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Thread: Coal Stokers on RMS Titanic?
05-09-2010, 09:41 PM #1
Coal Stokers on RMS Titanic?
Just watched "Titanic" tonight (I bet many of you did too) and also - earlier today me and Mamma went to The Henrey Ford (Museum). While there I saw that the big R/R engine of the Aleghany Class had a stoker type feeder system. Then a little later I noticed that it was said that no man could shovel fast enough for it's appetite.
Then - on the TV show, it shows guys shoveling coal into her boilers. Shirley her boilers are much bigger'n the ones on the train. OK - so there is 25 yrs between them, but I would hafta think that the Titanic was not hand fed.
I wouldn't have a clue where to search for eny info like that - other than some of you guys very well may know?
Of course - it's not like it matters, and it is only trivia...
BTW - the museum has changed a lot since I was last there. (35 yrs ago?)
Think Snow Eh!
05-09-2010, 10:14 PM #2
I tried to copy and past the site with this data but for some reason it won't work. So if you go to Titanic-Titanic.com it will bring up all this info.From what I read it was all done by what they considered an Army of men.Must of been Hell down in that boiler room...
05-10-2010, 12:01 AM #3
It was done the old fashioned way on the Titanic- with the special shovel.
The guys doing it were called stokers.
Here is what turned up in a quick search:
"Five new 520-foot, 10,000 ton cargo ships were ordered by Canadian Pacific and delivered in 1927-28. Named in the Beaver series in honour of the Beaver Line, they were the Beaverburn, Beaverford, Beaverdale, Beaverhill and Beaverbrae. These were the first coal-fired ships on the North Atlantic equipped with mechanical stokers. Four water-tube boilers supplied superheated steam at 250 pounds per squire inch driving turbines that propelled the ships at a speed of fourteen knots, a fast speed at that time."
LINK: Old Time Trains
The Beaverford turned up on another site with the same info on the first stoker equipped and so on.
05-10-2010, 08:03 PM #4
Titanic like most steam ships of the time was hand fires. Mechanical stokers were expensive, took up a lot of space, and labor was cheap.
There is a lot of difference between fireing a steam locomotive and a ship or stationary boiler. Mostly it has to do with draft. On a ship or stationary plant, the draft is pretty much steady, and the steam demand is also steady. Plus there is more than one boiler supplying the steam, so the load is shared by several firemen or stokers. Boilers were also equiped with baffels so that the hot gasses from the fire passed through the heating surfaces several times bafore going up the stack.
On a locomotive, the load and steam demand varies depending on tonnage being hauled, and weather you are going uphill, or down. When a locomotive is working hard, the exhaust steam which is directed up the stack to provide the draft in the firebox can litterally pull the shovel right out of your hands if you don't have a good grip on it. the harder she is working, the hotter the fire, and the more fuel is being consumed faster. Plus, you have one guy feeding one boiler to meet the demand. the boiler on a locomotive is also a single pass for the fire gasses. One time through the tubes and up the stack. Also a real factor is the engineer, and how he runs the engine. Some were known as "rappers". (No reference to modern music) Who would leave the reverse lever down in the corner instead of hooking her up, and would rap the stack over the entire trip. Others knew how to run their engine mor effeciently, and saved fuel and the fireman's back. Eventually Steam locomotives became too big to be hand fired, and were equipped with mechanical stokers.
05-10-2010, 09:01 PM #5
This is from Wikipedia, the Oceanic was probably a similar size to the Titanic, I don't know if this was all the stokers on board.
"In 1905, Oceanic was the first White Star Line ship to suffer a mutiny, which resulted in the conviction and imprisonment of 35 stokers upset with the officers over working conditions."
05-10-2010, 11:07 PM #6
The Missouri had diesel fired boilers. When I visited her boiler rooms I knew damn well this was no place for a man. The deck had paint everywhere cept the small area under the single ventilation pipe.
Know nothing about coal fired boilers, but my gut tells me there's wasn't much fun about them.
05-11-2010, 05:40 AM #7
It is a very interesting question, and you prompted me to do a bit of reading. Why did they hand-fire coal into hundreds of furnaces in boilers to supply 56,000 hp on a voyage that would only take about 6 days and generally to the same ports on each side of the Atlantic?
