Tag Archives: fireboat duwamish

2008 Week 38 in Review

This week on Catalyst, we finished up the Alaska cruising season:

Sunday, September 14 – Montague Harbour to Friday Harbor: clear into US, pack and prepare for reentry to “real” life

After I stepped off in Friday Harbor, I headed for the nearest restaurant to feed my need for fried food. I had a great time on the boat, but it was good to get ashore again. I’ll see the Catalyst again in a month or so when they come to Seattle for winter repairs.

Research into proper propeller pitch & keel cooling

Since one of the Catalyst’s big winter projects will be to resolve the overloading issue, I called Sound Propeller Services about re-pitching the propeller. They said that it sounded like it needed to be re-pitched, and recommended that I look at what size the original propeller was.

Dan also told me a cute equation to figure out how to re-pitch a propeller to resolve an overloaded engine:
1) divide achieved RPM at full rack by nameplate RPM to get a decimal amount (0.XX)
2) multiply pitch by ([current pitch] by 3) and that should be the new pitch

I don’t know how scientific it is, but it sounds close. For Catalyst, that’d be 390 divided by 450 to get .86, multiplied by 32 equals 27.5, so it should have a propeller pitch of 27.5 inches. Hmmm…

I also called Keith Sternberg for information about installing a keel cooler on the Catalyst. He recommended one-inch brass pipe in a pattern to get the same surface area as the heat exchanger (or more). Larger than the heat exchanger is fine, too, since the thermostat equals it all out anyway. The most expensive part of the process will be the fittings.

Catching up with the museum ships

I spent a bit of time this week at Northwest Seaport working on some of their projects. Up in the office, we’re wrapping up some final reports for Arthur Foss programming and repairs (mostly last year’s haul-out), and planning the big fall take-it-apart-and-fix it. More on that later.

Down on the wharf, I’m working on the Duwamish again. I’m making slow progress on this project, but I’ll pitch it up after I catch up on everything else. I’ve been gone for quite a while, so there’s plenty to do.

More construction at Lake Union Park

Back in Week 19, I wrote about how excited I am about re-developing Lake Union Park. Well, they finally kicked off Phase II this week by starting to demolish the old yard:

Daily photographs of Phase II construction (and demolition) at Lake Union Park, from Northwest Seaport

This makes me just a little sad. I lived on board the Arthur Foss for two years, starting right after the “old crew” left in August of 1996. Back then, we moved the boat around quite a bit. I had a great time tinkering in the engine room, which then turned in to a full time “job” of volunteer management and program coordination. We got some good work done then, like raising a new aft mast, painting the whole boat, and training up a crew for deck and engine room work. I lead the group through all the projects, just like I was taught in Sea Scouts. We had a good crew.

Much of our time was spent moored at South Lake Union where the Northwest Seaport had its small shipyard. I had a blast working there – fully recognizing that there was no way that it would be a permanent facility. It was prime real estate, and we were just playing in it.

It was a funny place. The land is a small industrial hold-out right next to downtown Seattle, that’d been completely forgotten by the city. Back then, the Navy owned it and trained reservists in the buildings there, but Northwest Seaport had a long-term arrangement with the City to have historic ship maintenance facilities and moorage there. We had “maintenance” toys like a big old crane and a forklift (we used both to make a 12-foot snowman one winter). We used them to get a lot of work done, but we also did stupid things like taking “crane rides.” We’d hang a fender from the crane, get someone to sit on it, and then swing the boom up and around. Wow. Completely dangerous, but fun.

We also met a lot of people this way. Some of them were short-time volunteers or tourists, but others were “regulars” around the yard. They happened to live there, under the picnic tables or in the out-buildings. They’d be up early for coffee, very respectful, and often worked on the boats or served as crew when we needed an extra hand. They just had a hard time fitting into “normal” society. Maybe 100 years ago they would have been old-time sailors working a respectable job, but now they’re just bums in the park.

Those were the fun times, and I enjoyed them while they lasted, but now the days of the Seaport yard are over. I think it’s for the better – the “interactive” shipyard takes too much space in return for too little public benefit, and it’s declined in the past few years to be just someone’s spare lot to park their junk in (to be fair, a lot of organizations have parked their junk there; not just Northwest Seaport).

