Author Topic: Cold Wx, Things we take for granted  (Read 1344 times)

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Offline Pete Bog

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Cold Wx, Things we take for granted
« on: January 16, 2020, 11:02:01 PM »
     Starting vehicles
     When it is cold outside, internal combustion engines just don't want to start. The fuel doesn't vaporize as well and the lubricating oil increases in viscosity, causing the engine to turn over slower. This is compounded by the starting battery losing its ability to deliver full power to the starter.
     Some of the old tricks were to drain the oil from the crank case and keep it warm in the house, along with the battery. In the morning, the oil was heated and then it and the warm battery were reinstalled into the vehicle and hopefully, it would start. If not, there was starting fluid (ether) which could be sprayed into the carburetor to encourage ignition. Occasionally a backfire through the carb would keep the eyebrows trimmed.
     Keep in mind that most of those cars had 6 volt electrical systems, and while they would crank over for a long time, the starter never spun the engine very fast. Starting the car in cold weather was a challenge.
     In the late 1940's, an engineer drilled out a bolt and inserted an electrical heating element. This bolt replaced one of the headbolts in the engine. It was a real step forward in convenience. There was enough heat there to keep the engine block warm and the oil from getting so stiff. You might still have to take the battery into the house at night, but it sure beat draining the oil.
     It helped with the electrification of America in the 40's and 50's. We didn't get electricity until 1962, so headbolt heaters didn't help us much.
     If things got real bad, you could start a fire in a shallow pan, let it burn down to hot coals and slide it under the engine. After a 1/2 hour or so, the engine might be warmed up enough to start. 
     When it got real cold, maybe -40 or so, Sometimes the engine would fire once or twice and then refuse to fire anymore. What happens is the cold air enters the cylinder and the moisture would condense on the sparkplug electrode shorting it out. You have two choices, wait for warm weather, which might be weeks, or pull the plugs out and warm them up and dry them. Trust me, that is no fun on a V8 when it's -40* out.
     As the years went by, different engine heaters were invented. The block heater was an electrical heating element inserted in place of the freeze plug in an engine. All liquid cooled engines seem to have a freeze plug. There were also heaters installed into the heater hoses or the lower radiator hose to heat the engine coolant. As the coolant is warmed, it rises and is replaced by colder coolant from below. In this manner, the warmed coolant is circulated throughout the engine and kept it warm.
     The switch to 12 volt electrical systems helped with cranking speeds and that helped with starting too.
     With the old ignition systems, it was possible to double the starting voltage from 6 to 12 or from 12 to 24 by using two batteries in series. This was for cranking only. It would cause the starter to spin over twice as fast and increase the chance of the engine starting. We would have the driver in the car with his or her hand on the ignition key. When they started to crank the engine, we would slam the doubled voltage jumper cables to the battery and the starter would start to sing. As soon as the engine started, the jumper cables were removed.  The old points and coil ignition could handle the increased voltage, but try that now and the Engine Management Controller, Body Management controller, fuel injectors, and untold other electrical components will instantaneously turn to junk.
     Things are so much better now than they were 50 years ago. Fuel injection, synthetic oils, advances in ignition systems have all improved cold weather starting. We still have electric engine heaters on all of our vehicles, but we don't plug them in unless the temperature is forecast to drop to -10*F or colder. The engines will start down to about 35 or 40 below without the additional heat, but it is really hard on them. Condensation in the valve train, oil is cold and stiff and doesn't lubricate for a few seconds, so it is hard on cylinders, rings, bearings, camshafts. Everything is stressed when it's that cold.

