacific Fishermen’s Doug Dixon.

Red Gold is a good conversation starter, though it doesn’t tell the whole story (but what does?). I really hope that progress on the mine can be slowed and that more people get involved in the discussion. I wrote Alaska’s senators about it, and I hope some of you write those who can call for more investigation into the plan. Addresses for the Alaska senators are here on the United States Senate website.

It must be the holiday party season

Speaking of Pacific Fishermen, they invited us to the 56Th annual Fishermen’s Night, hosted by the Norwegian Commercial Club. I love this event, since it’s another great Ballard seafood feast. We ate almost our weight in king crab, oysters, pickled herring, fried cod, shrimp, and gin. The food was amazing and probably 80% of Ballard’s wealth attended.

A couple days later was Jensen Boat Works’ holiday party, which we attended with the folks from Catalyst and Newt. It very nice to see the community that Jensen’s Motor Boat has built. Anchor was there in spirit.

On Saturday, the folks down at Lake Union Park hosted “Holiday Spirit at Lake Union Park.” They had a lot of activities for kids and families on the old boats, like ornament making and kids choir recitals. The Arthur Foss the kids’ favorite because of the giant Washington… Okay, no, it was the gingerbread tugboats! Diana helped dozens of kids smear frosting and stick gumdrops on the cookies, the boat, and their parents. It sounds like a lot of fun, and everyone I’ve talked to says they had a blast. Next year, maybe OTM will set up a booth with engine-shaped fruitcake to give them some competition.

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2008 Week 49 in review

Inspecting the Olympic

This week, OTM visited the Olympic, a 200-foot decommissioned Washington State Ferry with an eight-cylinder Fairbanks-Morse diesel engine. It’s currently tied up at the ferry graveyard in Eagle Harbor on Bainbridge Island, as it has been since the mid-1990s. It’s starting to show:

retired Washington State Ferry Olympic

We were asked to inspect the engine room systems to evaluate whether the engines were still operational. Apparently, the boat is currently owned by a non-profit foundation that sells boats at a profit to fund scholarships and other worthy causes, and they have a buyer lined up on the condition that the engine works and she can be re-commissioned. We started the process with some background research. As usual, the Evergreen Fleet proved invaluable, as did the venerable Ferryboat Book.

The MV Olympic was built in Baltimore in 1938 as the Gov. Harry W. Nice, with a riveted steel hull and a direct-reversing Fairbanks-Morse engine rated for 1,400 horsepower at 300 RPM. She and sister ship Gov. Herbert R. O’Conor worked the Kent Island-Sandy Point Bay route across the Chesapeake Bay. In 1952, the route was replaced by the Bay Bridge and the two ferries were sold to the Washington State Ferry system. Renamed Olympic and Rhododendron, the ferries went into service in 1954 to work the Clinton route. In 1969, the Kulshan started on the Clinton route, and the Olympic became the overflow boat. In 1974, she was moved to the Port Townsend-Keystone route, but when the new Issaquah-class ferries took over the route in 1979, the Olympic was scheduled for retirement.

In 1983, the Rhododendron was mothballed, but the Olympic kept running despite Coast Guard concerns over operating a single-engine ferry (following an engine shut-down that left her drifting in the Sound for three hours before engineers brought it back online). She was moved to lower-traffic routes (mainly the Point Defiance run) and scheduled for refurbishment with the Rhododendron, but cost over-runs on her sister ship meant that the Olympic was mothballed in 1993. She was surplused and auctioned off in 1997, and has been in Eagle Harbor since.

I don’t think that the boat’s been touched since she was mothballed the second time – she even has newspapers from her last cruise laying in the lounge:

passenger deck of the retired Washington State Ferry Olympic

More importantly, she still has the original Fairbanks-Morse diesel, an eight-cylinder with a 16″ bore and 20″ stroke:

Fairbanks-Morse diesel engine in the retired Washington State Ferry Olympic

The only major problem that I found is that the main diesel-powered air-compressor is missing. This is really the key to the boat, as, like almost any boat powered by a heavy-duty diesel, the Olympic needs compressed air to power nearly all of its major systems, including the generators and main engine. It still has two electric air-compressors, but they require 120 volts DC electricity to run, which in turn can be supplied by one or both diesel generators, but these each need compressed air to start. Oi.

