Tag Archives: babbitt

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 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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2008 Week 47 in Review

Maritime networking at Brunch

I occasionally host brunch for 200 or so of my closest friends. Lots of maritime folks came to last Sunday’s brunch. Brian the shipwright, Grant the captain of the Thea Foss, Diana the maritime museum specialist, Kim of Jack Tar Magazine, Jake from the CWB, and many more showed up for hash browns, bloody marys, and the bonfire out back. It was a lot of work, but it was good to see so many folks having a good time.

Moving the Skillful

Later in the week, we moved the Skillful, the little tug that I bought back in Week 44. It’s been moored at Pacific Fishermen, but we don’t want to wear out our welcome anywhere so we’re going to move it around occasionally.

We took it for a cruise through the ship canal and into Lake Union. The throttle control in the wheelhouse is busted, so we cruised at idle the entire way (except when I manually throttled it up for some quick donuts in the canal), but it’s a great little boat:

tugboat Skillful, underway on Lake Union

We rafted it up to the Arthur Foss, in a short-term agreement with Northwest Seaport. I love it – it looks so tiny!

tugboat Skillful, moored between the museum ships ARTHUR FOSS and Lightship #83 at Lake Union Park in Seattle, Washington

Continuing work on the Catalyst

I wrote last week about how three of the main bearings are bad and need to be re-babbitted; one of them is ripple-y and two of them are all cracked up, including one of the small ones that sits beside the air compressor bay. I brought these up to Everett Engineering Inc last week, but they’re still too swamped to get them done when I need them! They were going to send them to Utah again, but I sent them to St. Louis Bearing in Wilmington, California. I’ve worked with them before and want to throw work their way whenever possible.

We’re asking St. Louis Bearing for an extra step in this work. Since all of the main bearings are worn down a bit, we are going to have the three newly-poured bearings machined down a little, to keep the crank sitting straight and in the same place. If we had the newly-poured bearings machined to the original specifications, the crankshaft would get lifted up at those places and bend slightly, since the bearings that haven’t been newly poured would be a little lower. The extra machining will get us close to the shape we need, and then we’ll fit them exactly with a little hand-scraping. This will hopefully save me the hours and hours of hand-scraping that I did back in Week 36. Stay tuned to see how well it works.

After getting the bearings sent out, I started cleaning pistons. It’s a dirty job: first, I put them into a custom cradle that I built at the shop, which supports it while I push out the wrist pin. One side of the wrist pin is bigger than the other, so I have to push it out just so with a lot of pressure. I want the piston really well-supported while I do this, since the pressure could crack it otherwise. Once the piston is all disassembled, I put all the parts into the hot tank for a few hours, then washed them in the sink. I removed the piston rings by prying the ends out slightly, wrapping the ends with rags, and pulling on the rags to open the ring just enough to slide it up and off the piston. I broke one ring that was stuck pretty bad, and noticed lots of wear on a few others, so I ordered 12 new rings from Safety Seal in Texas. I’ll replace the top two compression rings on each piston with a new ring, which should get here in about two weeks.

Later in the week, I measured the ring gap of each ring by pushing them into a cylinder one at a time. I jammed feeler gauges, pieces of metal that are a determined thickness, into the ring gap. If it was loose in the gap, I went the next size up, until I got a light drag when I jammed it in. Then, I read the thickness of that gauge, marked it in the book, and marked it onto the ring:

measuring the ring gap on the MV Catalyst's Washington Iron Works diesel engine

The ring gap tells me two things: how big the gap is, since too much can give you blow-by and make the engine run inefficiently, and how worn the ring is. As a ring wears down, it expands against the cylinder wall and the gap gets bigger. I can compare the ring gap of the used ring to that of a new ring and determine how much the used ring has worn.

Then, I started checking the sizes of the cylinders relative to each other by putting one ring into each one and measuring its ring gap. I found that there’s a seventeen-thousandths variation between the cylinders. This is sort of medium for variance between cylinders; I’ll have to pick the biggest rings for the biggest cylinder and so on, but it’s not that big a deal.

The last spare pressure-balanced Washington injector?