So I’m a little sad to hear it’s going since I have good memories of that space, but I’m really excited that it’s being made into a park for a lot of people. I welcome the planned grassy hills and park benches, and even the “interactive fountain.” Let’s hope this change reintroduces more people to their watery roots, and sparks the love for the boats that represent the remaining bits of maritime heritage.

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2008 Week 29 in Review

An update from the Duwamish

The Worthington Company (1-800-892-6189) does not have any parts for the fireboat Duwamish‘s air compressor. They do stock a lot of parts for old air compressors, but this one is very old and rare. We’ve decided that the best option is to make new valves. One should be made with a grade 8, half-inch washer, machined and lapped. The other should be made with a small piece of sheet metal the same thickness as the original, lapped perfectly flat.

Preparing for the Sobre las Olas job
The Sobre Las Olas‘s cylinder relief valves were sent up to me last week so that I can overhaul them in my shop. First, I tested a few with a high-pressure nitrogen tank to see what pressure they were set to open at. Many of them were actually over-tightened, some of them leaked, and some were completely plugged with soot. I disassembled them all down to the component parts and started cleaning:

I also found that the Sobre has used two different types of relief valves, the old style with a big bell and a brass adjusting screw, and the newer model that’s much smaller and has an exposed spring. Machining and lapping the old style way too much work; since there’s no guide, I would have had to make something that would fit in the body (in contrast, the new valves have a guide about an inch above the seat). Luckily, Dan had nine of the newer style in the shop, so I chose to overhaul them instead. This also makes all the Sobre‘s valves the same style and therefore interchangeable. As with all the engines I work on, I try to make all the parts the same so that the spares really are spares.

Even using the newer style, the valves were still tough to seal. The seats were all very wide and had lots of pitting. Most required me to narrow the seat by using a five-eighths reamer with a straight end. I ran that down to bring the top down, then I used a tapered reamer to widen the opening. I did this until all the pitting was gone. A few took machining to create the 90-degree edge for the valve to seat in. After that, I lapped them all, set the spring pressure to an opening pressure of close to 800 psi, tested them using nitrogen, and finally set the spring again for exactly 800.

The good ones held to 800, then make a “chatter” sound as the pressure is increased over 800. The bad ones leaked or gradually opened at 800, making a “squish” sound. I spent hours fussing with them until they were all tight and most chattered. Some were still a little squishy, but much better than they had been. I also grabbed a new water collection manifold from Dan’s shed. In the middle of the night before we left, Lia and I nailed together some crates and packed everything up:


I flew out at 0730. I’ll write about the trip next week.

Responsible boat brokerage

I don’t plan on ever owning a boat bigger than my yacht (a 10′ aluminum skiff), but if I did, and then I wanted to sell it, I’d pick my broker carefully. He or she would need experience, knowledge, and a realistic view of ownership to find a buyer capable of taking care of the boat, and the patience to resist a quick easy sell to the first person willing to sign the forms.

From what I’m seeing these days, though, this selectiveness would really limit my choice of broker. A service that should be o honestly match a buyer with a seller to smoothly transfer ownership of a boat seems increasingly hard to find.

In my experience, many brokers take the easy way of selling a boat: they find a sucker who will eat up the vision of gloriously standing at the helm of their very own yacht, which only needs “a little” repair to make that cruise to Baja. Of course, we all know how these stories end (or you should, if you’ve been reading this blog).

Now, I’m all for suckers getting what they’re due (is there a better way to learn than to screw up and have to fix it?), but not when it’s at the expense of the boat and of my reputation. With brokers who just sell this dream, anyone who is asked to survey or repair the boat becomes the enemy. The broker will just keep weaving a dishonest dream of “oh, she’s in great condition – and a bargain!” and the proud new owner will get mad at any mechanic or shipwright who breaks the hard truth to them. Those of us in the marine repair business are the ones who have to crush the dreams of proud new owners, while the brokers walk away with the cash and find more suckers.

