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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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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 Seven in Review

This has been a busy week for Old Tacoma Marine Inc. In addition to our usual winter maintenance load, the museum program schedule is picking up and we’re getting a lot of interest in old diesels following our increased web presence.

First, a variety of engine and vessel news:

Maris Pearl Updates
Jay, Charlie, and I started the week by moving the Maris Pearl from Lake Union Dry Dock back to Shilshole Marina. It was a pretty uneventful trip.

OTM Inc checked in with Alaska Copper and Brass again about the cooler for the tug’s Enterprise diesel. Wayne reported no progress, so I threatened to go down there and roll the tubes myself. Next Monday, I think I’ll show up at their plant with my work boots and hard hat.

I also talked with Rick Hamborg, new owner of the Red Cloud, about the extra control head that I’d like to purchase for the Maris Pearl. I think we might be able to reach a deal soon.

Arthur Foss’s Bearing

OTM Inc picked up the throw-out bearing for the Washington diesel in the Arthur Foss:

tugboat ARTHUR FOSS's throw-out bearing, re-babbitted and ready for installation

Everett Engineering did a great job, although Dan Martin overrode my request for more fore-and-aft thrust clearance so that the tight fit will hold oil better. I’m afraid that it will be much harder to center the bearing every time the propeller shaft is engaged. The clutch on the Arthur Foss uses a set of links that flop over-center in a way that maintains pressure on the clutch without force from the throw-out bearing. When the throw-out bearing is backed off a little, there is no thrust pressure at all. The centering is sometimes hard, as the big wheel that moves the bearing is touchy. We’ll probably want to engineer a clamp or holder of some type to maintain the bearing position while underway. The collar and bearing were installed on Thursday, but the links need to be cleaned. They’ll be installed early next week.

David B Propeller Work
I talked with Jeffrey on the David B, which is hauled-out in preparation for propeller work. They also want to replace the stern bearing due to the 1/4 inch clearance recorded, but the rudder is in the way of the bearing housing. It looks like Jeffrey will need to remove the short intermediate shaft in order to remove the bearing housing, but the tail shaft will be even harder to remove. I’m wondering if they’ll replace the bearing without cleaning the shaft lining. Jeffrey’s frustration makes me think so.

Update on the Catalyst’s Cylinder Heads
The Catalyst’s owners have reached an agreement with Empire Motors to purchase the three new cylinder heads (previously mentioned here) as well as the patterns. I’m really looking forward to seeing them and I hope they work. I’m also really, really excited to see the patterns. I’ll post lots of pictures when they get here.

Fairbanks-Morse Parts
Steve from Striegel Supply is looking for some Fairbanks-Morse parts for a blower on a 16”-bore engine. I don’t know who would have these parts—does anyone reading this have any ideas? Leave a comment – or better yet, post on our discussion board!

A Fairbanks-Morse in Maryland
I talked with John in Maryland this week. He has a Fairbanks-Morse FM–A—6 engine, like the one on the John N Cobb. He’ll be sending us photographs and information soon. He’s also trying to locate spare parts just in case; I recommended Hatch and Kirk overhaul the injectors and pumps for him.

An Atlas-Imperial in Astoria
OTM Inc received an email from the Columbia River Maritime Museum in response to a letter we sent informing the museum of some small problems with their Atlas-Imperial on display. They don’t want to work on the engine right now (especially since it’s on display in the main lobby – though I think that working on it right there would be very interesting for visitors), but they do want a list of what to do and how to do it for future planning. I’ll come up with a detailed list and maybe make a copy of one of our manuals to hand-deliver in March.

An Enterprise in Astoria
I received an email from John Gillon of Portland, Oregon:

I am a volunteer with the amphibious forces memorial museum. Last October we sailed the Sakarissa from San Francisco to Portland Or. She is moored on the Columbia River next to our Landing Craft Infantry 713.

I was looking on your web site and we have a Enterprise engine on the Sakarissa and it is a beautiful engine. You can visit our web site and see more, or contact them for some good pictures of the engine.

