Tag Archives: rv john n cobb

2009 Week 7 in Review

Work continues on the Catalyst

This week at OTM Inc, we double-checked the Catalyst‘s main caps, just to make sure they weren’t too tight. The main caps are the top half of the main bearing, and on Washington Iron Works engines, they sit right on top of the crankshaft. During normal operation, the caps never actually touch the crankshaft, since all the weight is going down. They still need to be cranked down tightly to hold the lubricating oil in; if the main caps are too loose, oil will squirt out. Since low oil pressure was one of the things we were hoping to resolve during this year’s winter maintenance project, we tightened the main caps down to the manufacturer’s specs, which are a lot tighter than they were at the start of the project. I had to add a shim in one and scrape two others, but then they were all perfect.

I also installed the shims I made last week under the foot of the rods, which raise the pistons right to where they’re supposed to be. I used the measurements I got last week from squishing the lead balls, and shimmed each one.

That really completed this year’s winter maintenance. We ran the engine at the dock for a day, then took the Catalyst for a quick sea trial around Portage Bay. Everything worked really well, so I helped deliver it to Friday Harbor. I spent the entire trip in the engine room, checking settings and tinkering. We varied the load on the engine as much as we could while underway, revving it up and slowing it down to help seat the piston rings. They really don’t seat well at an idle or throttled up; you have to vary it to get them seated right.

We’re still working to resolve the low oil pressure, but the engine is running way better overall. It has noticeably more power underway, and the exhaust temperatures were easy to even out. Catalyst is looking good and Bill’s taking great care of her.

A little work on the Velero IV

Irv from the Velero IV stopped by the shop this week. He doesn’t want to do any overhauls on its Atlas this year, but he did want Dan to service the air valves. Going through the air valves is a bare minimum job, but it’s really important to do it yearly for a boat that gets that much usage as the Velero IV.

Why? Well, you’ll learn why real quick if you miss a start and plow right through a dock. You rely a lot on those little valves.

A visit to the Washington State History Archives

This week, we also went down to Tacoma to view portions of the Washington Iron Works collection at the Washington State History Research Center:

researching at the Washington State History Research Center in Tacoma

They hold most of the company’s records, including the original engine cards and several hundred photographs. About half of the photos are of old logging equipment, but there are a lot of pictures of the diesel line, too – in the boats, on the factory floor, in pieces, all sorts of pictures.

We had been hoping to get copies of some of the key photographs in the collection, but they haven’t been sorted or organized since they came into the museum and the archivist couldn’t find them in a reasonable amount of time. So, OTM Inc volunteered its time to the public benefit and agreed to come down and organize the photo collection sometime in March. Stay tuned!

Rebuilding an Atlas-Imperial-Lanova Generator?

While we were in Tacoma, we met with Eric, who recently purchased an old genset powered by a one-cylinder Atlas-Imperial-Lanova engine. It needs some work before it’ll run, but the castings on the head are classically Atlas:

cylinder head from an Atlas-Lanova generator set

Eric bought the genset from someone with a garage full of old generators. He’s hoping to get it into running condition and use it as auxiliary power for his house. I think this is a great goal, but I made sure he knew that it was going to be a lot of work and if he just wanted a generator, he should really just go buy one. He seemed pretty interested in the novelty of using a historic generator, though, and I can’t really argue with that.

I told him that the best way to start working on it would be to disassemble the unit, start cleaning it, and make an inventory of what’s missing. It definitely needs a new piston and rod, and I’ll look through our spare parts inventory to see if we have anything suitable. I don’t know much about the Lanova line, though.

Readers, anyone out there with experience with the Atlas-Imperial-Lanovas? Anyone have parts? Eric’s genset is a five-horsepower engine coupled to a 1LN29 generator that gets 1800 rpm. Its serial number is 100357. Contact me with information, and I’ll pass it along to Eric.

Update on the John N Cobb

The Lake Union Park Working Group got an update on the John N Cobb this week. As you remember, the Cobb broke the crankshaft in its Fairbanks-Morse diesel engine this past June (back in Week 23). NOAA towed the boat back in July (Week 27) and decommissioned her in August, and has been deciding what to do with her since.

The working group had Larry Johnson the surveyor come down and talk about the boat, which just got added to the National Register of Historic Places. They also had her last CO speak to the group about what NOAA’s planning on doing with the boat. According to Lieutenant Chad Cary, they’re giving the Cobb to the Seattle Maritime Academy, my old alma matter.

They’re still deciding how to deal with the broken crank, though. Lt Cary said they were going to look at installing a new crankshaft, and then look into replacement engines. He says they’re seriously considering putting in a high-power engine with a big reduction gear, so that the academy kids can get their 1000 hp+ time in on the boat, but I think that’d be a big mistake.

An old Enterprise, though… well, that’d be a good engine for the Cobb. I’ll get in touch with Dick the SMA instructor and see if he has any other news.

Incidentally, the presentation ended with a video of the Cobb underway and in the engine room… courtesy OTM Inc! The video is here and we’re delighted to see that it’s helping get the word out.

New on the Web

Speaking of Enterprise, we just re-built the Enterprise section of the website to use the sorting tables debuted on the Washington Iron Works section a few weeks ago. View the new page here, and tell us what you think! Next up: Atlas.

Leave a comment

Filed under week in review

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:

Leave a comment

Filed under enterprise, tugboats, week in review

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:

Leave a comment

Filed under museums, 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.

Leave a comment

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

2008 Week 23 in Review

Searching for an Atlas-Imperial

We received an email from California last week about the possibility of finding an old heavy-duty for an old boat. Cary from Vallejo California recently bought a 1928 fishboat, “in pretty good original shape.” As a diesel mechanic and boat guy, Cary’s fixing her up for cruising and family fishing and wants to replace her modern Detroit with a period engine, maybe an Atlas-Imperial diesel. We’ve posted his full story on the Discussion Board here.

I think an Atlas-Imperial would be perfect, and recommend a 65 to 85 horsepower, three or four cylinder, maybe just like the Arro’s. Does anyone know of one out there that could re-power Cary’s boat? Comment here, or contact me.

A Spare Injector for the David B

Early this week, I threw together a spare injector for the David B. The boat doesn’t currently have any spare injectors, so we’d been planning to make several spares when we overhauled the three existing injectors this fall. Jeffrey just decided he wanted one onboard for the summer cruising season (good call).

I pulled out the spare injector parts for a Washington of that size, which were from an engine with the early pressure-balanced injectors, rather than the spring-balanced or Bosch injectors that later engines used (incidentally, the only remaining engine that I know of with pressure-balanced injectors is in the Kodiak Maritime Museum).

Anyway, I got out all the spare parts we had and put together the best injector I could without machine work. I can put two more together with some machining, but that will have to wait until fall. Here’s an in-progress shot of injector parts on my workbench:


After I got it together, I set up the injector to barely hold at 4,000 psi, then made two full compressing turns on the spring adjusting screw per the Washington Iron Works instruction manual. By now, I have set up all the injectors for three of the four boats that use the spring-balanced injectors (the Arthur Foss and Catalyst are the two others; I haven’t yet seen the San Juan) and can set spring tension in my sleep. I shipped the injector up to Juneau and went back to work on the fireboat’s air compressors (they’re coming along; more next week).

Update on the Lightship #83

We finished up a draft lumber bid request for Northwest Seaport and its lightship, and now we’re just waiting for comments.

It’s exciting to see how much thought and effort is going into laying the lightship’s deck right. I’m looking forward to walking around on it in a few years.

Enterprise in the Basement?

We recently got a call about someone pulling an Enterprise that used to power a gen set out of a building. We’re definitely wondering how they’re going to get it out – and what they’re going to do with it next.

If anyone knows more about this, contact us.

Songhee Sale?

We’ve heard that the Songhee (powered by an Atlas-Imperial) was sold to a new owner — but then the deal fell through. What happened? Comment here if you can add to the story.

Minor Catastrophe on the Union Jack

The charter boat Union Jack experienced a calamity this week: one of their pistons seized while the boat was underway, forcing them to a screeching halt. The cause is unknown, and they don’t have a lot of time to figure it out since every moment they spend at the dock is eating away at their charter time. They need to get it fixed ASAP, and many folks are recommending that they pull the liner to have it honed.

This is such a huge job that we at The Shop think that they should attempt to do some of that honing in place. Unlike most heavy-duties, Union engines have overhead cams, which make pulling the liners really, really messy (which is a messy job even without the overhead cam).

We hope that they manage to fix it soon, and that we hear about how they fixed it.

Major Catastrophe on the John Cobb

We heard this week that the NOAA research boat John N Cobb suffered a catastrophic engine failure.

According to the crew, they were cruising along doing their research when the boat suddenly started jumping up and down and making a lot of noise and losing RPM, the way it does when a gillnet or a line gets wrapped around the propeller. We’ve heard that the engineer then ran down to the engine room and realized that most of the noise was coming from the engine. He shut it down, the noises stopped, and they were towed into port.

Inspection later revealed this:

a broken crankshaft

Non-engine folks, see that ragged gray crack on the lower left side? That is a clean break through the crankshaft under number one cylinder, and that is about the worst thing that could happen to an engine.

Without knowing more than what we’ve heard through the old engine grapevine, this is probably it for the John Cobb’s Fairbanks. If we were still in the middle of World War II, the folks over at NOAA could just call up the factory, order a new crank, get a guaranteed install, and call it as good as new. It’s about sixty years too late for that, though, and even if you could get a perfect new crank it’d be foolish to install it in the engine without knowing what caused the break in the first place.

Why did it happen? We at Old Tacoma Marine Inc can’t even begin to tell without seeing the engine for ourselves and doing a lot of detailed inspection. We do know that both NOAA and the Cobb’s contracted mechanics have taken good care of the boat throughout its lifetime, as shown by engine logs and service records.

Until we hear more from NOAA and other folks in the know, all we can do is speculate. We’ve set up a thread on our discussion board for you all to share your theories here.

Leave a comment

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