We’ve got a pressure-balanced injector for a Washington Iron Works engine here in the shop:

pressure-balanced fuel injector for a Washington Iron Works diesel engine, at the shop

Ed Ehler (local maritime guy with a finger in every pot) found it while going through his junk pile and gave it to Dan. Washington stopped manufacturing the pressure-balanced injector type around 1928, after they started making the far-superior spring-balanced injectors, and the only engine that we know of that still has the pressure-balanced type is at the Kodiak Maritime Museum.

Dan’s talking about how he’s going to strip it for parts, but I’m trying to convince him to keep it intact because it’s the only spare pressure-balanced injector left that we know of. It’ll probably end up cannibalized to make a spare injector for the David B or the San Juan, since many of the parts used in the pressure-balanced injectors are the same as in the spring-balanced ones. The David B already has two spare injectors and we haven’t heard from the San Juan for a while, so maybe I can still convince Dan to keep the pressure-balanced one. We’ll see.

Pacific Marine Expo and Winners of the OTM Inc Sticker Contest!

I went to the Pacific Marine Expo on Friday to check in with the greater maritime industry. I saw some folks who I don’t see anywhere else, handed out cards for Jack Tar Magazine’s Sexy Women of Maritime Calendar (coming this December; ordering details on the website soon), and decided that I need a booth there next year.

After the show, we headed to the Central Saloon to judge entries in the 2008 Old Tacoma Marine Inc Sticker Contest:

judging the Old Tacoma Marine Inc 2008 Sticker Contest at the Central Saloon in Seattle

The competition was stiff, the pictures were great, and the nachos were many, but we finally selected our winners.

Thanks to all those who contributed! The winners have been notified – congratulations to those who won! Stay tuned for details about the 2009 OTM Inc Sticker Contest!

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Filed under washington iron works, week in review

2008 Week 46 in Review

We took the rest of the main bearings out of the Catalyst this week. Bill and I rolled them out two at a time to look at them, clean them really well, measure them, and take pictures:

lower shell of main bearing on the MV Catalyst's Washington Iron Works diesel engine

Then we’d roll them back in and roll out another two. We were careful to not roll out adjacent pairs, since it’s important that the crankshaft stay supported even with a couple of bearings out. Now that I’ve said that, I’ll say that there was one exception: we rolled out both six and seven at the same time, because one of them is a small bearing beside the air compressor bay, so it’s not quite as important.

We also found that number six and number seven are bad, which makes three bad main bearings to be re-babbitted. One of them is ripple-y, like it got hot (maybe it was changed out and not scraped in, which would have caused it to heat up) and two of them are cracked very badly:

lower shell of main bearing on the MV Catalyst's Washington Iron Works diesel engine

One of the cracked ones was definitely from badly-poured babbitt (which I described back in Week 44), so the other one was probably bad babbitt as well, since they were probably done at the same time. It’s hard to tell, though, and we don’t really know when the babbitt on the mains was poured. It could well be the original 1932 babbitt! Maybe I’ll look it up in the log book to pass some time while underway next summer.

By the end of the day, we’d rolled out all of the main bearings except for number one. This one carries the weight of the flywheel, which we didn’t want to deal with on this job. We’re going to assume that it’s okay for the time being, since the flywheel is a consistent load – it just goes around and around. The pounding of cylinders firing is the thing that’s really hard on the main bearings, so neither Dan nor I were that worried about number one. We’ll look at number one in the future, but this winter’s job is big enough already.

Later in the week, Bill and I took them up to Everett Engineering for estimates. We also stopped in by Striegel Supply to visit Steve and to pick up a piston ring from a DMM Enterprise. The DMM models have an 8″ bore, so we think that one of those rings might work for the 8″ Washington. It’s thinner, but we took it anyway and hopefully I’ll get it to work.

I introduced Bill to Steve, and we all chatted about how everyone owes us money. Striegel doesn’t really carry Washington stuff, but Steve’s a good guy to know – especially if you ever need Enterprise stuff.

