The BROWN is a steamship, but a very special steamship, since her main engine is a triple-expansion steam engine, a type that has all but disappeared as a means of propelling ships.
This triple expansion engine, designed around the turn of the century, was already obsolete when it was chosen to power the fleet of emergency cargo ships built for the Maritime Administration. There was no choice but to use this engine because all the manufacturers capable of producing steam turbine engines were fully committed to the naval and merchant marine construction programs already in place. The triple expansion engine was easier to build, rugged and simple - an important factor, because most of the engine room personnel who would be operating it would have had little or no prior seagoing experience.
Fully assembled, the engine weights 270,000 pounds (135 short tons/122472 kilograms). It stands 19 feet (5.8 meters) tall and 21 feet (6.4 meters) long. The four-bladed, 18 ½ foot diameter propeller is directly coupled to the engine, which has a full power rating of 2500 indicated horse power at 76 revolutions per minute, giving the ship a top speed of about 11 knots (about 12.5 MPH).
The engine, like the ship it powers, was designed in Britain and was adapted for construction in America by Hooven, Owens & Rentschler, a subsidiary of the General Machinery Company of Cincinnati, Ohio. Engines were eventually built by eighteen different manufacturers all over the United States. Parts for the engines were entirely interchangeable with those built by any of the 18 manufacturers. The BROWN's engine was built in Harrison, New Jersey by the Worthington Pump and Machinery Corp. Average cost of the engines was $100,000.
The unique feature of the BROWN'S engine is that so many of its moving parts are visible. Piston rods, crankshaft, eccentric rods, crossheads and the like form a fascinating symphony of motion. The engine is lubricated by capillary action (wick feed) and hand oiling. The watchstanding Oiler makes his rounds of the main engine every half hour using his oil can and feeling the bearings and linkages for adequate lubrication and cool operation, with his hands darting in and out between piston strokes. This job is not for the faint of heart.
During the BROWN's trial trip on Chesapeake Bay in August of 1991, the temperature in the firing aisle between the boilers reached 130 degrees. Originally only natural ventilation from cowl vents was available to the engine room. In 1999, forced air ventilation was installed, which reduced the engine room temperatures by 10 to 15 degrees.
A number of our engineers sailed in Liberty ships during and after World War II. They have imparted their particular knowledge of the Liberty ship engine room to later generations of volunteer engineers. This will enable JOHN W. BROWN to continue to be a living, steaming memorial to those who built, sailed, and defended America's wartime merchant marine.