POLAR TURNS TO STEAM

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Lee Haven, Easton, Maryland

'Polar,' who died in July '53, was one of the most unique characters this part of the country had ever produced. He was a fine gas-motor man and a great lover of the water. I had known him for nearly forty years. His real name was Earle Trimble Spencer, and he lived only a few miles from me-on the water (a beautiful winding cove) the same as I do. People who knew Polar said the Skip per story hit him to a tee.

'He died and the jury wondered why-The verdict was the blue-tail fly'

The words and melody come drifting in rich and mellow through the shop window, and it's no other man than my sidekick, Polar, which last I haven't seen recent. When his presence obstructs the light through the door, I lay down my file.

As usual, Polar is clad casual, same comprising a pair of old pants cut off at the knees, and patched considerable. Which puts him inside the law, anyway.

Polar starts to speak, but the power of his thoughts stops him, temporary, and I wait, patient.

'Bert,' hs says, final, 'there's something I'm urgent to discuss with you, if you have the time.'

'I'm taking the time,' I say.

Outside we settle down in two old chairs under a big pine, overlooking the creek, and I await further utterance by Polar.

'Bert,' he says, earnest and thoughtful, 'I'm plumb weary of noise. Which working with gas motors all week, and hearing them snort, and roar, and talk back to me, come Sunday I crave peace and quiet, as befits the Sabbath. But simultaneous I crave to wander over these Chesapeake Bay waters, up the narrow coves that wind back through the fields and woods which if there's anything closer to Paradise on this earth, I'm unacquainted with same.'

Polar is speaking my language precise, and I'm listening.

'Sail isn't the thing for this,' he continues, 'you need power, and I'm pondering over same, earnest. Which steam being quiet and peaceful entire, I'm thinking it's for you and me to consider same, serious. Not being a steam man myself, I'm not going into this alone, but if you'll come in with me, I'm prepared to get started immediate. Which I having a hull, and you having some steam stuff in your garage and cellar, and if we put it all together we begin to look like a steamboat, already.'

Steam being my first love, I'm interested plenty. For once the smell of steam and hot cylinder oil gets into your blood, it's there forever. And once you've handled steam, you're never the same again. I agree to stick with Polar to the finish.

Now, a ordinary steam engine and boiler can be picked up around here without too much trouble, but Polar's boat being lean unusual, with lines destroyer-like, she's allergic to weight and my thoughts go back to the fast steam launches of my boyhood, with their light, sweet-running triple-expansion engines. But that was years back, and all those engines were junked and melted up long ago, presumable. And then, as we ponder, I recollect a friend in New York telling me that in a storehouse at one of the old yacht-building concerns he sees some engines from old steam yachts and launches, laid away in grease. Which one of thesea little triple-expansion launch engine would suit us precise, same being light, sturdy, superb-built, and economical with steam so not needing too big and heavy a boiler. Polar listens intense, is silent for a spell, and then says, abrupt, 'Bert, we're leaving for New York tomorrow-early! I'm going home and get ready.'

In New York we have some trouble finding the place, but we get there eventual, and maybe sooner. The boss is out to lunch, but a gent in the front office allows there's some steam engines in a building in back, and he shows us out there.

There's engines there, all right, laid up in grease, and some of them are sweet! But they're all too big. And then, as I get used to the shadowy light, I spy, back in a corner, a little triple-expansion engine that makes me water at the mouth! It's what we're wanting precise, and after looking same over critical, we go back to the office, and find the boss in the front room, talking with the other gent.

'These are the gentlemen,' says the gent, introducing us formal. Which the boss looks at us questioning, but friendly. We tell our story, and the boss says, final, 'Well, I never expected to see any of those engines in a boat again: I've kept them because my father designed them he founded this business. And they're too good to be junked, anywayeven though I am not a steam man myself. So if you are really going to use it in a boat, where it belongs, I guess I'll let you have it.'

Now Polar and me haven't recovered from finding that engine, and this good luck additional leaves us plumb speechless. Which the boss smiles, and says, 'And if you'll promise to invite me down for a little cruise when you get your boat running, I'll load the engine into the railroad car for youth boys can do it while they're resting.'

We promise solemn, thank him earnest, write out a check, and depart.