An update on the Island Champion

While we were in Everett, I took Bill by the Island Champion. We went aboard to see some of the work that Hilbert’s been doing and he showed us the new floors he’s laid in the salon and galley, which look very nice. I would rather have seen the old floors refinished, since I’m old-school like that, but they do look good. Hilbert’s been doing a lot of other work on the boat and it’s looking great. He and Bill and I were joking about how it could work as a charter boat, but we weren’t really serious… or were we?

Being aboard reinforced the fact that we need to tie the boat up to a strong pier and run the engine for a few days, since it hasn’t been run since the last year’s swamping (I told that sad story back in Week 22). A few days after it was brought up, we flushed the engine really well, flushed the oil lines, and bailed out the crank pit. Then we changed the oil a couple of times, rotated the engine by hand, took all the reed valves apart, cleaned them, and put them back together. We also drained the Manzells and flushed them, then cranked tons of oil through them. With all that, the engine should be fine, but hasn’t been run since so can’t sign off on it yet—plus the engine should be run as often as possible, anyway. Hopefully, we’ll manage that over the winter, once my other jobs are done.

Speaking for Old Engines

I gave a talk for the Society of Port Engineers of Puget Sound, on Veterans Day. They have a speaker at their monthly meetings, and they were interested in hearing about the big old diesels. I don’t think of myself as much of a speaker, but this is the second time I’ve been asked.

Last year, I gave a talk for the Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society, and while I think that the guests might have learned something about the antique diesel engines, I wasn’t very animated. I ended up reading a lot of my talk from a script that I wrote beforehand, but other people say it was fine, so maybe I’m just oversensitive.

This year’s talk for the Port Engineers went a lot better. I started by telling some of my funny engineer stories, and then just talking about engines. Instead of preparing a Presentation, I put up pictures of engines and boats that I wanted to talk about and just talked about them. I got some good questions, and a bunch of people were nodding as I talked, so I think it went pretty well.

I want to thank the Society for the invite – I met a lot of interesting maritime folks. I look forward to visiting again.

A buyer for the Lake Superior?

Bob from the American Victory Mariners Memorial and Museum Ship called me the other day; he and his people are interested in maybe buying the Lake Superior. He wanted to know if there were parts and technical support available for maintaining a Q Enterprise. They apparently want to use it occasionally to move things around, but mostly as a museum ship. I told him that there were plenty of resources out there in the community and to keep me in the loop – and to call me for the cruise from Duluth to Tampa.

Later, I did some research on the internet and found an article at the Great Lakes & Seaway Shipping News Archives about the Lake Superior. Apparently, the Army Corps of Engineers gave it to the City of Duluth when they retired it in 1995, and the City tried to make a museum out of it by their convention center. I guess folks weren’t that interested in an old Army tug at the dock, since so few people took the tour that they actually cut a hole into the side of the hole to make an ice cream parlor. That didn’t work either, and they sold the tug to a private company last year.

I think it’s good that the city was able to move on and sell the tug when they saw that it wasn’t working as a museum boat, rather than getting completely stuck trying to convince the world that another old rust bucket was interesting. I’m all for preserving the old boats (they help keep the old engines dry), but museums and cities have to be realistic when they’re trying to operate a workboat as a museum. Sometimes it’s just not doable because people aren’t that interested. I think it’s better to sell the boat and move on than resort to gimmicks. I mean, an ice cream parlor? Are you kidding?

It looks like the folks in Tampa might be able to make a go of it – it sounds like they have lots of activity and know how to keep big old boats (like their flagship, American Victory) interesting and working.

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Filed under museums, tugboats, washington iron works, week in review

2008 Week 45 in Review

I worked all this week on the Catalyst, continuing the big winter project.

I started out by measuring the crankshaft to figure out whether or not the journals are egg-shaped (which could, if you remember last week’s entry, be one reason that the bearings are cracked up). I took a lot of initial measurements and found that it’s out-of-round about three thousandths of an inch at most in a few places. I’ll polish it and then check it again, but it’s not totally out-of-round. Number six journal is the most round, so it was probably machined “recently” – which means probably more than 25 years ago, since Dan and I know all the owners since then and none of them had it done.

