A Very Civil Servant
8/18/2014 | Words: Mike Principato | Pictures: Barnhard Marine Service
2-Cycle engines, Series 71, Nightingale
In a town notorious for its high-pitched, high-maintenance denizens, she's predictable and reserved. Unfazed by the megawatt political power of her city, she is a model of blissful decorum. Having witnessed six decades of history herself she reminds her passengers of the importance of remembering it.
She is the Nightingale, and far from being just another sightseeing riverboat that cruises the banks of the Potomac, she is the antidote to the pressure-packed daily melodrama that is our nation's capital. During the last few years of her life in the fleet at Capitol River Cruises she's been a floating photo platform for tourists who want to soak up a little maritime history during their visit to Washington, D.C. But last November, Nightingale made a little diesel engine history herself when her original Detroit Diesel 2-Cycle Series 71 engine was officially retired after 62 years of continuous duty. Incredibly, during all those years of faithful service, the engine had never required a rebuild.
Jamie Barnhard, owner of D.C.-based Barnhard Marine Service has seen his share of well-worn but still-willing Detroit Diesel 2-Cycle engines since starting his business in 1997. But even he was impressed by the pristine condition of the Nightingale's engine. "I specialize in older mechanical marine engines and love the old Detroit Diesel 2-Cycles, but this Series 71 really surprised me. I'd been servicing it for about three years before we replaced it, and as far as I can tell, the engine's never been opened up since it was built. The block, pistons and rings are in great shape," he says.
It was on one of Barnhard's service calls to Capitol River Cruises that he had to break the news to Frank Frager, the sightseeing company's president, that the Nightingale's faithful engine had finally reached a point of diminishing returns and needed to be replaced. Sounding more like he's describing the heartbreaking decision every owner of an old dog dreads having to make one day, Barnhard recalls somberly telling Frager, "Frank, it's time."
Such sentimentality between boats and the folks who make their living with them is as old as Homer's Odyssey, and especially understandable in the case of the Nightingale's venerable Detroit Diesel 2-Cycle Series 71. MTU Marine Service Engineer Mike Turner says his records show the engine was the 489th Series 6-71 unit built by Detroit Diesel. Unit 489 left its Michigan birthplace on September 29, 1948, destined for GMC Truck and Coach, and was marinized and installed in the boat three years later. The vessel served as a ferry on Lake Erie, and then briefly as a dinner tour boat before joining Capitol's sightseeing fleet.
After 62 years of trouble-free duty in this storied boat, what engine could have possibly replaced Unit 489 in the Nightingale? Barnhard seems genuinely bewildered that anyone would ask such a silly question.
"Another Detroit Diesel 2-Cycle Series 71, of course. And if were up to me, I'd tell MTU to chrome-plate the old engine and put it on display in the MTU Hall of Fame," he replies.
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