If you’re looking to buy a boat, you start being a responsible boat owner before you even step into the broker’s office. You should research what it takes to maintain a boat (old, new, wooden, steel, whatever) and figure out how much you will really be able to do on it. You should figure out the price of moorage, insurance, fuel, and maintenance to determine how much boat you can handle, and then you should start shopping. Talk with other boat owners, get invited on a cruise, and ask to come down and see the boat during it’s annual dry dock period (yes, that means that a boat should get dry-docked every year — not just when you can afford it).

Once you’re ready to buy and are talking with brokers, insist on an independent survey of any boat you’re interested in. Use specialized surveyors for each part of the boat (one for the hull, another for the engine, and another for the rig) to get an informed report on the boat’s condition. Question the surveyors—read the books and take the classes to learn enough to tell when someone’s being honest and when someone’s trying to sell you extra work.

My goal and Old Tacoma Marine Inc’s goal is to increase awareness of the superior comfort, reliability, and efficiency of boats with heavy-duty diesels, so that the boats they power are maintained and the owners feel good about their investment. This ultimately keeps me employed, and saves neat old boats from being scrapped or broken just because they were built before 1950. Bad deals or boats sold to those without the poise, guts, or means to take care of them destroys the boats, the engines, and my profession.

OTM Inc Weekly eBay Auction

This week’s prize from the OTM Inc shop is an Enterprise valve:

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2008 Week 28 in review

I’m still working on the air compressor for the fireboat, mostly searching for parts and slowly making new parts. I did find a company that still supplies parts for Worthington air compressors, who may have the parts we need.

The Sea Lion as an example of a really comfortable boat

The Sea Lion IV, (recently sold at auction) is a great old tug with an Enterprise diesel that was converted to a nice cruising yacht a few years ago:

The other pictures in the set show beautiful cabins, decks, and living spaces, with great attention to the fine details. I think that with its medium-sized DMG-8 engine, it must be a very comfortable boat.

Those looking for a great cruising yacht should seriously consider an old tug like this. I think a lot of people labor under the misconception that new fiberglass yachts are much more comfortable than the old wooden or steel workboats converted to private cruisers. Comfort, however, is measured in many different ways.

I believe that it is the engineer’s job to look at comfort as an evolving formula and constantly tweak the boat to optimize it. Many people think that comfort stops at appearance and how squishy your throw pillows are, but there are a lot of other properties. Here are just a few of the things that the engineer thinks about when engineering the comfort of a vessel:

  • vibration from the engines
  • noise from the engines
  • smells from the fuel tanks, black water tanks, and diesel exhaust
  • brightness and tone of the lighting
  • feel of the deck beneath your feet (there’s a big difference between a springy steel deck and a thick planked wooden deck)
  • smoothness of the door latches and other hardware
  • echoes in the head
  • a loud cook in the galley
  • perceived safety (which ranges from the integrity of the systems to the training of the crew)
  • taste of the water
  • appearance of the vessel – up close and from afar
  • power surges, outages, and brown outs

All these factors are very connected, which makes engineering the comfort of a vessel challenging. Here’s an example:

  • A motor with no frequency drive starts and causes:
  • a brown-out (the lights dim)
  • higher vibrations and noise while the generator is overloaded
  • unsightly black smoke from the stack for a minute
  • more exhaust smell
  • a decrease in the level of perceived safety (“they can’t keep the generator running well”)

Here’s an example of monitoring and adjusting the comfort level:
Energy-efficiency adds to the vessel’s comfort by reducing generator noise, exhaust, and the need to start a second generator (even more noise and exhaust). To reduce the lighting load on a charter boat, I changed out many incandescent light bulbs to compact florescent ones, including the lights in the crew mess. The light bulbs I used were a “cooler” color (towards the blue spectrum) than the old incandescents, and they were the curly bulbs. I patted myself on the back for making the boat more energy-efficient, which reduced the load on the generators and decreased the exhaust and vibrations.

Well. The crew hated how the lights looked and revolted against me. The captain demanded the “regular” bulbs be re-installed. I quickly replaced the new bulbs with different florescent lights, which were a “warmer” orange color. The bulbs were also completely enclosed to look more like a “regular” bulb. Everyone thanked me and never knew the “regular” lights were also florescent lights with just a different color and a more normal look.