I went up to Everett Engineering to talk about the rod bearings and borrow a tool (more on that later). It turns out that they’re too swamped to re-pour all of the rod bearings on our time-frame, but they know of a shop in Utah (Utah Babbitt Bearing Specialists Inc) that can do it pronto. After they’re poured, the bearings will go back to Everett Engineering for machining. They’ll touch up the spares at the same time.

I picked up the pistons and brought them to the shop to for cleaning, then on Wednesday I started measuring radiuses. The tool I borrowed from Everett Engineering is a radius gauge, which I used to measure the fillet radiuses on the edge of each journal. Everett needs to know exactly how big they are so that they can cut the fillet radiuses into the bearing babbitt. Cylinders one through five have five-sixteenths-inch radiuses, but number six has a three-eighths-inch radius with a 45-degree flat bevel on it, which is weird (see Week 36).

Then I started cleaning parts. I had the valve cages and valves in my shop, and I ran them all through the hot tank (which is filled with hot lye) in batches. I then sandblasted them, then ran them through the solvent tank to get all the sand out, then sprayed them down with brake cleaner to get all the solvent out, and then put them on Dan’s desk so that he could do the grinding (it’s his machine, and he likes grinding valves). I also wire-brushed the stems to clean them without taking off too much material.

While I was cleaning them, I noticed that three of the main valve nuts on the top of each valve were different sizes from the rest, so I hired Grant to make three new ones the same size as the rest. Valves should be rotated every so often, but Catalyst‘s haven’t been very often since it’s so hard to get a wrench in there. I’m going to make a fancy wrench so that the engineer can get in there and rotate all the valves regularly, but all the nuts need to be the same size so that one wrench will fit all of them.

I went back up to Everett on Thursday to return the radius gauge and talk more about the bearings, then I went back to the shop to start cleaning cylinder heads. I used a chisel and a scraper to get all the big chunks of carbon off, then I 3M pads and a flapper wheel to get the rest off. There was a lot of black carbon (soot) that needed to come off, as well as white chunky stuff that I’m assuming is sulfur. The heads were really dirty, since they haven’t been cleaned in a while and the engine runs a lot.

On Friday, we started looking at the main bearings. We used plastigauge to measure how much clearance the main bearings have, which is a thin little wire of plastic that goes between the crankshaft and the top half of the main bearing shell. We bolted the bearing down tight around the plastigauge, then unbolted it and pulled the top half of the shell off, and measured how much the plastic squished.

We then compared the measurements against what’s specified in the Washington owner’s manual to make sure that the bearing clearances were within the right range. Too little clearance and the bearing can get damaged from the heat of friction, while too much clearance can mean low oil pressure, since oil will flow through a gap and drip down into the crankshaft rather than staying on the bearings (this can also mean that less oil goes up to the rod bearings and wrist pin bearings, but this doesn’t seem to be happening on Catalyst). Having the right amount of clearance means that the crankshaft is perfectly balanced and can run for a long time without any issues. Since one of the problems we’re trying to solve during this repair period is low oil pressure, we wanted to make sure that the main bearing clearance was fine.

Sure enough, we found a lot of extra clearance (about 13 thousandths of an inch, when it should be around four thousandths), which is a likely cause of the low oil pressure. This is pretty typical, since over time the bottom half of the bearing wears down and the crankshaft sinks down into it, making a gap between the crankshaft and the top half of the bearing. The reason the gap is so big is probably because the main bearings haven’t been looked at in a long long time. Main bearings are hard to look at and the process is kind of scary, so it’s easy to put off. I should clarify that we have been strain gauge the crankshaft every year to make sure that the bearings are wearing evenly, which is the most important part, but it’s important that they’re tight enough to hold oil, too.

After checking the clearances, Dan came down and we started rolling the bottom half of the main bearings out to inspect them. These are a curved piece of forged steel with babbitt in the concave side, which fit into the bed plate between cylinder bays. Each main bearing has a cap that sits on the top; when you take the cap off there’s an oil hole underneath on in the crankshaft. You can put a bolt into this hole and then rotate the crankshaft around by hand, which will rotate the bearing all the way out so that you can lift it right off:

rolling out the main bearings on the MV Catalyst's Washington Iron Works diesel engine

This lets you really look at the babbitt, measure its thickness for wear, and make sure that the crankshaft is riding smoothly and evenly between each bearing.