The engine arrives after a bit, and we head for town in Polar's old truck. We bring the engine out and get her into Polar's shop, and go to cleaning her up with gasoline and a brush. And the cleaner she gets, the sweeter she looks!

Meanwhile we're considering boilers, and decide, conclusive, on a coil boiler made of seamless steel tubing. Which such a boiler is safe entire, light extreme, is good for most any steam pressure, and we can build it ourselves, ordering the tubing coiled to suit.

But there's more than one way to build a coil boiler, and we go to studying. Among my books is a copy of C. P. Kunhardt's Steam Yachts And Launches, which describes the Herreshoff coil boiler, giving drawings and all details, with figures on boilers used actual in fast boatsfigures on grate area, heating surface, spacing of coils for correct gas area through same, and all. Which, along with Seaton's Manual Of Marine Engineering, we're all set.

Now the Herreshoff boilers don't last too long in those days, particular in boats used in salt water, said salt water getting into the coils frequent; additional to which the tubing used then is poor, having brazed seam. But since today, on land, boilers on the same priciple precise, made of modern seamless steel tubing and using pure water exclusive, are satisfactory entire, we decide, final, on the Herreshoff-type boilerour condenser to be leakproof absolute, so no salt water ever gets in. And we will bolt a zinc slab inside the separator, so electrolytic will not eat up the steel tubes, the condenser being copper. Which if they use zinc in the Herreshoff boilers, we find no indication. Said Herreshoff boilers burned coal satisfactory, which is what we aim to use.

The coils of tubing arrive, and are found correct as ordered. We assemble same, weld the ends together, set coils on furnace, put on casing, andshe looks like a boiler, anyway. But previous to putting on casing, we test coils with cold water, pumping same up to 450 pounds pressure, and inspecting coils critical while holding pressure. We do same with the separator when said unit is completed. All is found tight, and safe unquestionable.

For said separator we find a piece of heavy 8-inch pipe at a machine shop, and they cut some off for us. In one end we weld a piece of steel plate, the other end we fix a flange and bolted-on plate, removable, for inspection and for renewing zinc slab when electrolytic eats same away. There's a baffle inside the separator which separator stands vertical, said baffle separating the steam from the water as same enters at the top from the boiler coils.

When running, the air pump on the engine sucks the water and air out of the condenser, making a vacuum in condenser, the water going to the combination hot well and filter box, which takes the cylinder oil out of it, same being bad in the boiler. The feed pump then picks up the water, and forces it into the coils again, the circulating pump keeping it circulating continuous through the coils and separator. Leakage, safety valve, and whistle are made up by water from reserve tank. Which in a recirculating flash boiler you need a extra pump for circulating, but the tubes don't burn and she doesn't scale up if managed proper. Without condenser, and air pump, and hot well and filter box, she's simpler, but you have to carry all fresh water with you, if you're in salt waterand she uses a lot of fresh water.

Now we know that with coal, handfired, instead of automatic oil or gas, that boiler's going to be some tricky and temperamental until we know her; and she'll take close watching, anyway. But not needing electric to run her, if the battery goes dead we still make port. And there's no fire risk. Additional to which, hand-fired coal is silentand cheap, relative.

We haul the boat out on Polar's railway, and rig a keel condenser, same being copper tubing, under water, connected one end to the engine exhaust, running aft through the dead-wood, and coming forward again, connecting to the air pump on the engine, the tubing getting smaller and smaller size from the exhaust to the air pump, account the steam condenses gradual to water.

While the boat is on the railway, we put on a new propeller, same having pitch plenty rank account the engine turns a lot slower than a gas motor, and the lean hull runs from it.

We get the boat back in the water, and the engine, boiler, pumps, valves, and all, installed and connected up-and we're ready to try her out.

We pump some water into the coils, and when we have the fire started, with wood, we put on a little coal-anthracite, stove-size, and then operate slow a blower off of a old blacksmith forge we find at the junk yard, which blows air under the grate and makes the fire hot intenseour stack not being high enough for strong draft; said blower being rigged for engine-drive, too, through belt and pulleys. Which if it blows a bit of flyash out through the cracks around the ash-pit door, said door is forward, away from the engine, so the ash doesn't get in the bearings, the engine being open entire, with the three cylinders carried on light steel columns, braced rigid.