As far as I can tell, everything else is in decent condition and looked like it had been well-maintained during its working career, but without that main air compressor we couldn’t turn it on and tell for sure. Anyone getting the boat back to operational condition will be fighting corrosion every step of the way, and that every valve will need to be exercised and every pump will need to be freed up before putting the systems back online. It also means the new crew will need to do a lot of cleaning to make it possible to work in the spaces:

Engineer's office in the retired Washington State Ferry Olympic

After the trip, I put together a list of recommendations for the organization and any potential buyers. Most importantly, I told them to change one of the small air compressor motors to AC power and a voltage that can be provided at the dock, in order to let them exercise the machinery and demonstrate that the main engine runs (or doesn’t run, whichever the case may be). Both DC air compressors look like they’re fine, so just switching out the motor should be pretty easy:

AC air compressor in the retired Washington State Ferry Olympic

Here’s the total process that I recommended:

  • clean the vessel, giving it at least a once-over
  • change the air compressor motor
  • start the auxiliary generators
  • put systems on line and test
  • install switches for steering and jury rig manual wheel; test steering
  • blow down main engine; bleed fuel lines; repair oil filter
  • tow the vessel out and test-run the main engine
  • re-assess the condition and determine the next steps

This would be a great project, since the Olympic is a great boat in very good condition, considering that it’s been basically untouched at the dock for over ten years. It’s also pretty historically significant as an example of state-run ferries from the 1930s to 1970s, since most of the other ferries of this era have been re-powered, scrapped, or otherwise lost. I hope that the potential new owners get as excited about the project as I am, and that they call me in as a specialist to help re-commission the boat. Stay tuned (I hope)…

Work continues on the Catalyst

I spent the rest of the week on Catalyst, continuing to file and sand the oil hole ridges off the crankshaft. I feel like I’ve been sanding forever, and I’ve still got some left.

The rod bearings also came back from Everett Engineering, freshly babbitted and looking good. I inspected them again and found two things. First, one of the check valve balls was rusty and sort of pitted. These check valves are in the top half of each rod bearing, right against a hollow tube that runs up through the rod itself to the wrist pin. This keeps the rod full of oil after shut-down, so that oil gets up to the wrist pin as soon as pressure comes up. Since balls for the check valves are cheap, I bought new ones for all six bearings and put them in.

Second, some of the peel packs, which are a set of shims stuck together with solder that fit between each half of each bearing set, were replaced with plain shims. This isn’t really a big deal, except that I like peel packs better. I might get new ones, but I haven’t had the time to look into yet.

We also decided to send some of the cam followers and wrist pins to be flame-sprayed. In preparation, I stripped the followers and sent the wrist pin bushings to Asco to be honed down. The bushings (which are made of brass) wear down unevenly during normal operation, so it’s important to get them straight and round before the wrist pins are fit in. Honing is done with a specialized tool made up of three or four stones (they’re sort of leg-shaped) that push against the outside of the bushing and grind a small amount of material off while they turn.

I sent the wrist pin bushings off while they were still in the rods:

Connecting rods on their way to be honed

OTM’s tips for getting your heavy-duty through the economic crisis

All owners of heavy-duty engines are going to feel some pain from the current tough economic times, but OTM has some easy tips to help your engine (and your boat) survive the recession.

Get to know your boat, and want to get to know your boat. This will not only save money, it will make cruising safer and more pleasant. Get a flash light and get under the deck plates.

Clean the whole boat – especially the engine. I cannot overemphasize the importance of cleaning. This simple task addresses nearly all problems with the engine or other systems. If cleaning doesn’t actually solve the problem, it at least will keep the problem from getting worse – plus it makes it much easier to find and note problems so they can be addressed before they get worse. I have heard customers say “I haven’t wiped down the engine for a while so you [the mechanic] can find the leaks easier,” but I then have to spend the whole day cleaning the engine in order to find the leaks. This adds to the bill. It’s also just easier to work in a clean engine room, so the mechanic will be more efficient and productive than in a dirty engine room.

Simplify. In all situations, it’s important to just keep it simple. Good examples include:

  • selling the crane and using davits and block and tackle instead. It looks more elegant and is not much more work (and you hardly ever lower the boats, anyway)
  • removing the hydraulics in a small boat, because you don’t need them. Hydraulic systems are very powerful and few small boats need that kind of extreme power
  • forget about the second radar unit, and clean the windows in the wheel house instead
  • insist on smaller systems. Try to install “normal” systems: no one thinks a whiz-bang radar-guided autopilot is impressive unless the rest of the boat operates flawlessly, is used often, and has demonstrated a need for the device

Focus on need. Often the neatest-looking boats are that way because of how the owners meet their needs simply. I mention often how I like the “lived in” feeling of any structure that is well worn in. Another example is a small line attached to a door and frame to keep it from opening too far and slamming, which is a simple and elegant solution. A megayacht outfitter will try to get you to spend $2,500 on a mechanism to accomplish the same task, which needs to be greased monthly and rattles at full speed.

Break down jobs. See the trees in the forest and make a list with four-hour tasks. Don’t put things on the list like “rebuild engine”. It’s okay to cruise with broken parts as long as you know your limitations. Break the jobs into manageable pieces, and do some now and others next year.

