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For 25 years, Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours has been thrilling visitors to Niagara Falls with wet and wild trips through the Niagara River’s Class 5 whitewater rapids. For tourists, crashing through 12- to 14-foot waves while taking in spectacular views of the gorge is an exhilarating experience. But for the boats—and the diesel engines that power them—it can be a punishing one.
That’s why John Kinney, president of the Ontario, Canada-based company, counts on quality equipment and fast service to keep his fleet of vessels running safely and reliably during the short May-to-October tourist season. In August 2016, he needed both more than ever.
“An oil dipstick came loose as our newest boat went through the rapids, pumping oil into the engine and causing internal damage,” Kinney says. “Of course, it happened on the eve of a long holiday weekend here in Canada, one of the busiest of the summer.”
Kinney immediately reached out to his local dealer, Toromont Cat, to inquire about a repair solution for the damaged Cat® C9 propulsion engine—one of three powering the 54-passenger jet boat.
“Unfortunately, there were no short blocks or repair kits for this configuration of engine, and there wasn’t time for a rebuild,” says Joe van Schaick, marine account manager at Toromont Cat. “So we shifted our focus toward new engine replacement and sent an email blast to all the Cat marine dealers in the Americas.”
The search turned up just one engine matching the exact horsepower and RPM requirements, located in dealer Ring Power’s Orlando, Florida, warehouse—more than 1,200 miles and an international border crossing away.
“That caused my blood pressure to go way up,” Kinney says. “I was concerned we were going to lose a week or two of operation. That could make or break our year.”
Fortunately, his worries turned out to be for naught. Thanks to extraordinary efforts by the teams at both Ring Power and Toromont Cat—and Kinney’s willingness to escort the engine across the U.S.-Canada border himself—the vessel was back in service on the Niagara River just 52 hours after the replacement engine was loaded onto a truck in Orlando.
That included a three-hour sea trial that got underway at 7:00 on a Friday evening, conducted by a Toromont Cat service technician who took a break from his vacation to make sure the vessel would be ready for safe operation at 9:00 the next morning.
“He knows us, and he knows the significance of this boat being down at this particular time of year,” Kinney says. “He could have said, ‘I’m on holiday—someone else can handle it,’ but he didn’t. Like everyone else, he dropped everything to help us.”
For Kinney, who’s been powering his boats with Cat diesel engines since the early 1990s, the rapid response from the Cat dealer network came as no surprise.
“They understand downtime and the need to maintain profits,” he says. “In our business, if that boat isn’t there ready to go that day, that hour, we’re lost. Caterpillar made sure we were ready to go for some of the absolute busiest days of our operating season.”