When big, dumb, and slow is a good thing

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So the topic today is about as polar opposite to something I would normally speak about which is typically racing related. In the racing world everything is about fast light and smart. Durability is usually sacrificed in lieu of lightweight parts that free up horsepower and make it through a rebuild or 2. "Big, dumb and slow gives machinery a long life" said Chuck Cart, Chief Engineer of the SS Badger as we stood between the 2 Skinner Unaflow steam engines. Yes that's correct steam engines, I finally had the chance to visit the engine room of the SS Badger. The Badger is the last coal fired, steam powered ship in the US and operates daily across Lake Michigan. "Welcome to 1953" Chuck elaborated. Except for some of the controls and required upgrades by the Coast Guard the ship is largely as it was when built in 1953. "Big, dumb and slow" equates to durability" Here is where we come in. Steam cylinder oils aren't exactly something you find on every street corner. Chuck explained the history of moving from company to company, as they would choose to discontinue the oils he chose for cylinder lubrication on the Badger. A couple years ago I took a ride across the lake on the Badger and fell in love with the ship. What a piece of history. In fact, the ship is a moving national landmark. Originally built to haul 32 100-ton rail cars this ship was saved and converted to passenger/car ferry service in the 90's. There is a lot of information on www.ssbadger.com about the ship, which I highly recommend looking at so there is no need for me to repeat it all here. I had the opportunity to develop an ISO 1000 Steam cylinder oil for the Badger. The ship converted to our oil last season and I had been waiting to get in front of the engines to be able to listen to the man who has maintained these things for over 25 years. The more I can learn about the ship the better resource I can be to help provide the durability he seeks to preserve this piece of history. So backing up a bit, when presented with the challenge of lubricating the cylinders in the Badger, our technical director Dr. Rudnick and myself discussed the service and collectively decided to apply some things we had been successful at in Top alcohol dragsters, Alcohol funny cars, as well as many of the Street Outlaws cars. At the initial glance super-heated steam at 400 PSI sounds pretty harsh but when you compare it to the alcohol cars where you have to deal with methanol, water and 1200 degrees EGT and a whole lot of boost it seemed like less of a challenge. We took the good chemistry from our racing experience and coupled it with the added chemistry required that is more specific to the ship and put it together. We analyzed samples of the oil currently being used and were able to demonstrate to Chuck that our oil would handle greater amounts of heat and do it at a lower wear rate. "We looked at the pistons and cylinders over the winter and everything looked great" Chuck said. Those are great words to hear. Making the trip to the ship was great from the learning perspective on things we can do to help. From the personal side I am just happy that this thing crosses the lake each day continuing to make history. The neat takeaways. Of course, steam is everything. There are many pumps, power generation etc. driven by turbines. The Unaflow engines have 4 journals that have high pressure and low pressure cylinder in line. The high-pressure cylinders are 22 ½" bore and the low pressure cylinders are 51" bore. Each engine makes 4000 horsepower. Horsepower is everything right? Well not so much in this case. Considering the engines normally spin at a whopping 95 RPM you would expect big torque numbers. Boy I would have guessed wrong. With a combined horsepower of 8,000 horsepower that pales in comparison when you learn they each, make a measly 167,000 pound feet of torque! The engines have variable cam timing that allows the engines to be reversed so you don't have to worry about sending that torque through a transmission or gearbox. The Badger is a good environmental steward. They collect the ash from the 4 Foster Wheeler boilers which get offloaded and find their end of life in a nearly permanent form. It becomes added to concrete. The ship travels from Ludington, MI to Manitowoc, WI round trip daily. It takes on coal on the Manitowoc side. When in motion I was really surprised by how clean they have been able to get the thing to run. There is very little smoke out of the stack. I would have expected more. I realize they are looking to run very clean. I would highly recommend a trip on the Badger. If you are anywhere close during the season it is worth including the trip. Traveling in a motorhome? No big deal. It will hold a bunch of them. I saw semi's, motorhomes, U Haul trucks, cars, pickups, Motorcycles, and even bicycles. - David Ward Here are some images from the SS Badger [Linked Image from i.ibb.co] The SS Badger [Linked Image from i.ibb.co] The lower floor where larger vehicles are parked. There is a ramp and second level for smaller vehicles. There is equal storage down the other half of the ship. [Linked Image from i.ibb.co] The trip is 4 hours across Lake Michigan [Linked Image from i.ibb.co] There are 2 Skinner Unaflow Steam engines on the ship. [Linked Image from i.ibb.co] From the side you can see the cylinders and cam shafts. The valves are operated with external rocker arms [Linked Image from i.ibb.co] Looking in line with the crankshaft [Linked Image from i.ibb.co] Down one level you can see the crankcase. [Linked Image from i.ibb.co] The dash for steam engines. The desired conditions are telegraphed from the bridge. [Linked Image from i.ibb.co] The condenser is top left. Steam drives turbines to power pumps and generators on the ship. [Linked Image from i.ibb.co] Operators making sure the fire is well maintained in one of the Foster Wheeler boilers [Linked Image from i.ibb.co] Unloading one of the semi's is a breeze. [Linked Image from i.ibb.co] Complimentary Valet service returns your vehicle for you.
 