I think the simple answer is that in 1912 the day of the oil-fired marine boiler had not yet arrived.
The scotch boiler was found on almost all ships, and mechanical stokers did not work well on these boilers (but oil firing did, so many of these boilers were later converted to oil firing). Water tube boilers were suited to mechanical stoking, but they were not often found in merchant ships until their problems were solved in the 1920's (e.g. keeping salt, oil and oxygen out of the feed water).
It was not until after WW1 that oil-firing began to be used on such ships, for example, the first large passenger liner to cross the Atlantic Ocean burning oil was the Olympic (sister ship of the Titanic), she was converted to oil in 1920.
In 1912 there were coal bunkers all over the world, but it was not until 1913 that the Royal Navy decided to change to oil (Admiral Fisher and Winston Churchill). Generally speaking, commercial shipping did not follow this lead until after WW1, and even then there were worries about oil supplies into the mid 1920's. Merchant ships that traveled the world remained coal burners for much longer (still hand-fired), in 1940 over 40% of the world's merchant ships were coal fired (and most of them had triple expansion engines). In 1912 the diesel engine was only just putting to sea, bulk oil supplies for ships were not available.
One might also ask, why did the Titanic have reciprocating steam engines (plus an exhaust turbine) in 1912 when turbines had already been proven in this service? In marine engineering terms, the Titanic was not new, just big. Reciprocating engines were more economical than un-geared turbines, H&W knew how to build reciprocating engines, and like hand-fired coal-burning boilers, they were reliable and well understood (and cost less to build and run).
Probably worth mentioning, the firemen working at the boilers were just some of the 'black gang' required to feed the boilers. There were gangs of men (trimmers I think) who had to wheel the coal from bunkers, others who shoveled it up to the firing platforms, and then there were ashes to be disposed of. Coal dust was always a problem when bunkering a passenger liner, the ship had to be sealed against the dust and no doubt cleaned afterwards. Mauritania (coal-fired turbine-driven) had 366 engine room staff, including 192 firemen and 120 coal trimmers and consumed 1,000 tons of coal per day. After conversion to oil in 1921-22, only 79 men were needed for engine room staff, burning 620 tons of oil per day.
Even back in 1862, Cunard was shoveling 350 tons of coal per day in its large Atlantic paddle steamers.
BTW, when the big Atlantic liners did convert to oil, they generally carried enough fuel to complete a return voyage, oil could be bought at a lower price in New York than in Britain or Europe.
Lots of general statements here, no doubt there were exceptions to all of the above, e.g. the Royal Navy trialed oil-fired boilers in the 1850's and water tube boilers, even with chain-grates, were tried in earlier years at sea.
ps, I doubt the film shows the extent of the boilers used on Titanic. There were six separate boiler rooms, 24 double-ended boilers and 5 single-ended boilers. I don't know how many furnaces each boiler had, but at least three (maybe four), so 159-200+ furnaces to fire. Forced draught was also used, these boilers would have been worked hard, and no down-hill, or stopping like a locomotive!
Here is an account of what it was like in the boiler rooms of a North Atlantic liner, taken from A History of Marine Engineering by John Guthrie:
Last edited by Peter S; 05-12-2010 at 05:17 AM.
05-11-2010, 05:46 AM #8
Stokers in the US Navy
I once talked for quite a while with a retired LT, USN who told me that during the depression years, the Navy was required to hire civilians to man the coal shovels.
(This man was commissioned during WWII, because of the expansion of the Navy.)
05-11-2010, 10:58 AM #9
Titanic Black Gang
From: Wapedia - Wiki: List of crew members on board RMS Titanic
There were 13 leading firemen (Stoker Foremen) and 163 firemen (Stokers) assigned to the Titanic. The ship had 29 boilers, each containing three furnaces for a total of 159 furnaces. Each fireman was assigned one boiler and three furnaces. Of the Titanic's six boiler rooms, each leading fireman was assigned to two of them with 10 to 15 firemen under him. Next to each boiler was a coal chute that deposited coal from the overhead coal bunkers, and a fireman with a shovel would constantly feed coal into the three furnaces. Shifts for all the firemen and their foremen were four hours on and eight hours off. The heat in the boiler rooms usually exceeded 120F degrees, so a four-hour shift was very demanding. Most of the firemen worked wearing only their undershirts and shorts. Of the firemen, only three leading firemen and around 45 other firemen survived. Several of the fireman that survived got into the lifeboats dressed only in their undershirts and shorts in 28F degree weather. 