When it comes to comfort, both diagnosing the complaints and engineering the solution can be difficult, but it’s worth the work. There is nothing more worth striving for than “normality,” since it makes people feel at home, and that’s what comfort is all about. I don’t think it’s possible to get the mix right before commissioning a vessel, which is part of my preference for older boats. I think that my subscription to Showboats International may be canceled for saying this, but the new yachts just can’t compare with the comfort of an old boat that’s had all that time to engineer the issues out of it. I think that 50 years with many long-term crew members maintaining the boat and tweaking it is worth way more than “all that’s new, all that’s best in the world of mega yachts” – and, of course, they just don’t build them like they used to.

An update from the Catalyst

Speaking of comfort, we got a call from one of the most comfortable boats out there, the Catalyst. They report that everything is fine up in Southeast Alaska. Bill said that he just saw the John N Cobb being towed through Wrangell Narrows, and he flew the flag at half mast.

Wanted: Engineers for heavy-duties

This is a call for applicants for engineer positions on yachts, charter-, fish-, or research boats powered by heavy-duty diesel engines. Please send résumés to Old Tacoma Marine Inc.

We get a lot of calls for crew and we would like to provide a heavy-duty crew pool as a service to vessel owners. All applicants must have experience working with Atlas-Imperial, Washington, Fairbanks-Morse, Enterprise, or other heavy-duty engines.

The next generation

There was a great article in the July 2008 issue of WorkBoat magazine about the next generation of mariners. The article raves about all the maritime high school programs around the country and mentions the Youth Maritime Training Association, a customer of OTM Inc. We coordinate the Engineer for a Day class held at South Lake Union for High schoolers. We’ve described it previously in this blog, but to recap for new readers, this program introduces students to the engine room by allowing them to run machinery and monitor its performance. The course takes place in three very different engine rooms: direct-reversing diesel (on the tugboat Arthur Foss), diesel-electric (on the fireboat Duwamish, and reciprocating steam (on the excursion steamer Virginia V).

Among other things, we demonstrate how the engineers’ duties are very similar on each different system. Our teaching platforms – the vessels – are some of the best I can imagine and many of the participants in the classes we offer go on to fill a much-needed position in the maritime field.


We at Old Tacoma Marine Inc. will soon be embarking on a new online endeavor. To provide even more services for owners and enthusiasts of heavy-duty diesel engines, OTM Inc will be adding a “Members’ Only” section to its website. Benefits of membership will include a framed photo of the fascinating and unique V-8 Washington Iron Works diesel (last seen in an Alaska logging camp), quarterly newsletters, an events calendar, a directory of other HD diesel owners and services, quarterly gifts and other benefits.

What else would persuade you to pay a membership and fill out an online survey? Help us develop this new feature!

OTM Inc Weekly eBay Auction

This week’s prize from the OTM Inc shop is this Manufacturer’s Plate from our local Washington Iron Works foundry:

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2008 Week 27 in review

An update from the John N Cobb

We hear that NOAA has decided to tow the John N Cobb back to Seattle before decommissioning the boat. This may give the engineers and mechanics a chance to determine the problem. All of us at the shop think the vibration dampener should be the first suspect component.

An update from the fireboat Duwamish

Work continues on the fireboat’s air compressor, but progress was interrupted by the Wooden Boat Show…

32nd Annual Lake Union Wooden Boat Festival

The Wooden Boat Festival, the big annual show put on by the Center for Wooden Boat, took place on July 4th, 5th, and 6th this year. It took over all of South Lake Union, between the boats on the docks and the booths on the grass. It was great to see all these people gathering to celebrate the old boats.

I ran the Washington in the Arthur Foss for the whole weekend. We kept almost the entire boat open to the public so that they could look around and get a feel for the boat:

Visitors to the ARTHUR FOSS's engine room

The engine really sounded great at 60 rpm, so I just left it there most of the time. The hiss of the air-starts and the rhythm of it going were enough to draw people into the engine room and then the sight of all the rockers going up and down kept some there for hours. Some danced, some talked shop, and some were literally brought to tears by the heartbeat-like thumping. At 60 rpm, you can hear and pick out each firing stroke of each cylinder. On top of that, there are hundreds of other interesting syncopated sounds coming from all over the 70-ton engine, like the whoosh of intake and exhaust, the squeak of the manzels, and a low rumble that you can feel rather than hear.