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2,942
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Western S.C.
Very interesting! Why would the cylinder lube requirement be different from that for a steam locomotive?
Originally Posted by High Performance Lubricants
... Each engine makes 4000 horsepower. Horsepower is everything right? Well not so much in this case. Considering the engines normally spin at a whopping 95 RPM you would expect big torque numbers. Boy I would have guessed wrong. With a combined horsepower of 8,000 horsepower that pales in comparison when you learn they each, make a measly 167,000 pound feet of torque! ...
There must be more to that story, since that torque at that speed would be only about 3020 hp per engine.
 
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133
Location
New Hampshire
Thanks for posting this! I would like to take a trip on the nice old ship. It must be fun to be involved in preserving the steam engines via designing lubricant for the engines.
 
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8,873
Location
Marshfield , MA
'There must be more to that story, since that torque at that speed would be only about 3020 hp per engine" Title was Big, Dumb, and Slow. Add old too. 67 yrs and still in service. Running 3/4 open, sounds like a good practice to me grin2
 
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635
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FL
Nice post, Dave! And great pictures too. Good to see you have your hands on more than racing oils...PCMO, HDEO, Big and Slow, Hand Sanitizer... thumbsup
 
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USA
Thread starter
Originally Posted by andyd
Excellent read, thank you. I wonder how many people make up the engine room crew.
I believe there is a permanent crew of approximately 22 people but I am not sure how many are dedicated to the engine room. There was at least 6 there while I was on board.
Originally Posted by CR94
Very interesting! Why would the cylinder lube requirement be different from that for a steam locomotive? There must be more to that story, since that torque at that speed would be only about 3020 hp per engine.
There would not be a different requirement than a locomotive all pressures being equal. They certainly run with plenty of heat and pressure. The goal was to make a better than standard product using modern technology. Cleanliness of the cylinders was a goal. As the boat was cruising it was making 167,000 ft pounds of torque per engine. Curt did say they operate at partial throttle to avoid abuse to the ship. Correctly stated the engines make 4000 HP at full RPM which is greater than the 95 at that time. That being said at full RPM the torque would be less. Nonetheless it is a tremendous amount of power.
Originally Posted by frankbee3
Thanks for posting this! I would like to take a trip on the nice old ship. It must be fun to be involved in preserving the steam engines via designing lubricant for the engines.
I would recommend taking a trip for sure. Yes, it is absolutely fun to be involved with the ship where the desire is to preserve the ship.
Originally Posted by OilReport99
Nice post, Dave! And great pictures too. Good to see you have your hands on more than racing oils...PCMO, HDEO, Big and Slow, Hand Sanitizer... thumbsup
Thank you very much. We are happy to be a part of BITOG.
 
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945
Location
Athens, GA
Thanks for the post and pictures! Big old machines built without the aid of computers or even electronic calculators have always been a favorite of mine. thumbsup
 
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13,964
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...
That appears to be a very squared away operation. For a ship that age, keeping the engine room clean as is shown in those pictures is a full time job in and of itself. Thanks for sharing this.
 
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2,171
Location
Virginia
Cass Scenic Railroad has TWO geared steam locomotives that are 100 and 115 years old... Shay #5, delivered to Cass in 1905, has never left the property. Still running on the same tracks, but hauling tourists up to Whittaker Station and Bald Knob, and back... Climax #9, built 1920, just finished a major rebuild. It was in the repair shop in 1972, when fire broke out. It then sat on the dead line until 2000, when dedicated volunteers restored it, the process taking nearly two decades.... If your in West Virginia, stop by and take a ride to yesteday on a coal burning geared steam locomotive, up a 4000+ foot mountain....
 
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570
Location
Alberta
Thanks for posting about the Badger. I've watched videos on a couple of smaller coal fired steamers used for tourist runs. The Badger is still earning it's keep as a commercial coal fired steam ship, which is Impressive.
 
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2,620
Location
High Tax Illinois
Yes!!! Thank You for posting this. I love how "back in the day" engineering was so neat and well built. I would love to see those engines in person.
 
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1,903
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WY
When you mentioned Big, Dumb and slow it made me think of some of the new hires around here. Cool write up!
 

Astro14

Staff member
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11,350
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Virginia Beach
That's an awesome write-up, thanks for the detail, pictures and effort that went into it. Love those old ships. Toured many of them. From battleships and cruisers (Like the USS Olympia in Philly) to liberty ships and ocean liners. I'm no power plant engineer (Hello, Shannow, you seeing this?) but those old steam engines were marvelous, and able to extract a good bit of energy from the heat of burning the fuel. I love the craftsmanship and engineering that went into these massive powerplants. So cool that you're able to support them with your lubrication expertise! Well done!
 
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