1969 Chris Craft Roamer Refit: Trim Tabs & Gauges

DATELINE: Far side of planet earth (with a massive case of jet lag).

While I’m away for my father-in-law’s final burial ceremony, in spite of a jet lag fog I thought I’d catch the blog up on a few of the things I’ve been working on for the Roamer. I’ve pretty much given up on the notion that the boat will splash in 2016. I could still make it, I think, but it will be best not to rush the project. One benefit of staying in the yard one more winter is that it’ll be easier for my Boatamalan painter to come over and spray ICA clearcoat on the interior mahogany. I expect to finish the main propulsion mechanical and electrical work before the end of August, and the fiberglass and paint work in the v-berth head (AKA the Throne Room) is progressing nicely. So pretty soon, the only work remaining will be breaking down African mahogany plywood panels to finish building out the interior. Having the boat close to the painter for a few more seasons won’t be a bad thing.

But I still have some holes on the outside of the boat that need filling. The glass order I started in January 2016 has finally arrived, so the portholes and hatches will get buttoned up soon enough. On the bottom of the boat, I installed the trim tabs recently and also got my “Chris Craft Cruise Control” trim tab meter back from Kucian Instruments. Unfortunately, Kucian Instruments transitioned to new ownership, and it seems the company is run quite differently from when I had Dale Kucian refurbish my other OE Chris Craft gauges.

New stainless trim tabs are installed

New stainless trim tabs are installed

The new trim tabs look a lot better than the originals did when we started the project.

OE trim tabs were unloved plain steel

Electro-mechanical linear actuator works fine

Electro-mechanical linear actuators work fine

The rod in the picture above is connected by a double U-joint to a threaded section that also seals the wet side from the dry side of the “Roamer Cruise Control” system. A 12v motor drives the threaded section through a gear reduction, which makes the rod go up and down. That 12v motor is reportedly the same one that Ford used for the power windows in their 1960’s-era cars. As a trim tab motor, they get far less usage than in power window systems, so the motors are still in fine shape. There’s a rheostat at the top of each trim tab drive that’s also gear driven, which changes the signal from the OE Chris Craft Cruise Control trim tab system at the helm as the tabs go up and down.

The Cruise Control gauge was in rough shape when we got the boat, so I sent it off to Kucian Instruments with the rest of the helm gauges a few years ago. While the tachs, ammeters, oil pressure, and water temp gauges all came back beautiful, Kucian didn’t send back the Cruise Control gauge. We talked about it and Dale explained that he’d never seen one before, this one was not functioning, and he wasn’t sure what to do with it. I told him it was no rush, and if he could get to it over the winter of 2013 that’d be fine.

Fast forward to 2015 and I still didn’t have my Cruise Control gauge back. When I called to find out the status, I learned that Dale Kucian had sold the business in 2014 or so. Dale had a great reputation among classic Chris Craft fans, and the work he did on my OE gauges was very impressive; they were like new! But unlike some business owners who sell their name as well as the company’s equipment and other infrastructure, based on my experience and a couple of other Chris Craft fans, he got a serious case of “short-timer’s disease” when he decided to sell the business. He seemed to have lost all interest in customer service, and my Cruise Control gauge ended up in an unidentified box of customer gauges that hadn’t been finished.

When I finally heard back from the new owners of Kucian Instruments, the nice lady indicated she’d found my gauge and would get the technician working on an estimate for repairs ASAP. Several months went by, during which time I heard from another enthusiast that the pricing at Kucian had roughly doubled since Dale sold the business. I pinged the company again, and after a few weeks got an apologetic reply indicating that the tech determined he could not repair the gauge. I asked them to send it back and started thinking of possible work-arounds for this new problem.

The prodigal Cruise Control gauge returns

The prodigal Cruise Control gauge returns

Unfortunately, it didn’t return in the same condition as I sent it. Kucian Instruments apparently lost the wiring harness, which included the backlight fixture. To make up for that, they included four 12″ lengths of different colored wire…gee…thanks?

Brand new zinc-plated steel flathead screw definitely isn't OEM

Brand new zinc-plated steel flathead screw definitely isn’t OEM

It was around this point that I started thinking the new Kucian Instruments is not up to the standards that made Dale’s shop a favorite of Chris Craft fans.

My Sharpie marks indicate the color of the wires in the harness that Kucian lost

My Sharpie marks indicate the color of the wires in the harness that Kucian lost

On the backside of the refurbished gauges Dale restored, with a watchmaker’s loupe I could see where he’d gently pried off the chrome faceplate. When reinstalling, he just folded over the rechromed edge and sealed it with a carefully applied bead of silicone. So I figured I could maybe do the same thing with this Cruise Control gauge. I mean, how hard could it be?

A thin screwdriver might do the trick on the bezel

A thin screwdriver might do the trick on the bezel

Prying out the bezel creates a bigger lip to work with

Prying out the bezel creates a bigger lip to work with

Tapping a bigger screwdriver with a hammer gets it moving

Tapping a bigger screwdriver with a hammer gets it moving

Little by little, work around the bezel

Little by little, work around the bezel

Zero evidence that this gauge was disassembled by Kucian

Zero evidence that this gauge was disassembled by Kucian

That’s a lousy shot above, but what my eyes saw is that the only scratches from removing the bezel were ones I caused. Kucian Instruments never even took the bezel off! So how did their “technician” conclude he couldn’t fix it?

