Tag Archives: tugboat j s polhemus

2010 Week 21 In Review

This week, OTM Inc finished changing out the injectors on the Maris Pearl and bled all the air out with a big pry bar under the injection pump. With the fuel rack at full, I manually pumped a bunch of fuel through the lines. Then we very cautiously took it out on a short trip around the bay. It fired on all eight cylinders without even a hiccup.

More work on Washington injectors

We’re also working this weeko n fitting all the parts on the Timber Heritage Association‘s Washington injectors.

Boats and Parts for Sale

The J.S Polhemus is for sale again, if anyone’s interested in a worthy project. It runs and floats – what more do you want?

If it’s extra engine parts you need, that’s okay – theCaptain Reino‘s DMG8 is being parted out. Contact us for more info if you’re interested.

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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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2008 Week Eleven in Review

An update from the Maris Pearl

This week we pushed to get the Maris Pearl running again to move it back to Shilshole Marina. Once it was good to go, we took the time to change the oil in the main engine: all 250 gallons of it. We also changed out the oil filters and watched two painters begin work (they also helped take the boat back through the locks). It was another uneventful trip.

An update from the David B

We got call from Jeffrey on the David B, following their shipyard work. They replaced the stern bearing and had some pitch taken out of the prop, bringing the RPM up to 288 with pyrometers at 625 degrees with a speed of 7.9 knots (a 1 knot increase). I still want to see 325 at 600 degrees, but its better than it was. Good work, David B crew!

An update from the Velero IV

Irv from the Velero IV visited the shop the other day. He wanted my opinion on how he’s going to replace the steering mechanism. Currently, it has a worm drive and bull gear, but he wants to use hydraulic rams since they’re more reliable. I think that sounds great and I’m looking forward to hearing about the replacement process.

An update from Waimea

Research on the Sugar Mill Camp Museum’s Washington Iron Works engine in Waimea, Hawaii is progressing slowly but surely. Dan let us borrow the photographs that his wife Carol took when she visited in 1998 or so:

Washington-Estep diesel engine at the Waimea Sugar Mill Camp Museum in Hawaii

In addition to being great photographs of an old Washington Iron Works diesel engine (an Estep, even!), this gave us the serial number (it looks like 7182 but is really 7162). The serial number let us look up the original Washington Iron Works manufacturer card, which showed that it was purchased by the Kauai Fruit & Land Company in 1928 through the Perine Machinery Company of Seattle, then sold to the Waimea Garage & Electric Company in 1932. The company later bought two other Washington diesels (numbers 7410 and 7587; they must have liked them a lot.

This finally gave us an excuse to email Chris in Waimea again. She works at the Kauai Museum by day and with the fledgling Sugar Mill Camp Museum when she can. She told us that the engine had been sold by the Electric Company when they upgraded their equipment. We haven’t nailed down a date for this; they bought their last Washington diesel in 1945, so maybe this one replaced number 7162, or maybe they upgraded in the 1960s or 1970s to high speeds and got rid of all three Washingtons at once. I don’t know, but we’ll try to find out.

Anyway, Chris said that after the Electric Company sold number 7162, it went to the Kekaha Sugar Mill and powered the pumps used in the sugarcane irrigation ditches. It turns out that Kauai’s sugar cane industry relied on these irrigation ditches, which makes me wonder if Hawaii is full of old heavy-duties rusting away in the fields. Anyway, her cousin Mike rescued this engine after the Kekaha mill went under, and brought it to the Sugar Mill Camp Museum, which is located on the former Waimea Sugar Mill site. Chris says that she’ll send us a CD of photos, and it sounds like Mike might be interested in doing a little ground research for us.

This is especially exciting news for two reasons. First, the serial number confirms that this engine is the second-oldest remaining Washington Iron Works diesel engine (the oldest being the Kodiak Maritime Historical Society engine that Guy alerted us to). Second, from the pictures, it seems to be unusually complete. I don’t see anything missing, which is uncommon considering how engineers can behave like scavengers when it comes to old engines.

Stay tuned for future updates. This is a neat story that’s unfolding.

