Tuesday, 17 May 2016

A funny engine story

That is the story that is funny and not the engine!

This is number one of a series of tales on diesel engines, some of which I had never heard of until very recently.

From a friend.

Here’s something for you……

As I have already mentioned, I started my marine engineering career as a Cadet Officer with a shipping line near  Cape Town .

Anyhow, we ran a well-equipped and -staffed ship-repair workshop and chandling store on the ground floor of its marine offices at No. 5 Quay. It also serviced RFD and Dunlop liferafts for the industry on those premises. That building was subsequently demolished to make way for the Victoria Shopping Mall – the white flag-mast outside marks the location of the  the local offices. (At the invitation of the V&A developers I designed that flag-mast. Please salute it when you next visit !)

Sometime in 1966 my ship arrived and berthed at the cargo-working quay, No. 6 Quay – now the site of the Table Bay Hotel. As usual the elderly German workshop foreman came aboard for coffee and to enquire about any urgent repairs we might have. He told us about an engine runaway in the workshop a few days earlier which was very comical but could have had serious or even fatal consequences.

It concerned a single-cylinder Deutz winch engine from one of the fleet’s smaller ships. This engine had two very large flywheels, overhanging the engine at each end of the crankshaft. The engine ran at about 300 rpm with tremendous torque, blowing smoke-rings with each “doeff- doeff” sort of thing. It was clutch-connected to the winch. The engine foundation on deck was effectively a raised plinth or pedestal, necessary to give clearance for these two large diameter flywheels, the visual proportions of which were reminiscent of the rear wheels of a tractor.

This engine had been in the workshop for some repair and before being returned to its ship needed to be test-run. It seemed that a make-shift plinth had been provided on which to temporarily plonk the engine for the test. A fuel “tank” was apparently something like an upside-down Brasso tin with a copper pipe soldered into the screw-cap. To aid starting provision existed for the use of percussion cartridges which looked like cigarettes that were inserted into a special holder in the cylinder head. The engine started with a bang on the first revolution of the flywheel, surprising all involved, and enthusiastically increased revs with each “doeff”. It promptly vacated its temporary seat, and resembling a tractor with a drunk driver at the wheel, it took off with wheel-spin on the concrete floor. Each collision with lathes, concrete pillars, etc., caused extreme changes of direction accompanied by flying chips of plasterwork, concrete, paint, crushed cans, escaping compressed air, etc,  as it chased its “rescuers” around the place. It eventually expired against a wall where it wheel-spun until it either ran out of juice or somebody killed it. The workshop atmosphere was clouded with a heavy mix of exhaust smoke and cement / concrete dust.  By then the rims of the flywheels had the appearance of having been chromed. In his thick German accent the foreman had us in stiches describing the fast unfolding scene of devastation.
We went to inspect the damage – there was lots of it – concrete chunks, damaged machines, crushed boxes and equipment in the workshop – but fortunately no one was injured and the engine itself was not too badly hurt. If it had “escaped” through the open workshop door it could have run amok on the quayside, slamming into parked vehicles or even committed suicide by plunging off the quay into the dock.

There was at least some “colour” in those days before health and safety killed the radio show…… But I never forgot the lesson about the consequences of an engine runaway.

Enjoy your day,

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