While much of our work at Fourth Cone Restoration has to do with vintage posters and works on paper, every so often we get unusual projects that challenge our capabilities. Restoring three-dimensional objects forces us to come up with new problem solving methods, which is something we truly like to do.
In recent months we’ve been working with a collector of steamboat memorabilia. His enthusiasm for steamboats has been contagious, and he’s been very generous with sharing the backgrounds of the objects he’s brought in to us.
Here we’ll be discussing our client’s engine order telegraph dial plate, made of milk glass. The lettering on this plate had become scuffed with age, and for us it was simply a matter of filling in some missing color. Below are the before and after photos:
This is what the plate will look like once installed in its brass housing:
An engine order telegraph, or EOT, or chadburn is a contraption used on a ship. It enables the pilot up on the bridge to communicate with the engineers down in the engine room. In the 19th and earlier 20th century the EOTs would have looked like the picture above, with a lovely brass fitting and a round dial.
These would have been the height of modernity at the time of their invention. An actual telegraph wire ran from the bridge down to the engine room. Whenever the pilot wanted to give an engine-related command, he’d move the lever on his telegraph. A bell would ring in the engine room, and the engineer would move the lever on his telegraph to the corresponding position, acknowledging the specific order. As you can see by looking at the dial plate, orders could range from full speed ahead, to slowly in reverse, to turn off the engine. In combat the sound of the engine would sometimes give away a ship’s position, so these telegraphs were vital.
When our client first purchased his antique brass telegraph housing, the dial plates it came with were later additions, made from plastic by a New York company called Brelco. He then fitted the housing with original antique dial plates, made of milk glass by Kirk-Habicht of Baltimore. Kirk-Habicht, incidentally, is still in business. Their focus has shifted from ship-related brass hardware to industrial springs. Way to change with the times, Kirk-Habicht! I have been in contact with them to ask about the strange font on the dials, and how the lettering might have been produced. If they get back to me with an answer on that, they deserve an award. Anyway the plate that Fourth Cone Restoration worked on is of unknown origin regarding which boat, but the plate on the reverse side of the housing reportedly came from the towboat Omar, which has since been converted to The City of Clinton Showboat, and lives on land in Clinton Iowa.
The variety of EOTs is astounding, and viewed together I think they’re very pretty:
While the look of the EOT has become more prosaic in recent times, these systems are still required on all merchant vessels. They are used as an electrically-isolated failsafe in case the pilot’s remote controlled throttle stops working. So the ghost of the EOT lives on with us, quietly standing by if we need it.