Original plastic lens will need replacing

A simple piece of formed acrylic should make a nice replacement

A simple piece of formed acrylic should make a nice replacement

The gauge looks good and the needles move freely

The gauge looks good and the needles move freely

Ah-ha! One wire was loose!

Ah-ha! One wire was loose!

If you look at the top of the gauge housing above, you can see a black smudge — a common sign that a wire or electrical component has “let the smoke out.”

Houston...we have a problem

Resistors and wires look good on the right side, but on the left…

Houston...we have a problem

Houston…we have a problem

It looks like a resistor got hot and let the smoke out, burning a wire in the process.

Enamel insulation even burned off the tiny coil wires

Enamel insulation even burned off the tiny coil wires

The hair-like coil wires in the shot above are shiny and copper-colored where the insulation remains. It’s tough getting the camera’s focal point just right, but where the wires got hot, the copper is dull and the insulation is completely gone. I have to wonder why the manufacturer left the wires so long and loose. Could one of the wires have rubbed up against the gauge housing, worked its way through the insulation, and shorted out? Fortunately, there’s continuity through both coils, so I’m pretty sure I won’t have to rewind them.

Scrappy remains of a burned out resister

At least I can see where the burned out part attached

Scrappy remains of a burned out resister

Scrappy remains of a burned out resistor fell out of the gauge housing

Unfortunately, I can't see what color the resistor bands were

Unfortunately, there’s no way to know what color the resistor bands were, so I don’t know what value of resistor to put back

The diode(?) looks OK

The diode looks OK

So, I got 14 holes on the bottom of the boat filled when I installed the trim tabs themselves, but the honey-do list just grew by one complicated little item. I could just splash the boat and run without the tabs deployed, but it would be best if I can see the tabs when I calibrate the gauges. Now, thanks to Kucian losing my harness, I have to figure out the non-existent wiring. There are ~16 wires in the whole system, so it’s not like there’s an infinite number of possible combinations, right? I also have to work out what size resistor I need to put in to get the gauges functioning again. Re-coating the coil wire insulation won’t be hard, but it’s another complication. I also have to make the plastic lens, then get the housing painted. Sheet acrylic is easy to form, but I’ll have to make a male/female mold that takes the same curve. This is sounding like a good project for winter 2017.

Based on my latest experience and input I received from other Chris Craft enthusiasts, there’s no way I’d recommend using Kucian Instruments again. Yet another great American business down the drain…

Next up in our 1969 Chris Craft Roamer 46 Refit: New Exhaust Risers II

Advertisements

7 comments on “1969 Chris Craft Roamer Refit: Trim Tabs & Gauges

  1. Kent says:

    Oops– I got the Gauge reading backwards..

  2. Kent says:

    I’m sure you”ll figure it out and the Gauge will look and work like OE..
    I’ll guess one day that Gauge will be hovering about a third up as she throws a tail off her stern as her Diamonds are pushing 600/700 Hp– And also one day for a short time the Gauge will be bottomed as it is now as her Diamonds run WOT..

    PS– I love the smell of old Electronics..

  3. Doug says:

    Re: trim tab lens – I restore antique watches and I know a guy that can make any size/shape glass lens, and not too expensive. Looks like the center knob is just to hold the cover on, so those could be epoxied to the outside of a glass cover?

    Re: resistor – Is there one for the other side because wiring is duplicated? Can you find a junker Chris Craft trim tab gauge on another ghost boat?

    • 1969roamer46 says:

      Hi Doug.
      Glass might be a nice way to go. I used to be into pocket watches and know there are all sorts of sizes and shapes of lenses available. If you can leave contact info for your guy, that’d be great!

      On the resistor, I haven’t stared at it long enough to know for sure, but I believe both sides share common +-12vdc, and this resistor is part of that supply. And electronics guru I know said he’d not assume that the burned out resistor is the same as any of the others (which are all the same value).

      On a junker/donor boat, you know how it is–everybody thinks parts off old boats are like parts off old muscle cars. They want an arm and a leg for parts that come off of boats that are given away for free because, unlike muscle cars, old boats just don’t have much value. I found one ratty gauge…the guy wanted $100 for it. And there’s no way of knowing if the same resistor isn’t blown out in that, too!
      Cheers,
      Q

      • Colin says:

        I recall that there are two types, regular resistors and a more expensive type which has an additional band, (silver I think) That band indicates that the resistor has a tight tolerance, where as the cheap ones vary some what. They use the better ones in instruments. An electrical meter is an example of where you find them.

  4. Colin says:

    The re-builder should be able to tell to the value of the resistors, the least they can do!

    • 1969roamer46 says:

      Hi Colin. Even Dale, the original owner of Kucian Instruments, said he’d never seen one of these. The new owners appear to know far less than Dale did. I’m pretty sure the only solution is to back-engineer it.
      Cheers,
      Q

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s