There were 73 trimmers, or coal trimmers, on the Titanic, and around 20 survived. Of the engineering and victualling crew, the trimmers were paid the least and had probably the worst job of the crew. The trimmers worked inside the coal bunkers located on top of and between the boilers. The trimmers used shovels and wheel barrels to move coal around the bunker to keep the coal level, and to shovel the coal down the coal chute to the firemen below to shovel it into the furnaces. If too much coal built up on one side, the ship would actually list to that side. All the residual heat from the boilers rose up into the coal bunkers, and inside, the bunkers were poorly lighted, full of coal dust, and extreme heat from the boilers. 
There were 33 men employed as greasers. They worked in the turbine and reciprocating engine rooms alongside the engineers and they were responsible for maintaining and supplying oil and lubricants for all the mechanical equipment. Only four of them survived. 
05-11-2010, 02:05 PM #10
An interesting topic, and I must thank Peter S in particular for his informative and interesting post. I hadn’t thought about the advantage of the Scotch boiler in conjunction with reciprocating steam engines, even though I should have, knowing the adverse effect on boiler tube heat transfer of oil from the engine cylinders. Of course this problem didn’t exist with turbines.
In the early days of steam ships, coal consumption was an apparently insurmountable problem, demanding unfurling of the sails when possible. I K Brunel realised that the bigger the ship, the less the space required for coal, and less coal consumed per mile. Hence the SS Great Eastern.
What about the ash, I hear you wonder? Over the side, with the aid of one of these:-
An ash hoist engine from a small vessel, at Whangarei Museum, NZ.
One thing that sticks in my mind from a visit to HMS Warrior (1860) is that the stokers wore white canvas uniforms, but they were provided with powered washing machines! And baths.
While thinking about the men toiling in the stokeholds, we should spare a thought for those getting the coal. Britain’s large navy and merchant navy demanded massive stocks of coal sent around the world. In just one mining area, South Wales, there were 250,000 miners who dug out 57 million tons of coal in 1913. South Wales specialised in ‘steam coal’, and the mines weren't too far from the sea.
05-11-2010, 03:58 PM #11
I am finding the postings on ships boiler rooms most interesting, In my family we had on my fathers side four ships firemen ,of which for a spell he was one These were my three great uncles, two of whom were employed at one time by Messrs Sloan & Co, on the coastal trade Glasgow, Liverpool Cardiff, Bristol & London & return, Even in my day i can remember Sloans ships tying up at Kingston Dock in Glasgow, to unload their miscellaneous cargo, Sloans had a sign up above their dockside warehouse, As had all the other shipping firms, E.G. Anchor Line, Hendersons etc. Sloans ships in the late 1950/s through till mid sixties still were coal burners
The two old firemen were dead before i appeared on this planet, Both of these old guys lived along with the another brother, And an older sister called Tabitha (sounds like the cat!) She ruled the old boys with a rod of iron, and when the ship docked she was present, to grab the paypacket, lest the publican should get his hands on it, giving each of them, enough money for a refreshment, and the train fare to the nice seaside town of Helensburgh, where the family home was. The other brother, who was employed as a fireman, on the clyde coastal vessels (puffers) a hardy &versatile little species of ship,i can remember, a tall elderly man with piercing blue eyes, always imaculate with his blue suit and bowler hat, &small leather bound bible in his pocket, He was most particular, & fastidious type.
Fate played my father a hard life, For some time was employed, during the hungry twenties firstly as a boiler scaler at Sydney Harbour, Take the job or starve! With what he told me a terrible occupation, Hot dirty ,dusty , cramped and dangerous, One of the stories he recalled was scaling out the inside of a set of Scotch boilers on one particular ship, and the watchkeeping engineer said to him, "That boiler took the lives of two boiler scalers some years back, They were scalded to death inside it" It seems somebody had opened a valve on to them in mistake, Strange to say my maternal grandfather was also badly scalded in one of Calderbank steelworks boilers, in a similar type of accident with a blowdown being opened Somehow or other i feel that there is a lot to be said for the big Diesel engine and on land a nice big electric motor!
