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Naphtha Launches (was: Any Authors Out There?)


 

I've read that flashback fires from the boilers weren't uncommon in naphtha launches, but, while they looked spectacular at night, they didn't cause any damage, and serious accidents were rare. It seems amazing that a contraption that heated a liquid similar to gasoline in a boiler to make "steam" could have such a good safety record.

IIRC, there was only one manufacturer of naphtha powerplants, and they were only put in a few makes of boats, with tight control from the engine maker on the installation. The engine compartment was metal lined, and the engine and boiler were installed as a unit. The fuel tank was up in the bow, and the fuel line was routed outside the hull, below the waterline, between the tank and the powerplant. I think Westy Farmer wrote an article about naphtha launches. I'll have to dig up my copy of From My Old Boatshop and look...

Interesting boats, for sure. <g>

Today we take for granted hopping into our cars and driving down the freeway at more than a mile a minute with a bomb in the trunk. Imagine what would happen if gasoline engines hadn't been invented, and somebody today tried to convince us that vehicles burning gasoline were safe. ;o)

On 11/25/2020 8:23 PM, Myles T wrote:
The cool thing about the 'naphta launches' was the simplicity. As with a steam boat, you needed a burner to create the phase change in the working fluid from liquid to vapor, but in the case of the naphtha launches, the working fluid was the same as the fluid burned to create the heat. Scary, convenient, compact and evidently not that many instances of fires/explosions. And unlike steam boats, you didn't need to have a licensed engineer onboard.
Evidently they didn't even require a throttle valve, simply control the fuel burn rate and the motor responded.
There was someone in Newberg I met once that had a naphtha engine---think I got to see it once...

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John <jkohnen@boat-links.com>
As a general truth, communities prosper and flourish, or droop and decline, in just the degree that they practise or neglect to practise the primary duties of justice and humanity. (William Henry Seward)
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Pete Leenhouts
 

Weston Farmer mentions naptha engines in his marvelous book "From My Old Boatshop", but infrequently. He seemed to be much more interested in gas engines in that book. I've read quite a few Rudder magazines from the very early 1900's; its interesting, thinking about it, that explosions of any kind - naptha or gasolene - are not mentioned as far as I can recall. Pete 


-----Original Message-----
From: John Kohnen <jkohnen@...>
To: oregoncoots@groups.io
Sent: Thu, Nov 26, 2020 1:59 pm
Subject: [oregoncoots] Naphtha Launches (was: Any Authors Out There?)

I've read that flashback fires from the boilers weren't uncommon in
naphtha launches, but, while they looked spectacular at night, they
didn't cause any damage, and serious accidents were rare. It seems
amazing that a contraption that heated a liquid similar to gasoline in a
boiler to make "steam" could have such a good safety record.

IIRC, there was only one manufacturer of naphtha powerplants, and they
were only put in a few makes of boats, with tight control from the
engine maker on the installation. The engine compartment was metal
lined, and the engine and boiler were installed as a unit. The fuel tank
was up in the bow, and the fuel line was routed outside the hull, below
the waterline, between the tank and the powerplant. I think Westy Farmer
wrote an article about naphtha launches. I'll have to dig up my copy of
From My Old Boatshop and look...

Interesting boats, for sure. <g>

Today we take for granted hopping into our cars and driving down the
freeway at more than a mile a minute with a bomb in the trunk. Imagine
what would happen if gasoline engines hadn't been invented, and somebody
today tried to convince us that vehicles burning gasoline were safe. ;o)

On 11/25/2020 8:23 PM, Myles T wrote:
> The cool thing about the 'naphta launches' was the simplicity.  As with a steam boat, you needed a burner to create the phase change in the working fluid from liquid to vapor, but in the case of the naphtha launches, the working fluid was the same as the fluid burned to create the heat.  Scary, convenient, compact and evidently not that many instances of fires/explosions.  And unlike steam boats, you didn't need to have a licensed engineer onboard.
>
> Evidently they didn't even require a throttle valve, simply control the fuel burn rate and the motor responded.
>
> There was someone in Newberg I met once that had a naphtha engine---think I got to see it once...
>