About three thousand people visited the tug during the show, and many said the engine was the neatest thing they saw all day. I would have to agree.

Old Tacoma Marine.com was represented well at the show by some very cute girls handing out our famous propeller stickers. Don’t forget about the photo contest!

Last but not least, the Excaliber (the former Langston Hughes that we talked about back in Week 21) and the Arthur were reunited at the dock for the festival:

tugboats Excaliber and Arthur Foss, at the dock together during the 2008 Lake Union Wooden Boat Festival

The Excalibur was built in 1908, but the crew is much younger and eagerly participated in the show with snappy matching red shirts. Salty captain Andrea, who is tougher than French nails, spent hours on the Arthur while the Washington was running. The Excalibur was also re-powered to a Washington in the 1930s, but it was replaced with a high-speed diesel in the 1950s – to Andrea’s lasting sadness. She’s now looking for an old heavy-duty of her own. I would love to see one — an enterprise, maybe — being lowered right through the galley in to the engine room someday.

OTM Inc Weekly eBay Auction

This week’s prize from the OTM Inc shop is this 1950s-era Henschel General Alarm Switch:

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2008 Week 26 in Review

This week, Old Tacoma Marine Inc. headed east to New York to see some neat old boats and engines. First stop was Waterford, New York

Tim in Waterford

I had a very nice talk with Tim Ivory in Waterford New York, who has some interesting projects going on. He spends a lot of time rebuilding PT boats for Robert Lannucci, and he helps out a friend with the Fairbanks-Morse in the tug Josie T (originally called the Scussit).

My favorite project of Tim’s is the fireboat John J Harvey (although he works on it less now because of his busy schedule):


The fireboat is limping along as many museum boats are this days, but they do run the boat often. After a serious shipyard period with extensive hull work, and then another shipyard period immediately after because the stern tube bearing failed, it’s good to hear the boat is now doing well. Since it bears repeating, I’ll say it again: running the boat is one of the best things any museum can do.

I wish that fireboat museums around the world could find funding easier, as the boat can still be useful even if not in full service. This is made very clear with a story that Tim told of when the Harvey responded to the need for fire-fighting water after the three World Trade Center buildings were demolished. He said that the engineers worked around the clock to supply water to Ground Zero for days after the collapses. The full story is at Fireboat.org.

In contrast, the fireboat Duwamish is essentially laid up and unused, despite its suitability for serving as an auxiliary fireboat. The city has resisted efforts to partially reactivate the boat despite several serious Lake Union fires that it could have minimized or prevented (the 2002 marina fire, the 2006 NOAA dock fire). The Seattle Post-Intelligencer did a fine write-up of how the city refuses to look at the Duwamish as a valuable tool for keeping Lake Union safe, archived here.

I think commissioning new fire boats and retiring old fire boats is a touchy political thing. Like any purchase with public funds, the cities tend to make a big deal out of commissioning new fire boats or shiny red fire trucks, with the expectation of using them a long, long time. When it eventually comes to decommissioning the boat, though, the city seems to hope that the boat is completely unusable or (like in the PI article) they’ll risk looking like jerks who have wasted public funds on an unnecessary “upgrade.” Re-commissioning or even just using an old fireboat can be seen as admitting that the boat didn’t actually need to be replaced – even though those of us in the marine repair industry understand how hard it is to keep an old workboat working.

If I’m right, then this makes getting municipal funds for fireboat preservation way harder than it should be (especially since the boats and their crews really do deserve credit for keeping the city safe). It also makes me wonder exactly why Tacoma’s Fireboat #1 and San Pedro’s Ralph J. Scott (both National Historic Landmarks, as is the Duwamish) were put up on blocks in city parks, preventing them from ever being used as fireboats again. Incidentally, this isn’t just an American thing; Hong Kong put the fireboat Sir Alexander Grantham on the beach in a park, too.

In response to this, I am calling the port cities to look at a compromise solution to the retired fireboat problem. I think that semi-retiring the older boats – by turning them into museum ships while keeping them on “reserve” – would be mutually beneficial for both the city and the museum that takes them. An endowment or maintenance stipend would help keep the boats ready for when the extra waterpower is really needed, but make sure that the museum isn’t just leaching off the municipal government. I realize that gray deals like that look bad, but I think it would save a lot of embarrassment when the “decrepit” old museum boat pumps water for three days straight, or when a government dock goes up in flames right next door to the world’s second most powerful fireboat.

Some other thoughts on the museum industry

I visit (and work with) a lot of maritime museums and always wonder why some of them work and others struggle. Here are a few thoughts on this subject:

Volunteering versus ownership
In Seattle or New York, it is very easy for anyone who loves old boats to own their own boat and fix it up to cruise on very safe, beautiful waters. Compare this to San Diego, where it is very difficult to own an old boat and there aren’t that many places to go even if you own one (how many overnights to the Catalina Islands can you make, really?).

When you look at maritime museums in these places, you find that the San Diego Maritime Museum has hundreds of volunteers and lots of successful programs, while similar institutions struggle in New York and Seattle (with the notable exception of the Center for Wooden Boats, of course). I think that the easier it is to own and use an old boat, the less interest people have in volunteering for a maritime museum.

Given, though, that the CWB manages to be so successful despite the hundreds of old boats in Seattle, it’s clearly possible for maritime museums to succeed with the proper approach. What do you think makes this possible, and what can the struggling maritime museums do?

Next thought:

Board discrepancies
Folks who understand business, financing, politicking, and who have friends in high places do not seem drawn into maritime museum boards very often. I wonder if this is because when giving philanthropic time, these CEOs want to do something that touches many others and those with few volunteers and few successful programs (which sadly describes many maritime heritage organizations that start with a boat and a few people who love it) are less appealing. This then feeds into itself, because without a strong board, it’s very hard to build strong programs and a strong volunteer base.

Other thoughts:

It could also be that a boat is looked at as a liability far more than fine art or dead birds are, or that the maritime world tends to breed leaders who make it hard for newcomers to fit into the action. I’m sure there are other factors behind why some maritime museums are very successful and others aren’t. What do you, readers, think about this problem? What can maritime museums do to generate interest, raise funds, and recruit effective leaders with vision and means?

Tim and I discussed these problems late into the night, but woke the next morning feeling no wiser.

New York Trip

Next in New York (and on very little sleep), we visited Robert in Brooklyn. We met Robert through this blog, and he introduced me to three FDNY fireboats and their crews. He took us on a whirlwind tour of the shipyards, Staten Island, and Manhattan – all narrated with a heavy Brooklyn accent.

We started at the Governor Alfred E Smith, the fireboat Robert works on in the Brooklyn shipyards. The boat was built in 1961 and named after a New York governor. It has four DMM 363 Enterprise diesels: two that power the water pumps and two that drive the controllable pitch propellers. By heavy-duty standards, they’re very small engines, but they’re classic Enterprises:


Robert is a seasoned diesel mechanic and in the middle of overhauling the starboard main engine. He’s utilizing advice from many well-known Enterprise experts (including John Brunner and Steve Swanson) to be sure that all procedures are implemented correctly. The project includes straightening the crank shaft, inserting new counter-bore seats, and checking the line bore of the main bearings.

The crankshaft had a slight bend to it, possibly from the prop dinging something and seizing the engine. The shop hired to straighten it just used a heavy table with lots of rigging points and old-fashioned rigging. They got the shaft to within a thousandth of an inch.

The counter-bores in the main had been beaten down, which made sealing the heads difficult so Robert opted to insert new seats:


The rings are a perfect fit and this gives the liners the height they need to seal against the head.

They checked the line bore using the piano wire method. This is a method I thought was just for general bore inspections with little accuracy. Now I need to track down the whole story, since it sounds like an interesting technique.

We continued our tour to the Firefighter, a very shiny diesel-electric boat with two Winton/Clevelands 16 248:

Winton diesel engines on the FDNY fireboat Firefighter

The boat was built in 1938 and is kept all original. As it’s the New York Fire Department‘s oldest fireboat in the fleet, it may be retired soon-although I believe it should stay in service. This boat can reach spots the other boats cant due to its shallow draft, and it’s low enough to fit under all the bridges in the district. I really think the old boats can be kept in service for less money than the price of your new boats, FDNY-ask me how.