However back to dads boilers, he was employed both as a trimmer and fireman on a ship belonging to The New Zealand Shipping Co. or as he preferred to call them the New Zealand Starvation Co. This was a ship built by Denny Brothers of Dumbarton The biggest ever built by that companyl He got started on The Horarata, a big combined passenger and refrigerated ship of the New Zealand Co
With what he told me it was no bed of roses that life, As a trimmer, you were running with your barrow of coal, from the bunker to the firing platform, He had until his dying day burn marks on the side of his arms, where going between the side of the hot boilers coming from the bunkers, Proceeding through the turbulent seas leaving Australia, the ship was pitching &rolling he was flung against the hot sides, And to compound the miseries, they had a fair number of his fellow workers in the hospital with broken bones, being flung across the stokehold, along with their wheelbarrow.
This led to double juicers! (Two shifts rolled into one) He said another" lovely" task, was cleaning the firetubes, off with the blast, Open the big front door and brush out the tubes, Your arms all wrapped in rags, Meanwhile being met with a blast of hot air, Mention is made of the disposal of the ashes, another frightfully nice excercise, from what he told me, i think Horarata, was equiped with a Sees ash ejector, In which one breaks up the clinker, and shovels them through a grating and closes a big baffle plate, and ejects the ash by a jet of water and steam, Un like the nice little hoist engine which might from appearance be a little Alley & McLellan of Glasgow, Peter could you check please
He also said of some of the firemen being delirious, with heat coming through the hot equator region, and having to be restrained, I have once read somewhere of firemen being so overcome by this affliction as to imagine that the glowing fire was cool, and attempt to hurl themselves into it, and having again having to be restrained.
Whist i worked in Greenock, i came across the remains of parts of a ship being cut up, these perquisites, were lying in Mr John Beveridges scrapyard, Old Beveridge was a really nice old bloke The said items were one or two little Kilroy Stokehold indicators, This little device worked in conjunction with a large gong, set up on the stokehold bulkhead, and the indicator had a little quarter light with a needle The timing of this was set by the leading fireman or tindal, from a master control panel and as it bonged, the needle would tell the unfortunate fireman to throw coal on fire number two, no sooner done than bong, Fire number four etc ad infinitum!
What of poor old Horarata, years later she was the first ship to be fitted with ball mills, &fired with coal dust pulverised and blasted into the furnaces under pressure, This ship met her end during the last great war sunk in the Aegean sea, taken over for a time by the admiralty prior to this occurence.
As to my father paid off Port of London, back home to a mixture of work in little coal mines and farming Except for the war time, he was employed for a period in a machine shop, And was one day working a big radial drilling machine, when along comes an admiralty inspector of munitions, and says hello John, his ex second engineer Who promptly wrote out, and gave him a chitty for the best kit of tools one could have obtained -- Free gratis
05-11-2010, 05:48 PM #12
It is interesting to read that water tube boilers were not popular with turbine merchant shipping until the very late 1920's, such were the problems with feed water purity (and also boiler problems associated with higher temperatures). The navies were using water tube boilers, but not those who lived in the commercial world with leaky condensers and open feed systems. One book I have suggests that it was not until cupro-nickel tubes were used in condensers from the mid-1920's that salt contamination was brought under control.
I also have a photo of the ash hoist and its name. You are right, it says Alley & MacLellan, Engineers, Glasgow. I have a Sentinel history, in 1906 they advertised "Over 2,500 of these Hoisting Engines have been supplied to HM Navy and to Merchant vessels and foreign governments".
And thanks for the insights into the stoke hold!
Last edited by Peter S; 05-12-2010 at 05:30 PM.