The first main bearing we rolled out was number five. Its surface was wavy, sort of like the surface of the moon. Yikes! We rolled out another one, and found that it was okay. Whew! We’ll roll the rest out next week, and hopefully find most of them okay. Any wavy ones will need to be re-done.

A brief note on election night

All of us at Old Tacoma Marine are glad the election is finally over and we will enthusiastically participate in changing what it means to be an American for the better under our new inspirational leader.

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2008 Week 44 in review

I had a long day on Sunday, since the Catalyst was scheduled to come in at the beginning of the week – and we took two days off to sail the schooner Zodiac from Bellingham to Seattle.

Sailing on the Zodiac

I first sailed on the Zodiac in 1997, after helping during a winter yard work period. I still remember shackling blocks to the mast while hanging from the spreaders by my knees, looking down at the Fremontians waiting for the bridge to close. Since then, I’ve gone aboard often to visit but not to sail – until this week. The folks who run the Zodiac put out an all-hands call to maritime heritage people in the Seattle area to help bring the boat from Bellingham (her summer port) to Seattle (her winter port). With diesel prices so high, they try to sail as much of that trip as possible, and to sail they need a lot of extra hands, since the Zodiac is the largest working sailboat on the West Coast, with the largest single sail on the West Coast, which is raised by hand:

schooner Zodiac, during an October 2008 cruise from Bellingham to Seattle

Our trip this week was much less work than when I sailed in 1997, since we were guests. It’s been a while since I’ve gone boating without responsibilities, and it was very nice. Lia and I stood mini watches at the helm and bow, then just hung around on deck or in the salon. When it was time to hoist a sail or something, a crew member would give us direction and we’d pitch in with the other passengers. The crew has been chartering all summer so they treat us freeloaders with the same velvet gloves as the summer’s paying guests, but with a relaxed end-of-the-season style.

Monday started as a perfect day for sailing, with clear skies and a cold, stiff breeze. We sailed for about 8 hours until the wind died, and I must admit that the quiet sounds of the boat creaking under sail sounds nicer than even the rumble of an Atlas-Imperial. We anchored at port Townsend for the night and a few of us passengers went ashore to get a spectacular view of the schooner as the sun set:

Schooner Zodiac at anchor off Port Townsend, as seen from Sirens' deck

Tuesday, in contrast, was foggy, cold, and windless. We got underway at about 9am, but since there was no wind and the current was against us, and we wanted to make it through Seattle’s drawbridges before they closed at 4 pm, we motoring the rest of the way. The tireless crew took the opportunity to start un-bending the sails and folding them up for the winter. We got to Seattle and made it through the locks in time to fuel up at Ballard Oil before the bridges closed. Spencer, who is owner Warren’s grandson, was working the dock. Spencer took the Engineer for a Day class that the Ballard Maritime Academy kids attended last year, so it was good to see him and ask how it was going. After we fueled up, we went the last stretch through the ship canal and Fremont to the Metro docks right next to Northlake Shipyard, where the boat stays for the winter.

The Zodiac was built in 1924 for the Johnson family (of the Johnson & Johnson Company fame) as a heavy-duty sailing yacht. She originally had a six-cylinder Atlas-Imperial with a 10 ½ inch bore, and competed in some of the grand trans-Atlantic sailing races of the 1920s. After the Depression, the boat was sold to the San Francisco Bay Bar Pilots, who used her to pick up and drop off pilots until the early 1970s (she was actually the last schooner working as a pilot boat, since she was very fast and maneuverable and stable). After a few years at the dock, Karl Mehrer, captain of another former-bar-pilot-schooner, the Adventuress, acquired the boat and brought her up to Seattle. She’s been cruising the San Juans as a charter boat and a platform for educational programs since the early 1990s, while being continually “restored” during winter maintenance seasons.

