OT- a nice read about marine engineering in recip steam days
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    Default OT- a nice read about marine engineering in recip steam days

    A buddy of mine who is a retired mechanical engineer with years at sea and in shipyards was lamenting his lack of knowledge about recip steam power. I emailed him "McAndrew's Hymn"- an epic poem about a Scottish chief engineer on a steam powered vessel. While my buddy was digesting that poem, I remembered another work on the same subject. It is called "McAndrew's Floating School". It is a story about four marine fireman in the coal shovelling days who want to get ahead and become licensed marine engineers. They ask their chief engineer, aptly named McAndrew, to tutor them. The chief does so and it is more than a story, but an actual technical work putting marine engineering subjects such as basic physics and thermodynamics, strength of materials (as per around 1900), boiler design (Scotch Marine Boilers) including seams, bracing and staying, steam engines and valve gear, bearings and lubrication, steam condensers, auxiliaries, boiler water chemistry, and that then-new thing: dynamos and electricity. It also gets into the duties of a marine engineer and handling various conditions while at sea.

    Needless to say, I think it is a great old book. It is an easy read for those of us who appreciate old time steam power, and offers some insight into the life and times of marine firemen and similar types who worked their way up. McAndrew is described as having "worked up from the bunkers", though he did serve an apprenticeship in a machine shop or boiler shop ashore, and did take night classes in engineering at Cooper Union (a famous old school in NYC).

    The bigger picture is that of an era when a person could study and advance without having degrees from recognized schools. It is also the bigger picture of an era when people studied on their own to advance in the workplace rather than spending their off-time on mindless things like watching television, going to shopping malls, or hanging out in sports bars.

    The poem and the book are both tributes to our Scottish brethren- considered the leaders in steam engineering back in the day. As I re-read the poem, which is written in a something of a Scottish dialect of English, and as I read the book, I thought of members of this 'board who hail from bonnie Scotland. Call me a bit of a mush-head. The other interesting thing is that, some 10 years earlier, when I put together a text for the Steam Power 101 course at Hanford Mills, I wrote a course manual which was not unlike the syllabus in "McAndrew's Floating School". When I stumbled upon "McAndrew's Floating School" as an on-line read, I was pleased to realize I had "re=invented the wheel" to some extent with the course book I had prepared. When I teach "Steam Power 101" at Hanford Mills, it is a short course, but the idea is much the same as is my approach. We have a lot of fun and good times in the course, since no one is under the gun to get up from the coal scoop and slice bar as the boys in the story were.

    As I said, both are great reads, and without sounding schmaltzy (Yiddish expression for chicken fat, or dripping with mawkish sentiments), I felt a sense of kinship with many of the good folks who are members, or participate on this 'board. Were we all in close reach, I'd reserve a picnic grove or banquet room and stand everyone to a good feed and get-together. Funny how a re-read of an old work or two can have that effect on me.

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    Link to copies available to read on line at the Hathi Trust Library Site.
    Catalog Record: McAndrew's floating school; a story for... | HathiTrust Digital Library
    Another book by the same author shown here.
    Catalog Search Results | HathiTrust Digital Library
    Jim

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    Thanks Joe; it sounds like a good read.

    It may be downloaded from here;

    McAndrew's floating school; a story for marine engineers : McAllister, Charles Albert, 1867- : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive

    The pdf downloaded successfully but the epub, to suit my e-reader, did not; I'll at least be able to read it on my computer.

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    Joe,

    Those look great, esp. the Floating School one...thanks for mentioning them!

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    Joe , you have hit the nail right on the head with your mentioning of Kipling's poem McAndrews Hymn , an excellent poem of a simpler time long passed For many years now(Since the balmy days of the mid to late 1950/s I have thought on how much of a lost opportunity was overlooked by the media in not making a film loosely based on that poem, and having its beginnings on the Clyde (Me now making up my long thought about my film in my head!) This could have been a wonderful opportunity at that time, By making such a film have brought the story of the importance of Scottish shipbuilding , engineering and the tales of ships to the general public without being too heavy and boring, One could have brought in the lovely Scottish scenery, and the culture of my country, its history, and last but not least the wonderful City of Glasgow, Dear demolished place, which had a real charm of its own in those far off days.