I enjoyed your web site,


The Amphibious Forces Memorial Museum has hidden the pictures of its Enterprise too well for me to find, so I’ll have to see if I can visit the Sakarissa while I’m Astoria for the Columbia River Maritime Museum errand:

the SAKARISSA at dock

The Ballard Maritime Academy Engineer for a Day Program

Preparing for a course like this is a hectic process, as the boats always require some head-scratching and jury-rigging to get them running after a long idle period. The biggest puzzle we faced this time was getting enough air pressure to start the fireboat Duwamish’s diesel-electric system. The fireboat’s air compressors need a little work; one of them really doesn’t pump air at all, and the other one’s efficiency is suffering. It takes a long time for it to fill the tanks up to the minimum level needed to turn the main over, so for past Engineer for a Day programs we’ve run an air hose from the Arthur Foss to the fireboat to fill up the tanks.

This past autumn, though, we moved the boats on the Historic Ships Wharf around so that the Arthur and the Duwamish are separated by a big old Lightship (number 83). If we use a long enough hose to stretch up and over the lightship and down into the fireboat, it doesn’t effectively fill up the tanks. Grant and I spend most of Thursday running the air compressor on auxiliary generator, wondering if we’d get enough pressure to turn on the main. We thought about renting an air compressor, but couldn’t find a large enough one on short-notice.

Finally, late in the day, the Duwamish’s own air compressor filled up the tanks to the needed psi and Grant was able to start up the number one main generator:

We ran it and the generator for a while after that to ensure that we had enough air built up to start the engine several times, since that’s a key part of the Engineer for a Day program.

While Grant was working on the Duwamish, cleaning and oiling and turning over the three big Bessemer generators, I was doing some work on the Arthur Foss. We’d removed the base doors during the autumn 2007 Diesel Engine Theory course (pictures at Northwest Seaport’s Flickr account), and I needed to re-seal them using my own patented “goo” method. Five of these doors are the original aluminum with “Washington Iron Works” cast into them, but one is a replacement made of plywood. Northwest Seaport’s museum specialist is hoping to replace this replacement door with a piece of thick plexiglass so that we can see into the engine while it’s running, but they weren’t able to get it purchased and cut in time for this class. They’re aiming to get it installed in time for the summer tour season, though. I doubt that they’ll be able to see much through all the oil that’ll get splashed against the door while the engine is operating, but it’s a neat idea and no harm in implementing it (at least until I have a new door cast in aluminum).

The Virginia V at least was ready to go — though this is only because we don’t start up her steam plant during the Engineer for a Day program (it would double the cost of the class). Her power plant is currently disassembled for winter maintenance, but that actually makes it even more interesting to observe.

After all that preparation, the Engineer for a Day program went great. John Foster, the instructor for the Ballard Maritime Academy, brought 16 kids down for one of the program’s annual field trips. He spends several classes before the field trip teaching the kids about marine engineering and engine theory so that they have a good understanding of it in their heads before they step aboard. When we have them actually start up an engine – either the Arthur’s Washington or the Duwamish’s Bessemers – they suddenly understand what the diagrams and explanations mean:

more photos of the Engineer for a Day program on Northwest Seaport's Flickr account

Despite this, I’m always a little nervous thinking about a big group of kids storming the boat. Once they arrive and we break them into three groups to cycle through the Arthur, the Duwamish, and the Virginia V, I usually calm down. They may be high schoolers, but they want to be there and are way smarter than I give them credit for — even if they play games and whisper and text message while they’re supposed to be listening. I had a great time leading them through the Arthur’s start-up and shut-down procedures, and both Grant and Gary say the same thing about their sections. I’m looking forward to doing as many of these as we can, and not just for Ballard Maritime Academy.

Inaugural Tugboat Night!
The week finally ended with OTM Inc helping run a new program with Northwest Seaport and the Center for Wooden Boats. Tugboat Night was designed to serve three different purposes: to provide a regular, low-cost program on the Arthur Foss, to exercise all of the tug’s equipment more often, and to get more people onboard and involved with the boat and the organizations.