Three minutes after the fire gets hot, the steam gage shows 200 pounds, which the safety valve is set for 210. We stop blowing the fire, and I put the engine in reverse, and open the throttle a crack. She starts turning slow, the water snapping in the cylinders as the steam condenses on the cold metal. In reverse that way, the propeller shoves the water forward along the condenser, cooling same even though we're tied up at the dock.

As the engine warms up, she turns faster. When the snapping in the cylinders stops, we're ready to go. I close the throttle, and Polar casts off, and then stands at the wheel. He nods to me, I give her steam again, and we slide away from the dock as slick as a eel, and most as silent.

Out in the cove Polar swings her around, and nods to me again. I shut the throttle, put the reverse-lever abead, give her steam again, and we're heading for the river. The way she labors, there's grass on the wheel, and out in deep water I reverse her and then ahead a few times, and she leaves the grass astern.

The steam pressure is down to 100 now, so I put the blower belt on the pulleys. In fresh water, in the old days, small boats made a draft by turning the exhaust into the stack, like a locomotive or traction engine, but in salt water you need to save your fresh water, additional to which a triple-expansion engine doesn't have a strong exhaust, being designed to exhaust into vacuum, in a condenser.

Now we're urgent to see what speed we have with the new rig, which having less power and more weight than previous, we don't hope for the old 17 knots, but pray for, maybe, 15 which the new propeller being more efficient, considerable, than the old high-speed flat-pitched one, we're some hopeful.

As we head for our measured mile, I oil the engine plenty; and I fix the fire just right. We haven't had her opened yet, and Polar and me are excited intense, and trembling considerable.

As we near the starting-point, we get out our watches, and inspect same to see if running. The steam pressure is 208 pounds, and the safety valve beginning to sizzle. Polar waves to me when we're near the line, and I open the throttle all the waygradual, to let her come up natural.

When we cross the line we're all out, and Polar and me check our watches. It may not be the old 17 knots we're doing, but it seems like it, which the boat being some deeper in the water now, she's moving more of it. The boiler is doing excellent, and holding the pressure easy, and we know we have us a steamboat, sure enough!

As we finish the mile and cross the line, we check our watches again. I close the throttle some; which, as the engine slows down, the safety valve opens with a roar fit to wake the dead. I shut the air intake on the blower, and sprinkle some fresh coal on the Lire to take the glare off the coils, leaving the furnace door open some, additionala coil boiler not being hurt by cold air coming in the door.

We do some figuring, and we're just even 14 knots. We're disappointed some, until we remember we forgot to clean our bottom when on the railway, additional to which the new wheel may not match the hull and engine simultaneous. Also, quite likely, the engine's valves are off some, account of slackness in the valve gear, and her piston rings may be leaking. So we call it 15 knots anywaywhich we deem same satisfactory with our power.

We're heading up the cove on our way home, and taking it slow and easy, Polar and me like a pair of kids with a new toythe most wonderful toy that ever was! We're talking earnest but quiet, joy and peace in our hearts. And then, as we round the bend I'm looking at the fire, Polar hollers, sudden and urgent, 'Bert, for the love of Mike, back her!' I don't look to see what we're colliding, but throw the triple in reverse, and yank the throttle open wide, and the boat trembles all over as the engine goes all out, and the wheel churns the water violent under the stern. As we lose headway and start backing, Polar throws the rudder over, and she comes around. As I look up the cove, I see what Polar sees: his dock packed solid with people waiting to swarm all over us! Polar waves to me, I stop the tripple and then put her ahead, and we high-tail it out of there! 'We're waiting till after dark,' says Polar.

As we slip easy up the cove in the moonlight, it's like Fairyland and the Garden of Eden simultaneous, with nothing to disturb the stillness, the triple quieter than a sewing-machine. Polar and me are speechless, drinking in the beauty of it all. We're in boats at night not infrequent, but never before like this! It's unbelieveable how noise can spoil beauty which you don't know how beautiful it is till you take the noise away. Polar and me are seeing another world!

As we round the point, in close, following the channel, a owl hoots solemn in a big oak almost over us. Above the point, in the edge of the woods, a whippoorwill is calling, and a mocking-bird sings, beautiful, from the top of a tree on the bank. The frogs, even, are singingand they don't like noise any.

'You know,' says Polar, thoughtful, 'something tells me that with this boat you and me are going to have experiences unknown to us previous, some of them exciting, possible.'

Something's telling me the same thing, too.