--
John <jkohnen@...>
As a general truth, communities prosper and flourish, or droop and
decline, in just the degree that they practise or neglect to practise
the primary duties of justice and humanity. (William Henry Seward)


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Thanks, Pete. Uncle Westy's book is indeed marvelous, and I should dig my copy out even if it doesn't have a chapter on naphtha launches. :o) Not as much fun as reading Weston Farmer (I believe he's the fellow who commented about how so many of the small boat writers in National Fisherman had "agricultural" names -- Gardner, Culler, Farmer... <g>):

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naphtha_launch

https://www.gasenginemagazine.com/engines-a-z/the-naphtha-engine

http://www.douglas-self.com/MUSEUM/POWER/petrol/petrol.htm

I hope everyone had a Good Thanksgiving. Mary and I are doing our dinner today.

On 11/27/2020 9:52 AM, Pete L wrote:
Weston Farmer mentions naptha engines in his marvelous book "From My Old Boatshop", but infrequently. He seemed to be much more interested in gas engines in that book. I've read quite a few Rudder magazines from the very early 1900's; its interesting, thinking about it, that explosions of any kind - naptha or gasolene - are not mentioned as far as I can recall. Pete
...
I think Westy Farmer
wrote an article about naphtha launches. I'll have to dig up my copy of
From My Old Boatshop and look...
...
--
John <jkohnen@boat-links.com>
Any fool can carry on, but a wise man knows how to shorten sail in time. (Joseph Conrad)
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One of the links to naphtha launches I gave you led me to the Museum of Retro Technology. A lot of strange fun stuff there. A great time waster. :o)

http://www.douglas-self.com/MUSEUM/museum.htm

The article I recalled about naphtha launches was by L. Francis Herreshoff, originally published in The Rudder and reprinted in An L. Francis Herreshoff Reader.

Is Herreshoff an "agricultural" name in German? <g>

--
John <jkohnen@boat-links.com>
In politics, absurdity is not a handicap. (Napoleon Bonaparte)


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Pete Leenhouts
 

Yes, he's the one...who commented on how so many of the NF writers had ag names...just read that passage in his wonderful book yesterday as your earlier comment has prompted me to reread the book. His chapter on John Atkin was really fantastic, as was the chapter on using lemon oil extract to sharpen tools...(laughing). 

I will look back at the turn of the century Rudder magazines to see if I can find anything on naptha engines. 

(time passes) 

OK, using Control F search function against this website, you'll find a number of articles about naptha launches. The Rudder - Index (navalmarinearchive.com)

I might have paper copies of a few of these should you be interested (I cold photograph them for you).    

WR/Pete  



-----Original Message-----
From: John Kohnen <jkohnen@...>
To: oregoncoots@groups.io
Sent: Fri, Nov 27, 2020 10:10 am
Subject: Re: [oregoncoots] Naphtha Launches (was: Any Authors Out There?)

Thanks, Pete. Uncle Westy's book is indeed marvelous, and I should dig
my copy out even if it doesn't have a chapter on naphtha launches. :o)
Not as much fun as reading Weston Farmer (I believe he's the fellow who
commented about how so many of the small boat writers in National
Fisherman had "agricultural" names -- Gardner, Culler, Farmer... <g>):

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naphtha_launch

https://www.gasenginemagazine.com/engines-a-z/the-naphtha-engine

http://www.douglas-self.com/MUSEUM/POWER/petrol/petrol.htm

I hope everyone had a Good Thanksgiving. Mary and I are doing our dinner
today.

On 11/27/2020 9:52 AM, Pete L wrote:
> Weston Farmer mentions naptha engines in his marvelous book "From My Old
> Boatshop", but infrequently. He seemed to be much more interested in gas
> engines in that book. I've read quite a few Rudder magazines from the
> very early 1900's; its interesting, thinking about it, that explosions
> of any kind - naptha or gasolene - are not mentioned as far as I can
> recall. Pete
>
> ...
> I think Westy Farmer
> wrote an article about naphtha launches. I'll have to dig up my copy of
>  From My Old Boatshop and look...
> ...

