Tag Archives: repairs

2010 Week 9 in Review

Work continues on the Arthur Foss

This week, we finished resealing the Arthur Foss‘s number four cylinder head, with lots of help from The Anchor Program.

Every year the Arthur‘s engine gets better and easier to work on. The last five years of classes and some very involved maintenance has gotten all the parts freed up and we’ve acquired more of the tools required to easily accomplish repairs and maintenance. The engine sounds great, too – when running unloaded and slow we still have every cylinder firing.

Preparing for Engineer for a Day

Nothing focuses a group like urgency.

I began work with the Anchor Program on Tuesday to prepare the Arthur Foss the fireboat Duwamish and the Historic Ships Wharf at Lake Union Park for the annual high school Engineer for a Day class on Friday. The class teaches kids from the Ballard Maritime Academy about marine engineering and goes from the Arthur to the Duwamish to the steamer Virginia V to learn about each system. Like Arthur, the class gets a better every year.

With TAP’s help, we got all the engines running on both the fireboat and the Arthur, despite dead batteries, broken fuel lines, and dirt and grime everywhere. We had the main and both generators going on Arthur and both generators and the three mains on the Duwamish all going. It was great!

TAP also helped us get the wharf cleaned up and the fireboat pressure-washed and the tug scrubbed. Thanks for all your help, guys – we’ll have more work days like that soon.

High school on the wharf

On Friday morning, three engineers stood on the Historic Ship Wharf next to three historic ships open and inviting with eight diesel engines warming up for class. We were more prepared to day than the previous 3 high school classes down here.

For the fourth year, our Ballard High School class got to experience a marine engineer’s work and realize that the is the same even when the engine room is wildly different. They visited a reciprocating steam plant, a direct-reversing diesel plant, and a diesel electric plant all in the same day visit. They prepped and started up many engines throughout the day to give them the full experience and demonstrate how to operate the engines.

We did have one setback: the starter in the fireboat’s main generator went out, so the class exercise was a little limited, but part of why we hold the class is to exercise the equipment and try to find problems before they become larger issues. I would call the class a great success and we’ll fix that starter soon.

Work continues on the yarder’s injectors

We kept working on the fuel injectors diesel yarder in Eureka. This is the part of the job that is hard on the hands and fairly boring, since I insist that all the parts thread together interchangeably and entirely. It’s common for parts of these antique diesel engines to distort: the threads stretch, they rust, and tips flare the mating surface. Also, years of using pipe wrenches instead of spanner wrenches and hammers instead of heat beats the parts up further. I machine and lap everything and test every part against every other part to get them all fitting right. The process is tedious but it increases confidence when assembling, since every part fits the way it should.

Work begins on the Lightship No. 83

We dove into the Lightship No. 83 project this week: OTM Inc’s first task as Project Manager is to assemble a plan and supporting documents (like charts and tables) and prepare specifications for when we request bids for the work. It’s not like hammering on the hull or tracing leaks in the plumbing, but it’s really important work and it’s great to finally start on it.

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2009 Week 44 in Review

Work on the Catalyst parts

This week, I worked some more on the Catalyst‘s parts in my shop. To replace the bent valve, I called up Safety Seal in Texas, since they’ve made valves for the Catalyst before. They happened to have four valves on the shelf from when they first machined them up, five or so years ago. What a deal – I bought all four.

Then, I reassembled the valve cages. Each cage has nine parts (not counting the removable nose that we never take off), and once all the parts are cleaned, assembling is fun and goes really quick.

Then I reassembled the injectors. Each injector has 24 parts, plus an extra packing ring if desired. This time, I installed Viton packing, which will allow biodiesel to be run through the engine. I hope it works.

My River Chronicles: A good read

I finished Jessica’s new book, My River Chronicles. It’s a good read – you should pick it up for yourself.

The book has several stories that take place while running old boats up and down the Hudson River. It’s got great descriptions of how Jessica got to know boats, boatmen (boatwomen), the river, and history, all from the engine control station while watching the dials. Reading it makes me feel like I’m hiding out in the engine room, bullshitting with Jessica and other engineers so we don’t have to hang around deckhands.

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2009 Week 17 in Review

OTM Inc in Illinois

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

The Indian Grave Drainage District Pump House

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

Here’s some background:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tour of the Anheuser-Busch Busweiser Brewery

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

Anheuser-Busch Budweiser Brewery in St. Louis

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

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

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

All that for beer.

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2009 Week 9 in Review

OTM Inc did a lot of work with the Northwest Seaport this week – both hammering and teaching. But first:

Control head for the Maris Pearl!

I did a little bit of getting ready for working on the Maris Pearl next week. Jay’s got a laundry list of little things that need to be checked up on in the engine room. He is super-organized and has it all in an online database.

