820 West Third Anaconda, Montana
The fuel-ignition principle of mixing water and hydrocarbons in vapor form called atomizing to produce engine power boosts and to reduce engine heat and pre-ignition is believed to have been discovered accidentally in about 1904 or 1905 by Fred J. Schneider and his son John of Weston, Illinois.
Except for occasional bits, the Schneider story has gone mostly unchronicled for three quarters of a century. The Illinois family achieved neither fame nor fortune with their chance discovery, but it never sought them either. Through the years, the Schneiders revealed their secret only to select friends. It is hoped, in time, that more details surface.
The 1904 Hart-Parr tractor (model 22-40) supposedly involved in this historic discovery is restored, and owned by the Peterson family members Barbara, Dan, Bill and Elizabeth of Lowell, Indiana. The Petersons are first and second-generation descendants of the Schneiders who reside in a small farming community south of Lake Michigan.
If these revelations whet the appetites of antique tractor buffs, their hearts surely will pound over what's coming next.
The 1904 Peterson tractor now is documented as the second-oldest existing Hart-Parr in the world, next to the 1903 model preserved at the Smithsonian Institution at Washington, D.C.
Displaying a serial number of 1341, the machine at Lowell is about the 73rd Hart-Parr rolled out the factory doors at Charles City, Iowa.
There's more: The ancient work horse sports a push-rod valve system, instead of rotary valves characteristic of later-model Hart-Parrs. Only 147 Hart-Parrs incorporated this push-rod valve feature.
The 1904 Hart-Parr as it appeared in August, 1955, mired-down in a field on the Schneider farm near Weston, Illinois. How many years it had been resting in this location is anyone's guess. Surprisingly, the tractor's engine ran well and Fred W. Schneider restored it in the I960's. Photos by Frank Hamata of Schuyler, Nebraska.
Collecting these salient facts and making sense of them is Hart-Parr historian and researcher Douglas Strawser of Oregon, Illinois, who visited the Peterson farm near Lowell this past summer. Strawser, incidentally, knows his hobby well; he retains one of the most complete collections of Hart-Parr and Oliver tractors in the nation. He also maintains an extensive serial number listing of existing Hart-Parrs owned by individuals throughout the U.S. and Canada. 'The restored Peterson tractor played a dramatic role in this century's mechanical-agricultural age,' explained Strawser. 'We now know more details of this incredible story that involve the Schneider family of Weston, Illinois.'
Fred J. Schneider (1862-1925), who purchased the 1904 tractor originally, is a great grandfather of Bill and Dan Peterson of Lowell.* They, along with their mother Barbara (Schneider) Peterson and sister Elizabeth (Peterson) Manchester, own a quarter interest each in the restored Hart-Parr.
John Schneider (1894-1979), the son of Fred J., had told the water-fuel vaporizing tales to his two grandsons, Dan and Bill of Lowell, Indiana.
Fully restored and operating, the Peterson family's 1904 Hart-Parr was displayed in June, 1983 at their farmstead near Lowell, Indiana. From This photo are Barbara, Bill and Dan Peterson. The machine is the second-oldest-existing Hart-Parr in the world, next to the 1903 one in the Smithsonian Institution at Washington, D.C.
'Grandfather was coming off the field with an open jar of water,' Dan Peterson said in an interview. 'Somebody else was driving. He ran alongside the moving tractor, jumped on the back, and dropped the jar, breaking it over the air intake. The water was sucked in. The tractor was pulled down when the water hit the carburetor, then the tractor picked up RPMs.'
Bill Peterson added these comments:
'Grandpa said the tractor was running hot that day. When by accident they tipped the water jug over, the tractor suddenly ran smoother. It was a fluke, but that's how they discovered water and fuel vaporize together. And to successfully mix, one must have a warm engine as they had that day.'
Reconstructing the Past
What happened next is not documented entirely, and it's necessary to reconstruct the circumstances based on flimsy evidence. But Fred. J. and John Schneider (or one or the other) apparently wrote a letter to the tractor-inventors Hart and Parrat Charles City, telling them of their chance discovery of achieving extra engine power through water-fuel vaporizing.
