Coal Fired Boiler Room

David Davies
17th November 2008, 06:23
Can any of our older engine room staff enlighten me as to the following terminology? " Pitch and Patch, Slice and Rake and Fire. Was the boiler room gong set by a metronome? and what would the period of the above procedure have been?
Inquisitive Decky.

billyboy
17th November 2008, 09:45
Hopefully some of our older gentlemen of boiler rooms will be able to answer that better than I.
I only fired a coal fired boiler for a very short time on a paddler.
Slice (long handled steel shovel for removing clinkers which have been levered from the firebars with a Dart. The rake was for raking the fire to one side during cleaning.
Pitch and Patch I am not so sure about. But would imagine it refered to shifting the good fire to one side whilst removing the clinker (patch) from the other. then the clean fire would be transferred over to the clean firebars to give access to the clinkers on that side. After which the fire would bve spread evenly all over the firebars and fresh coal shoveled on. Firing was best done "little and often"
Hope that helps you. I stand to be corrected by Deep water stokers.

chadburn
17th November 2008, 10:26
There are some old Fireman on the Site who will know more than I however I have been an Engineer on Coal Burners and will have a crack at it in the event of no other response. Firing a Coal Burning ship is not just a matter of throwing the coal through the fire door there is a "Black Art" to it, the firebed is laid depending on whether the air input is natural or forced draught, if I remember correctly on forced draught the fire was higher at the front and on natural higher at the back. the term "Pitch and Patch" is I feel making sure that the firebed is evenly spread and no holes in it by "pitching" the coal in the correct area thereby "patching" it.
Slice, rake and fire as with any coal fire the grate on a ship (known as the firebars) would get choked with Clinker which leads to poor combustion, every Stokehold had what could be termed a large "Companion Set", The proceedure was to move the fire over to one side and using the slice break up the clinker, rake it clear with the rake of course and then move the fire over to the cleaned side and repeat the proceedure then re-lay the bed as it should be buy "firing" it with coal, all this to be done whilst trying to keep a decent head of steam. It was "usually" done on the end and beginning of each watch and on the old Liner's I would guess it would be a very "Regimented" affair I will leave other's to answer that. On the smaller vessels it was really up to the Firemen as to when it was done, some Firemen liked to do the whole process themselves at the beginning of their Watch.
I stand to be corrected on the above as it was a long time ago, hopefully by one of the the unsung Heroes of any coalfired ship a Fireman, these poorly paid member's of the Black Gang were invaluable because without them the Ship would not be going anywhere. You just beat me to it Billyboy

James_C
17th November 2008, 11:30
Firing a steam loco isn't as easy as it looks either - to do it right is also what can be termed a black art, particularly if requiring a constant max boiler pressure (for sustained speed or hill climbing).
Little, often and even being the key as just throwing it in will clinker the fire up nicely, especially with certain types of coal. The scale may be smaller but with most express passenger engines you're talking about 60 square feet of firebox.
Incidentally Steam Locos also have a Slice, Rake and Dart in the arsenal, known collectively as 'Fire Irons'.

billyboy
17th November 2008, 11:43
Did a stint on the footplate as well then Jim. Did mine on the southern till "Beechings axe" fell on us. it was at that point i entered the Merchant Navy.
As you so rightly say, there was a lot of skill involved with locomotive firing. Different types of loco required slightly different techniques.
My favorites were the Bullieds, School class and U1's

Binnacle
17th November 2008, 12:12
Not much help to David, like him I sailed outwith the engine room. However I sailed on four coal burners and can't remember the terms stoker or boiler room being used on British merchant ships. We carried firemen/trimmers who sweated it out in the stokehold. Other names I associated with coal burners were saddleback, side pocket, fiddley (common to oil burners too), ash shute. Poor chief engineers often suffered from a malady termed "bunkeritis". I remember taking coal bunkers in Dakar and a junior engineer keeping a tally of the number of grabs. Dishonesty of coal merchants and low grade coal were always a headache. The chief on that ship wasn't prone to the ailment as he had served as an ERA at Jutland and reckoned if the captain put excess cargo before sufficient coal to get us back home then "hell mend him".

K urgess
17th November 2008, 13:00
HMSO Publication "The Stoker's Manual" from the Ministry of Fuel & Power in 1945.
Mostly aimed at shoreside boiler operations with Lancashire, Cornish, Economic and Vertical boilers.

chadburn
17th November 2008, 15:21
A Stoker to me is an R.N. term( and later on Stoker Mech) a bit like the word Captain is an R.N. term. Binnacle is correct the type and amount of coal being loaded was most important, that is were the "fiddling" occured from the supplier ( the fiddley tops being something else of course). There has been in recent times some idea of salvaging Welsh Coal from sunken Colliers ( for the upsurge in steam loco's) as to whether it will be worth it is a matter of opinion.

waldziu
17th November 2008, 16:24
Not stricktley Coal but true notheless:


This is for the stokers of old

lakercapt
17th November 2008, 21:07
If I might add my little bit.
I was volunteered to assist in the stoke hold during Ramadan (I was an apprentice) and I remember it well.
The off going watch would allow one furnace in the boiler (there were thee to each boiler) to burn down.
You the used the rake (it was like a steel dutch hoe) to move the fire to one side and the break up the clinker with a slice (like a long poker). Then repeat moving to the other side.
When you had finished that you started to slowly build up the fire. The other two furnaces had to be attended to as well!.
You would rake out the ashes and with the help of the trimmer dump them overboard using the ash hoist, which worked on the vacuum of the main condenser.
Each watch did a different furnace but it was not necessary each watch if you HAD GOOD STEAMING COAL.
It was a task I was happy to relinquish as it was hard work, hot and very dusty, especially when dumping ashes as the were hot and when water was thrown on them it was as miserable as I am told HELL will be.
If you had a metal buckle on your belt you turned it so it was at you side as it got too hot to touch.
As Chadburn rightly mentioned in his post th fire bed was laid out different if natural draft but we were forced air. (being the smallest I was told to go into the E/R and increase the speed of the fan as it made our job easier but the engineers would throttle it back when the noticed as it would increase coal consumption).
A great experience but one I would could have lived without!!

TonyAllen
17th November 2008, 22:07
my mothers brothers were both down below and I was told that they were trimmers, Uncle sam came ashore after the war but davy stayed at sea until the middle fifties which is when I got to know him before I went to sea and he told me about the the old coal burners he worked on thats why I went into the catering side like my eldest brother, those guys were mens men.He got a job at Manbury and Garton in blackstock st Liverpool doing the same work,took me there one day to see what it was like,raking dice and slice he called it.Two weeks later there was a blowback when he opened the fire door and burned him from head to his waist, all that time at sea and it happen ashore he was never the same man after that, sorry if I am slighly off thread Regards Tony Allen

kewl dude
18th November 2008, 03:48
My first ship in 1960 was the 1911 built Edmund W. Mudge. 1750 HP triple expansion engine with a jet condenser, two, three furnace hand fired induced draft Scotch Marine Boilers.

There were three Coalpassers, of which I was one, and six Firemen. At the beginning of each watch two firemen and the coal passer immediately cleaned the four upper fires. The previous watch had the fires "winged-over" and ready to clean. For this message I will use the 8-12 watch which is what I worked.

The two firemen cleaned one side of the fire using the tools previously mentioned. As the firemen raked the results out on to the deck plates the Coalpasser dumped ten gallons of water from a bucket atop the ashes to coal them since the firemen then had to step on this pile to reach back in the furnace. There was an approved method using this water that soaked the whole pile immediately cooling them.

After one side of the fire was cleaned perhaps ten to fourteen 40 pound shovels full of coal was "placed" in the area just cleaned. Then the remaining fire was winged across and the other side cleaned. Cleaning these four fires took about fifteen minutes.

Then one of the firemen left at 8:15 while the remaining fireman pretty much worked down the line hitting each door perhaps six or eight shovels full each. The coal passer then pulled the ash from the ash pit beneath the grates. Then the coalpasser shoveled these four piles to both sides of the fireroom finishing by sweeping the fireroom deck.

I had been warned by some that as a newbie tricks would be pulled on me. I watched the firemen closely since I had been warned that I may be dunked into the squat 200 gallon barrel of water located on the fireroom centerline. The buckets of water were quickly filled by dunking them in this barrel. Fresh lake water ran into this barrel by gravity through a one inch pipe with a valve at the barrel which was let run while cleaning fires.

There was a six inch diameter concrete plug in the deck with a chain cast into it. This plug blocked the ash shooting pipe in the deck. When the fireman told me to blow into a 3/4 inch pipe fitted to the inboard side of the starboard boiler I refused. So the fireman did it. Which caused a whistle in the engine room to blow, the Oiler would start a steam engine driven water pump which created a "vacuum" beneath the ash shooting plug.

Pulling on the chain I got the plug out and the ashes began to be sucked in then lifted up above the water line and shot over the side. Often clinkers would block the line and need be broken up with a shovel. Cleaning fires and ash pit and shooting ashes typically took 45 minutes.

So at 8:45 I would leave the fireroom. On the Mudge the galley exhaust fan was 1911 original equipment with no spare parts available anymore so each Coalpasser went up there and oiled the bearings after cleaning fires. Then walk up forward where the wash water pump also was oiled each watch. After that the coalpasser reported to the watch engineer for assignments. Cleaning, chipping, painting, helping the engineer on work projects.

At 9 o'clock the fireman who left at 8:15 returned and relieved the fireman who had been there since 8. At 10 the first fireman returned. At 10:45 the two lower fires were cleaned, the off duty fireman and coalpasser returned. After cleaning the lower ash pits and shoveling the ashes over to the corners the coalpasser took the fireroom and engine room insulated three gallon drinking water jugs up to the galley dumping any left over water over the side enroute. The galley was the only space on the ship where there was potable drinking water. Drinking water was piped by gravity from a pair of 500 gallon tanks outside on the deck above through the walk in refrigerator so both jugs were filled with ice cold water and returned to their proper places in the fireroom and engine room.

At 11:15 the coalpasser called the next watch. Engineer, Oiler, two Firemen and Coalpasser then mopped the engine room deck. The one fireman prepared the four upper fires for cleaning.

When the coal bunkers were full gravity delivered the coal to the fireroom deck level in front of both boilers. Sometimes when our normal seven day round trip voyages were extended a few days the coalpassers had to go into the bunker and load an elderly sturdy steel wheel barrow with about 300 pounds of coal, wheel it out and dump it in front of each boiler. When this occurred we coal passers spent the whole watch in the fireroom. The fireman who was off between 9 and 10 oiled the galley exhaust fan and forward wash water pump. The fireman off between 11 and 12 refilled the water jugs. The engine room deck went un-mopped.

I have always got a kick out of hand fired ships in the movies. For instance the most recent Titanic movie showed the furnace doors standing open. That did not happen. The fireman opened the door with the blade of his shovel, hit the door, then shut it with his shovel blade. Furnace doors were always shut except when cleaning or hitting fires.

1960 was the last year that the Mudge ran. In 1961 the Hanna Mining Company / National Steel Corporation replaced their last three smaller older hand fired ships with two Seaway Max - 730 oal x 75 ft beam ships, the Leon Falk Jr and the Paul H Carnahan.

The bow and stern of two WW II T2 tankers were used with a new mid body built in Germany, and towed across. The ships were converted at Bethlehem Key Highway Shipyard in Baltimore Maryland The original mid ship houses were slid forward onto the old bow. May 1961 I joined the Leon Falk Jr in Baltimore as a Wiper. We sailed to Sept Iles where we picked up an iron ore cargo for Cleveland where the ship was Christened. Somewhere around here I have a nice booklet the company provided for that event.

Greg Hayden

slick
18th November 2008, 08:01
All,
Thank you Greg for the comprehensive insight into a life passed.
I sailed on the ST Loch Oskaig in 1957 (known as "pleasuring?")one of the last coal fired trawlers out of Hull (one of the others was the ST Kingston Beryl), on the trip out I was placed on watch with a Fireman nicknamed "Ponky" I had to drag his coal to him in a fishing basket and boy did he need a lot of coal.
Ponky impressed me with this, he would have a roll up get his shovel flick open the fire door get the shovel (about the size of our kitchen table) put it in and pick up one glowing coal haul it out light the cigarette,flick the ember back in and then shut the door, all one handed.
50 years on it still remains with me!
Yours aye,
Slick

benjidog
18th November 2008, 22:05
Thank you Greg for a very interesting contribution.

David Davies
19th November 2008, 20:41
Thank you gentlemen for your replies, they have been very enlightening. Was it a practice of the firemen coming on watch to retard the pointer on the taffrail mounted Walker's log clock to denigrate the efforts of the stokehold watch they were relieving? In some ships the the log was boom streamed from amidships to thwart this practice .

lakercapt
19th November 2008, 22:36
Thank you gentlemen for your replies, they have been very enlightening. Was it a practice of the firemen coming on watch to retard the pointer on the taffrail mounted Walker's log clock to denigrate the efforts of the stokehold watch they were relieving? In some ships the the log was boom streamed from amidships to thwart this practice .

Never heard that one but during the cleaning of the one furnace( on each boiler i.e. three) the steam pressure dropped considerably and the ship was making maybe 7 knots (10 when flat out)
The log that was streamed from the boom amidships was for the convenience of the OOW to read at any time instead of blowing his whistle twice to have the standby man read the log. Course it was the ongoing wheelsman's job to read before going to the bridge (if he remembered!!!!)

billyboy
19th November 2008, 22:55
Anyone able to refresh my memory on the fireman's poem. All I can remember is"

The coal was slack and full of slate,Thats what ****** the 4 till 8.
The 8 till 12 were all good men, but they were ******* by half past 10
The 12 till 4 men did their best but came up ****** just like the rest

I know there was quite a bit to this but the old grey cells will not let me recall it anymore

orcades
20th November 2008, 04:14
The 12 to 4 were bright and nifty they got the steam to a dollar fifty. The words could be altered to suit which watch one was on.

Terry Worsley
18th March 2010, 21:25
A short letter home from a somewhat illiterate Fireman:-

Dear Kate, I'm on the 4 to 8 and the seconds a bastard!

Billieboy
19th March 2010, 08:00
There appears to have been a major shortage of good, Welsh, Steam Coal in the bunkers of the foregoing vessels. I last stoked a coal fired boiler in 1957 on one of the Cardiff tugs, when floating safeties after a refit. It was a twin screw, double scotch boiler job.

chadburn
19th March 2010, 08:35
The memories of "throbbing" coal fired Boiler's after a good firing.

slick
19th March 2010, 08:49
All,
In a similar vein and alluded to by James C. and Billieboy about firing a Steam Locomotive, I believe that when the Mallard broke the World Record in the 30's it was considered by some to be down to the Fireman who's name eludes me (Hill?) he apparently could shovel 18 tons(?) of coal an hour the best that could be found, can anyone elaborate on this.

Yours aye,

slick

Billieboy
19th March 2010, 10:45
There is a big difference between stoking a steam loco and a marine boiler, mainly because of the induced draught of the steam loco. Then there's the space available in the stokehold compared to the footplate. Then there are/were, other Railway Boilers on Steam cranes and weedkillers, which did not have as good induced draught as a loco.

jim
19th March 2010, 13:10
It's a long time since I dragged coal from the Bunker saddlebacks or shovelled it into a Babcock and Willcox boiler but as I remember each watch would ensure that two fires were burning close to their best while the third fire would be sliced and raked and allowed to burn down towards the eight bells when the next watch would rebuild that fire. We got water to cool the rakings from a Tap in the Stokehold/Boiler room which was known as the Old Man. From memory I think we burned twenty seven tons of coal a day on the SS,Algerian back in the 1940s. Of course today Trimmers, Firemen,Ash Chutes, Bunker Saddlebacks and coal burning ships have been replaced by Motor Ships just as the Navagation instruments have been replaced with Global Positioning Systems. Jim.

billyboy
19th March 2010, 13:46
Shoveled a great deal of coal into various locomotives in my time. Actualy had the "Pleasure" of firing an old paddle steamer for two weeks during my holiday from the footplate. Different kettle of fish altogether. the lack of induced draught was the first thing i noticed. Plus the heat, dust and sweat. pulling fires on that ship was not a nice experience. Nicely offset by the view looking up at the lady tourists looking down into the stokehold.

joe bob
12th April 2010, 19:31
Hello all, I am going to tack a somewhat related question on to this thread if I may since its so simple it doesn't rate a thread of its own.

Recently as I was reading "The Sand Pebbles" I decided to learn what all the terminology the author Mr McKenna mentions regarding the triple expansion engine and it's crew.
I used some WW2 Liberty ship training documents from the Merchant Marine to get a basic understanding of how a triple expansion engine is operated and I found the subject much more fascinating than I anticipated.

My question is regarding pre-war merchant steamers. As far as I could tell the original cargo Liberty Ship did not have any diesel generators, only steam driven ones. Does this mean that similar coal powered ships would have to have a fireman feeding the boiler at all times, even if in port for extended periods?
The Liberty ship material mentions venting auxiliary exhaust into the atmosphere when in dry dock since there is no sea water to cool the auxiliary condenser, this leads me to believe it may have been routine for steamers to have the boilers going even for long stays in port. If true it would seem to me the engine room crew got a raw deal regarding time in port. Please pardon the lame question from an outsider, I would appreciate any answers anyone might have and must say I have enjoyed this thread thus far. Thanks JB

Billieboy
12th April 2010, 20:13
Firemen and stokers were in the boiler room the whole time on coal fired ships. At times boilers would be "banked", but then all power generation would be off, this sometimes lasted for 36-48 hours, depending on how well the boilers would, "Bank-down", The Donkeyman was in charge of the Boiler room and if needed he would add some fuel to the banked fires and also start to raise steam on the instructions of the second engineer. The Donkeyman as the senior PO usually got the weekend overtime.

chadburn
13th April 2010, 16:53
When one of the old steam job's was in Dry-Dock or even run aground you could still run the Genny/Dynamo without using the Condenser by means of a by-pass valve up to Atmosphere, when you look at a photo/drawing of an old steam job you will see a pipe which usually(but not alway's) runs up the back of the Funnel that is the "to atmosphere pipe". You can also use other steam powered aux equipment using the same system but it is a "total loss" system which is expensive to run. It still need's at least one of the Boiler's "in steam". Banking up the Boiler is another term for bedding it down, on a natural draught it would be sloped higher at the back and on a forced draught higher at the front.

Billieboy
13th April 2010, 19:06
If we're not careful GC we'll be on jumbo slices and firebar hooks soon!

chadburn
13th April 2010, 20:51
You have to see a coal fired Ships Fireman at work to fully appreciate the hard work they did, would you agree Billieboy? and at least have a go given the opportunity.

lakercapt
13th April 2010, 20:52
Never remember the boilers all being shut down or banked. Even when we were alongside Newcastle State Dockyard for six weeks one boiler was always on line to supply the auxiliaries and the put put generator.Was a prodigious pile of ashes along the starboard side and the galley door was blocked off leaving only the port side entrance.Major job with all hands turned to after we cleared port

John Rogers
13th April 2010, 21:13
There are some old Fireman on the Site who will know more than I however I have been an Engineer on Coal Burners and will have a crack at it in the event of no other response. Firing a Coal Burning ship is not just a matter of throwing the coal through the fire door there is a "Black Art" to it, the firebed is laid depending on whether the air input is natural or forced draught, if I remember correctly on forced draught the fire was higher at the front and on natural higher at the back. the term "Pitch and Patch" is I feel making sure that the firebed is evenly spread and no holes in it by "pitching" the coal in the correct area thereby "patching" it.
Slice, rake and fire as with any coal fire the grate on a ship (known as the firebars) would get choked with Clinker which leads to poor combustion, every Stokehold had what could be termed a large "Companion Set", The proceedure was to move the fire over to one side and using the slice break up the clinker, rake it clear with the rake of course and then move the fire over to the cleaned side and repeat the proceedure then re-lay the bed as it should be buy "firing" it with coal, all this to be done whilst trying to keep a decent head of steam. It was "usually" done on the end and beginning of each watch and on the old Liner's I would guess it would be a very "Regimented" affair I will leave other's to answer that. On the smaller vessels it was really up to the Firemen as to when it was done, some Firemen liked to do the whole process themselves at the beginning of their Watch.
I stand to be corrected on the above as it was a long time ago, hopefully by one of the the unsung Heroes of any coalfired ship a Fireman, these poorly paid member's of the Black Gang were invaluable because without them the Ship would not be going anywhere. You just beat me to it Billyboy

Chadburn has said it about right, I would like to add that nearing the end of the watch we would let one fire burn down and the new watch would build it up. This was our procedure on the three boiler nine fire ships.

