On Board with a Really Big Steam Engine

Although most of my posts are model railway related I also have the odd post about real trains; see last month’s post about the Dean Forest Railway.  Also I have the odd post about other steam equipment such as traction engines; see last year’s post about the Great Dorset Steam Fair! By the way this year’s GDSF is less than two weeks away for anybody who’s thinking of going.   But this post is a little different; it’s still about a steam engine, but not on dry land.

The ‘Steamship Shieldhall’, which is the largest working steamship in Britain, was steamed up and ready to meet me at Southampton Dock. And I went for a nice cruise down to the Solent and back.

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The Solent is the body of water between Isle of Wight and the mainland at the Southern Coast of England.  It’s in this area where most of my fellow modellers building American railroad layouts live, hence why our layout is called ‘Solent Summit’.

The ‘Shieldhall’ was built in 1955 as a sludge tanker, not the most glamorous of duties.

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She was one of seven ships which worked out of Glasgow between 1900 and 2000.

Unlike her predecessor, the boilers on this ship are oil-fired, making it a much nicer ship to work on.  The engine room is located at the rear of the ship under the main funnel and looking down from the main deck level all you see are the cylinders.  There are two steam engines, each with three cylinders.  In the picture below you are looking towards the front of the ship, the smallest cylinder is the first and is a high pressure cylinder,  followed by a medium and low pressure.

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Here is what they had to say about their engines and boilers.

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The term ‘triple expansion’ means the same steam is used in all three cylinders: as it exits the first cylinder it goes into the second and then into the third.  As a steam engine works by the expanding force of the steam in a cylinder each cylinder has to get bigger to give the same amount of power as the previous.  Hence why there are 15″, 25″ and 40″ cylinders in one engine.  When the steam comes out of the last cylinder it has almost used up all of its expanding power and is condensed back into water.  This is then put back into the boiler.  Unlike railroad locomotives and traction engines, ships can only use the water they carry as anything other than fresh water will damage the boiler.  Therefore the condensing of steam to water is essential, and that is also why you don’t see lots of steam blasting out of the funnel in the same way you do with railroad locomotives and traction engines.

Below is a quick video of the cylinders. It was extremely hot at this level but surprisingly clean.  All the action is on the deck below.

Heading down the second ladder puts you right next to the motion as you can see in the video below.  The wind you can hear is from the cold air being pumped in behind me, which was very welcome.

The engines were running slow, or idling, at this point.  Although we were still tied to the dock both engines were turning to warm up.  As the engines are permanently connected to the propellers one was in reverse as not to create too much driving force.

Below is a video of the other engine, looking down the pistons.

Once we got under way the engines were turning much faster, and both in the same direction.

In the video below when it pans up you can see the crank slides and the oil way pattern used to evenly distribute oil for lubrication.

Each engine has its own regulator and reverser, and they are very similar to railway and traction engines.  All the controls are right next to the engines and instructions are sent to the engine room by these.

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There is one for each engine and a corresponding pair on the bridge.  The red arrow states what the bridge wants the engines to do and the gold arrow is an acknowledgment from the engine room.

The drive shafts are exposed as they run out from the engines at the back of the ship, as you can see below.

The four boilers, being oil-fired, are very self-contained and although they need to be managed they don’t need to be worked as you do with a coal-fired boiler.

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Getting photos was tricky as they are fairly big and the working space behind them was not.

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The fuel oil was a fairly medium viscosity and is sprayed into the burner.  The actual nozzles receive the oil from the side under pressure which causes it to spin within the nozzle, giving a decent spread of oil for an even burn.

As with the fuel oil used on the UP Gas Turbine locomotives, this oil needs to be heated before it can be injected and that is done by the apparatus you can see on the left in the above photo.

The walls of the ship either side of the engine room are the fuel tanks and as you can see from the gage below, she had recently been topped up.

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And I don’t think I would like the bill from that fuel stop!

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One of the smaller steam engines is the Forced Draught Fan.

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It was this that was causing the cool air to blow into the engine room you could hear on the previous videos.  It’s not as exciting as the main engines but in this video below you can hear it pumping away, driving the fan on the right.

This draught, as well as cooling the engine room, is also the main draw for the burners and in the picture below taken from the boiler room looking up, you can see the air ducts from the fan running to the boiler tops.  And you can just about make out the little green steam engine.

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The ships funnel also has the ships whistle mounted to the front as you can see below.

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And this came with a warning!

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Several times I was caught standing near it and they weren’t kidding.  In the video below we were passing a large cruise ship coming out of Southampton heading for Copenhagen.  The cruise ship got in first with its fantastic horn but the ‘Shieldhall’ answered with the siren and then whistle.

The trip on ‘Shieldhall’ was great fun and the visit to the engine room was fantastic. It was a privilege to see it working although I am pleased it’s now a pleasure cruise ship and not still a sludge hauler.

Before I wrap up this post I wanted to let you know that Shapeways have free worldwide shipping on all orders over $25 untill August 21, 2016 at 11:59PM PDT.

Next week I’ll be updating you about my club’s upcoming shows.