    One could have begun with a young McAndrew being born & reared in the countryside, and either being sent at fourteen years of age to live with "Aunty Kate" in the big city, One could have crafted a story of his struggles to re-adapt to the Hussle & bustle of city life, his interaction with the town kids, He no doubt would have been sent to live in a respectable working class area of the city, "Aunty Kate" would have no doubt been a leading employee of one of the long past superb department stores, Copland & Lye springs to mind, an excellent venue it would have been for a photoshoot, She also would have been a pillar of the church and our young McAndrew would have been "requested to attend every Sunday morning" In that great city many of the churches of the 1950/s were veritable palaces to God
    However young McAndrews path in life would have been pre -planned by Auntie when she would have spoken to "Mr Stewart" the foreman engineer in Fleming & Ferguson's engine works in Paisley,(Or Similar Institutions) The film could have shown snippets of his long & detailed apprenticeship , Not a bed of roses, by any standard, However in our story, our youngster like all wayward teenagers, would up to a point have gone his own wayward path in the evenings, Off his meagre wages he would have gone to some of the superb palaces of enjoyment the dance halls, We might have found him upon a Tuesday evening paying for admittance to that most peaceful and elegant of ballrooms The Plaza Ball Room at Eglinton Toll, We could then have a romance blossoming only to be dashed, Our youngster finds what a broken heart means, O.K. He crestfallenly applies himself diligently to his work, and we could find he is sent into the shipyard, and is out on sea trials under the direction of the shop foreman fitter, Interspaced with his daily grind their could be interspaced tales of the sea and adventures from the old engine fitters whom he has daily contact with.

    Young McAndrew finds the day arriving when he gets his apprenticeship papers, and takes the tramcar home to find poor old "Aunt Kate" has died of heart failure, not good now he really has to stand on his own two feet, Fortunately he goes back to The Plaza a couple of months later and meets the love of his life Elspeth , who marries him and we find our sea faring engineer signing up on some deep sea voyages with some frightening adventures, Well he comes back home and buys himself a copy of Maggie Bones, or to give it its proper title Magibons Engineering practice for marine engineers, Or an equally superb two volumes on ships engines Southerns Verbal Notes and Sketches for Marine Engineers (I have a splendid two volumes myself)
    Well what have I tried to explain in my preamble? This could have been a superb historical window into a vast industry , & the culture of the life of that great city and the surrounding cities, such as Paisley and Clydebank,

    O silly me I forgot such a life of our McAndrew, and his ilk, in the engine works boiler shops, foundries and other folks, It was the story of dirty oil stained workers, + the Wee Aunty Kate's, Yuk common and dirty of no consequence.

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    Cutting Oil Mac:

    You have poured your soul into your post. I am happy to read it, re-read it betimes.... and also happy to know I am not the only sentimental old dinosaur frequenting these environs.

    I find myself realizing how much the world has changed in my own lifetime, and little things continually needle me to remind me of it. Today, I was down at a local machine shop who had asked me to come by to discuss an engineering and welding inspection job (so much for "retirement"). I rode my 1978 BMW motorcycle down the road about 30 miles to the machine shop and walked in wearing my leather riding jacket. I was sitting in the VP of Sales' office discussing the job when the lady who is the HR department walked in. Force of habit, I stood up and stopped in mid sentence with what we had been discussing. She looked at me, and since I am nominally carried as an employee of that shop and have been around there for the past 2-3 years, she has come to know a bit about me. I had to explain to this lady, who is in her '20's, that it is (or was) customary to stand up when a lady entered the room, or, for that matter, anyone. It is little things like that which seem to have been lost along with so much more in seemingly a short few years. Maybe it is the "information technology" age we live in, where people no longer communicate using proper conversations, let alone something like a properly written letter.

