BUILDING A BACKYARD POWERPLANT


| March/April 1981



108 Garfield Avenue, Madison, New Jersey 07940

One of the first things that I do when my copy of 'The Iron-Men Album' arrives is to read Soot in the Flues. In that way I get a good idea of just what it is that the readers are thinking about. Almost every issue in the past year or so has had letters that deal directly or indirectly with the reader's concern with the high cost of things and usually end up with, 'Why can't we..........'

Well, usually there is a good reason. A specific case in point was a letter from David W. Jones (IMA November, 1980, pg. 12) on small power generators in the energy crisis.

I've put together a piece that should answer that and allied questions.

Skyrocketing prices of everything we buy only serves to increase our frustration as we cast about for ways to stop the flow of our money. As ardent steam engine enthusiasts it is only natural that we look to our hobby for answers. All of us have given at least a little thought as to how we might generate our own electric power. There is that old 6 horsepower Case that has seen many shows but could it be put to use in making the lights burn in the house? Let's take a look at what is involved and see if we really could save some money.

Naturally, in doing such a general inquiry as this is going to be, there have to be some assumptions made. We can start out by assuming that we have a traction engine boiler and a reciprocating steam engine to drive an electric generator. Maybe we will have to buy a second-hand generator but then that would be something to tinker with. And, if we are careful, our nose shouldn't light up if we get the wires crossed. We will need fuel and quite a bit of it. That is going to be a key item so we had better think about that quite thoroughly. There is the wood lot up on the hill. But maybe we had better figure on coal. Government 'experts' down in Foggy Bottom say that a good grade of eastern low sulfur steam coal is going to cost around $42.25 in the year 1985. That is a good starting point. Since it is a good coal it should have about 13,000 Btu per pound.