Forget the gasoline shortage

''Forget the gasoline shortage...I'll use wood. 81/2 x 10 Frick owned by Mr. James Layton, President, Eastern Shore Threshermen & Collectors with Dick Friedcman at the throttle towing the author's 27 foot Airstream International Land Yacht.

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108 Garfield Ave., Madison, N.J. 07940

As we begin our third hundred years as a nation it gives us cause to reflect on just where we might be in the next hundred years. We have come through wars, financial panics and a welter of man made situations such as Watergate. But of all of the things that have confronted us the energy situation augers to have the potential for the greatest change in our lives and in our life-style of any that have given us cause for alarm.

There is an old Army system of weather prediction that suggests that tomorrow's weather will be the same as to days. I believe that there is considerable evidence that would indicate that one following this system will be guessing tomorrow's weather correctly more often than not. But that does not lead naturally to the conclusion that tomorrows living will bear much resemblance to that of today. Howard K. Smith, the noted TV newsman, in his graduation speech at Franklin Pierce to foresee the future don't work out goes like this; 'When you are trying to for see the future don't work out present trends to their logical conclusions because they never reach there'.

A somewhat more earthy philosopher making an observation relative to the horse population in New York City around the turn of the century observed that if their numbers continued to grow as in the past then the entire city would be covered to a depth of at least one foot in horse manure by the end of the century. As we all know, to our relief, that unhappy event did not take place. No, the automobile came along and soon there were no more hordes of horses in the streets and even more happily no manure problem. The indicated trend just never did get realized.

Well then, just what directions are our leisure pursuits going to take in the future? For years many of us including myself have enjoyed a wandering easy-going life in our recreational vehicles. Travel trailers, tent trailers, truck mounted campers and motor homes have proliferated until something like 20% of our population finds 're-creation' and relief from daily problems by packing up the family on week-ends and annual vacations to head out where change in daily routines alone represent a renewal of the psyche. With gasoline becoming more expensive and less readily available in the future perhaps, then some change is likely.

I have an abiding faith in the people of this great nation to solve in their own inimitable manner this riddle of the future.

In the meantime, let me try to foresee the immediate future by extending just a little bit todays situation. I am observing more and more that these same people in their recreational vehicles are using them as their 'home away from home' by melding camping ... if you can call it that . . . with other activities. One such activity is attending 'steam shows', not just for a few hours but for several days while the show lasts. And, they are doing this in the complete comfort of their 'campers'.

I have just come back from attending two such shows. One was the Shenandoah Valley Steam & Gas Engine Association at Berryville (Virginia) and the other the Eastern Shore Threshermen & Collectors Association near Federalsburg in Maryland. In both cases more than adequate provision had been made for recreational vehicles. Many of the campers of today are completely self-contained and need little more than a level grassy parking place. Probably their greatest need is for drinking water, but since both man and a steam engine can use the same water this is really not a problem either.

These nostalgic gatherings centered around our agricultural-industrial heritage have been attracting entire groups. At Federalsburg the Delmarva Unit of the Wally Byam Caravan Club International held a rendezvous. And, there were many individual recreational vehicles there just to enjoy the show.

One evening after the parade of steam traction engines and internal combustion engine tractors I got to letting my mind wander about on the energy problem. Then it occurred to me, 'Forget the gasoline shortage . . . I'll use wood'. So, as Tom Swift would have done, I put action to my thoughts. Jim Layton, President of the Eastern Shore Threshermen & Collectors Association has a beautifully restored 81/2 x 10 Frick engine built in Waynesborough in 1918. Jim is much too busy at their annual show to run this engine and so an ex-Kansas engineer, Dick Friedeman, keeps it hot and ready to roll. It didn't take much talking on my part after Fred Rawlins had introduced us for Jim to fall in with the idea . . . use a steam traction engine for a tow vehicle!

As you can see, it is a perfect match! And it burns wood. Don't laugh, during the last war in Europe the Swedes were about out of petroleum so they developed a system carried in the trunk of their cars that was fueled by wood. In effect it was partial oxidation of the carboneatious material in the wood to form carbon-monoxide gas and the engines were adapted to burn this gas much in the same way that we in this country have developed a system for using LPG . . . propane or butane gas ... as a fuel. Some years ago, before Mr. Castro, the Cuban people were confronted with a balance of payments problem created by the fact that their island has no petroleum. Much of their hard currency was going off-shore to pay for gasoline. On the other hand they had an abundance of sugar cane from which they could make rum and from this they could distill ethyl alcohol. It was the law in Cuba at that time that 10% of the fuel used in automobiles must be alcohol. Much better to use it in the engines than in the driver!

The point is, we have a fuel problem. At the same time we have the potential in manpower, technology and raw material capability to solve the problem. It just takes, as Thomas Edison once said, about 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration, together with a little relaxation in the game of pointing the finger at who's to blame.

We will likely have, for many years to come, wheeled vehicles running around on roads. But will their fuels, or their engines or even the cycle bear any resemblence to what we know and use today? The Rankine cycle (steam engine) and the Otto cycle (internal combustion engine) have served us well. There is no immediate answer to the question. We can only await developments with faith in our own ability, and with the hope that we have the perserverance to achieve our goals along with a little charity for those that do try but miss the mark. We shall climb this hill on our road to our future.

In the meantime I look forward to attending many more of these events. And I also look forward to doing so with the others in their recreational vehicles. Then, as evening falls and the 'day trippers' leave we can sit around our campers with a cup of coffee and reminisce about the 'good old days'.