What's new
What's new

Found in 1840s farm house basement - stone weight driven pump?

Richo

Plastic
Joined
Aug 6, 2022
Hi all. One of my friends is restoring an 1840s farm house and found a piece of mystery machinery in the basement. My guess so far is a falling weight drive that turns a shaft in a tank (water pump? The house had a cistern and has radiator heating). But the odd thing is that the shaft has a gear and chain that looks like it turns a geared shaft or valve? Mounted on a pipe extending from the foundation wall. The gears line up when the tank is pushed against the back wall. There is a female threaded opening on the end of the cylinder against the wall. There is a pipe extending from the top. The shaft in front has a spool of cable, a gear, and a wheel (crank?). A stone with a bunch of free spinning wheels attached was found 10 feet away. I am stumped. Any ideas? All help appreciated! Thanks.
 

Attachments

  • 3794C51D-18B0-47F8-9D5A-A8B872CD5E28.jpeg
    3794C51D-18B0-47F8-9D5A-A8B872CD5E28.jpeg
    29.5 KB · Views: 106
  • C0E6643B-7BC3-49CE-BCDB-1B0B8597D2E9.jpeg
    C0E6643B-7BC3-49CE-BCDB-1B0B8597D2E9.jpeg
    18.6 KB · Views: 106
  • AD84218C-BEF7-4464-9020-D2506CF810CF.jpeg
    AD84218C-BEF7-4464-9020-D2506CF810CF.jpeg
    31.8 KB · Views: 114
  • 3A58D924-9690-4DFA-A24E-46D359A0E59E.jpeg
    3A58D924-9690-4DFA-A24E-46D359A0E59E.jpeg
    19.3 KB · Views: 106
  • 97E8E687-8EF4-44C7-BD7B-00B890CDEBB6.jpeg
    97E8E687-8EF4-44C7-BD7B-00B890CDEBB6.jpeg
    30.1 KB · Views: 105
  • 86F6008E-F852-4944-92DD-4D4516232C70.jpeg
    86F6008E-F852-4944-92DD-4D4516232C70.jpeg
    27.2 KB · Views: 107

Scottl

Diamond
Joined
Nov 3, 2013
Location
Eastern Massachusetts, USA
Just a wild-assed guess but I wonder if the shaft is used to stir the tank. Could be almost anything but with a falling weight there would have to be something to offer resistance like blades in water so probably a pump or stirrer. The reason I suspect the latter is because a pitcher pump could easily extend from the first floor to the tank and they were AFAIK available in 1840s.
 

Scottl

Diamond
Joined
Nov 3, 2013
Location
Eastern Massachusetts, USA
Having second thoughts about it being for water. That tank looks remarkably like the ones range oil (kerosene) used to be stored in. My grandmother had a 40 gallon drum in the basement mounted on a similar stand. They would periodically go down and fill a galvanized pitcher to refill the small tank on the stove.

You mentioned radiator heating. Was there a kerosene or heating oil fueled boiler?
 

Richo

Plastic
Joined
Aug 6, 2022
Just a wild-assed guess but I wonder if the shaft is used to stir the tank. Could be almost anything but with a falling weight there would have to be something to offer resistance like blades in water so probably a pump or stirrer. The reason I suspect the latter is because a pitcher pump could easily extend from the first floor to the tank and they were AFAIK available in 1840s.
Thanks for replying. All WAGs welcomed! I am stumped… can’t figure out the chain connection to the gear coming through the old foundation… or what that connected to. Owners say house had two cisterns (claimed 16 feet deep but that is out of my area of knowledge altogether) .
 

Scottl

Diamond
Joined
Nov 3, 2013
Location
Eastern Massachusetts, USA
Thanks for replying. All WAGs welcomed! I am stumped… can’t figure out the chain connection to the gear coming through the old foundation… or what that connected to. Owners say house had two cisterns (claimed 16 feet deep but that is out of my area of knowledge altogether) .
My guess would be short length of chain connected to two cables, one for the crank/drum and the other for the weights.
Crank it up, let gravity spin it as the weights go down.
 

Joe Michaels

Diamond
Joined
Apr 3, 2004
Location
Shandaken, NY, USA
My WAG is as follows:
-the two round stones are weights, and there is a pulley mounted on the center bolt thru them.

