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HOW WE MADE GASOLINE

by Norris Chambers

You youngsters pull up a chair - it's time to reminisce again. This episode doesn't directly have to do with making money at home, but as one of our early philosophers said, "A penny saved is a penny earned." Since this operation saved money, it could, therefore, be classified as a money maker. And back in the isolated area where we lived, everything that made money was a homemade project. We were "dirt farmers" by the most literal translation of the term. In my early years I spent many hours following mules up and down the rows and milking the half Jersey cows that produced hereford-looking calves. We sold these little fellows for about $25.00 each at some stage in their development.

But as the years passed, we went modern and bought an old Fordson tractor. It had an engine much like a Model T, except it was bigger. It had a large cast iron radiator in front and a long wide fuel tank on top. This tank held kerosene, which burned nicely after the engine got hot. There was a small gasoline tank used for starting the engine. As cheap as fuel was in those days, it required an item that was extremely scarce - cash. So we did as many others in that part of the county did. We decided to make our own tractor fuel.


There were many oil wells in the area, and anyone who wanted oil felt free to help themselves. The price was so low that it barely paid the operators to pump it, and they didn't care if you took a few barrels for your own use. The process of making gasoline from oil was pretty well known among those in the area. It was quite simple. Heat the oil in an enclosed container, and condense the vapor by running it through a coolant.

My dad and I built a small dirt tank about a half mile from the house, and before making the dam we ran a 1" pipe through it. On the low side of the dam, we dug a hole large enough for a five gallon can. This is where the fuel would come out. Above the tank we placed a fifty-five gallon barrel on some rocks and fitted the pipe to the vent hole in the top. When it rained and filled our new tank, we were ready to start refining.

Two fifteen gallon barrels were filled with fresh oil and poured in the barrel. Then we started the fire about it. Before long fumes began to come out of the pipe below the dam, and shortly thereafter the gasoline began to run out in a small stream. The first that came out was very high in octane, and would evaporate from your finger as soon as you dipped it in the mixture. But as it continued to distill, it became less volatile. We found from experience that the first ten gallons that we got made good automobile fuel, and that the next six or eight gallons was composed of varying grades of kerosene. But all of it mixed together made excellent tractor fuel. After the first batch, we used the residue to fuel a fire for the next cooking. Because of the heat involved, we never made more than once a day.


This process continued for many months. I want to tell you about one time in particular. It was about three o'clock in the afternoon, and we had just fired up for the day's production. But today we had a vapor leak around the union that connected our cooling line to the barrel. Of course the vapor ignited, and started blowing a stream of flame down on the barrel... next page - The Explosion


Norris Chambers, March 1, 2004

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