    We discussed the job and so much more while I was down at that machine shop today. The management of that shop is making a concerted effort to make young people in the local schools aware of the existence of manufacturing jobs and the machinist and toolmaker's trades in particular. I will be teaching a short course this fall at our local community college, introducing the concepts of precision measurement and tying it in with some history, why precision measurement developed, and what opportunities exist for people in the related fields. I invariably head a portion of any courses I teach into some history, starting with the days of the Old Testament (Noah was handed some detailed specifications for the Ark, something like 40 cubits long, a cubit being the length of a man's forearm... and offerings at the Temple were often expressed in "Epaphs"- an approximate unit of volume) and of course, getting around to James Watt and Maudslay and Whitworth and Eli Whitney.

    Of course, in these days of political correctness, citing the Old Testament, even as a reference to early units of measure, and mentioning the story of Eli Whitney developing a system of jigs and fixtures to produce muskets with interchangeable parts can get a man in trouble. Being an oldtimer and "retired", I am at the point where I do not give a hang about the modern "political correctness". I address a class of men as "gentlemen", or "ladies and gentlemen" if women are present in a class. It is "yes, ma'am" and tipping my hat and holding doors, current rules be damned.

    The fellow to whom I emailed " McAndrew's Hymn" and "McAndrew's Floating School" is named George. He is now 79 years of age and a retired mechanical engineer. He grew up around his father's coppersmithing shop in Brooklyn- where process kettles and copper piping and all sorts of industrial copper work was done. George went to work as a young mechanical engineer at Electric Boat shipyard, specializing in design of valves for submarines. Sometime later, he hired on with one of the big oil company's tanker fleet operations. George was much like McAndrew, roaming the globe to oversee repairs to the tankers in shipyards in places like Singapore, or riding the tankers for sea trials or to troubleshoot machinery and systems underway. He said it was interesting work, and he enjoyed the job, but was a solitary man through his working years. Late in life, he married a very fine woman, and they are enjoying life together. George found out I have a home machine shop and worked on steam engines, and the rest is history. George had never sailed on a vessel with recip steam engines or firetube boilers, and the only time he ran a lathe or did any machine work was briefly when he was in college. George told me his dream since boyhood was to build a model steam engine, machining the parts himself. I put him onto a set of engine castings from PM Research and have been taking him slowly through the basics. George is a proper gentleman, but he did loosen up a bit, and like McAndrew, with no woman waiting for him at home, did have some "adventures" in places like Hong Kong and Singapore and Manila. George loves to come to Hanford Mills when we have the sawmill steam plant operating. He says he is happy to just watch the engine run and listen to the sounds and enjoy the smells of cylinder oil and seeing me feel the "brasses" with the back of my hand, letting the eccentric strap and big end brass slap lightly on the back of my hand as they pass by. He says that while he shipped on vessels with steam turbines or low-speed direct reversing diesel engines, nothing really captured his imagination or liking. He said he yearned to be around a recip steam plant. I told him what the old oilers on the Great Lakes said in the waning days of recip steam vessels: "You are not a REAL oiler until you have oiled on a recip main engine." George had been trying to tell me his appreciation of steam engines, trying to describe the motion and rhythm of the working parts, and I could tell he was on the track of something bigger than engineering. I told him about "McAndrews Hymn" and later that night, emailed it to him. He told me he sat up until some wee hour of the morning, reading the poem and the accompanying notes, reading the poem aloud (his wife being down in NYC and he at their country home near our home). I told George he had better find someone with a good Scottish burr who could properly read McAndrews Hymn aloud to him and then he might more fully get a sense of the poem and McAndrew himself.

    I am glad to teach what I can to whomever wants to learn from me. George has got 11 years on me, but he is like a kid in wonderment and sheer bliss at being able to finally be around the stuff he only dreamed of. His wife is delighted that I took her husband under my wing as he was getting kind of depressed and literally had no one to talk to and reminisce about machinery with. Who else would understand what alignment of machinery was about, or know what resonance or harmonics from rotating machinery will do ? I am just as happy to have a brother engineer who relates to the stuff I love, so it is good for all of us. I knew George would relate to McAndrew's Hymn as he had made the voyages to places like the Persian Gulf ports, to South American ports, and ports in the Far East. Like McAndrew, he had no one to come home to as his parents and relatives went the way of all flesh. Like McAndrew, he had his conflicts with various ship captains (and stood his ground as the engineer in charge of overhauls or repair work) and like McAndrew, was respected when he went to meetings in headquarters. Now, in "retirement", he has a fine wife, friends, and a machine shop to learn and work in. McAndrew is a lonely old chief engineer, while George had things brighten considerably for him when he swallowed the anchor and came ashore for good.