On Saturday night, twelve people showed up for the program, all really excited. Several had never been onboard before, though they’d seen the tug at the dock. My original plan for the evening had been to lead all the participants through the boat starting in the engine room, turning on everything and then turning off everything. After running the auxiliary generator and the AC generator, though, we ended up getting distracted by the main engine and not going on to the steering equipment and other systems. Everyone loves watching the Washington Iron Works diesels, since they have so many exposed moving parts and ways to see into the engine. We played with the controls, trying to get the engine to idle as slow as possible before stalling, and I answered a lot of questions from both beginners and the professional electrical engineer who had run hydroelectric generators in Montana:

Tugboat Night at Northwest Seaport

This, however, is the great thing about Tugboat Night. Next time, we’ll do it differently; we could have other instructors up in the fo’c’sle or the wheelhouse while I stay in the engine room and let participants choose where they go, or we could spend less time on the pre-start checklists and just turn things on and off. We could have a “plumbing night” or a “wiring night” or a “steering and telegraph night,” as well as a “deck department” or an “engine department” night.

I’m really excited by the turn-out of this first session, since it shows that people are interested in learning about the gritty details of old boats. I think that it’s a great way to start building a volunteer engine crew for the Arthur, both to help keep up with maintenance and repair, and for in the future when the tug starts cruising again (though that’s barely on the horizon). I hope that see all the same people at the next Tugboat Night, plus more who hear about it from them.

NWS and the CWB have scheduled four more sessions of Tugboat Night, on April 19, June 21, August 16, and December 20. Depending on the popularity of the class, they may hold more this year, and they’re planning to hold one every month of 2009. Call the CWB at (206) 382-2628 to register now.

Finally, Tape versus No Tape: A Viewer Poll

Kirtland (a boat guy living aboard the Arthur Foss these days in a work-exchange arrangement with Northwest Seaport) and I had a “discussion” the other day about paint on boats. It went sort of like the Bud Light “great tastes” versus “less filling” commercials.

It is my philosophy that paint is an impermeable barrier that protects the ship from rot, rust, and other elemental damage. It is Kirtland’s philosophy that paint is a cosmetic that keeps the boat looking sharp and shipshape. Of course, what we actually said was something like “Next time, use tape, [censored]!” “You want tape? Beat me to it, [censored]!” and back and forth several times.

Now, I’m a big proponent of keeping the boats looking sharp so that the maritime groups have good “dock presence,” but before worrying about making them look good we should worry about keeping them protected from the rain and other agents of deterioration. If Kirtland wants to spend a lot of time fussing over masking and detailing and what should be painted green versus white, then that’s fine – as long as the boat is already protected.

Readers, what do you think? Paint as protective barrier or paint as a cosmetic detail? Please comment with your opinion.


Filed under atlas-imperial, enterprise, museums, programs, washington iron works, week in review

2008 Week Two in Review

Engineer for a Day Program for High Schoolers

Early this week, OTM Inc received a call requesting another Engineer for a Day session for Ballard High School. We put one on in February of last year, which was both successful and mentioned in a Seattle PI article here. John Foster, a teacher in the Maritime Academy program at Ballard High school, asked if OTM and Seattle’s maritime heritage community can host the program on February 15. Coincidentally, this is the day before a big work party and the first session of Tugboat Night on the Arthur Foss. This timing is excellent, as it maximizes the time and money spent preparing for the programs.

The Engineer for a Day programs involve the steamer Virginia V, the fireboat Duwamishand the tugboat Arthur Foss. I’m already signed up to show participants how to start up the Arthur‘s diesel, so next I called Gary Frankel at the Virginia V to get him onboard for his famous steam lecture. Gary is always happy to talk about steam, especially since he’s convinced that this diesel thing is just a passing fad. Then I called Justin Blair, an engineer for the Washington State Ferry system who has helped teach the Engineer for a Day program before. He didn’t answer, which makes me worry since his schedule is hard to change and he is the only person I know who can teach students how to run the Duwamish’s generators.

I’ve been helping run the Engineer for a Day program for three years now. The classes each start by dividing the participants into three groups, which each spend one hour following an engineer through the start-up procedure and then operating the engine. After the hour is up, they shut it down and then switch boats. After every group has been on every boat, we gather again to discuss the similarities and differences of each power plant. The class is very fast-paced and gets people excited about the engine rooms—not just the decks and the bridges. If we’re lucky, we turn out some engineers, too. Northwest Seaport has information about this year’s programs on its website here–including the dates for the open-to-all Engineer for a day program.