Like many of the boats I enjoy cruising on, the thing that comes to mind when I step aboard the Zodiac is the comfort, which comes from an amazing attention to detail on the part of the crew. I wrote about this back in Week 28, and then later in Week 31 how it’s impossible to create that kind of comfort without running the boat a lot. The Zodiac has decades of people working her, all tinkering and making adjustments and repairs. Sure, this means that there are some scratches in the sole and the doorways have some dings in them, but when I need to look behind the rudder quadrant there’s a working flashlight hanging up next to the hatch, the key to the ship’s clock is hanging next to it, the frying pan is over the stove, the silverware is next to the fridge, and the light switch next to the door. The Zodiac is full of these kind of efficiencies that can only be developed over time, but are what make a boat run smoothly and feel like home. Even thought her original engine (an Atlas-Imperial) was removed long ago, I still think she’s one of the most comfortable boats around. I encourage everyone to take a trip on board next summer.

Work begins on the Catalyst

I stepped off the Zodiac and went straight to the Catalyst, which arrived in Seattle Monday night for some major winter engine work. I got to the boat and removed all the jewelry (the push rods and rocker arms and things that stick out of the cylinder), and loosened the nuts for the exhaust manifold:

The Catalyst's Washington diesel engine, with jewelry, valves, and injectors removed

Then I took off the heavy exhaust manifold (which almost squashed me), the cylinder heads, the pistons, and the rod bearings:

The Catalyst's Washington diesel engine, with cylinder heads removed

During this process, I noticed that all the rod bearings were cracked up and will need to be re-poured. This isn’t really a surprise, since we already knew that number six bearing was pretty cracked up (remember back in Week 36, when I took apart number six rod bearing and found that it was just intact enough to get us home?). I also suspected that number two would be bad, since I got inconsistent readings when I bumped it back in September (also Week 36), and it’s not uncommon for several bearings to be bad if one is.

Cracked up rod bearings are usually caused by one or a combination of three things:

Badly poured bearing, in which the babbitt alloy didn’t adhere to the bearing shell (typically cast iron, or sometimes forged steel). A badly-poured bearing might look good, but if you put any kind of load on it the babbitt move around and crack up quickly, since it’s not actually attached to the shell. Since bearings are easy to pour correctly using improved modern techniques, it’s pretty unlikely that this is what happened.

Overloading and lugging, in which the engine is operated too hard at a lower RPM. This creates higher firing pressures and puts much more stress on the rod bearings than normal.

Out-of-round journal, in which the journal (the shiny part of the crankshaft that the bearing grabs onto) gets worn down and oval or egg-shaped. The journal is supposed to be perfectly round with a fillet (a “concave easing of an interior corner of a part used to reduce stress concentration”) on either side, so that the rod bearing moves smoothly around it. If the journal is old and has been hammered on for a long time, it can flatten out on top and develop uneven wear. If you put a newly-poured bearing onto a worn-down journal, they don’t fit together smoothly and the friction can break the oil film between them. Once the oil film is broken, the babbitt gets damaged really quickly.

This is what happened with the Westward several years ago. She was cracking bearings every year, and someone finally realized that the crankshaft was worn down and egg-shaped. When the owner decided to fix it, he hired Dan, who worked with Wilson Machine Works to machine the crankshaft in place. Wilson developed a fancy tool that is bolted onto the rod foot while the piston rides in the cylinder with no rings, which aligns everything in the right place relative to the cylinder. The engine is then barred forward so that the journal moves through the cutting surface, taking a thin shaving off with each rotation. Dan actually saved some of the shavings:

shavings from the Westward's journals, courtesy Dan Grinstead

They would get the tool set up and in place, bar the engine forward to take a bit off, then measure the shape of the journal, then take another bit off, then measure it, and so on, until each journal was round again. Since they had to bar the engine over so much, they hooked up a five-horse air motor onto the same belt-drive system that the alternator and the hydraulic pump use. This moved the crankshaft around without having to crank on it with a lever every time they needed it to move. Even then, Dan says that it took a full week of work (although half of that was spent cleaning up barely-measurable tapers with emery cloth). The hardest part of the whole process was making each journal the same size, so that the rod bearings are interchangeable, but they managed it and the Westward has stopped cracking up bearings.