-consider a grandfather clock and how the weights often use a pulley and double the line thru it. This lets the weight fall half the distance of line passing thru the pulley on the weight, and the pulley cuts load on the winding drum in half.

-the tank with the large sprocket wheel may have been a 'water brake' to control the speed of the falling stone weights.

-there should be a 'well' or deep hole in the basement floor into which those weights could descend.

-the weights would be 'wound up' by manually winding the cable up onto the winch drum, bringing the stone weights at or a little above basement floor level.

-when the brake (or possibly a 'dog') holding the winch drum was released, the weights wanted to fall back down the 'well' or hole.

-the combination of the pulley on the weights and the water brake limited the speed at which the cable could be unspooled from the drum when the weights were released .

-the sprocket wheel on the shaft coming out of the tank looks to have been salvaged from an old bicycle. Older bicycles often used sprockets with 'skipped' or widely spaced teeth.

-the sprocket wheel is on a shaft, and there should be a 'stuffing box' (an assembly to seal the shaft and prevent the water coming out of the tank along the shaft)
on the tee connected to the tank. The stuffing box will have a gland nut and packing (woven or braided fiber which may have once been impregnated with tallow and/or graphite). Same as the packing nut on old household radiator valves or other valves.

-inside the tank, the shaft likely has paddles radially around it. The falling weight turns the shaft, and the water provides considerable resistance to the paddles.
This is a form of 'governor'. Effective, though consuming a lot of the energy from the falling weights.

-the shaft on the winch drum likely drove something else, which was the main purpose of the whole system. Could have been a 'pump jack' which worked a piston pump taking suction from one of the cisterns. This piston pump might then have pumped water into a tank set high up in the house (attic being a likely location).
The tank set up high then provided water to the house taps using gravity head.

-I'd suggest looking around the basement for a deep hole or 'well' into which the weights could have descended. This hole may have been covered with a stone slab, so is not obvious.

-This system of falling weights pulling cable off a windlass or winch drum is a classic means of providing means to drive tower clocks and old lighthouse rotating lenses. The difference is the tower clocks and lighthouse lens drives often used a flyball type governor which worked a friction brake.

-In the OP's post, my guess is we are seeing a falling weight/windlass arrangement to drive something, and the simplest means of controlling speed was a 'water brake'. I'd suggest some careful inspection of the house for piping, a high water storage tank, and possibly a pump jack and well pump somewhere around the place. The pump used would have been a hand pump, not a 'pitcher pump', having a handlever to pump water manually. The 'pump jack' would be a shaft with a crank and connecting rod to work the pump handlever. The pump would have been mounted over a cistern, anchored to a flat stone cover slab, with a hole cut into it. The pump would have been mounted on the cover slab over this hole, suction pipe going down into the cistern. The pump discharge 'spout' on this type pump often has pipe threads, for connection to water supply piping. A pump jack normally has reduction gears and is designed to be run by a windmill or gasoline engine. The OP's system appears to be configured to turn very slowly, so there may never have been a ready made/geared pump jack. A home made pump jack consisting of a shaft with a crank arm and a wooden connecting rod would be likely. All or most of this equipment may well be long gone. The system appears home-made by someone who was ingenious and a good mechanic. It predates electricity, but uses screwed galvanized iron fittings and pipe, so was probably something cooked up in the later 19th-early 20th century. Inspection of the 'bicycle sprocket' on the paddle shaft will tell a lot. If the sprocket has a hole for a pin or boss on a bicycle pedal, and if the sprocket is welded or brazed to the shaft, this will tell a great deal as to age and origin of things.
 

Lester Bowman

Hot Rolled
Joined
Apr 9, 2011
Location
Modesto california USA
Good golly Molly... what a system to fill a cistern ! By the time a guy gets done winding the system he could have seemingly just as easy " worked the pump " so to speak. Joe's explanation seems perfectly plausible. I would imagine the pump is probably still in the well. Keep us informed what else you find related to this system.
 

