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BOOK REVIEW: J.C.B. Mackeand's ''Sparks and Flames

| November/December 1997

3231 Randolph NW Warren, Ohio 44485

All gas engines need to have ignition systems, but until now no one has brought together the story of the interesting developments that led up to to day's reliable ignition systems. Craw ford MacKeand has performed that service in his new book Sparks and Flames, in which he traces the development of ignition from the very earliest examples, surprisingly as early as the mid-1600s, through to the early part of the present century.

As he explains, there was no obvious or easy line of development. Electric ignition was used first and then superseded but then came back into the picture, only to lose out again before it finally took over in the 1900s. In the meantime there were successful methods used for ignition, such as the flame valve and the hot tube, and less successful methods like the electric hot wire. Mr. MacKeand checks out all these systems with a large number of line drawings from the period, many of them unfamiliar to this reviewer. He also gives clear easy-to-follow explanations of how they worked, how they came to be invented, and why they were superseded, as almost all of them were.

His book starts with a short history of gas engines, following the development of ignition in outline, and then looks at flame and hot tube systems which were very important in the 1800s. Some items, like the 'jury' reports on Lenoir's 1860 non-compression engine and 'the incessant maintenance which it re quires,' and an 1898 letter from Emil Jellineck to Daimler complaining about how often his car caught fire, show why these were superseded. A chapter on 'Sparks' introduces the discovery of the electric spark, and MacKeand then de scribes in more detail, low tension (make & break) and high tension (spark plug) systems, and the great difficulty the gas engine pioneers had in making these work reliably. Mr. MacKeand's background as an electrical engineer helps in telling us what their problems were and how they have been over come. We have all used batteries and magnetos, but it is surprising how many other sources of electricity have been used; the chapter on 'Energy for Ignition' details these methods. A short section deals with compression ignition, oil and diesel engines. There is a chapter on ignition theory, where he explains that in a small book you can only scratch the surface of this very complicated subject, but gives us a basic understanding of some of the technical factors that affect ignition. Finally there is a section of practical tips and know-how. To complete the book there is a chronology of dates of all the important developments, a complete bibliography and a full index.

In the course of the book a few important people appear we get some biography of Robert Bosch and of Arthur Atwater Kent, for example but most of the book concentrates on telling the story of the actual development of the various forms of ignition. The book is easy to read and understand. It is a must-have publication for anyone with an interest in old engines and how they run. Sparks and Flames is well produced and very reasonably priced at $14-95 ($3.00 shipping) with 176 pages (6'x 9'), over 80 illustrations and soft bound. It can be obtained from the publisher, Tyndar Press, P.O. Box 236, Montchanin, Delaware 19710 or through GEM and numerous vendors advertising in GEM.


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