2008 Week 36 in Review
August 31 to September 6, 2008
This week aboard Catalyst, we dropped off passengers at Wrangell and then took the boat to Ketchikan to start the 12-day Inside Passage trip. Summer is over here is Alaska, so it was time to bring the boat back to the San Juan Islands. Here's the first week's itinerary:
Wednesday, September 3 - Ketchikan to Foggy Bay: Stormy and rainy
Thursday, September 4 - Foggy Bay to Lawson Harbour: cross Dixon Entrance, customs in Prince Rupert, humpbacks (light rain)
Friday, September 5 - Lawson Harbour to Bishop Bay: more humpbacks, Dahl's porpoises, some soak in hot springs (overcast and fog)
Saturday, September 6 - at Bishop Bay: meet Marvin and watch bears (but no white ones), some salmon in river, kayaking and soaking
Here's the crew:
And here's the passengers:
We arrived in Ketchikan on Monday at about two. We spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning up the boat, then headed up to Annabelle's for drinks. We weren't scheduled to start cruising again until Wednesday, so I spent Tuesday looking at number six rod bearing, the one that I found babbitt flakes and leaking oil in last week.
Rod bearings, the connection between the crankshaft and the connecting rod, are made up of two cast-iron shells that fit around the crankshaft:
Each half is lined with babbit, which is a lead and tin alloy that makes a very low-friction contact surface when it's oiled. When I pulled out the number six rod bearing, I found that the babbitt was all cracked up:
It's not quite falling apart, but it's getting close. Usually, cracked-up babbitt is due to the bearing being too loose or the journal being out-of-round. It might also be because of poor casting, poor machining, or overloading.
After I found that, I pulled out the spare rod bearings and started cleaning up the crankshaft. It had goop built up on it and a lot of scratches and scrapes on the journal, so it took me a good eight hours to clean up, then I spent another four fitting the lower half of the bearing. I thought this would be a fairly fast job, but I found that the machinist who had poured the babbitt into the bearing didn't know that Washington crankshafts have a unique 45-degree flat bevel on the edges of the throw. Pretty much all engines except the Washingtons have a rounded edge on the throw, which was what the fitted the babbitt to. It turns out that when the Catalyst's spare bearings were sent out to be re-babbitted, a few years back, they went to the machine shop at the same time as the Westward's Atlas bearings. The machinist did all of them using the standard rounded bevel.
Anyway. I got the crankshaft cleaned up and started fitting the spare rod bearings in, but they didn't fit correctly because they had the round bevel and the crankshaft had the 45-degree flat bevel. This meant that it was time to pull out the bearing scrapers:
The way you fit a rod bearing to the crankshaft is to get the crankshaft really clean, then smear it with "blue" - a special grease that's bright blue. Then you put the rod bearing onto the crankshaft, push it around a bit, take it off, and look where the blue is smeared. Those are the highest places on the bearing, so you start scraping the babbitt off there. The goal is to get the bearing the exact same shape as the crankshaft, scraping off the blued areas until the entire bearing is entirely blue, which tells you that you have a good fit. I blued the crankshaft, put the bearing on, and just got a little bit of blue on the bearing at the peak of the round bevels. Then I started scraping:
I scraped and fitted and scraped and fitted the bottom half of number six rod bearing for about four hours. At 10 PM, I had the fit really close, but the other half still had to be fitted and we had a noon departure the next day. I decided that fitting the spare bearing wasn't possible with the tools and the time available, so I re-installed the cracked bearing (which will still works, but needs to be replaced pretty soon), bumped it, and called it a night. The next morning, I cleaned up the big mess of babbitt shavings I'd made, ran the temperature check, and got the boat ready to go by noon. Number six rod bearing is still knocking, so I might take out another shim later in the trip.
Now after all that, you might be wondering why Washingtons have that unique 45-degree flat bevel on the crankshaft, rather than using the rounded bevel like all the other engines. The answer is that Estep probably thought it was really special and just that much better than anyone else's design.
Adrian Estep was an engineer and designer who worked for the Atlas-Imperial company in Oakland, California, right when they started their diesel line in 1915. He moved to Seattle in 1919 and opened a shop in Fishermen's Terminal to repair gas engines. He must have still been really interested in diesel tech, though, because he sometimes converted gas engines to run on diesel, and he started building a prototype heavy-duty following the Atlas model but making some design improvements.
Apparently, the prototype was pretty impressive, because Mr. Frink, the president of the Washington Iron Works, saw it and wanted to buy it to power his own yacht. At the time, Washington Iron Works was a foundry that manufactured logging equipment and steam engines out of its South Seattle shop. I don't know what happened to the prototype engine, but within a couple months, Frink made Estep an offer he could not refuse: a ten year contract to build diesel engines of his own design.
Estep worked for the foundry from 1921 to 1931 and full authority to guide the drafting room, pattern loft, foundry, and machine shop in developing one of the most efficient, ruggedly built, and most beautiful diesel engines ever. He patented a couple components of the Washington engines, and made a lot of little innovations like the flat-beveled crankshaft. The first engine to roll off the production line went into the Elmore (now, ironically, powered by an Atlas), and soon they were powering a lot of Seattle and Alaska workboats, logging camps, and power stations.
Every engine's base doors read "Washington-Estep" until he left the company in 1931, which led to Washingtons also being called "Washington-Esteps" or just "Esteps." Apparently, he went on to work for Kahlenberg in Wisconsin, but Washington Iron Works kept producing the engine for all sorts of different customers, including the US Navy and the Russian government. They made 651 engines before they shut down the engine line in 1951. I think it's very unfortunate how few of them they made - and how few of them they are left - since they're such great engines.
Incidentally, this week's cruise on the Catalyst was pretty fun. We jumped into hot springs, saw an amazing sky full of stars, and saw more bears: