An en­gine ser­vice? That’s proper work

Canal Boat - - Me & My Boats - KEVIN BLICK From car jour­nal­ism to the canals was a change of pace, but liv­ing on board tug Harry is a con­stant eye-opener

An­other year, an­other en­gine ser­vice. Our poor old Lis­ter JP3M has been show­ing the signs of need­ing its an­nual day at the doc­tor’s for some time now. The ex­haust has been get­ting no­tice­ably more smoky – as Mrs B will tes­tify as she likes to sit on the roof be­side the rear hatch while I’m helm­ing the boat. And that puts her down­wind and at face level to the ex­haust fumes leav­ing the en­gine room stack.

Ser­vic­ing the big Lis­ter is just a lit­tle bit more in­volved than tak­ing care of your av­er­age Beta 43. For starters it takes a lot of oil – a 250-litre drum of Mor­ris Golden Film and a bit more be­sides. That hits the old wal­let hard.

Why so much? Well the JP3M is a proper marine en­gine, de­signed for rough seas so it has dry sump lu­bri­ca­tion and a big, sep­a­rate oil tank. Just like a rac­ing car – though in this case it’s to cope with up and down waves rather than side to side G-forces.

I know there aren’t many waves on your av­er­age canal (un­less a stag par­ty­ing day­boat has just been past) but the dry sump sys­tem is part of its her­itage and, be­sides, the pol­ished cop­per oil tank looks the dog’s nether re­gions.

Hav­ing sucked out the con­tents of the tank with one of those vac­uum oil chang­ing pumps – an es­sen­tial item for the DIY me­chanic to beg or bor­row – next step is to re­move the big side door on the en­gine crank­case and mop out all the re­main­ing oil and muck from the in­nards us­ing some of Mrs B’s best kitchen tow­els. Only kid­ding, dear.

Now one runs into the first fa­mil­iar stum­bling block with an old en­gine. The crank­case door needs new gas­kets. New gas­kets don’t ex­ist so it’s time to get out the roll of gas­ket pa­per I bought on eBay last year and the hole punch set I was given for Christ­mas and make up a new one. These lit­tle chal­lenges hap­pen all the time in life with a tra­di­tional en­gine.

An­other item on the an­nual ser­vice list is to have the in­jec­tors cleaned and tested. I’m very for­tu­nate to have in­her­ited three spare ones with the en­gine so I can do a straight swap dirty for clean. Even so, it’s a job I hate. One new in­jec­tor in­vari­ably leaks at its pipe union. And if you tighten it, it will prob­a­bly leak more.

Over the years I’ve had to have nu­mer­ous new in­jec­tor pipes made as a re­sult of that. And it’s of­ten a prob­lem to find an old-school diesel shop to do them. I re­mem­ber down in Lon­don one win­ter hav­ing to get the bus from Padding­ton Basin all the way to some­where deep in east Lon­don car­ry­ing my smelly old pipe and re­turn­ing with a shiny new one.

I do love these old-fash­ioned work­shops: in­evitably there’s an old-timer work­ing there who recog­nises the in­jec­tor and goes misty-eyed with nostal­gia. The owner’s long-re­tired dad comes into my cur­rent spe­cial­ist a few morn­ings a week just to work on stuff like mine.

Aside from its an­nual wash-and-brush-up, the JP is a pretty easy en­gine to live with: the wa­ter pump needs greasing on a daily ba­sis and ditto the rocker shafts but it starts and it runs and – touch­ing wood firmly with ev­ery digit – it rarely com­plains. Just an oc­ca­sional puff of soot into the air and the odd hic­cough to keep us on our toes. But it’s done The Wash and the Sev­ern Es­tu­ary and you can’t take an en­gine out there un­less you trust it.

It’s when you need to delve deeper into old en­gines that prob­lems can arise. Some parts sim­ply don’t ex­ist any more; oth­ers may, but then turn out not to be what you thought they were. The Pet­ter PHW fit­ted to our last boat was built with no less than three dif­fer­ent head gas­kets in its life­time – none of them com­pat­i­ble. I only found that out when I’d tried the first two types!

It’s all part of the fun of hav­ing an old en­gine: you can take them apart your­self with a set of Whit­worth span­ners, wear a pair of dirty over­alls, wipe your hands with an oily rag and feel like a proper boater.

‘In­evitably there’s an old-timer work­ing there who recog­nises the in­jec­tor and goes misty-eyed with nostal­gia’

A man’s gotta do....

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