Content Tools

Now we have the so-called fuel shortage upon us. And some may be already wondering just what repercussions this might portend for the steam and gas engine shows. True, 'Old King Coal' seems to be coming back on his throne, having been toppled from his royal reign over the past few decades by the 'clean-air' boys.

But, suddenly warm homes seem more important to us than an ecologically pure and dust-free atmosphere overhead and around us. Or at least it feels better to be cozy with a little dirt than so darned pure and freezing. The main objective now seems to be survival throughout the winter months while maintaining transportation the whole year through.

I was amazed, upon rising very early one morning and switching on the 'T-tube' to NBC's Today Show. The fuel shortage had just come into vogue, by way of the News Media, and they were showing a little skit of an old Iron-Man out in Missouri who was discing his ground with an old 25-75 Russell Steam Engine, firing it with corn cobs. My thoughts switched immediately to Iron-Man, Percy Sherman, who was at that time lying in a hospital bed up in Michigan. Being the great champion he is of the mighty Russell engine, I naturally hoped he was seeing the same show which was flittering across my screen, while convalescing from his recent illness. The announcer jokingly said, 'This old-timer has already solved his fuel shortage problems by reverting back to the Iron Horse.' Then the old-timer yanked on the whistle cord, giving several triumphant toots to let the modern world know that, gas or no gas, he was getting his field ready for planting the winter wheat. Besides, he was having his own one-man steam show backed up with a very logical and legitimate excuse to do it. In other words, he might have looked very silly, running his old steam engine out there alone, and stoking it with cobs, except for the fact that a national crisis in combustible gas made it seem so very sensible.

And that is the very excuse every steam engineer secretly hopes for whenever he unlatches his barn door and slides it back to get his Iron Horse out. He wants to have that responsible feeling that his particular engine is doing a service performing a mission and certainly not to be considered a play-toy. And, most of all does he want to convince his neighbors, who are watching, that come hell or high water, steam is still around to get the job done when all other power fails.

So, we need a national crisis to make us revert back to the old and steady power, to convince ourselves and others of its worth. And, oftentimes, as I stand around and watch the big engines running idly hither and thither over a steam threshermens' reunion grounds, I get that sickly feeling that they are not really performing the function they were built for. Like a beautifully-restored steam passenger locomotive pulling a few cars over a mile or two of rails at some historic railroad museum. When, actually, it was made to haul fifteen cars of mail, baggage and passengers to their distant destinations at a rapid clip and arriving on time. Even I get more satisfaction and delight, doing little chores with the mighty Joe Dear, than just driving willy nilly and in circles to hear the engine run. But let a limb drop that has to be dragged in, or a trailer that needs moving and then I have all the excuse in the world for getting it out and having my fun, without the neighbors calling me 'nuts'.

Had the T-V shown the man driving his Russell through his field in normal times, the viewers would have only laughed at his antics. But, haunted by a gas shortage, they not only admired him but actually revered him as a sort of 'Gray Champion' out on the front line, fighting their battles for them.

All of which makes us wonder if this oil and gas shortage is really genuine. Or is it just a sinister plot to raise the prices very high, only to drop them a cent or two on the gallon to make the public feel the oil barons are very human, despite the higher eventual cost of their product? I recall that when the local utility meterreader came to read gas and light meters, only two years ago, he'd practically laugh at our old fuel-oil furnace in the basement and call us old-fashioned for not heating with natural gas. But he hasn't done this any more, since the utilities executives have been warning us that natural gas had reached its limit of expansion. Now they are shouting, 'We don't seek any more customers converting to natural gas.'

And how many of us recall those years, after the Second World War, when the dairy industry hiked the prices skyward on butter while we kept hearing rumors of vast quantities being stored in underground vaults until it became rancid. The result of which made the buying public switch over to less expensive margarine, which now was looking and tasting like butter. And now even the major dairy industries have switched over to packaging their own margarine.

