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J. Maurice McGill graduated from Rockford Central High School in 1936 and found employment at the Barber Coleman Company. In 1941 he married Emma Louise Cox and left the employ of the Barber Colman Company shortly thereafter. He became a member of the Rockford Police Department from 1941 and stayed with them until 1949, although he spent two years in the U. S. Navy from 1942-44 as aviation machinist. He started the General Machine Tool Company in 1951 and had a new building erected at 1417 Twenty Second Street.
After a decade in the machine tool business, McGill founded General Marine for the manufacture of fire boats and police boats for municipalities, and pleasure boats for the general public. In November 1963 after several years of exhaustive engineering following the conception of water jet propulsion for emergency boats, General Marine was incorporated for the sole purpose of manufacturing such unique craft embracing this new concept. The need for such equipment was easily recognized due to either lack of, or the incompetency of existing marine apparatus, always cumbersome, unreliable, limited in scope and fabulously expensive. General Machine had the experience, technological know-how and personnel to produce the absolute ultimate in this field.
A comparison between the current available fire fighting craft at the time compared to a General Marine built fire boat.
The smallest boat the company manufactured was 21 feet in length (shown above) with the largest being 37 feet, they also made the boats in 26 and 31 foot lengths. The 21-foot boat was a single engine model while the larger boats contained two synchronized engines. The company started with a hull shape for their boats that incorporated all of the latest technology that been developed in recent years and constructed them out of thick marine alloy aluminum that resisted corrosion making the craft lightweight and easy maneuverable. They welded the aluminum panels together so it would be strong, never leak or come apart and so it was less likely to be damaged. It also aided in fastening other components to the craft that would stay fastened. The hulls also did not burn like wood or fiberglass might and were lighter and stronger so it could carry bigger loads.
The boats featured a marine jet propulsion unit so there was no worry about how deep the water was and since there were no propellers or rudders there was no worry if the water contained sticks, logs, ice, sand bars or other things. Also without rudders or propellers there was no worries that other things could get banged up or injure people in the water during a rescue as would be the case with a boat containing props or rudders. The jet propulsion unit allowed for easy maneuverability, and high or low speeds or quick stops. They also featured instant acceleration and the boat was so well constructed it had no problems towing other boats if the need arose.
The boats came with several options for motors, including a choice of 300 H.P. Cummins model V8-300-M diesel engine, 300 H.P. Dearborn Marine "Interceptor" V-8 gasoline engine, or an engine of the purchaser’s choice as long as it was a marine engine of at least 240 H.P. or more at an engine RPM of 4000 or more, a minimum torque rating of 2800 RPM at 350 foot pounds. Attached to these was a double U-joint driveshaft between the engine and a pump to run the jet propulsion. The jet propulsion would move the boat forward by shooting a stream out of the back of the craft that was around 4 inches in diameter as it left the pump. For reverse a special box was installed with a hole in it, the hole was just about the right size so the jet stream did not hit it, a little plate was shifted over the other hole and shut it off so the only place the water can go is out this hole or reverse chute as it was known. This made all the water flow underneath the boat making the boat back up. The forward and reverse speeds were controlled by a throttle that controlled engine speed, the faster the engine ran the faster the boat would go. The boats did not have transmissions and gear boxes because there was no need with the jet propulsion system making the boat even lighter. For neutral there was no need to turn the engine off. The plate that covers the hole in the box was shifted to a position where it about covered only half the hole and a stream going out the back and another stream flowing beneath the boat would keep the boat in a stationary position, even if the engine was run wide open. 26-foot boat shown above.
The boats were completely wired throughout for standard instruments installed at the control station(s) which included symmetrically mounted gauges of the highest quality obtainable: two electro-mechanical tachometers with engine hour recorders, two ammeters two oil pressure gauges, two engine water temperature gauges, one fuel tank gauge, two battery voltmeters, one firemain pressure gauge (0-600 PSI), all of the control panel instruments were internally lighted for night time operation. Standard lighting included stern light, side lights and white light that were heavily chrome plated brass or bronze of the highest marine quality. On models with cabins they included two dome lights with individual switches. One dome light were installed in the forepeak of the craft and two dome lights were installed under the aft decking to serve various control components found in that area. One ball-jointed spreader light was located on the aft side of the main cabin bulkhead to serve the aft cock-pit area. Two spring-loaded starter ignition 4 position switches were located on the instrument control panel(s) and they shall have an accessory side as well as a starter-ignition side. Other switches controlled the windshield wipers, running lights, control panel lights, forward bilge pump, aft bilge pump, horn button and three auxiliary switches. Other lighting options included ½ mile searchlight, 1 mile searchlight, forward docking lights, stern floodlights and flashing warning lights.
