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Maritime Miracle Workers

September 25, 2019

 I love my 46-foot Bertram, but I have always wished it had a 24 volt system rather than the 32 volt system Bertram installed when they built it. It has gotten so I expect to be told how impossible it is to get anything in 32 volts these days because “they just don’t make them anymore”.
The two Delco alternators on my boat develop 32 volts to charge eight 8-volt batteries, two banks of four batteries. Obviously, is not a very popular combination. Most big boat diesels now use 24 volts.
I discovered recently that my alternators had stopped charging. It was time to rebuild my 32-volt alternators. Before we took them off the Detroit Diesels on which they are mounted, we double checked to be sure the alternators were not working. They were both dead.  I started checking on the internet for a shop that would rebuild them with no luck. Then I started asking around the local boat yards in Virginia. I made dozens of calls without finding a shop that would tackle the job. Then I started asking around the traditional marine suppliers in the area. Most reminded me that 32 volts are hard to find. Then I talked to some old-time boat captains in the area who have been running fishing boats for years. The name Automotive Manufacturers Inc. came up several times. They are located in Richmond, Virginia, about an hour and half drive from where I live.
A few days later I made the trip to Richmond Virginia and to the shop of Automotive Manufacturers Inc. at 2400 North Lombardy Street in Richmond, Virginia. (804-321-6861). It is hard to miss the place, outside on the front sidewalk, there are three interesting antique farm tractors.
Brandon Duty checked my alternators on his KAR Industries dynamic alternator tester, immediately and said neither one was charging. Brandon’s dad, Jeff Duty learned the trade working for a Mr. Williams, the previous owner of Automotive Manufacturers, Inc. who had been in the business since the 40s. Then in 1976, Jeff took over the business. As a youngster, Brandon spent a lot of time in the shop and worked there started working there at about age 17 after school and summers. As time went on, Brandon spent some time in college, but was drawn to the business and working with his father. Brandon’s enthusiasm for the work comes through when he talks about what they do. What impressed me most was that he was the only shop I called that was enthusiastic about the challenge of repairing my 32 volt alternators. Most reminded me of how difficult it was to get a 32 volt alternator repaired. (No kidding.)
Brandon told me about some of the unusual jobs they have done like converting the 100 lb. alternators on the diesel engines used to power the old Richmond Trollies. Brandon and his dad fabricated all the brackets and wiring to convert to new light weight alternators that were easy to repair. The Alpine Museum in Richmond, Virginia is a customer for whom they have repaired the starter and generator for their Packard 24. Keystone Truck and Tractor Museum in Colonial Heights, Virginia has have sent a lot of their work to Brandon and Jeff. They have done a lot of work for a well-known Richmond developer and car collector, George Duke. Duke had a 1920 Packard Twin 6.
Jeff told the story of a 1923 Kissel once owned by film actor Fatty Arbuckle. The car had a unique water pump combined with a distributor which was damaged by someone trying to repair it. Jeff was able to find a very similar distributor part in his stock of old parts. Jeff did work on the sailboat belonging to the legendary CBS newsman Walter Cronkite.  Automotive Manufacturer’s Inc. also does a lot of work on old military vehicles from WWII, Korea and now more and more from the Vietnam era.  They have done jobs for the private military group known as Blackwater, paramilitary clubs and for the US Navy. Military vehicle collectors and museum send jobs to Automotive Manufacturers from all over the country.  Jeff said that they do a lot of work repairing equipment for the various ports around the country. He said he had done a lot of work on cranes and “Strads” which are massive devices that actually straddle a shipping container to move it. Many were made in China and have become obsolete and for which parts are no longer available.
Jeff Duty is the go-to guy for some pretty well known boatyards and marine equipment suppliers. He has repaired all kinds of custom-made winches and crane breaks used in boat yards and at port facilities around the country.
The father and son team have repaired any number of old fire engine components like clutches, generators, starters and water pumps. Several automotive collectors use their services regularly. Farmers seek them out for the restoration of old farm equipment and stationary machines. One of the amazing things about Automotive Manufacturers, Inc. is its massive inventory of all sorts of cores. They have literally thousands of alternators, starters, carburetors and water pumps of every description.  Boat yards from all over the country send them work.
In a day or so Brandon called to say what was needed and estimated the cost of the repair. He also mentioned there are new replacement alternators made in 32 volts, but he like me, favored rebuilding mine. A few days later, Brandon called to say the alternators were ready and I could pick them up.
When I returned to pick up the alternators, I met a fellow who was there to have his model T Ford starter repaired.
He told me that he had grown up working in his father’s shop and they had been using Automotive Manufacturers Inc. for at nearly 35 years. Brandon and his father Jeff have earned a national reputation as the guys who can do it if it can be done. They are known in the trade as the go-to guys for just about any starter, generator, air starter, clutch, brakes and much more. Their customers include repair shops, big truck repair centers, farmers, fleets, museum, antique restorers, industrial machine owners and boatyards, Jeff and Brandon enjoy a great reputation as being the folks to turn to for the unusual. They have tacked all sorts of old marine engines with hard to find parts and even harder to find expertise.   
Once I reinstalled the alternators they charged beautifully. Oddly, the more I told the story to friends, the more people said “Oh, sure” they did a job on my old dead rise boat engine or they helped with the starter on my old Hatteras. One grey haired fishing boat captain said of Brandon and Jeff, “They sure saved me a lot of money and got my Perkins boat starter repaired and my boat running when lots of folks told me it couldn’t be done.”
When Jeff Duty isn’t working in his shop or on site helping with a problem, he likes to help out with a yearly event called the Field Days of the Past. My favorite exhibits there are the make and break engines once used on fishing boats and cable ferries. For more details about Field Day go to their web site https://fielddayofthepast.net/    The event takes place each year at 1741 Ashland Road, Rockville, Virginia on September 20, 21 and 22.   
It would be a good idea to make a note in your phone book that when you are in need of special work for an older boat, boat lift, vintage car or truck, the folks to call are Brandon and Jeff Duty at Automotive Manufacturers Inc. at 2400 North Lombardy Street in Richmond, Virginia. Tel 804 321 6861. For Brandon, Jeff and Gopi, the difficult is routine, the impossible takes a little longer. When it comes to tough jobs, they are miracle workers.


 

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