Gas and Oil Engines, Simply Explained An Elementary Instruction Book for Amateurs and Engine Attendants

Gas and Oil Engines, Simply Explained
An Elementary Instruction Book for Amateurs and Engine Attendants

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The history of the gas engine goes back a long way, and the history of the internal combustion engine proper further still. It will be interesting to recount the main points in the history of the development of the class of engine we shall deal with in the following pages, in order to show what huge strides were made soon after the correct and most workable theory had been formulated.

In 1678 Abbé Hautefeuille explained how a machine could be constructed to work with gunpowder as fuel. His arrangement was to explode the gunpowder in a closed vessel provided with valves, and cool the products of combustion, and so cause a partial vacuum to be formed. By the aid of such a machine, water could be raised. This inventor, however, does not seem to have carried out any experiments.

In 1685 Huyghens designed another powder machine; and Papin, in 1688, described a similar machine, which was provided with regular valves, as devised by himself, in the Proceedings of the Leipsic Academy, 1688. From this time until 1791, when John Barber took out a patent for the production of force by the combustion of hydrocarbon in air, practically no advancement was made. The latter patent, curiously enough, comprised a very primitive form of rotary engine. Barber proposed to turn coal, oil, or other combustible stuff into gas by means of external firing, and then to mix the gases so produced with air in a vessel called the exploder. This mixture was then ignited as it issued from the vessel, and the ensuing flash caused a paddle-wheel to rotate. Mention is also made that it was an object to inject a little water into the exploder, in order to strengthen the force of the flash.

Robert Street's patent of 1794 mentions a piston engine, in the cylinder of which, coal tar, spirit, or turpentine was vaporised, the gases being ignited by a light burning outside the cylinder. The piston in this engine was thrown upwards, this in turn forcing a pump piston down which did work in raising water. This was the first real gas engine, though it was crude and very imperfectly arranged.

In 1801 Franzose Lebon described a machine to be driven by means of coal-gas. Two pumps were used to compress air and gas, and the mixture was fired, as recommended by the inventor, by an electric spark, and drove a piston in a double-working cylinder.

The atmospheric engine of Samuel Brown, 1823, had a piston working in a cylinder into which gas was introduced, and the latter, being ignited, expanded the air in cylinder whilst burning like a flame. The fly-wheel carried the piston up to the top of its stroke, then water was used to cool the burnt gases, which also escaped through valves, the latter closing when the piston had reached the top of its stroke. A partial vacuum was formed, and the atmospheric pressure did work on the piston on its down stroke. A number of cylinders were required in this engine, three being shown in the specification all connected to the same crank-shaft. According to the Mechanic's Magazine, such an engine with a complete gas generating plant was fitted to a boat which ran as an experiment upon the Thames.

A two-cylinder engine working on to a beam was built in Paris, but no useful results were obtained.

Wright's engine of 1833 used a mixture of combustible gas and air, which operated like steam in a steam engine. This engine had a water-jacket, centrifugal governor, and flame ignition. In 1838 Barnett applied the principle of compression to a single-acting engine. He also employed a gas and air pump, which were placed respectively on either side of the engine cylinder, communication being established between the receiver into which the pumps delivered and the working cylinder as the charge was fired. The double-acting engines which Barnett devised later were not so successful....