An engine service? That’s proper work
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....