    You can also be sure that when I teach the various courses, I do mention the role of the Scots in developing what became mechanical engineering- courtesy in no small measure to James Watt.

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    I have four books which should be read together. I'm not ready to part with mine yet, but they are available.

    "Isambard Kingdom Brunel" By L. T. C. Rolt One of Rolt's stories is about the time a locomotive was seen approaching at a high rate of speed. It came to a halt and Brunel jumped down from the cab. He had promised a lady a locomotive ride the next day and was practicing. No steam engine was safe around him.

    "Cyrus W. Field, his life and work" by Isabella Field Judson These are people who would be right at home with James Eads and Gustave Eiffle. They thought big. Really big.

    "The Great Iron Ship" by James Dugan, an epic if there ever was one.

    "The Story of the Atlantic Telegraph" by Henry M. Field, the brother of Cyrus Field.

    Those were the days when an engineer was someone who could take a steam engine apart, repair anything needed, and put it back together.

    All are available in print. Best read in the order listed.

    Bill

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    Some years ago Peter S recommended a book called Backward Thinking, by John Lamb. No hesitation is needed following a recommendation from Peter, and it is indeed a fascinating autobiography.

    John Lamb became a well-respected marine engineer and author of several indispensable books on marine diesel engines and auxiliary machinery. I have the 5th addition of The Running and Maintenance of the Marine Diesel Engine, 1939 (the first edition was 1919). It runs to 860 pages. I wish his autobiography had been of similar length, rather than just 213 pages.

    He started at sea as a 4th engineer in 1911. Before embarking he bought two sets of clothes and a straw mattress known as a ‘donkey’s breakfast’. The clothes more or less rotted away before they reached their first port. Fresh food last just two days, there being no refrigeration.

    He vividly describes the hardships of working in steamship engine rooms in the tropics, the cockroaches and rats, the hazards of oiling bearings in a slippery engine room by the light of a few oil lamps, the difficulties of plugging tubes in hot boilers, working in 3-minute shifts and being suffocated by the smoke from the smouldering matting laid on the bottom of the furnace for protection from the heat.

    Much worse was to come when he moved on to early diesel-powered ships, which tested human endurance to the limit (and beyond, in the case of many marine engineers at that early stage in the diesel era). A brief extract:-

    ‘A few hours after leaving the anchorage the atmosphere in the engine room became so thick owing to leakage of dense obnoxious gas past the sixteen pistons, that it was quite impossible to see further than a couple of yards, whilst what with the roar of the escaping gases and the noise made by the valve gear, conversation was possible only by placing one’s mouth within an inch of the other’s ear. Every now and again sheets of flame would shoot out from the bottoms of the cylinders, …. During the run across the Atlantic the engines stopped, or had to be stopped, thirty-two times. Sometimes matters could be put right in minutes, but generally it took hours of hard slogging. For part of the time the work was made more arduous by the ship pitching and rolling in a seaway, and dangerous because of the difficulty in keeping one’s feet on gratings and platforms made slippery by the oil-laden atmosphere of the engine room.

    He also describes an incident when his ship was torpedoed in WW1. Water was pouring into the engine room, and they needed to keep going as long as possible to have a chance of escaping from the U-boat. They succeeded, despite the engines dying in turn due to water getting into the fuel tanks.

    In WW2, as Chief Marine Superintendent of a oil company which in 1939 owned 208 ships, of which 87 would be sunk and 50 seriously damaged, he was desparately concerned about the danger to the tanker crews, and did everything he could to improve their lot. He addressed the danger of trying to escape a burning tanker in a lifeboat launched into blazing oil, designing a fire-resistant lifeboat and testing it as a human guinea pig in a tank, the boat floating in a tank of water covered by blazing oil, the deafening roar of the flames thwarting the plan to communicate distress using a whistle!


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