Hart and Parr took the letter seriously. In the winter of 1904-5, the partners conducted experiments with water and kerosene, devising a two-bowled carburetor to combine the vapors of both to operate their tractors. This procedure led to saving about half in fuel costs.
Hart and Parr adopted the water-kerosene principle on their tractors manufactured during the 1907 model year (at serial number 1604), according to Strawser's research. They also retrofitted other Hart-Parr tractors in the field with water-kerosene vaporizer carburetors, a changeover package that consisted of adding another float and bowl assembly to the fuel feeder.
Hart and Parr's true 'first' in the industry was employing kerosene as a fuel years before other tractor manufacturers did. The tractor partners also had gone on record for discovering and perfecting the atomizer principle. That, of course, is not true entirely, if, indeed the Schneider story has credence.
Hart and Parr did develop the mechanics of atomizing to a contemporary state of the art. In 1915, C. W. Hart patented the 'atomizer' carburetor, although he had applied for the patent six years earlier in 1909.
Now comes the rest of the story.
The 1904 Hart-Parr tractor owned by the Petersons was restored in the 1960s by Fred W. Schneider (1908-1974), also of Weston, Illinois, the son of Fred J. Schneider. The machine had rested in a field on the Schneider farm for at least several decades.
A writer for the Pantagraph newspaper of Bloomington, Illinois, in the August 31, 1959 issue, quoted Fred W. Schneider as saying that 'Father never traded anything when he bought a new one. He'd always say, 'Put it out to pasture.' '
The World War II scrap scavengers missed the machine, and Fred W. Schneider had told friends a half dozen persons had tried to buy the tractor to restore it.
Frank Hamata of Schuyler, Nebraska, a former Hart-Parr dealer and traveler of note, said he witnessed the 'mired-down' tractor in 1955 for the first time: 'The rear wheels were sunk into the ground about eight inches and the front wheels half way up to the axle. The spokes show that from rust close up. Surprisingly the engine runs smoothly.'
Because he leased out his farm in Illinois and because he had ample time for his avocation, Fred W. Schneider devoted hours (which turned into years) to restoring the dilapidated Hart-Parr. Fred died in 1974, and the 1904 machine was transported to his brother John at Lowell, Indiana. When John died in 1979, the Petersons took possession through inheritance of the historic tractor. And the two grandsons Dan and Billtake particular pride today in the tractor's upkeep and historical significance.
And Frank Hamata, who collects tidbits of Hart-Parr history, to his delight saw the tractor again this time fully restored in 1979 at the Central States Thresher Reunion at Pontiac, Illinois.
The Schneiders were cognizant of their revolutionary discovery: They told close friends during leisure moments that 'we were the inventors of that process' of mixing water and fuel. Such casual comments help carve out a slice of American history.
Atomizers, of course, were not limited to tractors. Airplane pilots during World War II and racing car drivers in recent years have applied the principle to achieve additional engine bursting power.
'Old timers say that under load, the Hart-Parr engines burned as much water as kerosene,' said tractor researcher Strawser of the grand legacy that the Schneiders and Hart and Parr left the mechanical world. 'The mixture of water and kerosene made the engines develop more power than just gasoline alone.'
What a grand legacy it was!
Ironically, the Schneiders inaugurated it on a scorching, hot day on an Illinois farm when a water jug was dropped inadvertently over an engine air intake.
If the truth were known, perhaps many major inventions were conceived in such aimless ways.
(Editors note: Jack Gilluly, Anaconda, Montana, is a grandson of inventor C. W. Hart of Hart-Parr tractor fame. The foregoing story is distilled from a book he wrote about his grandfather. Assisting him on the article's preparation were Douglas Strawser of Oregon, Illinois; Everett Althaus of Mendota, Illinois; Frank Hamata of Schuyler, Nebraska and members of the Peterson family Barbara, Dan and Bill of Lowell, Indiana.)
Other accounts say that Schneider purchased the tractor as a 'used' model.