05-11-2010, 06:05 PM #13
The Titanic had Scotch boilers, and these likely had 3 furnaces in each end (probably these were double ended Scotch boilers). A fireman had to maintain the fires in each of the furnaces on the boiler (or end of a double ended scotch boiler) he was assigned to. It was a regular routine. On the Great lakes in the 1970's, there were still a few ore carriers and the RR Ferry "Chief Wawatam" with hand fired boilers in steam. I got in the engine and fire rooms of some of these vessels, including the "Black Chief" (as the Chief Wawatam was known). As noted, it seemed like easier firing than on a steam locomotive. There were induced draft fans on some of the vessels, and even under induced draft, the firemen could fire three furnaces without totally killing themselves to bail coal.
The US Navy had tried to make coal firing more of a closely controlled science. On the bigger vessels, they had a system of lights with boiler and furnace indicators and a bell. A DC motor with a rheostat was used to turn what amounted to a distributor. The rotor in this device caused the indicator lamps for different furnaces to light up and a gong to ring. This was to cue the firemen as to when their furnaces were to be fired. As the ship's speed increased or steam demand rose, the officer in charge could kick up the firing rate of the boilers by increasing the speed of the DC motor in the "timer". I think the USN may have been using closed fire-rooms for this type of firing. Closed fire rooms were air tight and crews entered and left via air locks. Forced Draft Fans pressurized the fire rooms so draft was forced thru the boiler fronts, and up under the grates. This made for harder firing.
The ashes on the ore carriers and Black Chief were "gunned" overboard. There was a cast iron hopper with an eductor at the bottom. One of the ship's service pumps was started and flow cut to the "ash gun". The firemen or coal passer would shovel the ashes into the hopper of the ash gun and the ashes were jetted overboard. This happened above the waterline. The ore carriers usually had a port and starboard ash gun, so if they were laying at an ore dock for an extended time, ashes could still be jetted overboard on the off side of the vessel. At night, the jetting of ashes, even with a stream of water, often looked like fireworks as glowing ash and clinker were in the stream of water arching off the side of the vessel.
A buddy of mine was a regular fireman on the steam tug "Edna G" out of Two Harbors, MN. I visited him in 1979, and he took me along when he got called to get steam up on the Edna G. The Edna G had a B & W watertube boiler, probably express type, hand fired. It did have a small steam turbine driven induced draft fan. I remember that with the main engine running wide open to turn an ore boat (the "Anderson" of the US Steel fleet), my buddy was bailing some coal but not in any kind of frenzy. My buddy had been taught to fire coal by his grandfather, a Finnish immigrant. I've seen a lot of men handle a coal scoop, but my buddy Russ handled the scoop like a concert violinist handling the bow. Russ read his fires with each scoop he put in, figuring ahead to where the next scoop was going to be needed. Russ taught me to fire on a locomotive boiler, and he made it look too easy.
Russ first shipped as a coal passer/wiper on the "Uhlmann Brothers" (I think, Steinbrenner steamship lines). He was maybe 18. He'd tagged along with his grandfather on a few trips on boats he was firing on as a kid of maybe 16, doing galley work. Off watch in the galley, Russ told me he';d go below and hang out int he firehold, and his grandfather taught him to handle the scoop. When Russ was old enough to ship as a coal passer/wiper, he was no stranger to firing. Like most Lakers of her class, the "Uhlmann Brothers" had coal fired scotch boilers in her, 3 furnaces per boiler. Russ said the regular firemen were a mixed lot, and a couple were real bad news to be polite. One fireman jumped ship in his home port, and another got locked up ashore while off watch. The result was Russ was moved up to firing and allowed to write for his ticket as a fireman a bit earlier - sea time as a wiper/coal passer was a requirement in order to be allowed to sit the exam for fireman/watertender/oiler. Russ said they were actually short a fireman on his watch, but he and the remaining fireman had no problem holding steam. Russ said he had no problem pulling coal from the bunkers as well as firing and shooting the ashes, so he and one other firemen held down the watch.
Russ loved firing, and he taught me well on a locomotive he fired on for one summer when he did not ship. Later, I visite dhim on the lakers a time or two, and on a Corps of Engineers dredge he was firing on. He'd handle a ship's 3-furnace scotch boiler like no problem, and he'd pull clinkers and hose down the floor plates and turn the fireroom into a steamy sulfurous place that had me gasping for wind. Russ was idealy suited to firing. He was perhaps 5'-7" tall, and solid muscle with wide shoulders. He fit handily into the fire rooms and under the overhung smokeboxes of the Scotch boilers. From firing coal, Russ had the most perfectly developed musculature. He'd never gone near a gym. Off season, in winter, he'd tend bar and bounce. He'd also model nude for art classes, given his build. He used to joke that handling a coal scoop got him more women than he knew what to do with.