I didn’t start hammering this week, but I did finally purchase the “new” control head for the main. As you may recall, Rick on the Red Cloud had a spare control head that’s perfect for the Maris Pearl. This week I picked it up and brought it to the shop, but I didn’t get a close look at it yet (just close enough to see that it’s missing some parts). I’ll take it apart and clean it and figure out what work it needs, but it isn’t going on the boat this year, anyway.

Reinstalling the Arthur Foss‘s throw-out bearing

I’ve started getting stuff together to reinstall the Arthur Foss‘s throw-out bearing. I would have gotten more done this week, except that I had to get ready for the Engineer for a Day program:

High School Engineer for a Day

Every February, I run a session of Engineer for a Day for the Ballard Maritime Academy. It’s a four-hour field trip that gives the kids a chance to start the Arthur Foss and the Duwamish, and learn about steam on the Virginia V. I wrote about it last year here and here. It’s a really neat class that I look forward to, even though getting ready for it is a lot of work.

I checked in with the instructors at the end of last week. Gary said that he was all ready for the Virginia V steam lecture, but Grant had a potential hot date on Friday and backed out of teaching on the Duwamish. Instead, he volunteered our friend Dave, who Grant and I went to diesel school with a bunch of years ago. Dave has spent decades on the water and has done a fair amount of teaching, but he was hard-pressed to learn the admittedly crusty systems on the Duwamish well enough to teach them to high-schoolers – plus, it was his vacation. He helped me get the boat ready for the class, including the first start-ups since last year’s air-compressor rebuild, but backed out of the actual teaching part.

After some negotiation, we got Grant back and the class went smoothly. We got all the preparation done just on time, with the latest version of the startup checklists finished minutes before the kids arrived. They all seemed like they had a good time and learned a lot.

When the class was over and the kids heading back to Ballard, we all met up with Dave at the Zoo to share a pitcher or two.

Grant writing with the Virginia V

While I was getting the boats ready for the Engineer for a Day class, Doug from the Virginia V saw the lights on and came over to talk. We don’t currently do engine demonstrations on the V-5, since getting up live steam would double the cost of the course, but both Doug and I want to change that. It happened that the V-5 was in the process of applying for a grant to get live steam up, and they asked for OTM Inc’s help. We met up with a couple of the board and staff members and talked about ways to make the grant work, and helped out with the writing. Now, it’s the usual waiting game to find out if they got the grant, but I think they’ve got a good chance.

A rant about safety

While working on the Duwamish with Dave, I found that old crusty boats don’t easily gain people’s confidence. Safety is always a factor, all around us, in everything we do, but one man’s safe is another’s hazard. Some people dismiss the old boats, saying “that’s old and unsafe; we should replace it,” while at the same time other people say “they don’t build them like they used too.” I think that both statements are flawed, since not many of the enforcers bother to understand the systems on old boats and therefore overlook things or crack down on something much lower on the list. Many inspectors have their pet issues, like writing up the hydraulic leak next to a pile of asbestos on the deck. Meanwhile, people don’t think about how they’re a bazillion times more likely to get maimed or die in a car accident than they are to get hurt in an old boat, but that’s another rant.

Where is the line between maintaining safety and preserving a boat more-or-less “as-is”? This is an issue that we must deal with every day on the old boats. It’s a judgment call that owners, insurance inspectors, and local agencies – not to mention the engineers – have a hard time making. Nothing is entirely safe, not even doing the best you can do with the resources you have is enough to ensure some old systems are relatively safe.

What is relatively safe, and who can make that call? Many organizations are out there to help with safety, including OSHA, WISHA, the USCG, Underwriters Laboratory, and your parents – but no one wants to invite them over because of the fines and nagging that accompany their recommendations.

That often leaves it up to the engineers, who do what they can. I can’t help but think that there must be a better way, so I’ve come up with a few recommendations. I can’t guarantee these as ensuring safety on the old boats but it’s a start:

  • keep the boat clean
  • keep as many systems operational as possible, and exercise all functioning systems regularly
  • retain engineers who have many years of experience on that particular boat
  • constantly work to keep communication open between owners, captains, and engineers

If all that is working, then I recommend carefully inviting regulatory agencies to the boat to help find ways to up the safety, but without ending programs or breaking the bank. Then make a timeline to accomplish these tasks, get them done, and invite the agencies back to make more recommendations. I know it’s scary for those on the line, but another set of eyes can really help increase safety on these old boats

