Wednesday, February 3, 2016


Hull plating replaced, and power steering installed
on C. G. Richter at PBI, May 1980.

Washington Island, Wisconsin -
Usually, there's more than one explanation for things being as they are, and in the case of that stainless ship's wheel pictured in my last posting, the answer wasn't as I had first thought.

In the process, I learned I shouldn't rely on memory alone, because dates and facts are blurred with time.

First, former C. G. Richter captain Chuck Sena believed the stainless wheel was part of a then newly installed power steering system on that ferry, and it turns out he was right.

I hadn't remembered that wheel being installed on the C. G., probably because it was replaced only a few months later with the original wheel when several components failed.  Chuck remembers heading to Gills Rock, Doug Foss riding along, Kurt Meyer the operator, when the shaft under the binnacle broke, necessitating their labored actions in order to turn the ferry around and head back home.

A second point that triggered this blog posting was the return to daylight of correspondence found in an old file that originated from Tim Graul, Naval Architect, who was then Peterson Builders Inc. (PBI's) Commercial / Workboat Division Manager.   Concerning the shortcomings we reported, Tim wrote Arni Richter about resolving the C. G. Richter's steering, recommending specific remedies.

The replacement of dished hull plating around the waterline had been the primary reason for the Richter's spring yard visit to PBI, but at some point the installation of the first version of power steering was added to the work list.  The original 1950 steering system was a cable that ran from the helm to the quadrant, bending through a series of sheaves, and when the Richter's large rudder collided against a cake of ice (especially when the ferry moved in reverse) it could spin the wheel from the operator's hands, slamming the quadrant hard against the stops.  This wasn't good for the quadrant, and it wasn't safe for the knuckles of the operator.  A hydraulic assisted wheel, it was hoped, would make steering not only easier, it would prevent an unexpected kick-back.

Arni Richter, Tim Graul and H. F. Purinton (of R. A. Stearn
Naval Architects) at PBI in winter of 1979 during Robert Noble 
construction.   Ferry Robert Noble was launched with cable steering 
but was later refitted with power steering, after the C. G. Richter's
second system proved itself.

As a result of breakdowns, a new and more robust power steering arrangement was then installed at Peterson Builders, Inc. in the fall of 1980, in time for the next winter's ice season.   (I realize all of this detail might be more than our typical reader might wish to know, but if you've an interest in such things, then this follow-up may be entertaining and enlightening - as it was for me!)

Included with Tim's letter (on PBI's letterhead, with Fred Peterson's Utopia under full sail, a light tint in the stationery background) were two sketches showing how the old and the new arrangement would differ.

Captain Arni Richter:                                                               24 September 1980

We have discussed the steering system on the C.G. RICHTER, and Ellsworth Peterson concurs that the only thing for us to do under the circumstances is to install a new steering system as we discussed on 9 September.
Power steering assist, the first version
installed in May 1980.

To reiterate my understanding of that discussion, you will bring the boat back to Sturgeon Bay for the work to be done here.  Peterson Builders will furnish the labor to remove the existing power-boosted steering system and install in its place a cylinder, two hydraulic lines from the pilot house to the stern compartment and a new helm unit. 

Washington Island Ferry Line will pay the cost of the additional materials necessary to install this different system, (which you would have done had we installed this type of system in the first place).   Materials will include the new Char-Lynn helm unit, a steering cylinder, hydraulic tubing, fittings and hoses and all the miscellaneous small parts.

I will place the order for the helm unit and the cylinder immediately, and as soon as we have a date for the receipt of this equipment, we'll advise you so that the boat can be brought to PBI for the necessary work.  I am enclosing a couple of sketches which illustrate schematically the steering system as it was installed in May of this year and the new proposed system which utilizes a Char-Lynn "Orbitrol" helm unit driven by a chain from a new wheel shaft.  This new wheel shaft would duplicate the original installation before we installed the torque generator.  Two new hydraulic lines will be run from the Pilothouse back to the lazarette where a cylinder will be installed to actuate the quadrant. 

Second version of C. G. Richter power steering, with
the wooden wheel back in place.

This system will be a true huyraulic boost at the rudder itself. Turning the wheel will displace the valve in the Orbitrol helm unit, directing the oil to the cylinder and actuating the quadrant directly.  There will be enough slack in the cable and chain so that when the rudder has reached its desired position, the valve can be shut off and hydraulic pressure will hold the rudder in the desired location.
We appreciate your cooperation with us on this project and look foward to working on the boat.

Very truly yours,
Peterson Builders, Inc.
Timothy Graul, N.A.
Commercial / Workboat Division Manager

A good reason for the old wheel being reinstalled was the leverage required to turn the helm when the power steering - for whatever reason - failed.  The ferry could still be steered, but it took a good deal of "armstrong" to turn it against the fluid pressure still in the lines, and to manipulate the large rudder against water forces.

Captain Bill Jorgenson, steering with the C. G. Richter's original wheel.

One question still in the back of my mind:  Did I mistakenly recall a similar stainless wheel installed on the Washington?
Was the wheel recently found in Arni's attic from the C.G., or the Washington,  or were those two wheels the same?

-   Dick Purinton

(Purinton photos; correspondence from WIFL files.)