One day, in that same time period of my life, en route back to the Upper Peninsula, I was driving thru to the Mackinac Bridge. I stopped to find the Black Chief. She was at her dock, and it was just the end of her spring fitting out. The Black Chief's dock and RR car deck were deserted, but I found a crew member who told me it was OK to go below to the engine room and ask the watch engineer if I could stick around. Hearing I was a mechanical engineer on powerplant work ashore, the watch engineer firgured I would not get into too much trouble. I wound up watching them raise steam on the Black Chief. Once they were warming the main engines (she had three triple expansion engines in her) and manuvering, it did not seem like anyone was firing too hard. Somewhere I have photos of her firemen bailing coal. The black Chief got converted to a barge in 1988, but she was in steam from 1911 until the 1980's, so was a long-lived vessel. The rest of the old classic coal fired ore carriers are long gone to the razor blades.
Now, the last coal fired vessel on the Great Lakes is the "Badger". She has stoker fired Foster-Wheeler boilers in her. Unfortunately, the environmentalists and politicians have put the "Badger" in their gunsights. They discovered the Badger is legally discharging her coal ash and clinker overboard. A furor was raised, and the result is the Badger has been given until the end of the shipping season of 2012 (I think) to clean up her act. Either she holds her ash in some kind of ash hopper and offloads them for disposal ashore in a landfill or she ceases to be a coal fired vessel. The BS written by people about the horrors of coal ash in tirades against the Badger are not be believed. Coal fired vessels on the Great Lakes gunned their ashes overboard for the duration of the time coal fired vessels plied the Lakes. Huge fleets of ore carriers did this into the 1970's. Communities drew drinking water from the Great Lakes. Commercial fisheries existed handily in the Great Lakes. Neither humans, fish, foul or much else seemed adversely affected by the discharge of coal ash into the lakes. The Badger is designated an Engineering Landmark and a Landmark by the states of Wisconsin and Michigan, but this cuts no ice with the gang wanting to get rid of her. The fact she burns domestic coal instead of oil also does not cut any ice with this gang. They want her converted to oil firing, dieselized or sent to the razor blades.
Probably the worst conditions afloat happened during the Great Depression. In those years, shipping was lean, and many vessels were laid up. Those vessels which were sailing often filled out their crews with "Workaways". A "Workaway" was supposed to be a means for a person to work their passage. During the Depression, the workaways were simply aboard ship for three squares and a berth. Workaways were paid a penny a week to avoid the appearances of piracy or slavery. The shipping lines profited handsomely as most of the crews were workaways. I knew men who had shipped as firemen and coal passers as workaways during the depression. They told tales of being worked like slave labor and told they'd be put ashore to starve if they did not like it. A favorite racket was a scam worked by ship's captains and chief engineers. The ship's engines and boilers would legitimately need work. Amongst the workaways there were often licensed marine engineers as well as machinists, boilermakers, riggers, and men with a some skills, all shipping as workaways to survive. The skipper and chief would work deals with crooked businessmen ashore. A typical deal might be to retube a boiler or rebrick a furnace while a ship was in port for an extended period. A crooked businessman ashore would submit a proposal to do the work as an outside contractor. He;d be given a purchase order to do the work- and the labor would be the workaways. The businessman would furnish materials and perhaps tools and equipment if needed, and collect the price of the job from the shipping line. He;d then kick back a portion of the price of the job- which amounted to the labor of the workaways- to the skipper and chief engineer (and probably a crooked person or two in the port engineer's offices who were in the scam as well).