John

McCloggie
13th April 2010, 22:06
In a similar vein and alluded to by James C. and Billieboy about firing a Steam Locomotive, I believe that when the Mallard broke the World Record in the 30's it was considered by some to be down to the Fireman who's name eludes me (Hill?) he apparently could shovel 18 tons(?) of coal an hour the best that could be found, can anyone elaborate on this

The A4 Mallard was driven by J Duddington and fired by T Bray on the record breaking run.

As the tender coal capacity of an A4 is 8 tons and this would/could last on a non stop Edinburgh-London run it seems unlikely that anyone could move 18 tons in an hour - or indeed would need to!

I have been lucky enough to have fired a preserved A4 and have been on the footplate on the main line. Firing is indeed a "black art" but as has been poined out previously, a locomotive is different. Apart from what has been discussed above, a loco has a "blower" which will increase the draft to the fire if required. The firebox door can also be either opened fully or partly.

I was always told to fire round the box - high at the sides and let it fall into the middle. Have no idea at all how to fire a ship!

McC

Billieboy
14th April 2010, 07:07
You have to see a coal fired Ships Fireman at work to fully appreciate the hard work they did, would you agree Billieboy? and at least have a go given the opportunity.

Agree all the way GC, as an apprentice I was working on all sorts of coal fired boilers, full speed on a coal fired Tug was something in the stoke hold! sparks coming off the shovels and sweat coming down in buckets! Locomotive firing was even worse, as there was much less room and the fire door was much smaller so that the shovel was smaller too.

When it comes to banking boilers, mostly this would occur on tugs and dredgers for the week end. Sometimes on multi boiler ships one boiler would be steaming and on the others two fires would be pulled and the third furnace banked in port during the weekend or when the ship was being loaded by cranes. Shore side Steam plants ran on small coal with automatic stoked, "fluid bed", continuous chain grates, These boilers had twin steam and water drums with two or three rows of super-heater tubes at the top of the furnace. These boilers were always banked at the top of the tides for a week or so and at weekends when not too much steam was required.

These days with Pulverised Fuel and, "Cloud ignition and blown firing", people have never heard of shovels or slices, let alone fire bars. (Thumb)

spongebob
18th April 2010, 22:48
Billieboy’s post reminds me of a time in the early sixties when I was a Bailey meter service engineer.
I went to a Northern NZ dairy factory to install some steam flow meters and after chumming up with the boiler man he offered to nip off to a nearby West Coast beach to dig me a few toheroas, a NZ shellfish delicacy that are now a fully protected species but at that time they were merely out of season.

Of course this meant that I had to look after the old under fired multitubular fire tube boiler while he was away and the appliance was fired by a faulty mechanical coal spreader stoker that delivered the coal in a heap on to the fixed grate while the fireman had to spread, rake and slice the fire bed to keep up a head of steam
Thankfully the factory was on light load at the start of the season but never the less I was soon in a lather of sweat as I got out of my depth and we lost steam pressure due to great holes in the fire bed and too much ash on the grate and all this was without having to shovel the coal into the furnace.
The fireman was back in next to no time with shell fish for me, the engineer and himself but my stint as a boiler man felt like an eternity.

I had always admired a fireman or stoker’s skills after watching down into the boiler room of the old Devonport Steam ferries and hearing tales from many an old Naval stoker but this little effort by me brought home the reality

Bob

chadburn
19th April 2010, 11:55
A "hole" in the firebed allows the colder air to be drawn into the boiler firebox through the ash pit and then the "hole" which makes a cold spot in the boiler, this is how/why the term pitch and patch came about, ie; pitching the coal to patch the hole in the firebed for an even spread and a even heat. On a steam job the "power" process starts and finishes in the Stokehold which is where a Steam Engineer's "training" did/should begin to get a better understanding of the system as a whole process.

Billieboy
19th April 2010, 12:52
"Pitch and Patch" That's a bloody long time ago! must have been 1958 since I last heard that GC, we must be getting old!