Tag Archives: stories from Dan

2009 Week 37 in review

Business as Usual

This week, we are back in the shop cleaning, reading the Local Agency Guidelines Manual for the Lightship #83 project, and working on the website some more.

We’re working hard to get pages about all the known remaining Washington Iron Works and Atlas-Imperial diesel engines up on the web. Don’t worry diesel fans – we’ll get to the Fairbanks-Morse and Enterprise sections next.

I didn’t make it to the Tugboat Races in Olympia this year, but I heard the Maris Pearl did very well – it looked like first to me, but we’ll have to review the photo. The Donald R was there in style – we love that Washington.

New tugboat book released

I also got news that Jessica DuLong (owner of the Gowanus Bay) has finished her book and it’s being released this week. She’s been writing it for years and I went out and ordered a copy of it from Elliott Bay Books as soon as I heard. It should be here in a few days – I’ll report back after I read it.

My River Chronicles by Jessica DuLong

Heavy-duties for sale

To all you Tugboat Dreamers: don’t forget that the J S Polhemus, Oswell Foss and Quail are still for sale.

Keep up with what’s for sale and what’s been sold at OTM Inc’s For Sale Listings.

Heavy-duty sounds through the ages

Engine collector Jim Walsh sent us a nice quote about heavy-duties: “I don’t really work on the engine, I just start it up and listen to it like a phonograph.” We at OTM Inc agree: the heavy-duties sure do sound nice – though we may not be getting the authentic symphony.

Dan told me that Dave Updike, his boss in the 1970s and the Godfather of heavy-duties, said the diesels don’t sound like they did way back when. Modern diesel fuel has a higher cetane than the old stuff, and you can’t even get number two diesel anymore. According to Dave, the thicker fuel makes a deeper thump and a lower “chuf chuf chuf” from the stack.

If Dave said it then it must be true, but we think that the heavy-duties sound just great regardless of the fuel.

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2009 Week 28 in Review

Early Sunday morning, I picked up all the remaining tools from the Arthur Foss, put the yacht back in the driveway, cleaned up my desk, and got back on a plane to Quincy, Illinois.

Back to Quincy

I went back to the Indian Grave Pumpouse despite the bad news that only two sets of piston rings had arrived, so I spent the week setting up the remaining rod bearings as close as I could without the pistons. I used a spare rod dangled from above to allow me to tighten the rod bearing bolts and get a more accurate bearing running clearance. Then, I used an old technique Dan told me from a while back: how to set bearing clearances without using dials.

I adjust the shims until they’re really close, then continue to adjust them one thousandth by one thousandth until the bearing just starts to drag on the journal when I move it side to side. When it starts to drag, that means it’s basically at 0, so I add shims one by one until I get about .004 worth of clearance.

I really needed this method because without the piston to center the bearing, it was too squirrelly to bump without a dial. Once the pistons are installed all the clearances will be set precisely, but I did this initial setup to make the final bump faster.

I also made some special tools to fit in place of rod bearing shims, allowing the piston height to be easily set, since I accidentally destroyed some valuable shims using a big stack of them to set piston height earlier. I only got to use the tool two times this trip, but I also got to show it off to the Fabius River Drainage District commissioners and the operator.

custom-built tool for setting the piston height

All the roustabouts and pump guys have been working four ten-hour days, so they all get Friday off. I chose this day to invite the Fabius guys to the Indian Graves Pumphouse to discuss maintaining their Fairbanks-Morse (6)32E14s. The meeting went great! I had all the tools and Nathan’s help to show how easy it is to repair and maintain big heavy-duties like Fairbanks. As a demonstration, we pulled a rod bearing, looked at it, and then put it back and checked the piston height. All of them were impressed and Nathan and I felt like we may have saved two amazing engines from the scrapper.

Road Trippin’

Right after the meeting, I wrapped everything at Indian Graves up to go back to the airport, so that I could get to Seattle and immediately turn around and fly to Alaska to ship out on Catalyst.

Well, things just got ridiculous. I got a flat tire on the rented Prius. Damn. Oh, well. I put on the spare tire, then made one more trip down to the levy to drop off an engine manual, and then I’ll be damned – I got another flat and picked up a nail in a different tire.

With the flight leaving in 3 ½ hours, I was able to look up the closest tire repair shop on my phone. “Ron’s Tire Shop” sent a truck right away. I reported the incident to the rental company over the phone, and arranged to have someone drop me off immediately once I got to the rental office in the off chance that I got there in time. Then, I arranged new flights in case I missed this one, and reserved a hotel room across the highway from the airport, and began re-scheduling the flight to Alaska (currently set for 10:30 AM pacific time).

While on the phone, the tire repair guy was carrying on with the mechanic. He had to drive back to the shop and get two new tires. I’ll take the time to file a claim later. Finally, the tires were installed and the one with the nail patched, then I hit the road. The drive from Quincy to St. Louis (which I’m getting really familiar with) usually takes two hours; this time, I made it in one and a half and made the flight with seconds to spare. Wow! Once I got my boarding pass and went through the security check-in, I heard the elevator music movie scene from the Blues Brothers where they are in the elevator after the best car chase ever.

The Ready hauled-out

We heard that the tug Ready was hauled out and looks great. Sounds like the new owners are making progress – I hope they get the engine running again soon!

A new Portolan is out!

I just got a newsletter from Nortwest Seaport with all the non-engine news from the organization. They included a feature article on the YMTA Engineer for a Day field trip that I ran for them last February. They’ve put up a .pdf version on their website if you haven’t gotten yours by mail, so go check it out.

It looks like they’re doing really good things these days. I might even renew my membership.

Hand-fitting versus precision parts

Whenever I’m scraping bearings in, I get a lot of grief from spectators who see all my fuss over each engine part and how I seem “overly concerned” about fit and how the method is slow. Fitting bearings does take a long time, but it’s not a process that you can take shortcuts on. I rarely use power tools on parts that must fit precisely, because the margin for error is just too great. Scraping in a bearing is a time-consuming process that requires patience and seems to be seen as a dying art.

New engines use all precision parts that you can just bolt on and go. This is desirable because labor rates are higher than the cost of parts and parts can now be machined with fairly close tolerances. The same holds true for a lot of things these days: engines, furniture, trains, buildings, jewelry, or martinis. Houses can be assembled without using a saw, trains are delivered in a box, and I even drank a mixed drink from a can while I was on the airplane. However, I know I’m not alone in my belief that finding a mechanic who can hand-fit bearings is like finding a bartender who can make that perfect cocktail the old-fashioned way: it may take longer and it may be more expensive, but it’s totally worth it at the end of the day.

I do regret that the fitting take so much time and believe me when I say there is progress – though it may be hard to see behind the ever-mounding pile of emery bits. Most of all, be patient!

Off to Alaska

On Saturday, OTM Inc’s lead mechanic took off to Alaska again to work on the Catalyst until September 1.

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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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2008 Week 44 in review

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

Sailing on the Zodiac

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Work begins on the Catalyst

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

shavings from the Westward's journals, courtesy Dan Grinstead

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

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

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

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

An owner?!?

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

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

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