I knew one man who'd started sailing as a wiper under these conditions, as a workaway just to get something to eat and a place to stay. He told me he crawled bilges and scraped paint and smeared bitumastic endlessly, then was put to helping with cleaning and rebricking. He kept sailing as a workaway, and when he had some sea time in as a wiper, he was taken ashore to write for his ticket as a fireman. He was "escorted" by one of the engineers to the Marine Inspection Office. As he got onto the dock, he said there was a line of hungry men, all asking if there were any workaway berths open aboard the ship. He also told me whenever anyone complained, if the ship made port (it was tramping on the East Coast of the USA), they would be taken on deck and shown the lines of men on the piers waiting for a workaway berth. They took the hint. This one guy said he started shipping as a coal passer or wiper and wound up a licensed 2nd assistant engineer, steam vessels, horsepower unlimited, before he ever drew a paycheck. This guy wound up shipping in the North Atlantic in WWII as a first assistant engineer. He came ashore to work as a machinist after making a few convoy runs and surviving a torpedoeing.
What this same guy told me, and I heard this from another old friend who shipped as a first assistant engineer in the North Atlantic in WWII, was that the engineers on watch in the firerooms were handed .38 revolvers. They were told that if the convoys were attacked, there was a chance some of the men in the fire rooms might snap and attempt to go topside to escape being killed down below. The engineers were told to shoot any man who attempted to flee the fire room before an order to abandon was given. Both of these men told me they used to put the revolver in some hiding place while on watch as they did not have it in them to carry out an order like that. As it were, both of these men experienced attacks on their convoys and never had a problem with anyone on their watches deserting.
One old mechanical engineer I worked briefly with had shipped as a workaway in the 1920's. He had worked a summer job as an undergraduate, up in Labrador. He needed to get home to Boston. He could have paid the regular fare and come home and had little of his summer earnings left. As luck would have it a Norwegian vessel (I remember it's name: "Conrad Lorentzen") came into port and a number of the crew were sick. They were put ashore and taken to a local hospital. This left the ship shorthanded. The engineer told me he was asked if he wanted to work his passage back to Boston, for that was where the "Lorentzen" was headed. He shipped as a workaway, and was put to firing. This guy said the crew only spoke Norwegian, and he had never fired a boiler in his life. He learned quickly. He told me the skipper and chief engineer were cheaper than cheap, so they did not run the "dynamo engine" except at night. the result was the fire room was incredibly dark and the only real light came from opening the firedoors. The old engineer told me the skipper was cheaping out on feed as well, and the crew seemed to be living on dried codfish and oatmeal for the most part. He'd managed to hold steam, and eventually the Lorentzen tied up in Boston and he made it home. He wound up shipping as a merchant marine engineer and as a mechanical engineer - working for Fairbanks Morse on marine diesel engines. He swore he'd never go near a coal fired vessel again after that one experience.
Another couple of engineers and I are planning a motorcycle run this summer, and part of the run is going to be a crossing on the "Badger". I'm keeping a promise I made to lead one engineer I've worked with for 28 years on a run to the Black Hills. The other guy is also an old powerhouse rat who'se worked in coal fired plants earlier in his life. I figure it may well be the last time I get to ride on a working coal fired vessel, and I'd like my two buddies to at least experience it once. I've been telling these guys that a recip powered vessel has a quiet and solid heartbeat, a different feel than a motorship or turbine powered vessel. So, we will ride the Badger while she is still in steam. I imagine with today;s security regulations, there is not a snowball's chance in hell of getting to visit her engine and fire rooms. But, the feel of a recip vessel and the coal smoke will be there.
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05-11-2010, 06:25 PM #14
Getting back to Ox's original post - a man could not manually fire an Allegheny locomotive, yet men did hand-fire the much more powerful Titanic.
There must be a way of working out why this was possible, but I am not sure I have the patience to dig out the figures.
An Allegheny was probably the most powerful steam locomotive built in terms of horsepower, up to 7,000 draw bar hp on occasions at around 45 mph. The fire box was huge (I don't know the grate area, or steam production figures).
A Scotch boiler as used on the Titanic is really little different to a locomotive boiler, it is just a different shape (much shorter). Each boiler has several furnaces (fireboxes) which lead into tubes (flues). I don't have the grate area or steam production figures for one of these boilers to hand either.