Stay busy. If laziness sets in, the complacent attitude will sink the boat. Stay on task, look at the list, and keep making forward progress – even if it’s slow.

If you follow these tips, you’ll both keep your engine in good shape without spending too much money, and get greater satisfaction out of being proud of the work put into your boat.

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2008 Week 48 in review

Work continues on the Catalyst

This week at Old Tacoma Marine Inc, I spent most of my time on the Catalyst, continuing this year’s big winter maintenance project. I did a lot of cleaning this week, mostly on the cylinder heads and pistons. Washington engines like Catalyst‘s have a lot of very elaborately shaped parts on them that makes the engine interesting to look at and beautiful, but also makes cleaning the heads pretty labor-intensive. I have several cleaning tools to get into all the curves and surfaces to take the carbon chunks off and polish it all up.

3M pads, which are scratchy like a dish scrubber, come in soft, medium and hard pads that attach to a die grinder at the shop. I use the hard ones for the combustion chamber parts and the soft ones to polish the tops of the head. Flapper wheels are pieces of sandpaper glued together in a wheel shape, which also attaches to a die grinder. I use different-sized flapper wheels to clean up the cylindrical parts, like the valve cage holes and the water passages. Wire cup brushes, which are a wire brush shaped like a cup, are good to get into little curved places that are hard to reach.

I got through all of the pistons and most of the heads, and also started filing the oil hole ridge off of the crankshaft journals on the bearings that we’re replacing – all of the rod bearings and half of the mains. The oil hole ridge is a ridge on the center of the crank journal, which is created by the crank wearing down everywhere except for the places where the bearing doesn’t contact the crank:

Oil hole ridge on the CATALYST's crankshaft journal

This happens because the bearings are recessed to allow oil to continually flow around the crankshaft and up the rods. Since we’ve re-babbitted so many of the bearings, all of these ridges need to be filed off to make the journals fit smoothly against the newly babbitted surfaces.

I spent a lot of time filing off these ridges. I used a regular metal file to take the ridge off, then sand it, and polish it with an emery cloth to get all of the scratches out. I stopped and measured the journals for roundness a couple of times during the process and shaped them as close to round as I could. This is a very, very slow process, but it makes fitting the new bearings easier.

Part of why it’s taking so long is because I’m a little inexperienced with this kind of work and I’m being really careful – too careful, if you ask Dan. He says that I’m “gilding the lily,” but agrees that the complexity of this process is worth the caution.

I’ve also kept in contact with St. Louis Bearing about the work they’re doing for me, and am still waiting for Everett Engineering and Utah Babbitt to finish the rod bearings.

Waterfront credit reports?

When I apply for a loan, the bank gathers a lot of information about who I am and how I plan to pay back the loan. They have me fill out questionnaires and pull three separate credit reports. Since I plan to borrow and pay back banks for the rest of my life, I work hard to pay on time and be completely honest with the bank. This is a relationship that I value very much, since it helps me do business and make a living. There’s a similar credit report on the waterfront. It’s called gossip.

Sometimes I see sloppy financial decisions and practices that affect people’s waterfront credit report. For example (hypothetically, of course), I might get asked to start another job before I’m paid for the last one, or get complaints about the quality or speed of a project that’s getting done at a reduced rate in between real jobs as a favor. Commonly, someone may be just slow to pay their bills, which doesn’t sound like a big deal until you realize that I’ve had to take out a loan to cover the expense of a job until I get paid for it.

I’m often surprised that people who do this seem to think that no one else notices these sloppy practices. The waterfront gossip amazing: everyone knows everything about everyone else, and often about their family. I know lots of people on the waterfront who hold grudges from decades ago, people who still follow boycotts that originated in the sixties, and some people who won’t work with someone else because their father had a reputation as a jerk. Like any gossip, this kind of stuff goes around and stays around, and people love to add new stories that reinforce the old ones.

This is not to say that all of these waterfront credit reports are negative, though. There are plenty good owners with good waterfront relationships that get a lot of attention. People follow success stories and want updates on their favorite boats that have gone to good new owners. I have a lot of people ask me “So how’s [name] doing?” because they’re genuinely interested in a project or a boat with a good reputation.

If after reading this you’re worried that your waterfront credit report isn’t as good as it could be, don’t worry; there are things that you can do to improve your score. In fact, I urge everyone to do all they can to improve their score, since waterfront relationships directly influence the buoyancy of individual and organizational operations. Here’s just a few ways:

Get in the game. Get to know other boaters and owners; ask for opinions and advice – even if it goes unused it can help guide you in other projects. This is a community that everyone should participate in.