Then last – thank god since we were starving and the New York pace was killing us Seattleites – was the John D McKean, a very nice boat built in 1954 and that still has its original engine room equipment: two DSG-36s that power pumps and two DMG-36s as mains:

enterprise diesel engine and telegraph in the engine room of the FDNY fireboat John D McKean

This is a very powerful boat (though surpassed by Duwamish in 1949), and I think it was my favorite one of the day. By the way, for those unfamiliar with antique diesel model numbers, the DSG is a stationary engine: it only turns one direction and is typically used for power generation. The DMG is a marine engine, meaning that it is direct-reversible for maneuvering a vessel.

I am looking forward to visiting the McKean again when I have a little more time. We at Old Tacoma Marine Inc have the parts and tools for maintaining the G enterprises and would appreciate having the McKean as a customer. We have two more New York trips scheduled this year, so we’ll have to make getting back to Brooklyn a priority.

An Update from Chris in Salt Lake City

Chris in Salt Lake City reports to have the pistons in his Atlas-Imperial diesel, and has nearly fitted the rod bearing. Good work Chris; we can’t wait to hear it run.

Engine Demonstrations on the Arthur Foss

The 32nd Annual Wooden Boat Festival is this Fourth of July weekend. Come to Lake Union and check out the show and my favorite, the Arthur Foss. I will be running the Arthur‘s Washington occasionally throughout the show.

OTM Inc Weekly eBay Auction

This week’s prize from the OTM Inc shop is this Aluminum Momentary Switch with Brass Armor Cable:

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2008 Week 25 in Review

An Update on the Duwamish

Progress on the Duwamish air compressor continues. I’ve determined that it is, in fact, a Worthington (despite the “expert” opinions we’ve been receiving). We located an identical air compressor a little south of here and hope to install it in place of the newer air-cooled model. This will help keep the boat true to its 1940s configuration. I hope we can reach a deal soon.

An Update from the Maris Pearl

The Maris Pearl is doing fine and cruising around Southeast Alaska. Jay reports that the poor weather is not keeping them from having great times. We’ve been promised pictures and maybe video, so stay tuned.

An Update from the Arthur Foss

Northwest Seaport held its third Tugboat Night tonight. Usually I’m the Tugboat Night leader, but I was busy elsewhere this time so Diana and Nat the museum folks at NWS cranked up the Washington on the Arthur Foss for the evening. They’ve both been involved in every Tugboat Night I’ve done and have watched countless startups, so with many phone calls they felt confident enough to run it for their students. I’m told that this Tugboat Night featured the history of the boat and its systems far more than when I lead it (since my philosophy is “let’s exercise the systems by turning things on”), but they said it went well and their participants had a good time.

I hope I’m available for the next Tugboat Night, since they really need to run the big towing winch and that’s difficult to explain over the phone.

Heavy-Duties and Fuel Efficiency

The heavy-duty diesel engines that OTM Inc works on and advocates for (the Atlas-Imperials, the Washington diesels, the big old Enterprises, and the classic Fairbanks-Morses) are being replaced by new engines. Many folks think that this increases their fuel efficiency, but I want to know, does it really?

When you consider the entire power train (the entire propulsion system), the heavy-duties may be more fuel-efficient in some applications. Most of our customers don’t tow or do ship-assist work—jobs where high horsepower is really important. If the engine’s job is to get the boat near hull speed and maintain it forever, then it is safe to say there have been no significant fuel efficiency improvements made in the last 80 years of diesel innovation. There for no need to purchase new technology to do the same job.

Here’s five examples of how heavy-duty diesels may be more efficient than new engines:

1) A direct-drive system is more efficient. A reduction gear used to bring the RPM of a high-speed diesel’s crankshaft down to a useable RPM for the propeller takes energy out of the system through friction. Even when coupled with super-efficient computer-controlled fuel injection, the efficiency of the whole power train may be close to that of a comparable heavy-duty. In contrast, the direct-drive setup that most heavy-duties are part of connects the crankshaft directly to the propeller, transferring more power into propulsion.