The Engineer for a Day program is really amazing for two reasons. First, the students are able to get up close to three very different power plants: a direct-reversing diesel, a diesel electric, and a reciprocating steam engine. I can’t think of anywhere else in the world that a member of the public can see all of these in one day—let alone one where high schoolers can be at the controls of each.

Second, it requires the corporation of many different organizations. A typical Engineer for a Day program involves Northwest Seaport, the Center for Wooden Boats, the Virginia V Foundation, the Puget Sound Fireboat Foundation, the Youth Maritime Training Association, and Old Tacoma Marine Inc—plus other supporters like the Seattle Parks Foundation that owns the Historic Ships Wharf at Lake Union Park where the program is held.

This is really encouraging, since the maritime heritage community that I worked in ten years ago almost never collaborated. Now, people are recognizing that collaboration is essential to preserving the historic ships in Seattle and in other ports. I think that preservation groups and museums need to follow some of the principles of for-profit corporations. Rather than treating some of the groups like a sick friend (high hopes, no demands on performance, and often no action), collaborative programs helps pull them together by holding each accountable and demanding that they pull their own weight. The program also gives the collaboration an attainable goal to drive the weak organizations forward, while the strong organizations receive a new set of resources and a broader audience. I really enjoy watching the Engineer for a Day programs and other collaborative efforts pull the different groups together.

Web Updates

OTM Inc’s new discussion board is awesome, but it doesn’t quite work yet. Early this week, the whole OTM Inc team was very excited by our launch into Web 2.0 with the new discussion board and a presence on many networking sites ( like Flickr and YouTube). We are now web interactive and want to see your posts with questions, answers, pictures, stories, and warnings from the whole heavy-duty diesel community… just as soon as we get the discussion board back online now that the trial session has run out. SO STAY TUNED…

OTM Inc is working very hard to broaden and deepen the heavy-duty diesel engine community and the web is our most important tool. We are committed to keeping these engines running, but unfortunately the world is losing the most valuable information available: that gained from experience. Now is the time for the next generation of heavy duty diesel engine mechanics to make recording the retiring work force’s stories as much a priority as repairing the engines. The web is the best meeting room available for this exchange and OTM Inc wants to be at the table.

And Now a Little “Real” Work

First, OTM Inc put in a call to Bob the foreman at Everest Engineering to check on progress of the throw-out bearing for the Washington Iron Works diesel engine in the Arthur Foss. The bearing failed due to operator error while cruising in 2001. When the clutch needed adjustment and slipped, the engineer on duty leaned on the clutch wheel, thinking this action would engage the propeller shaft. Instead, this maneuver just melted out one side of the babbitted throw-out bearing. While this damage is not necessarily debilitating, the owners want to keep the engine in good condition and sent the bearing to be re-babbitted.

Babbitt is a soft alloy of tin and other metals that serves as a low-friction contact surface when it’s kept properly lubricated and machined. It’s melted and poured into moulds around the bearings, then machined smooth down to the fractions of an inch required by the engine specifications. Here’s a picture of melted babbitt:

and another picture of a mold just after melted babbitt was poured in:

Everett Engineering replied to my call that “we are making progress on it.”

OTM Inc also put in a call to Wayne Dutton at Alaska Copper & Brass to check on progress of the heat exchanger tubing bundle for the Enterprise diesel in the Maris Pearl. Here’s a diagram of heat exchanger tubing like that in the tug:

The company positioned the brass end plates of the tube bundle in the original configuration, slid in about 400 new copper-nickel tubes (a pricey option), and then installed a clamp around the end plates to hold its shape while all the tubes are rolled in using a little tapered mandrill with three rollers. This expands the tube to seal it against the brass end-piece. Here’s a picture of the tube bundle on the factory floor:

Alaska Copper & Brass also replied to my call that “progress is being made.”


Filed under museums, programs, week in review