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2009 Week 6 in Review

Work continues on the Catalyst

This week at OTM Inc, we overhauled the Catalyst‘s injectors. This process includes striping the injector down, inspecting all the parts, lapping the valve with very fine compound, inspecting the seat, cleaning out the tip, reassembling with new or good used packing, flushing the injector after each part is installed, checking holes with low psi test fluid, setting the spring to barely hold 4,000 psi of test fluid, taking two full turns on the spring screw, checking for leaks, then installing Dan’s patented Washington torque-method spring-tester to make a last very fine adjustment to the spring pressure. I didn’t manage to take pictures of the process this time, but here’s a picture of when I adjusted the injectors last year:

One of the Catalyst's injectors in the Washington injector test stand

I set all the injectors to 30 foot-pounds using Dan’s test stand setup. This equates to just a little tighter than the operation manual recommends, but more importantly they’re all exactly the same.

We also overhauled the Catalyst‘s snifter valves. These little valves are different from the Atlas equivalent, since they only have one valve for both manual-opening and pressure-opening. On the Washingtons, a lever pulls the valve off the seat, compressing the spring that holds its valves closed while running. The Atlas one has the pressure release separate from the manual valve.

I also made shims for under the rods to control piston height, though I needed some help from Ballard Sheet Metal.

Tugboat Party at South Lake Union

The Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society held this month’s meeting at South Lake Union on Sunday. Instead of the usual dinner-and-a-speaker, they had five old classic tugs come to South Lake Union for the public to step aboard and tour. In addition to the Arthur Foss, the Freemont Tugs Dixie and Blueberry, the Henrietta Foss, and the Elmore came down to blow their horns.

The event was in celebration of a new photo book Tugboats on Puget Sound, written by local historians Chuck Fowler and Captain Mark Freeman. The authors gave a nice talk about some of the photos they put in their book, but really everyone was down for the tugs. The Society had a record turnout – more than 275 people came for the lecture, many of whom came aboard the tugs on the wharf.

I was aboard the Arthur Foss, running the engines and making people smile. I saw a lot of old familiar faces, including Robin Patterson, Dee Meeks, and Tim Beaver from Global. Dan even came down – though he said that he deliberately missed the lunch.

We also finally got some good pictures of the Elmore up:

Atlas-Imperial diesel engine in the tugboat ELMORE

The Elmore is a really neat old boat. It was built in 1890 with a steam engine, then in 1921 it was repowered with the very first Washington-Estep diesel engine that rolled off the assembly line. It burned through that one in a decade or two, and the owners upgraded to a new Washington – then the same thing happened again and they put a third Washington into the boat.

Sometime in the 1960s, they pulled out the latest Washington and put a nasty high-speed Cat into it. The Meeks bought her in 1990, and then the Cat’s crankshaft broke. The Meeks, wonderful people that they are, pulled the Cat and all its systems out and had Dan install a 4HM763 Atlas-Imperial in the Elmore:

Atlas-Imperial diesel engine in the Tugboat Elmore, courtesy Old Tacoma Marine Inc

The Meeks are really great people who take good care of the boat and its engine. This weekend, they were out with their US Coast Guard Auxiliary crew, getting people into the engine room and talking about the boat. My only regret is that we didn’t manage to film the Atlas running – the timing didn’t quite work out. Next time!

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2009 Week 2 in Review

Work continues on the Catalyst

This week on the Catalyst, we finished up the main bearings. Last week I talked about fitting in bearings and strain testing them and how it takes a long time, but they’re finally done. Whew. Next up are the rod bearings, then the pistons.

An update on the David B

As some of you may know, the David B suffered some damage in last month’s big winter freeze. I’ve been on the phone with owner Jeffery a lot, since he’s trying to figure out how to best fix it.

One of the fixes that Jeffery already did was to replace a chunk that blew out of the cylinder head. The cylinder head is curved, so the replacement had to be on that same curve to be effective. He could have hammered a flat piece of steel to the right shape, but that would have taken forever to get it the right shape and curve. Instead, Jeffrey took a 16-inch pipe that had the same radius as the cracked head and cut a piece out of it that matched the hole in the cylinder head, and stitched it together with a bunch of screws.

He did a really good job – I hope that the rest of the repairs go as well, and that the David B is cruising again soon.

Old Tacoma Marine Art Show at Caprice Kitchen

At the end of the week, I spent an evening at Caprice Kitchen helping set up an old engine art show. We put up ten art-quality prints of some of our favorite engines, including the Catalyst, the Arthur Foss, and the David B.

Stop by and check it out!

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2008 Week 53 in review

Important winter warning

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

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

Work continues on the Catalyst

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

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

bearing squisher tool on the MV Catalyst

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

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

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

More information on the Olympic

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

eBay listing for an air compressor from the ferry Olympic

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

Happy New Years!

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

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