2) A big cylinder is more efficient. The larger the whirling ball of hot air ready to accept fuel, the better.

3) A long stroke is more efficient. The long stroke can ensure that all of the useable energy in the ball of fire created in the cylinder is transferred to motion, rather than blowing part of the fire ball up the stack.

4) A big, slow-speed propeller is more efficient. This type of propeller wastes less energy in cavitation and slip, delivering more of the energy to the water.

5) Lower horsepower can be more efficient. Boats are often overpowered, and the extra
power is only usable when excelerating, planing, towing, or pushing. If you listen to the marketing department of the engine manufactures, you’ll think that more horsepower automatically equals better. This message is broadcast much louder than the engineers’ message: that the correct horse power is better. If you install that extra power, chances are that much of it is going up the stack for the gain of a big bow wave and 1/2 a knot:


In this time of high fuel costs, do your homework. When replacing one system for the next, don’t make the mistake of basing the decision on the efficiency of one component compared to that of the entire system. Remember that the heavy-duty owners that we talk with rave about the low fuel consumption compared to their newer competitors.

OTM Inc Weekly eBay Auction

This week’s prize from the OTM Inc shop is this Stainless Steel Ball Valve with Pneumatic Actuator:

Stainless Steel Ball Valve with Pneumatic Actuator

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Filed under tugboats, washington iron works, week in review

2008 Week 24 in Review

Not a lot going on this week. I spent a lot of time in the shop, either doing work work or doing office work.

An update on the Duwamish

The Duwamish’s air compressor is in pieces in my shop:

fireboat DUWAMISH's air compressor, under repair at the Old Tacoma Marine Inc shop

I’ve been cleaning and honing the cylinders, but I still do not know the make or model. I’ve found a few numbers stamped into it, but that’s all.

Clamor about the John Cobb

Everyone is talking about the NOAA ship John Cobb – there’s a lot of interest in what will happen to the boat now that its engine is damaged (details last week). I won’t repeat all the rumors I hear here, but I don’t think that NOAA will just walk away from the boat even with a broken crankshaft.

It’s still slated for decommissioning this fall, and I’ve heard lots of speculation on what’s next for the boat. I hope that whatever happens, the engine will be repaired or replaced with a heavy-duty from the same era – maybe a direct-reversing Enterprise diesel.

Old Tacoma Marine Inc on eBay

In our latest effort to take over the internet one site at a time, OTM Inc is now open for business on eBay. We hope to sell some miscellany related to heavy-duty diesels and other old-time engines, starting with some neat things we’ve had around the shop forever but will never use in any of our projects.

First up: a vintage brass grease cup for engine bearings. We’ve got more information and pictures on the listing, so check it out – or buy it.

We hope to sell a new item each week, so keep checking in.

Slope of Grain versus Runout

While acting as a consultant to Northwest Seaport regarding the lumber purchase for the Lightship #83, we’ve been learning about the language used by shipwrights to define wood grades. Two terms we’ve encountered are “slope of grain” and “runout.” We’ve found that these are often mis-used even by the experts, so it’s been difficult defining them. While researching, we found that there are plenty of sources out there that tell you what causes slope of grain and runout, and how to cut boards to achieve a good slope of grain and runout, but not many firm definition of what they are in the first place. Different people and books also define the terms differently.

Despite all that, we’re now pretty sure that runout is the grain running off the top side of a board and slope of grain is the grain running off the sides. These definitions don’t leave us feeling very much more enlightened, though. If we’ve gotten them confused, or if you have a better definition, please leave a comment on this post – we want to get it right.

I think that maybe the reason it’s so confusing is that the only people who really care are the folks at the mill, who are known as “sawyers.” The slope of grain and runout have a lot to do with the strength retained in the board, so a sawyer will try to produce the best quality (strongest) wood by getting a good slope of grain and runout they can anyway. It’s rare that a wood buyer needs to include those figures in an order.

We did need to include them in the Lightship bid request, though. Our client is required to accept the lowest cost bid, so it had to specify exactly what quality wood they need for the job.

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Filed under fairbanks-morse, lightship 83, week in review