Water Closet for September 18, 2015
[pullquote]”The steam produced in the boiler goes out a high pressure hose to the engine’s reciprocating piston which slides smoothly in a brass cylinder. The piston rod moves a crank which pedals an axle with a large flywheel; from it power is transmitted smoothly by belt to the saw.”[/pullquote]Labor Day morning blacksmith, artist, snowshoe maker, etc., Carl Close of Middleton invited friends to see his homemade steam engine in operation. This smoothly running beauty would fit in a 3 x 3 x 3-foot box. We had admired it before but not while it was doing useful work. Recently Carl made a cordwood saw, which is connected to the engine’s large flywheel with a belt. The demonstration on his pleasant back lawn was next to a full size sawmill also of his making. Carl let us saw wood to burn in the boiler’s firebox with the new saw.
The old Closeteer brought his son Kenji, a 3-D artist, to see the handsome engine. Kenji marveled at the “organic” nature of this piece of “performance art”. While the parts, largely made with Carl’s tools, including lathes, are of inorganic copper and iron from the earth we still think “organic” is a crackerjack description of his creation, which digests fuel, produces energy, breaths, and does work. The ash base is a product of photosynthesis as was the wood used as fuel in the firebox below the four foot high, foot diameter boiler made from a steel pipe. The steam produced in the boiler goes out a high pressure hose to the engine’s reciprocating piston which slides smoothly in a brass cylinder. The piston rod moves a crank which pedals an axle with a large flywheel; from it power is transmitted smoothly by belt to the saw. Boiler, engine, and saw were made and designed right here in our town by someone we know. The more we think of Kenji’s word “organic” the more it makes sense. Not only are the materials familiar, the sounds from the moving parts are soothing, not harsh like those from an internal combustion engine. We can see why an inattentive fireman or engineer might doze when sitting nearby. We almost did but then for us dozing gets easier every year. The only startling sound comes from a whistle on top of the boiler when its chain is pulled with a corn cob handle. For us old timers the sound brings back memories from our boyhood days when we imagined standing with Mark Twain in his riverboat pilot house or with Casey Jones in a locomotive cab. Our host invited us all to play engineer and pilot by signaling with the whistle. It reminded the oldsters present of bygone sounds and scenes in old movies. It brought back the two century old age of steam when much of the world’s work and transport were thus powered. As boys we had witnessed some of that age’s last steam condensing around us as engines came to exciting stops in railroad stations.
One old timer, when fueling Carl’s boiler with wood he’d just sawed, imagined himself a stoker on a Mississippi River side wheeler throwing cordwood into its large firebox. Many tons had just been picked up at one of the many fueling stops along the river’s bank. Before coal was readily available there were still lots of trees along our rivers. What could be more organic than that?
In the days following the demonstration the Old Closeteer thought more about boiler fuels that can all be traced back to sunshine; whether light recently received or prehistoric as in fossil fuels that got theirs through photosynthesis over a hundred million years before men and his machines. The basic chemical change that takes place in green leaves, the food makers of plants and algae, is:
light + water + carbon dioxide à oxygen + sugars
The basic equation releasing the energy absorbed in photosynthesis and that happening in us right now and in Carl’s firebox is:
oxygen + fuel (food, wood, oil, etc.) à carbon dioxide + water + heat
It is this heat from burning that changes liquid water to vapor, one quart of liquid produces 1700 quarts of gas at atmospheric pressure. If contained the vapor is under enormous pressure and thus capable of doing work, such as, pushing pistons thus turning flywheels. Notice the two processes, photosynthesis and burning (and cellular respiration), are reverses of one another. There is virtually no pollution as from internal combustion engines. The water and carbon dioxide goes out the boiler’s stack.
Our resident wizard with metals and wood reminds us what the old steam days were like and what might be again with modifications and new materials. Thirty years ago Richard Stegeman* designed a small boiler and pump called Water Heart that has solar energy directly heating the water with no big boiler involved. Exhaust steam from the engine is the only byproduct to enter the atmosphere. He designed it to run pumps in poor countries for drinking and irrigation water. The exhaust heat from these small steam engines might also be captured and used. Who knows what the future Carls and Richards of the world will come up with? Steam, still used to run turbines in power plants, may make a comeback in our workshops and on our roads.*
* “Steam Power is Coming Back: An old technology is making a comeback” by Jo Belanger – This article and more on alternative energy is in the May/June 1999 issue of Countryside magazine. ______________________________________________________________________________
WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION
FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD`
|Precipitation Data* for Month of:
|30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches
|2015 Central Watershed Actual
|1.0 as of 9/14**
Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For Sept 14, 2015 Normal . . . 3.7 CFS Current Rate . . . 4.8 CFS
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Aug..
**Middleton Stream Team is source of actual precipitation data for Sept..
Normals data is from the National Climatic Data Center.
THE WATER CLOSET is provided by the Middleton Stream Team: www.middletonstreamteam.org or <MSTMiddletonMA@gmail.com> or (978) 777-4584