Atlas-Imperial 668 pistons available

John in Oakland, who works on the Lightship WLV-605 Relief, called with a neat discovery. He said that volunteers with the United States Lighthouse Society, which owns the vessel, are moving some of the spare parts around and found that they have more pistons than they will ever need. They’d like to sell some of the extras to free up storage space and maybe make a little cash for buying other needed parts. If anyone reading this has an Atlas-Imperial 668 and would like some spare pistons, comment here so we can forward the request, or just contact John on the Oakland lightship at (510) 272-0544.

Lightship WLV-605 Relief's Atlas-Imperial 626 model diesel engine, on Rudy & Alice's Lighthouse Page

Read the manual!

One of my on-again off-again customer is calling me regularly for free engine trouble advice. While I don’t mind talking shop, anyone working on the heavy-duties should read the engine’s manual over and over again so that you understand how it’s supposed to work. Also, keep the engine clean – really clean – so that leaks can be found and fixed quickly. Good gages and monitoring equipment are also worth the price to install them, since they let you know what’s going on inside (though remember that gauges are not always accurate).

Sometimes, an owner will want to throw money at the engine blind-folded. If they ask me to get involved, I will ask for gauge readings and symptoms before I do any work on the engine. Throwing money blindly into the engine isn’t criminal, but I want to see measurable results and this usually requires patience.

Living the tugboat dream

As I mentioned previously, OTM Inc is getting a lot of calls from people interested in old tugboats for sale in Seattle. I feel like I’m acting as a broker for boats powered by heavy-duty diesels, but I don’t mind because I like seeing these old boats go to good homes.

What I do mind is how many people don’t really realize what they’re getting into by buying an old tug to live on, fix up, and cruise around Puget Sound in. Boats are expensive. They require a lot of maintenance that is in addition to the repairs and overhauls and other fixes. Even boats in great condition need a lot of work. One of the best examples of this is the tugboat Newt. She is a beautiful home for Eric, Laura, and their two kids and is in great shape to the rest of us, all clean and cared for with lots of bright wood and a great Atlas-Imperial diesel. When Eric (who is a very talented guy) gets talking about the boat, though, he says that he feels that about half the work is “done.” I like hearing that, because it shows that he and Laura are responsible tugboat live-aboards who realize that an old boat will always need work.

Back to Old Tacoma Brokerage. I’ve been talking with two “clients” who worry me a little bit because I don’t think they realize what they’re getting into. First, a guy and his wife called me about buying an old tug to live aboard and be their ticket to joining the tugboat enthusiast club. We showed them the Briana Marin, a great tugboat powered by an Enterprise DMG-6 engine (and took pictures of the engine room while we were there):

Enterprise DMG-6 diesel engine in the tugboat Briana Marin

It’s about 65 feet long, very comfortable inside, and easy to maneuver with both a reverse gear (installed after a previous owner had some problems learning about direct-reverse) and a bow thruster. It was built as a tugboat-yacht, later used hard by a San Francisco lightering company, and then used as a yacht again by a doctor, then a scoundrel, then a local tugboat guy. A few years ago, the main coupling crapped out and the current owner put it up for sale rather than pay the very hefty repair sum.

During the tour and in later phone calls, I tried to scare impart to him the responsibilities of tugboat ownership, as I do all potential buyers. I described all the work that I think needs to be done on the Briana Marin, including replacing the main coupling which is priced at $25,000 plus installation fees. I was trying show that old boats need constant maintenance and repairs, and to get him to think long and hard about the responsibilities of boat ownership.

Apparently, he got the wrong message; he called on Friday asking what I think of a 108-foot steel tug with a Fairbanks-Morse opposed piston diesel. Holy crap, that’s almost twice as much boat as the Briana Marin! He reported that it’s in perfect condition, but I say that even a boat in perfect condition is a lot of work to maintain, since it still needs yearly dry-docking, painting, engine tune-ups, moorage, registration fees… I recommended that he buy a smaller boat and practice before moving up to that 108 foot tug. The Briana Marin, despite the work needed, would be a good tug to learn from, since she’s so maneuverable and not too big for two people to handle. Plus, she’s a pretty little boat:

Tugboat Briana Marin at the Ballard Mill Marina

Second, an upstate New York couple just moved to Seattle and are looking to buy an old boat to move into, fix up, and eventually cruise in. I call this plan “Living the Tugboat Dream.” They got my number from John Callahan in Kingston, New York, who’s the lead guy on the tugboat Chancellor. I like John a lot; he’s the organizer of the Waterford Tugboat Roundup in Waterford that is one of the best parties I’ve ever been to. Anyway, these two used to live in Kingston and hang out with the tugboat guys there, and mentioned to John that they were moving to Seattle and looking to buy a tug. Naturally, John passed on my number.

I met them at Hattie’s Hat in Ballard, then we went down to the Briana Marin as well. They liked the boat, but they’d already toured the J S Polhemus that’s currently at Ewing Street Mooring. The Polhemus is a neat old work tug that I don’t know much about except that it’s also got a nice Enterprise DMG-6 and is for sale by owner (an artist guy who decided that he didn’t want to be a tugboat guy). I don’t think that it’s a good choice for a first tugboat, though, since it needs a lot of work (unlike the Briana Marin, which other than the coupling doesn’t need very much right now work).

I gave these two the the same spiel that I’d given the earlier guy and his wife: boats need a lot of time and money to keep afloat, regardless of the purchase price. They said they knew, but that they are determined to make it work. This frankly worries me, since good intentions without money to back them up have sunk more than a few old boats. See, they’re sort of thirty-something Bohemian types from how they present themselves. She’s a leatherworker, he works with computers. I’m really afraid that they’re looking to buy and old tug and live aboard because they think it’s cheaper than buying a house in Seattle. While it is getting expensive to buy a house, it’s just as expensive to buy a boat. Rather than a mortgage, you’re paying moorage and dry-dock costs and mechanic fees – not to mention paint and oil and fuel, plus major restoration projects like repairing damage.

I know that I’m starting to sound like a broken record and like I’m trying to poop on the party, but people just don’t realize how much work it takes to keep a boat going until it’s gone and they’re deciding between hiring a salvage company so that they can claim the insurance payout, or just walking away.

Another problem I see is that boats don’t act like houses, and most people know more about houses than boats. If you leave a house alone for a few years while you’re living in it and saving the money for a remodel, chances are it’ll be fine. If you leave a boat alone for a few years while you’re living in it and saving the money to dry-dock it and repair the slow leak in the forward bilge compartment, chances are it’ll sink dockside. This illustrates what I call the “Work/Money Curve.” If you don’t keep up with maintenance and repairs and make progress, then the boat starts to fall behind and you need more and more work and money to bring it back. If the boat falls far enough behind, no amount of work or money will fix it and it’ll slip off the surface of the earth – or rather under the surface of the water – without anyone noticing:

An abandoned tugboat on the edge of Barnard Harbour.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m being harsh and these folks really do have the means and the drive to make it work. I have seen some success stories, like the Newt and other tugs that their owners keep looking great through hard work rather than huge bank accounts. I’ve just seen a lot more that end up getting behind that curve and getting ruined. Does anyone reading have an old tugboat success story that they can share? Comment here, or better yet, post to the Tugboat Dream thread at Old Tacoma Marine Inc’s discussion board.

Anyway. I haven’t heard from anyone about either the Briana Marin or the Polhemus for a few days. I was hoping that they’d call me back so that I could show them some other tugs in the area, but they haven’t yet. The ball’s in their court.


Filed under atlas-imperial, enterprise, tugboats, week in review

2008 Week Nine in Review

An Update from the Sobre las Olas

This week started with a great call from the guys from the Sobre las Olas. Owners Sean and Jeff and engineer John were all very excited to tell me about how they ran the engines for the first time without my help. I am very excited to hear about this boat coming back to life. It’s a long way from where it was about four years ago. Sean and Jeff have put a lot of work into the boat – and twice as much worry.


I had met Sean and Jeff a few times while working with Dan, and heard about the repair estimates for the engine overhaul, but I first talked with Sean about four years ago when a rumor swept the very tight old engine community about how the owners were considering replacing the original Atlas-Imperial engines. Apparently, the sticker shock of Dan’s proposed $300,000 overhaul made Caterpillars look really good.