Watering the livestock.
     Livestock on the farm needs water. Some animals will get by with eating snow, but bigger animals like cattle, horses and hogs need access to lots of water. Now, there are any number of inventions that keep water available for livestock. But before electricity came to the farm, it was a chore when it was well below zero. Water was pumped by hand or with a small gasoline engine on the pump. More than likely, that little Clinton or Tecumseh engine was not going to run when it was that cold. So, you were left to pump water for 20 or 30 head of cattle by hand. Wind power water pump was not an option. Very seldom had wind.
     Keeping the water warm was done by having a wood stove submerged into the stock tank. The stove was a hollow square tube built in the shape of the letter V. One leg of the V was kept upright and this had the exhaust stovepipe on it. The other leg of the V stuck out of the water at an angle and had a door with a draft control opening in it. Getting that darn thing lit was a real trick. Lots of crumpled newspaper stuffed way deep into the V and then get it lit while manipulating the door open and closed. The trick was to get the draft to suck in through the door and exhaust out through the stovepipe. More often than not, it wanted to downdraft the other way. That meant lots of smoke in your face and it wouldn't maintain a burn. Frustrations.
     So many little tricks to getting along in cold weather. I'm sure there are just as many for keeping cool in hot weather. I'm hoping some of you will share some of the skills before Air Conditioning.

Offline wolfy

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Re: Cold Wx, Things we take for granted
« Reply #1 on: January 17, 2020, 10:44:11 AM »
Pete, your post dredges up many of the same memories of when I was a kid on the farm.  Kind of like the opening passage from A Tale of Two was the best of times, it was the worst of times, and it was the season of darkness & it was the winter of despair. :doh:

Starting engines on every piece of equipment and keeping the water running were always major problems, but keeping the hog, cattle and chicken watering systems flowing were paramount! It sounds like the wood-fired cow tank heater we had was the same as yours, but keeping the hog watering system functional was an art that required a special touch that my dad seemed to have, but took me quite a while to acquire. :P   The two kerosene heaters that kept it free-flowing were kind of like layer-cake pans with solid tops and burners that looked just like those found on kerosene lamps and lanterns.  One would go under each watering cup and they worked great IF the wicks were in the sweet spot....too low, and the wind could blow them out and then the waterer would freeze up, too high, and the soot would build up under the watering cups and choke off the air to the burners, resulting in another freezing situation.  Chaining up the front tires on the old Willy's Jeep, in windy & below zero weather, was another of my assigned tasks that I especially enjoyed. :rolleyes:

« Last Edit: January 17, 2020, 10:51:06 AM by wolfy »
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Offline wsdstan

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Re: Cold Wx, Things we take for granted
« Reply #2 on: January 17, 2020, 02:39:16 PM »
Well I didn't grow up on a farm but I got plenty of experience over the last twenty years since I retired and bought a "hobby" farm.   With vehicles I had lots of cold weather experience from living in Colorado from birth.  We used jumper cables a lot when the battery in one car was poor and the other would start well.  We used ether sometimes.  In really cold temperatures we lit a metal pan full of charcoal and slid in under the oil pan.  Lucky that we never caught a car on fire but I heard it happened now and then.  On the little farm we have one tractor that uses a heater element in the radiator system and it usually starts pretty well.  The diesel skid loader has a heater but it is nearly impossible to get it running if it gets down around zero or below.  When all else fails I get out the Reddy heater that requires electricity and open the back end of the skid steer and let the heater warm up the engine.  It has never failed although fuel will still gel without the additive. 

Water tanks on my place require electricity too.  I use a commercial tank with a float valve that has a 250 watt heating puck in the center partition where cattle cannot get at it.  Under the tank where the water supply line comes in there is a section of pipe wrapped in heat tape and I add a light in one of those cages.  This is a pretty good system till the power goes out.  Then you run out and shut off the water and drain the tank hoping all the while for the power to come back on.  If the water tank freezes up the basin goes first and the line second.  Once the line is frozen you can put the Reddy Heater on it but the tank is plastic and will melt if you get it hot enough.  They cost about $600.  Don't ask me how I know that.  :-X  No one around here has a wood stove like each of you describe and that kind of surprises me.  It sounds like a method that is difficult but workable.

We have a generator we can use in the corral or at the house to get electricity if we have to.  It will run all the heaters in the corral easily.
« Last Edit: January 17, 2020, 02:44:27 PM by wsdstan »
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