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  • Liberty ship steam engine

    Was watching this video and noting all the parts, pieces, nuts, bolts and pluming then remembered something I read recently. We were averaging 42 days to build a Liberty ship during the war, pretty amazing.

    Triple-Expansion Steam Engine

  • #2
    When I lived in San Francisco, I went down to the pier on a day they were actually running that steam engine. I was in the engine room with the engineers watching that thing ticking over.
    It's a single acting engine, meaning it doesn't naturally want to start running in any one direction. They have some trickery with the expansion cylinders to make it act like a double acting engine at least to start. I remember them telling me that the third cylinder actually ran on a vacuum because the steam expanded so much.

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    • #3
      A Seattle shipyard was scrapping a Liberty ship years ago. They advertised machinery from the on board machine and woodworking shops. The item that caught my eye was a"hard hinge" machine, so I went to look. It was a "Hardinge" horizontal mill for a hundred bucks.

      It was pretty sad looking with grey flaking paint since the War Production Board wouldn't allow manufacturers to invest time in their usual quality finishes. It didn't appear to have been used at all. Everything there except the horizontal arbor which Hardinge had at the time in stock for $300. When they mothballed the ship all the rubber, v-belts and power cord, were cut off so those had to be replaced.

      Apparently they had nice shops on the ships. By the time I got there most was gone except for the "hinge" machine, a Doall vertical bandsaw as big as my pickup and a Porter wood jointer 24" wide.

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      • #4
        If you want to know about the operation of the engineering section of a Liberty ship get a copy of "Marine Engine and Fire Room Guide" by Jacobs and Cady. The book is the operating manual for the engine room of Liberty ships.

        The engine is a double acting triple expansion engine with 24 1/2, 37 and 70 inch bores, and 48 inch stroke. Steam pressure was 220 PSI and it produced 2500 IHP at 76 RPM. The high pressure valve was a piston valve, the other two were slide valves. The reversing gear was a standard Stevenson link type, driven by hand or a small auxiliary steam engine, as required. Two water tube boilers provided steam, and were in the room with the engine rather than a separate fire room. The funny "rocking" back and forth at start is to warm up the engine and work out condensate. The workshop on the upper level of the engine room was crudely equipped, only the most basic repairs were possible. No major machine or woodworking tools.

        Often, people confuse Liberty ships with Victory ships, which were produced later and were larger and more modern, These had actual facilities like shops and a laundry, and were powered by steam turbines. Liberty ships didn't even have a washing machine, sailors clamped a mop to one of the engine crossheads and put an oil drum under it to make a crude washer. As time goes on the details of things gone by meld into each other and eventually it all becomes one mass of "facts".

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        • #5
          That was very interesting thanks for posting it.

          About 2:34 min. Into the vid, what were the two string type things in a "Y" configuration that were touching the rod at the top of it's stroke?? Oil wick of a sort??

          JL.....

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          • #6
            Marine Engine and Fire Room Guide 1 copy on abebooks for $12.50

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            • #7
              I spent 18 months off the coast of Vietnam on a Liberty ship recommissioned as the USS Jamestown AGTR3 doing spying and communications operations. Formerly the the J. Howland Gardner. Saw the engine completely tore down and rebuild in the navy shipyards at Yokosuka Japan. Jamestown, Oxford, Liberty, Georgetown all Liberty ships if I'm correct.
              Toolznthings

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              • #8
                My Boss when he was 18 shortly after WWII went to sea as an oiler on a Liberty.There was no central lubrication or even piping on those engines originally,just oilers.He said certain bearings you had to reach into the crank throws to fill the bearing caps while you were underway.This became tricky in heavy seas if the prop was leaving the water at the top of a swell as the engine tended to speed up a bit.
                I just need one more tool,just one!

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by RB211 View Post
                  When I lived in San Francisco, I went down to the pier on a day they were actually running that steam engine. I was in the engine room with the engineers watching that thing ticking over.
                  It's a single acting engine, meaning it doesn't naturally want to start running in any one direction. They have some trickery with the expansion cylinders to make it act like a double acting engine at least to start. I remember them telling me that the third cylinder actually ran on a vacuum because the steam expanded so much.
                  RB211,
                  The Liberty engines were/are double-acting, none the less an engine like this can stall on dead centre when starting. Usually there is a valve (simpling valve or other various names) within reach so you can send some boiler steam to the IP cylinder (which is not on dead centre). This gets the LP cylinder off dead centre and away you go. I can't be sure exactly how the Liberty engine is set up, but I bet they had something along these lines.

                  Thinking about what you wrote - they possibly said the triple expansion engine acts like like a single cylinder engine when starting (and so can stall on dead centre) but the simpling valve ('trickery') makes it act like a double-high pressure engine (a two cylinder engine, non-compounded).
                  Last edited by Peter S; 11-04-2018, 11:55 PM.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Peter S View Post
                    RB211,
                    The Liberty engines were/are double-acting, none the less an engine like this can stall on dead centre when starting. Usually there is a valve (simpling valve or other various names) within reach so you can send some boiler steam to the IP cylinder (which is not on dead centre). This gets the LP cylinder off dead centre and away you go. I can't be sure exactly how the Liberty engine is set up, but I bet they had something along these lines.

                    Thinking about what you wrote - they possibly said the triple expansion engine acts like like a single cylinder engine when starting (and so can stall on dead centre) but the simpling valve ('trickery') makes it act like a double-high pressure engine (a two cylinder engine, non-compounded).
                    That makes much more sense

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by wierdscience View Post
                      My Boss when he was 18 shortly after WWII went to sea as an oiler on a Liberty.There was no central lubrication or even piping on those engines originally,just oilers.He said certain bearings you had to reach into the crank throws to fill the bearing caps while you were underway.This became tricky in heavy seas if the prop was leaving the water at the top of a swell as the engine tended to speed up a bit.
                      Those would be the valve gear eccentrics, the designers felt that they could be hand lubricated since they were the parts of the engine that moved the least.

                      "For the main engine lubrication, brass oil boxes are located at the top of the cylinder, with syphon wicks and pipes leading to individual parts on the engine. The eccentrics are lubricated by individual cups on the eccentric rods, these to be hand lubricated"

                      Jacobs and Cady, 1943, page 503

                      Amazing to think that the U.S. Navy would still have ships in service with reciprocating steam engines in the mid 1960's, but they did. Jamestown, Georgetown and Oxford weren't scrapped until around 1970. Liberty (in spite of it's name) was a Victory ship. The Maritime Service and Navy had a program in the late 1950's to put more modern power plants into surviving Liberty's, as well as lengthen the bow. The idea was to get their speed up to 15 knots to meet operational requirements, but it was not implemented on a large scale. A number of Liberty's sold as surplus were converted to diesel but the AGTR3s were left with stock engines.

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by BobinOK View Post
                        We were averaging 42 days to build a Liberty ship during the war, pretty amazing.
                        I'll bet that nowadays it would take us a year, and we'd have to import 50% of the parts from China.

                        Honest question - apart from building warships, does the USA have any ship building yards left ???

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                        • #13
                          I know Canada has some on the East coast. And something like 20 years ago, BC got some local shipyards to build their fast ferries, which never worked as designed/planned/hoped for...

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                          • #14
                            Private shipyards are many ones I am familiar with build Navy ships:
                            NNSDD Bath Pascagoula one in San Diego can’t think of the name
                            Steve

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                            • #15
                              Plenty in LA, MS and AL. But mostly tugs, ferries, workboats and offshore oil stuff. No tankers or cargo container monstrosities. These are off the top of my head and within 30 miles.



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