There’s one other factor that affects older diesels like Washingtons and Atlases: the babbitt is poured thicker. According to Dan, this is a holdover from the steam days. Babbitt is a very soft alloy, and a thick layer of it will move around a bit under a big shock load. A steam engine doesn’t create a big shock load, so when they started building diesel engines they didn’t really think about the difference. The shock load on a diesel is much higher, though, and the force moves thick babbitt around enough that it cracks easier. Incidentally, bearings on “modern” diesels use a very, very thin layer of babbitt on a much harder shell (usually steel or brass) to prevent the cracking.

With the Catalyst, the bearings are probably cracked up mostly due to the overloading, with maybe some out-of-round journals (the old-style thick babbitt just means that they’re more prone to cracking up than modern bearings, rather than being a single cause).

Whatever the cause, fixing the bearings is pretty straightforward. I brought them all up to Everett Engineering Inc, the shop that did the Arthur Foss‘s throw-out bearing way back in Week Seven.

An owner?!?

I know that I am one of the worst critics of boat owners and am very cynical in my recommendations for how owners should take care of their boats. Now, I need to brace myself for the same abuse – most likely from more than my conscience. That’s right – I bought a tugboat and have become an Owner! I’m trying to do so in a responsible way and within my means. This means that: a) the boat is small, b) I have two other partners in on it, and c) we plan to work the boat to pay for its expenses. Hopefully, we’ll make it work out.

It’s a neat little wooden tug, except that it has a 671 Jimmy. I hate Jimmies, but I will try to make the best of this one (until we start producing new Washingtons, at least…). I’m going to paint the engine white just out of spite and add more sound-proofing as a start.

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2008 Week 36 in Review

This week aboard Catalyst, we dropped off passengers at Wrangell and then took the boat to Ketchikan to start the 12-day Inside Passage trip. Summer is over here is Alaska, so it was time to bring the boat back to the San Juan Islands. Here’s the first week’s itinerary:

Wednesday, September 3 – Ketchikan to Foggy Bay: Stormy and rainy
Thursday, September 4 – Foggy Bay to Lawson Harbour: cross Dixon Entrance, customs in Prince Rupert, humpbacks (light rain)
Friday, September 5 – Lawson Harbour to Bishop Bay: more humpbacks, Dahl’s porpoises, some soak in hot springs (overcast and fog)
Saturday, September 6 – at Bishop Bay: meet Marvin and watch bears (but no white ones), some salmon in river, kayaking and soaking

Here’s the crew:

MV Catalyst Crew

And here’s the passengers:

MV Catalyst Passengers

We arrived in Ketchikan on Monday at about two. We spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning up the boat, then headed up to Annabelle’s for drinks. We weren’t scheduled to start cruising again until Wednesday, so I spent Tuesday looking at number six rod bearing, the one that I found babbitt flakes and leaking oil in last week.

Rod bearings, the connection between the crankshaft and the connecting rod, are made up of two cast-iron shells that fit around the crankshaft:

rod bearing on the MV Catalyst's Washington Iron Works diesel engine

Each half is lined with babbit, which is a lead and tin alloy that makes a very low-friction contact surface when it’s oiled. When I pulled out the number six rod bearing, I found that the babbitt was all cracked up:

rod bearing on the MV Catalyst's Washington Iron Works diesel engine

It’s not quite falling apart, but it’s getting close. Usually, cracked-up babbitt is due to the bearing being too loose or the journal being out-of-round. It might also be because of poor casting, poor machining, or overloading.

After I found that, I pulled out the spare rod bearings and started cleaning up the crankshaft. It had goop built up on it and a lot of scratches and scrapes on the journal, so it took me a good eight hours to clean up, then I spent another four fitting the lower half of the bearing. I thought this would be a fairly fast job, but I found that the machinist who had poured the babbitt into the bearing didn’t know that Washington crankshafts have a unique 45° flat bevel on the edges of the throw. Pretty much all engines except the Washingtons have a rounded edge on the throw, which was what the fitted the babbitt to. It turns out that when the Catalyst‘s spare bearings were sent out to be re-babbitted, a few years back, they went to the machine shop at the same time as the Westward‘s Atlas bearings. The machinist did all of them using the standard rounded bevel.