However, if the Titanic was producing 50,000 hp and using say 141 of its 159 furnaces, that would be 354 hp per furnace. This is probably not the correct way to work out this problem, but it shows that given enough men, it should be "easy" to keep up with the demand for steam. I think from memory a man could shovel enough coal to run a locomotive producing up to 2,000 hp, but I bet he didn't have to keep this up for too long.
05-11-2010, 06:40 PM #15
Great stories, Joe!
I'll be in Custer, SD in June, with a friend from Ohio and another from Nebraska.
05-11-2010, 07:09 PM #16
Lots of good reading here. Didn't B Traven's first novel The Death Ship, or somehting like Totenschiff concern a merchant seamen fireman? It's been a long, long time since I read that, so I mean that as a question.
05-12-2010, 04:20 AM #17The ashes on the ore carriers and Black Chief were "gunned" overboard. There was a cast iron hopper with an eductor at the bottom. One of the ship's service pumps was started and flow cut to the "ash gun". The firemen or coal passer would shovel the ashes into the hopper of the ash gun and the ashes were jetted overboard. This happened above the waterline.
EPA, or whatever was present before 1953 must have been thrilled.
Remember when a factory belching smoke meant prosperity, employment, money and PROGRESS? Companies used to line up to have the bank note engraver put such an image of prosperity onto their stock certificates.
05-12-2010, 03:21 PM #18
When I was a lad in the early 1950's, the father of one of my pals was an executive with the Clyde Trust who operated and controlled the Clyde port including the cranes, dredgers and hoppers etc. As a special treat my pal and about 6 of his friends (me included) were treated to a trip down the Clyde on hopper which was taking the dredgings out to sea.
Can you imagine half a dozen 12 year olds running about on a working hopper for a full day. 'Elf and Safety would have fit now-a-days.
We all got turns steering, and generally messing about. Being interested in things mechanical I spent a lot of time in the engine room. The hopper was twin screw and had two triple expansion steam engines, with open con rods and crank.
Things that remain with me nearly 60 years later are the chief engineer chewing baccy and spitting between the flailing con rods into the crank sump. A very accurate aim!
Next was the oiler who regularly leant in amongst the con rods and swayed in time with them as he filled the dipper pots for the cross head sliders. Another candidate for the 'elf and safety!! LOl
At the far end of the engine room was a small hatch and I ventured through it. It led to a very narrow passage between the drums of the two Scotch boilers. I then was in the stokehold and that was some sight to behold. Very hot and two stokers, stripped to the waist, were constantly feeding the grates on the boilers. I think there were four grates or furnaces to each boiler and the two blokes seemed to be firing constantly from a mountain of coal immediately behind them.
Bearing in mind that a Clyde hopper was a relatively small vessel, one can only imagine what it must have been like firing a large ocean going ship.
05-12-2010, 04:52 PM #19
For those who want to see what a Scotch boiler looks like inside, this gives a rough idea (the numbers actually refer to areas to be checked, so not an ideal drawing). This boiler has two furnaces, three probably more common, some had four. A double-ended boiler is two of the same boilers back-to-back, but sharing a common boiler shell, so just over twice as long.
This shows the bare boiler, the two large diameter furnace tubes in which the firebars (grate) are placed (ashpit below the grate), leading into the combustion chamber behind, then smoke return tubes bringing the gases back through the water space towards the front of the boiler.
What is not shown is the smoke box fitted to the front of the boiler, taking the gases upwards. In the smoke box you might find the headers for the superheater, an air heater and an economiser. There would no doubt be a forced draught arrangement on many marine boilers.
A scotch boiler like this might contain 30-50 tons of water, because of this, and the extensive staying, raising steam is a slow job. Perhaps 12 hours if there are means of circulation, 24 hours if not.
Here a couple of photos from Power of the Great Liners by Denis Griffiths. The first shows one of the four boiler rooms (scotch type boilers, Howden forced draught) of the fast 1912 turbine passenger liner France. This ship developed about 45,000 hp.
Cleaning tubes, the 1923 oil-fired liner Belgenland. Note the twisted retarders being removed from the tubes so the tubes can be swept. Ten double-ended scotch boilers. This ship, like Titanic, had combination or hybrid machinery i.e. reciprocating engines and exhaust turbine.
05-13-2010, 10:32 AM #20