When I heard that, I called Sean immediately. He was blown over by my rant on the importance of preserving treasures like the Sobre intact, since just a few days earlier he’d talked with the San Diego Maritime Museum about donating the engines. He couldn’t believe how important it was to the old engine guys that the engines stay with the boat, and was amazed by how they all immediately got on the Red Phone and to sound the alarm. I had a feeling that I was not the first to talk him out of pulling out the Atlas-Imperials.

I also wrote a very convincing email to Sean on how to own two heavy-duties with less fear. The conversation, the clamor, or the email must have worked, as I have been flying down to Los Angeles regularly to repair and maintain the Sobre’s engines ever since.

The Sobre is a huge project that has the potential to go completely out of control at any moment, but the guys are doing a great job in my opinion. They take a few big steps then rein it all in and take small steps for a while, but they never let the health of the boat go backwards. That’s the way to do it: slow and steady, just like these old heavy-duties. I hope to see Sean and Jeff cruising soon in their treasure of a classic yacht.


Another update from John in Maryland

Early this week I had another conversation with John in Maryland. He is really excited that other people care about these old engines. He also wanted to brief me on the condition of a light ship he is volunteering on and how maintenance is often neglected. It’s a common story in the non-profit and museum world of historic ships – many people don’t realize that these boats were decommissioned or retired when they ceased being cost-effective to maintain. Museums and non-profits need to realize that if the government or a business can’t afford the ship any more, then they may have an even harder time maintaining it. Keeping an old ship as a museum vessel is possible, but you have to know what you’re getting into and have a plan for how to keep it going beyond “but people love her!”

And back to the Maris Pearl

On board the Maris Pearl, we removed the old heat exchanger and lowered in the re-tubed heat exchanger. I also cleaned the bilge really well and painted the port side bilge with two coats of epoxy paint. The end is almost in sight.

Old Tacoma Brokerage?

We also had a visitor looking for an old tug powered a heavy-duty to use as a live-aboard. This is the third call I have had for a tug in the last two months. I think OTM might want an classified advertising portion of the website, but until then, all you tug boat owners who are looking to pass the boat on can email me at adrian@oldtacomamarine.com. I will try to play match-maker.

OTM Inc also had to do taxes this week… Totally lame.

An update on the Catalyst

The Catalyst won’t be overhauling a cylinder this year after all; they’ll just change the leaking grommets under number three head, inspect the bearings, and adjust the propeller’s pitch so that they can run the engine up to normal operating speed.

Lugging is a common problem with the heavy-duties, caused by over-pitched propellers or too many parasitic loads. Engines with caged valves don’t dissipate heat very well, so we recommend not exceeding exhaust temperatures of 600 degrees. All the cylinders should have this exhaust temperature at the highest comfortable running speed, not exceeding the rated speed.

This all sounds vague and technical, but an engine might be rated for 450 RPM and so the fuel and load (propeller size and pitch) should be set to achieve 600 degrees at 450 RPM. However, if at 450 the engine starts vibrating uncomfortably, then back it down until it’s comfortable again – maybe at 442rpm – then use that RPM for all your calculations. Okay, so no one is going to take the propeller off every trip until its right; I’m just recommending that owners get familiar with their engines and try to adjust them, rather than just running them up to the number written on the side.

And remember the pitch of your wheel has nothing to do with your manliness.

An update on the David B

The David B is going with the machined plastic bearing without removing the shaft. I hope it works! Don’t forget to align the engine afterwards.

A new owner for the J S Polhemus?

Kate emailed for more information about the J S Polhemus and its Enterprise diesel. She got our number from John Callahan in Waterford, New York – a great tugboat guy. I’ll be showing Kate around the Polhemus sometime next week. It’s currently in Ballard at the Ewing Street Moorings.

Castings from Keith

Finally, OTM Inc got an email from Keith Sternburg with pictures of his amazing castings for a steam engine:

Keith’s Casting Keith’s Casting

It may not be a diesel, but those look great, Keith.


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