Anyway. I got the crankshaft cleaned up and started fitting the spare rod bearings in, but they didn’t fit correctly because they had the round bevel and the crankshaft had the 45° flat bevel. This meant that it was time to pull out the bearing scrapers:

rod bearing and bearing scraper on the MV Catalyst's Washington Iron Works diesel engine

The way you fit a rod bearing to the crankshaft is to get the crankshaft really clean, then smear it with “blue” – a special grease that’s bright blue. Then you put the rod bearing onto the crankshaft, push it around a bit, take it off, and look where the blue is smeared. Those are the highest places on the bearing, so you start scraping the babbitt off there. The goal is to get the bearing the exact same shape as the crankshaft, scraping off the blued areas until the entire bearing is entirely blue, which tells you that you have a good fit. I blued the crankshaft, put the bearing on, and just got a little bit of blue on the bearing at the peak of the round bevels. Then I started scraping:

rod bearing and bearing scraper on the MV Catalyst's Washington Iron Works diesel engine

I scraped and fitted and scraped and fitted the bottom half of number six rod bearing for about four hours. At 10 PM, I had the fit really close, but the other half still had to be fitted and we had a noon departure the next day. I decided that fitting the spare bearing wasn’t possible with the tools and the time available, so I re-installed the cracked bearing (which will still works, but needs to be replaced pretty soon), bumped it, and called it a night. The next morning, I cleaned up the big mess of babbitt shavings I’d made, ran the temperature check, and got the boat ready to go by noon. Number six rod bearing is still knocking, so I might take out another shim later in the trip.

Now after all that, you might be wondering why Washingtons have that unique 45° flat bevel on the crankshaft, rather than using the rounded bevel like all the other engines. The answer is that Estep probably thought it was really special and just that much better than anyone else’s design.

Adrian Estep was an engineer and designer who worked for the Atlas-Imperial company in Oakland, California, right when they started their diesel line in 1915. He moved to Seattle in 1919 and opened a shop in Fishermen’s Terminal to repair gas engines. He must have still been really interested in diesel tech, though, because he sometimes converted gas engines to run on diesel, and he started building a prototype heavy-duty following the Atlas model but making some design improvements.

Apparently, the prototype was pretty impressive, because Mr. Frink, the president of the Washington Iron Works, saw it and wanted to buy it to power his own yacht. At the time, Washington Iron Works was a foundry that manufactured logging equipment and steam engines out of its South Seattle shop. I don’t know what happened to the prototype engine, but within a couple months, Frink made Estep an offer he could not refuse: a ten year contract to build diesel engines of his own design.

Estep worked for the foundry from 1921 to 1931 and full authority to guide the drafting room, pattern loft, foundry, and machine shop in developing one of the most efficient, ruggedly built, and most beautiful diesel engines ever. He patented a couple components of the Washington engines, and made a lot of little innovations like the flat-beveled crankshaft. The first engine to roll off the production line went into the Elmore (now, ironically, powered by an Atlas), and soon they were powering a lot of Seattle and Alaska workboats, logging camps, and power stations.

Every engine’s base doors read “Washington-Estep” until he left the company in 1931, which led to Washingtons also being called “Washington-Esteps” or just “Esteps.” Apparently, he went on to work for Kahlenberg in Wisconsin, but Washington Iron Works kept producing the engine for all sorts of different customers, including the US Navy and the Russian government. They made 651 engines before they shut down the engine line in 1951. I think it’s very unfortunate how few of them they made – and how few of them they are left – since they’re such great engines.

Incidentally, this week’s cruise on the Catalyst was pretty fun. We jumped into hot springs, saw an amazing sky full of stars, and saw more bears:

bears at the hot spring while cruising on the MV Catalyst

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