The company did not want rudders on their boats, instead they had to figure out a way to steer the boat and since the water shot straight out of the back of the boat, they needed to find a way to angle the water. This was solved by the installation of a couple of little plates of the right size and shape that were hinged, one on each side of the hole in the box and both were connected to the steering wheel which was hydraulic design. All steering components were non-corrosive in nature and installed and secured in such a manner as to utterly prohibit the slightest possibility of failure under any conditions. The jet stream had to pass between these two plates or deflectors. By turning the steering wheel one way or the other, the jet stream bounced off their inner surfaces and took on a new direction, and so did the boat instantly. The boat could turn around all the way in a space no wider than the boat was long even at full throttle and it did not make any difference how big the boat was or how many jets and engines it had. The boat could also compensate for the current in bodies of water and wind by adjusting the deflector plates keeping the boat stationary if necessary, such as fighting a fire or performing a rescue mission. The boat could attain speeds up to 40 miles an hour as a fire boat or 55 miles an hour as a police or pleasure boat.
A quarter turn disc was installed in the jet propulsion box so the water could be diverted, they installed another opening near the high-pressure end of the jet unit and piped it around the inside of the boat, this was called a firemain. They were then able to tap into it anywhere for discharge outlets, such as a deck pipe up on the foredeck and other discharge outlets where they could divert the water through firefighting nozzles mounted on the boat to throw 800 gallons a minute some 400 feet through the air as there was so much water available which turned out to be around 3500 GPM for a single engine boat and 7000 GPM on a twin engine boat with 2 jets. The 37-foot boat when diesel powered put out 10,000 GPM. The pressure of the water coming out of the nozzles of the boat was around 130 PSI and operators of the boats could control the pressure of the water stream used for firefighting by a clutch lever that was connected to another 2-stage high pressure multi-stage axial flow pump. This pump was driven right off the front of the engine that fed water from the jet unit by way of the pressurized firemain and therefore would not have to draft its own water, and unlike other types, did not suffer pressure losses. The boats were not pushed backward while the nozzles were in operation because the boat had a balance system built into the jet propulsion system which exactly balanced the reverse thrust from the deck pipe. Another feature was that the whole firemain system was self-draining. The firemain system could be left out so the boats could be used as a police patrol boat or an industrial craft. The company also manufactured a limited number of pleasure craft and ski boats.
In February 1965, the company moved to larger quarters at 3236 Kishwaukee Street because of increased demand for their boats. At the time the only other option available for marine firefighting was the large tugboat type fire or police boats that required permanent crews ranging from 3 to 20 men. Maximum speeds were 13 to 14 knots and the boilers had to operate continually, and maintenance was costly as a consequence. A city could buy two or three of the small jet fire boats from General Marine for the maintenance cost of a big conventional one. The faster speed of the smaller jet boats also offered an advantage enabling them to get close to the scene faster, possibly quelling a small fire before it becomes a big one. The General Marine boats only required one to three crew members for operation and firefighting.
In early 1966 American Shipbuilding Company, a large company of Lorain, Ohio which built big ocean going ships became interested in the boats being built by General Marine and purchased the company. McGill continued with the company and Jerry Kelly was appointed as manager of the Rockford plant. William H. Jory, president of American Shipbuilding stated at the time, “the market for these small boats consist mainly of municipalities, military departments, and large companies located along waterfront areas and I feel that jet boat manufacture will become a profitable area for our business.”
American Shipbuilding Company had three shipyards employing upwards of 2,000 workers. The company built ocean vessels up to 733 feet long and also built Coast Guard cutters, enlarged Navy tankers, ships for the Department of the Interior along with commercial ships. Besides the shipyards American Shipbuilding owned, they had a division called Automobile Transport Incorporated based in Wayne, Michigan, which hauled new automobiles for the Ford Motor Company and had 500 transport tractor-trailers in their fleet. American Transport Incorporated originally tried building its own car trailers that had hydraulic controls for raising and lowering the upper ramps of the trailer for loading and unloading, but passed it on to the parent company. The American Shipbuilding Company found it difficult to manufacture the trailers in the shipyards do they passed the division on to the General Marine division in July 1966. This increased the demand for more space to construct both the boats and trailers so the company moved to a 14,000-square foot building at 1818 Eighteenth Avenue. McGill would leave the company in 1968 and their history here in Rockford after that, if any, is unclear.
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