--
John <jkohnen@...>
Any fool can carry on, but a wise man knows how to shorten sail in time.
(Joseph Conrad)


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Thanks for the link to the The Rudder index, Pete. That'll come in useful whenever we can finally get back to our Multnomah County Library messabouts. They've got a pretty complete set of bound volumes of The Rudder. Don't bother scanning, or photographing, naphtha launch articles for us unless they're particularly illuminating or entertaining. Leave us something to explore when we get back to the Multnomah Library. <g>

I read Francis Herreshoff's article about naphtha launches. He's another entertaining, and very knowledgeable, writer, whose work was published in somewhat more highbrow publications than the "agricultural" boat authors. <g> The article was first published in The Rudder in the sixties, and was reprinted in An L. Francis Herreshoff Reader. Here are some excerpts:

"As we look at the naphtha launch today, it seems a most infernal machine. Strange to say, however, these launches had few explosions or fatal accidents, 'though most of them blazed up occasionally. Many were copper-sheathed in the engine compartment, so these blaze-ups were rather laughed at or thought to be part of the game. I have seen these blaze-ups at night when they certainly were alarming to the uninitiated.

"The real, and possibly the only, reason for the naphtha launch was to get around the law that required a licensed engineer on a steam launch. Although the examinations for a license were not difficult, it was stipulated that the applicant for a steam license must have had two years' experience in tending a steam boiler, so very few amateurs had steam licenses, and it was the cost of hiring a licensed steam engineer that put the steam launch out of being, for otherwise they were delightful things to sail in or steam in. It seems quite strange today that the law then allowed one to operate a device that evaporated an explosive liquid in a boiler but could not do the same thing with water in a boiler without a license.

"...

"The genius who worked up the naphtha power plant to evade the law was a German named F. W. Ofeldt of New York, and I class him as a genius, because he arranged or designed launches that had few serious accidents and because the power plants were novel and actually built at little expense.

"...

"After about ten years of success, the Gas Engine and Power Company was somewhat split up when Mr. Ofeldt, the genius of the concern, retired. It is said that the men who represented the capital of the company were a little hard on their genius, and capital is apt to be that way after it has got what it wants out of geniuses. However, Mr. Ofeldt designed a slightly different power plant called the Alco-Vapor engine, which burnt alcohol but in the boiler used water mixed with a small amount of alcohol—perhaps twenty percent—and as it was assumed that the engine ran on the vapor evaporated from the alcohol, the government allowed these power plants to be run by nonlicensed operators...."

I hope someday to get my hands on Roger Taylor's (another writer from the National Fisherman days with a shoreside trade last name, though not agricultural <g>) bio of L. F. Herreshoff. Pretty dear new. <sigh>:

https://smile.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0939511436/themotherofal-20

https://smile.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0939511444/themotherofal-20

Anything Francis Herrshoff wrote is worth reading:

Capt. Nat Herreshoff : The Wizard of Bristol (a bio of his dad)

The Compleat Cruiser

Sensible Cruising Designs (how to build articles)

An L. Francis Herreshoff Reader (collected articles)

And especially:

The Common Sense of Yacht Design

On 11/28/2020 7:10 AM, Pete L wrote:
Yes, he's the one...who commented on how so many of the NF writers had ag names...just read that passage in his wonderful book yesterday as your earlier comment has prompted me to reread the book. His chapter on John Atkin was really fantastic, as was the chapter on using lemon oil extract to sharpen tools...(laughing).
I will look back at the turn of the century Rudder magazines to see if I can find anything on naptha engines.
(time passes)
OK, using Control F search function against this website, you'll find a number of articles about naptha launches. The Rudder - Index (navalmarinearchive.com) <http://navalmarinearchive.com/collections/rudder_index_csv.html>;
I might have paper copies of a few of these should you be interested (I cold photograph them for you).
--
John <jkohnen@boat-links.com>I don't know whether it is horse sense or horse something else, but if they like it I know where there is a whole pile of it. (L. Francis Herreshoff to an editor when told that readers liked his "horse sense")
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