Pay on time. At least act like you know what you got yourself into, and minimize the whining (though we all know some is necessary).

Educate yourself. Read and take classes so that when you do call on people for help, it’s help that you appreciate and can use.

Take care of your boat. No one likes to help a lost cause or give someone advice that they’ll ignore. Your boat may be your most visible contribution to the community, so it should reflect your sincerity. This doesn’t mean that it has to be perfect and the brightwork all sanded every year – it means that you need to demonstrate that any work that goes into your boat is valued and maintained, whether you do it yourself or have someone else do it.

Help others with their boats. This can be as simple as sharing any new tricks that you discover.

Bonus points: call in with a report and some gossip on other boats, stop by the shop with some coffee, maybe take some classes or donate money to local maritime museums and heritage groups. These all get you involved in the community and show that you care about other boaters and other projects. You’ll meet people, word will get around that you’re a neat person, and people will be happy to work with you.

Above all, everyone needs to realize that even though our unique waterfront community is made up of individualistic and self-sufficient people, we all need to get to know and respect each other more.

Open position at OTM Inc

We at OTM Inc are very interested in creating 3-D computer models of old engines. If you’re a graphic artist with experience in Vector Works or similar rendering programs and are interested in a neat project, we want you!

We have a limited budget and we don’t know much about 3-D renderings, but we think it’d be neat to do engine fly-bys and add heavy-duty diesels to some online communities. Something like this would be awesome:

Contact us if you’re interested.

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Filed under repairs, washington iron works, week in review

2008 Week Thirteen in Review

An Update from the Maris Pearl
This week, Old Tacoma Marine Inc continued organizing the Maris
’s storage container and tool room. We also replaced the bilge pumps and some plumbing, and started to install pipes for the oil cooler.

Atlas-Powered Crane Barges Still Survive

I got a call from a mechanic in Pago Pago, Samoa, who works on an Atlas-Imperial 668 that powers a crane barge. He’s been having some problems with water in the oil and found me through the internet. I told him that it could just be rainwater, since the engine sat outside unused for a while, but he should look in the crank pit as well. There’s also a chance of rainwater coming down the stack, so he’s going to check that out, too.

There are a few other Atlas-Imperial crane barges around that we know of, including ones in Honolulu, Bellingham, Virginia, and Amsterdam, as well as the one in Pago Pago. The ones in the Pacific Rim area are probably ones that were surplused from the Navy shipyards in Honolulu during the 1980s, since they had a bunch of them at that time.

I think that they’re really neat, though, especially since they’re such a different application of heavy-duty power than I’m used to. With boats, the engine will be at idle for an hour or two while pulling up anchor or untying, then the engineer will ramp them up to full as the boat gets under way. With a crane, though, the engine will suddenly race and all the pyrometers will jump up to 700 and the heat sinks will get really hot and the crane will make booming and whining sounds, then it will all stop just as suddenly. It’s a sort of surreal display of horsepower.

An update from Big Swan Drainage

The engineer at Big Swan Drainage in Illinois, called me again (last conversation here). He said that he pulled out the exhaust cage from the cylinder that was giving him trouble, cleaned it out, replaced the gaskets and the sealing ring, and put it back together and back into the engine. This fixed the leak, and the engine seems to be running fine now.

The real test will be when the next big rain sweeps through the Winchester area and the pumps run fast, which will put a heavy load on the engine. If it still doesn’t leak, then the problem may well be solved. A heavy load will also allow the engineer to get the temperature readings I asked about last time, so if there is a problem we can keep trouble-shooting it.

We need help to grow

OTM Inc applied for a business development grant from the National Association of the Self-Employed for the second year. We applied late in the granting cycle last year and didn’t receive it, but we’ll keep trying. We need this grant to help boost the company’s involvement in the museum field. We believe that OTM Inc can become an invaluable resource for museums around the world that have antique diesels in their collections. To become that resource, we need to do lots more research and publishing, create more public programs, and keep finding new old engines – plus whatever other cool things I dream up.

OTM Inc also needs to provide these services if we want to continue as a viable corporation. As I’ve said before, a lot of these old engines are ending up in museum collections and if we don’t have the expertise to work with the museums then we won’t be able to increase our customer base. Plus, it’s fun to work with museums, since they have a huge interest in creating public programs.

Old Tacoma Marine Inc Stickers!

OTM Inc just ordered a bunch of stickers from the Sticker Guy. Here’s the design:

Old Tacoma Marine Inc Sticker Design

We ordered a lot of them and we’re going to make them available to any of you who want them. Just send us your address and we’ll mail a bunch out to you. More on that later.

More scanning

We are still scanning engine manuals like crazy, so keep checking for your engine manual or email us an engine model to scan next.

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Filed under atlas-imperial, museums, repairs, week in review