REPRINT: HOW YOUR HOBBY STARTED PART 2


| December/January 2000



This month we continue reprinting a series that first appeared in GEM in the March-April 1969 issue. Over the coming months, we will retrace engine history as presented by Carlton M. Mull. This segment originally appeared in the May/June 1969 issue of GEM.

In the first installment about the origination of your hobby, it was stated that man's imagination led to experiments and inventions of the internal combustion engine; and how Thomas Newcomen's improved steam engine replaced horses to operate the mine pumps in collieries of England. Also how James Watt further perfected the open end vertical steam cylinder.

Along in the early part of the nineteenth century, there were many inventors working on the idea of producing an engine that would not require a cumbersome boiler. They employed a cylinder and piston in these experimental engines, but compression and ignition had not been accomplished. The system that carried over from the steam engines using atmosphere and vacuum to move the piston in the cylinder did not work and they could not overcome the difficulty of scaveing (sic) the combustion area. The mechanical design posed the greatest problems, as we see many old ideas used in these engines. Such devices as tried by Huygens in his endeavor to provide ignition to the power fuel, is an example. He fixed a container on the underside of the cylinder in which was a combustible material. This was ignited and he tried to suck this flame into the cylinder through a port to cause the explosion of the dry fuel. This was an idea that may have given some later inventors a clue, but it was never successful.

Chemists had been experimenting with various materials such as wood, coal and fats to make gas for artificial light. In 1794, Robert Street endeavored to produce with turpentine, a gas by evaporating it into an inflammable gas, and combining it with air on the intake stroke of the piston. This was then ignited by an external jet flame and was admitted to the combustion space when a valve was opened by the travel of the piston of his engine. This engine did show advanced ideas which were fundamental in design.

It should be mentioned here that an Italian, Alessandro Volta, in 1776 had demonstrated an electric spark. This was a development from Franklin's early discovery of electricity; however, it required many years of experimenting before electric ignition was successful.

In 1799, a French engineer, Philippe Lebow, was also experimenting with coal to make a lighting gas. He had conceived an idea to use in a cylinder of an engine to drive a piston. His early description set forth an engine that would have a double acting piston, and the gas mixture to be fired by an electric spark. He also suggested in his patent that two pumps for compressing the gas and a device to create the electric spark be made by running a generator from the engine shaft. His untimely death undoubtedly retarded the perfection of the gas engine for many years.