So we can now see the vicious cycle. When shortages are declared, bringing on a crisis that raises prices unreasonably high, a substitute often comes along and is promoted to the point of replacing the product we've become dependent upon. And, if the shortage was a false one, only to manipulate prices, it can be fatal to the very plotters who planned it. Like Haman, in the Bible, who was hung on the very scaffold he built for Mordecai.

But, whether a crisis, such as the fuel shortage, is real or manipulated for private corporate profits, the effect is the same on you and me. We still have to pay higher prices for our oil and gasoline, or go without. And either way is pretty hard on the majority who have become dependent on the needs of modern living. Therefore, the next best way of coping with the crisis in fact the only way is for some of our steam engineers and gas engine/tractor mechanics to put their scientific know-how to work to see what can be done to give more power and mileage per lump of coal or gallon of gas. And this, brother, could become one mighty effective contribution to solving some of our most pressing problems that have brought us to this dilemma.

For instance a fellow by the name of Hicks has worked out what he calls the Hicks Hydro-Catalyst which he claims can increase gas mileage from 15 to 20 percent. In the pages of the March issue of TRUE MAGAZINE, are pictures showing a replacement gasket for a carburetor with two conical screens built over the ports. The principle consists of the inner screen being made of cadmium and the outer screen of nickel. The claim is that the two screens thus act like a battery, electrically charging the fuel particles so they are attracted to opposite charges on the inside walls of the intake manifold where they are vaporized and supplied evenly to all cylinders. Manufactured in a limited number, so far, the gadget costs around $35 and is easily installed as a replacement to the standard gasket between the carburetor and the intake manifold. The article claims that, multiplied by the 100 million vehicles now in use, this gadget alone could save more than the fuel shortage the energy czars are crying about. I have heard several radio talk shows discussing this item and several mechanics, who sound like they know what they're talking about, have claimed that it really works.

Several years ago, when I had the Joe Dear down at the Blue Grass Steam & Gas Show at Harrodsburg, Ky., a little old-time mechanic came up and told me that my Delco engine would run much better if I merely installed a fine screen in the intake gasket. He said, 'I used to work on the older automobiles, and on many I installed such screens and they vaporized or 'atomized' the mixture for more efficient combustion in the firing chamber.' Although his idea incorporated the use of only one metal, it sounded reasonable to me. And I don't doubt in the least that the bimetallic effect of the cadmium and nickel screen cups really has merit. At least the idea is worth a try. How about it, fellows? Man's worst dilemmas have often become his most fruitful blessings. And I'm one of a million who believes that the sooner our country becomes self-reliant on basic fuels, the better for us and the rest of the world. Not only would we have sufficient gas and oil for our daily transportation and heat, but we'd never again have to live in fear that our favorite steam and gas engine show would have to be cancelled for a lack thereof.

There are of course other ways to help solve the fuel shortage beside discing wheat fields with steam and juggling internal combustion carburetors. When we had our new, automatic fuel oil furnace installed, the plumber ordered that the big, old coal furnace would have to be removed. But the wife and I argued that the coal furnace was going to stay. We convinced the plumber that we wanted the new fuel-oil furnace connected right into the same pipes and registers that were run from the old-coal furnace. And it's worked so well that, when we once ran out of fuel oil in cold weather, this winter, I merely shoveled in some coal in the older furnace and we had heating comfort to every register in the house. In fact, after the rise in fuel price, we just decided to retire the newer fuel-oil furnace and revert back to coal for a spell. How's that for one way of beating the fuel-oil, price-rise racket? When we run out of coal, we can switch over to the oil, now that we have that tank filled. But not until then. For coal is hard to beat for all-around comfort on those colder days, despite the work of heaving black lumps of Kentucky lignite and carrying out a few ashes. I just try to imagine we're out at some engine reunion, filling the gaping firebox and then snuggle up to the big 'boiler' and get really thawed out.

As the wife says, 'My mother always said, 'Don't put all your eggs in one basket. And don't limit your house to one, single fuel!.' That's why we run part of the household on electricity, do our cooking with propane and heat the place with either coal or fuel oil whichever happens to be available and in abundance at the moment.

