The Brayton Cycle and Other Rare Engines

Some old engines, like the Brayton cycle engine, are as fascinating as they are inefficient.

The Brayton cycle engine, as it came to be known, used a compressed fuel/air charge for ignition.

The Brayton cycle engine, as it came to be known, used a compressed fuel/air charge for ignition.

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Pity poor George Bailey Brayton. Born in Rhode Island in 1830, his formal education stopped before high school. Even so, Brayton displayed a talent and capacity uniquely suited to the emerging age of engines in the mid-1800s.

Brayton, in case you've never heard the name, developed an engine that was commercially available in 1872, a full five years before Nicolaus Otto patented his 4-stroke design in 1877.

The Brayton cycle engine, as it came to be known, used a compressed fuel/air charge for ignition. Unlike Otto's design, however, it did not compress the charge in the combustion cylinder. Instead, a pumping piston compressed the fuel/air charge in a separate cylinder, which was then delivered to the cylinder and combusted, driving a piston that worked a beam to stroke a crank. Later versions utilized a connecting rod directly connected to the crankshaft.

Although effective, compared to Otto's 4-stroke, Brayton's old engine design was grossly inefficient. Even so, Brayton continued to develop his engine for several years, particularly oil-burning versions. His last patent was issued in 1890, but by then it was clear the market he hoped to capture had moved beyond his grasp. The Otto engine ruled the gasoline engine market, and development of the Brayton engine ceased.

This issue of Gas Engine Magazine presents a unique and little-known application of a Brayton engine - a submarine. Reader Paul Gray came across the engine quite by accident, displayed in the Paterson Museum in Paterson, N.J.

Well, not really on display, more like hidden inside a prototype submarine, the Fenian Ram, built in 1881.

Displaying the sort of curiousity we've come to expect from old-engine collectors, Paul talked his way into the sub and made a full examination of a uniquely rare combination: a prototype submarine and a pre-Otto combustion engine. Turn to page 17 to read the full story on this fascinating chapter in gas engine history.

And what became of Brayton? He died in Leeds, England, in 1892, at the age of 62. His contemporary, Nicolaus Otto, died the year before, at the age of 59. But while Otto's name is forever etched into the textbooks of history, Brayton's remains a little-known footnote.

In the Running

While certainly not as rare as Brayton-cycle engines, engines manufactured by any of the various incarnations of P.F. Olds & Son are hardly everyday items.

Rarer still are original photos and literature related to any of the Olds companies.

This issue, thanks to reader and collector David Kolzow Jr., we have the distinct privilege of displaying a stunning selection of photos of some of the Olds factories. Some of these come from original sales catalogs, while the rest were taken by one A.L. Pouleur, a chemist in the employ of Olds Motor Works in the early 1900s.

Capturing what was at the time simply a daily industry, the photos provide a compelling look inside the factories that produced some of the most storied engines of all time.