Level It, Measure It, Build a Scaffold

A laser level is a real time-saver when setting up the boat.
A laser level is a real time-saver when setting up the boat.

Now that the boat is upside down (a major accomplishment–check out how we did it in the post labelled “Roll Her Over“), the next step is to get it plumb and level.  Now let me just pause here and say, that plumb and level means absolutely plumb and level.  Any inaccuracy here will compound itself over the course of the project because there will be countless times when you need to determine if something is level or not.  If you can just plop a spirit level on it, that simplifies the measurement considerably.  If you have to resort to stringing up string lines every time you have to take a measurement, it takes a lot longer.  So get it dead level now.

So what does plumb and level mean?  Well remember in Plans, I said I had gotten a copy of the lines drawing for this boat?  The load water line on those plans tells you where the boat should theoretically float when loaded.  So that line is the one you need to draw on the boat and then get it level.  It doesn’t matter that the boat is upside down.  Level is level.  Then level the two corners of the transom.  When you have done that, the stem should be plumb (i.e. at an angle of 90 degrees) to the ground.

Now a laser level greatly simplifies this task.  Before these nifty instruments were affordable for the average boat shop, one resorted to a water level to get the boat level and plumb.  Builders used it to level buildings as well.  It’s a fine tool.  Look it up on Wikipedia!  Anyway, projecting a level laser line on the hull is a lot easier, so that’s what I used.

A straightedge reveals a hook in the bottom.
A straightedge reveals a hook in the bottom.

Once that’s done, you can determine how close your boat is to the original design.  This boat was very close.  The worst the keel was off was 1-1/16″ low at about station 4.  That was a combination of the chine and the keel being a little low–each about 1/2″.  The width was within 3/4″ over the whole length of the boat.  And there was about a 1/2″ concavity in the planing surface of the bottom, called a hook because it slows the boat down.  That’s not bad for a 60 year-old!  It took a good deal of time to determine this, but it was worth it.

A tape measure shows exactly where the strut palm and the hole for the rudderpost are located.
A tape measure shows exactly where the strut palm and the hole for the rudderpost are located.

Then of course there are alot of other things to measure and document–like where all the holes in the boat are.  A tape measure and digital camera are invaluable here.

The load water line is marked on the transom.  Do you think this boat had some leaking issues around the transom?
The load water line is marked on the transom. Do you think this boat had some leaking issues around the transom?




Some of the key design lines are easily marked on the boat with a pencil.  Look closely in the picture here to see where I’ve marked the load water line.





Finally, I needed to add a walkway to either side of my rack so I would have someplace to stand while I work on the hull.  I was hoping to be able to work from the shop floor, but I need to be able to reach the center of the hull while putting substantial leverage and/or weight on a tool.  Hence the scaffolding addition.

Scaffolding walkways make it easier to reach the center of the bottom with tools.
Scaffolding walkways make it easier to reach the center of the bottom with tools.

Armed with a good platform to work from and a good knowledge of where the boat is out of true, it’s time to take the bottom off.  That’s a story for another day…

Roll Her Over

Once the boat is stripped of as much weight as possible (seats, ceiling, floorboards, engine, instruments, dashboard, rudder, fuel tank, other miscellaneous hardware), it’s time to roll it over.  Much of the work will be done with the boat upside down.  So you’ve got to figure out a way to get this thing upside down without damaging it.

Of course there’s always the “15 Friends and a Mattress” technique.  But I don’t have 15 friends that will agree to show up at the same time to roll a boat over.  And boats are made to be slick and smooth so they can mover through the water.  This makes them difficult to hold on to, particularly when you’re trying not to drop it!  I decided to employ the much safer method of using 2 gantry cranes and an iron pipe.

1. Rack with crossmembers placed at same interval as frames in the boat

The first step was to make a rack to put the flipped boat on.  It’s a good idea to put casters on the rack, so you can easily move it around your shop.








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2. Morgan Houtz helps with the Rollover. Note the load straps tied over the pipe which is suspended in bearings from the gantry cranes.
2013-02-11 Flip2
3. The boat is picked up with the load straps by raising the pipe.
2013-02-11 Flip3
4. The boat is lowered to the ground so the load straps can be re-tied with less slack in them.
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5. Raise the boat and roll the rack into place.
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6. Lower the boat onto the rack
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7. Sadie the Wonderdog inspects the operation.
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8. The boat is rolled out from under the gantry cranes…
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9. And into it’s final resting place on the shop floor. Sadie the Wonderdog approves.

Next, I suspended the boat by 2 four-inch load straps that were tied over a 2 inch black iron pipe suspended in a couple of bearing assemblies that my friends at a local machine shop fabricated for me.  The idea is that the pipe with the load straps will rotate in place, allowing you to roll the boat over while it’s hanging from the straps.

Next, I had to lower the boat and re-tie my load straps so I could raise the boat high enough to roll my rack up under it.

Then lower the boat onto the rack.  The cross-spalls on the rack were set at the right height so that when the top of the stringers were set down on them, the boat was level and plumb.  This is the kind of thing you can only pre-plan if you have a copy of the lines drawings.  See the previous post entitled “Plans”.

Then it was a simple matter to roll the rack into place on the shop floor.  Then the rack was blocked up to make it level and plumb.

Special thanks to Morgan Houtz who helped with the roll over, and Sadie the Wonderdog, who helps with everything.

Add an Oil Filter

Oil Filter and Oil Cooler
Oil Filter and Oil Cooler

Back in 1949, Chris Craft did not include an oil filter on their engines.  My research revealed that an internal Chris Craft memo said they expected the engine to outlast the hull, so they decided an oil filter was unnecessary.  This might strike you as odd especially since the engine shares its oil with the transmission.  I certainly found the engine to be very gunky when I took it apart.  I used up ALOT of de-greaser cleaning the inside of this engine!  There were more deposits than I’ve seen before.

Now the old advice not to use high-detergent oil in an old engine makes sense.  I could just see that detergent knocking a blob of gunk loose that would clog a small oil passage somewhere.  Better by far to, as the Beatles say, just “let it be” and hope that gunk stays put.

But since I had it apart and was able to clean it, I decided that I could not in good conscience put this engine back in without an oil filter.  That required fabricating a mounting bracket and finding a place to stick it, and adding plumbing lines to get it into the flow.  I plumbed it so that the oil passes first through the filter, then the oil cooler, then back into the engine.  As you can see from the photo, I mounted it at the rear of the engine, next to the oil cooler.  It will be easy to service here.

We still won’t be using high detergent oil though.  That would interfere with the operation of the reverse gear, which as I said, gets its lubrication from the engine oil.  We’ll use straight weight SAE 30, or SAE 40 depending on where the boat ends up.

Rebuilding the Engine

Tim painting engineI had originally intended to have someone else rebuild the engine.  I was going to open it up to make an assessment of how much of a rebuild was needed, and once I got it apart, I found that it was in pretty good shape.  Re-boring would not be necessary,  and valve clearances appeared to be good–no major wear on the lobes of the camshaft. The crankshaft was in good shape and did not need machining.  So I decided to handle it myself.  I don’t have the machinery to do serious machining, but I can handle a moderate rebuild.

2012-09-13 crankshaft
Piston heads and valves
Piston heads and valves
2012-09-13 connecting rods
Connecting Rods from below
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Engine ID Plate

The engine for the boat is the original Chris Craft K engine.  It bears the number shown on the hull card for the boat that I got from the Maritime Museum (see previous post).   The engine block– a flat-head 6 cylinder, was built by the Hercules Truck Company, and Chris Craft marinized it by adding their own manifold, and some other pieces.  It is a 95 hp hunk of cast iron that weighs in at 660 lbs.  In 1949, they weren’t doing a lot of pressed steel, so even the oil pan on this engine is cast iron.  It has a single barrel up-draft carburetor, naturally aspirated.

2012-04-19_engine out stbd fwd
Engine before starting the rebuild–I have no idea why it’s painted Chevy Orange!

The rebuild involved tearing it down to see what kind of shape the bearings, crank, pistons and cylinders were in.  The word I got from the previous owner was that he had fired his mechanic in the middle of rebuilding the engine and some one else had put it back together.  This is never good news.  I wanted to make sure there were no critical missing parts (like bearings!) and see just what needed to be done to get this baby running again.

Probing engineFirst things first–I ran a compression test on the engine before opening it up.  It had oil in it, and it was dirty, so it had be run.  But I wasn’t going to risk running it without seeing the inside first.  The compression test results were good–all cylinders within 12 psi of each other and around 125-135 psi with no significant leakdown.  The bearings and tolerances were in reasonably good shape, but were replaced since I had torn the engine down to that level anyway.  Many of the ancillary pieces such as the  ignition coil, and distributor had to be replaced.  There was no one to rebuild the existing water pump (a brass gear pump), and an impeller pump was a better alternative for a raw water pump anyway.  Both the generator (not alternator) and the starter motor were shipped out to be rebuilt and converted from 6 volt to 12 volt systems.  Also, I rebuilt the original updraft carburetor.

Stay tuned for a short video of the first running of the engine.

Pulling the Engine

 95 Hp "K" engine

95 Hp “K” engine

One of the first major things to come out of the boat was the engine.  It’s a 95 horsepower Chris Craft “K” engine, weighing in at 660 lbs.  The block is a flat head six cylinder style engine built by the Hercules Truck Company.  Chris Craft marinized it by adding their own intake/exhaust manifold, adding a raw water pump, and turning it around 180 degrees, so the “front” of the engine faces aft.  This last was done to get a”right hand” rotation of the prop (make the propeller rotate in a clockwise direction if you’re looking at it from the rear facing forward).  So now the flywheel, which in a truck would be at the rear of the engine, connected to the pressure plate of the clutch, is on the front of the engine.  A special casting was made to accommodate the generator and the starter motor at the front of the engine.  Also, Chris Craft added an oil pan with a slanted bottom to allow for the correct mounting angle of the engine in the boat.  The oil pan is cast iron, not pressed steel like on a modern engine.

Next step is to continue stripping the boat of as much as possible to get it ready to flip over, and to rebuild the engine.  Onward!

Strip Her Down

1949 Chris Craft 17 ft Deluxe Runabout
1949 Chris Craft 17 ft Deluxe Runabout

Soon it was time to begin dis-assembly.  Much of this was accomplished with the boat still on the trailer.  This can be a slow process because you need to document every little step. Of course having a phone with a camera greatly helps–less time drawing diagrams.  But I need a lot of notes and pictures to help me remember how this thing came apart if I hope to get it back together.

Stripping out all of the parts helps identify which parts need more work (in the case of a 60 year old boat, almost everything) and reduces the weight that will have to be born by the hull in the flipping over process.  We’ll have to flip the boat to get the bottom off and rebuild it.  Well, I suppose it’s not absolutely necessary to flip the boat, but I can’t imagine not doing it!


Lines Drawing for 1949 Chris Craft
Lines Drawing for 1949 Chris Craft

One of the first things I did when starting this project was research it.  I found to my surprise that plans are available for many old Chris Craft boats.  As a matter of fact, Chris Craft donated their archives to the National Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, VA.  The have a great website here:  https://www.marinersmuseum.org/

So I ordered what they had, which was pretty extensive, from line drawings and plans to owner’s manuals, to marketing material.  They even had a copy of the “hull card” which is the factory data sheet that tells you what options my boat originally came with.  Pretty cool stuff.  It was fun reading through the engine manual.  I enjoyed their emphasis on using “oil of good character and quality”.  That’s something that can’t be overstated, but is pretty much taken for granted today–apparently no so much in 1949 when this boat was born.

I”ve uploaded a picture of the Lines Drawing of this boat, with some of my measurement scribblings.  The boat had retained much of its original shape with only a little hogging (sagging at the front and/or back end).

1949 Chris Craft 17 ft. Deluxe Runabout

2012-04-18_port side fwdThe current project for Ashley River Boatworks is a 1949 Chris Craft 17 ft. Deluxe Runabout. This boat will receive a new bottom, upholstery, cockpit ceiling, and engine rebuild, and be completely refinished. It’s a long road, starting with a lot of research and investigation into how it was done originally at the factory. A good resource for this is the national Mariners Museum in Newport News, VA. They have an extensive archive of Chris Craft drawings, literature and marketing material. The original lines drawings were available for this project from the museum. I’ve actually been working on this boat for some time, and will be trying to catch up with posts on progress that has been made. By the way, did you notice anything funny about that bow light?