In His wisdom, God has supplied man with a variety of fuels in abundance throughout the earth. Whenever any one nation decides to monopolize some form of that fuel, other fuels have been supplied to draw from, provided man has worked out a means and a way. But good will is also needed in order to accomplish this, especially when one nation must draw from another nation its energy supply. Without God's good will, man's will becomes bad. But God has always tried to reason with man in order to help him, and bless him with supply. He has never tried to force man to change his will. For God knows that 'A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.'

Man's will is often his greatest stumbling block to that fuller life which is God's will. Maybe yet, if the gas shortage lasts long enough, man will learn better to get along with his neighbor and reap God's blessing therein. And, if worse comes to worse, a feller could just up 'n buy a horse.

In the latest issue of ORGANIC GARDENING, we read this reprint from THE DRAFT HORSE JOURNAL, 1973 Autumn issue; entitled, THE ECONOMICS OF HORSES VS. TRACTORS. 'An Illinois farmer who owns a $9,000 diesel tractor recently compared his costs of operation with that of his Belgian horses.

'His tractor burns 40 gallons of diesel fuel a day $6.40 plus the cost of maintenance and the cost of depreciation which will reduce the value of the tractor to very little within 10 to 15 years.

'But a working horse does fine on 17 cents' worth of oats and 18 cents' worth of hay a day, plus night foraging in the pasture. He supplies 10 tons of fertilizer a year for the land. Before he grows too old to work, he'll produce his own replacement, plus others for resale. He can do a full day's work for up to 16 years.'

The ORGANIC GARDENING goes on to state that, with today's stress on saving energy, it becomes possible to see the draft horse re-entering the field of agriculture. 'Horses have certain advantages over tractors. They can be used safely on steep ground where a tractor would be either dangerous or useless. A horse farmer can get into his fields more quickly after rain than can a tractor farmer. And horses do not pack the ground as much as tractors. It is generally acknowledged among the tobacco growers of my area of Kentucky that the work of horse-drawn cultivating plows has never been equalled by any tractor,' writes Wendell Barry. 'Beyond these practicalities, there is the satisfaction that one gets from working a good team. A tractor may be handy, always ready to use, untiring, enormously powerful; but it is not alive and that is a great difference. Working with horses is a sort of social event.'

'And when the day's work is finished, to stable the team and water and feed them well, or to turn them out onto good pasture, is a comfort and a fulfillment. Between a farmer and a team there exists a sort of fellow feeling that is impossible between a farmer and a tractor, and for me that rates as a considerable advantage.'

He goes on to explain that, with a tractor, the roar of the motor all day in your ears makes you lose an awareness of other life going on around you. With horses you can hear the wind blowing and the birds singing and all the rest of the stirrings and the goings on of the countryside.'

I know a tractor farmer who bought himself a beautiful young draft horse, which he allows the free run of the barnyard just to make a pet of. He calls its name, it runs up to him to get its nose rubbed and a handful of oats. It doesn't have to do a bit of work except graze on green grass the whole day through and come running for its nose-rub whenever he calls. The horse loves it, and so does the man. And it's a sort of extra-marital social event which even his wife approves his indulgence in, and therefore devoid of any legal entanglements. The man never steps out on his wife, or spends the evenings at a bar with his nose in the froth. Yet he has more fun and socializing than any of the fellows who do.

'I just like to have this horse around it's so beautiful and friendly,' says Tarlton Thornburg. (Which is more than most fellows who chase around after other things can brag about.)

If Uncle Elmer Ritzman was still among us, he'd probably be getting out a DRAFT HORSE ALBUM and begin preaching up a storm on the virtues of God's four-legged hay-burning 'tractors' that breathe fire like steam engines on cold wintry morns. And now, before some horse decides to kick me, I'll finalize this diatribe, if I can locate the period-button, rip it out of my typewriter and skidoo.