Joe Michaels

Diamond
Joined
Apr 3, 2004
Location
Shandaken, NY, USA
Dalmatiangirl:

With no disrespect, the similarities between the tank in the OP's photos and the patent drawing of the acetylene generator seem superficial. The tank in the OP's drawing lacks features on the acetylene generator: no charging port/closure for loading in calcium carbide, no weighted safety valve or weighted pressure regulating valve, and the acetylene generator has a 'hopper bottom' with screw conveyor (likely to clean out the spent carbide slurry).

Your posting of the patent drawing has me studying it at length. Home/farm acetylene generators for lighting were common, but I had never seen one or even detailed drawings of one. I've seen welding acetylene generators, but these were always vertical units, usually with a glass chamber on top. Our synagogue building was built in 1920, in a small village in NY State. At the time, there was neither grid power, no running water, no inside plumbing and no central heat. I am 'the building committee", entrusted to look after the maintenance and upkeep of the building. I've been in this position for somewhere around twenty (20) years, so got familiar with the building. It is built to the plans for a simple country church, which was what the local builder knew. There are open heavy wood trusses supporting the roof. Over the years, the synagogue got electricity, town water, and inside plumbing. We even added Mitsubishi 'split system' HVAC a few years back. There is a small attic over the social area of the building, and I've been up there a few times. When I first went up to that attic, I found these old gas light fixtures with shades made like stained glass work, by soldering lead channel strips to hold the glass parts in place. These fixtures had gas jets in them. I was able to look at the roof trusses from the attic thru a ventilation louver and saw 1/2" screwed steel pipe run on the tops of the bottom chords of each truss, not visible from inside the synagogue. This was the gas distribution piping.
The only plausible source of illuminating gas would have been an acetylene generator, long gone and no one left alive who knew anything about it. I've wondered for the past 20 + years what an on-site acetylene generator for small buildings would have looked like. Thank you for posting the patent drawings.

Acetylene lights used a 'full rich' acetylene flame, no air mixer on the burners. Straight gas jets. Most of us have used oxyacetylene torches in one way or another for most of our working lives. We have all had the experience of cracking the acetylene valve and lighting a 'full rich flame' on a torch. Soot and soot particles are in the air, and the flame is luminous but little heat. When we babbitt bearings, I often 'smoke up' the mandrel or shaft using an oxyacetylene torch with the full rich flame to coat the mandrel or shaft with 'lampblack' (carbon soot). Knowing that from experience, I often wondered what kind of mess the acetylene lighting created, how often the jets had to be cleaned of accumulated carbon/soot and how often the lampshades or reflectors had to be cleaned, and how much black soot wound up on the ceilings.

Early automobiles and even motorcycles and bicycles used carbide/water acetylene generators or self-contained lamps. As a kid, I had a 'carbide bug'- a brass cap lamp that miners or spelunkers would use. The bottom container took some crushed carbide (aka "lamp grade carbide", in a green can from "Shawingan" or similar name). The top container filled with water. Open a small valve with graduated thumb tab and the water began trickling down into the carbide. A 'cigarette lighter' type spark igniter (knurled steel wheel and spring loaded lighter flint) was set in the reflector. The 'bug' threw a bright light and was a handy light if you had carbide and water.

About 1985, I was on a job and we had some 'pipeliners' (welders who had their own 'rig trucks' to weld field run piping) on the project. One older pipeliner told me he had been raised on a small family farm, and they had an acetylene generator for lighting. He recalled that the spent carbide/water was scooped out of the generator and used to whitewash the inside of their milking barn, milk house, and the bases of the trunks of all their fruit trees. I never asked him about how the generator was designed. He did say he did not like the job of mucking out the spent carbide slurry, recalling it stank.
 

dalmatiangirl61

Diamond
Joined
Jan 31, 2011
Location
BFE Nevada/San Marcos Tx
Dalmatiangirl:

With no disrespect, the similarities between the tank in the OP's photos and the patent drawing of the acetylene generator seem superficial. The tank in the OP's drawing lacks features on the acetylene generator: no charging port/closure for loading in calcium carbide, no weighted safety valve or weighted pressure regulating valve, and the acetylene generator has a 'hopper bottom' with screw conveyor (likely to clean out the spent carbide slurry).

Your posting of the patent drawing has me studying it at length. Home/farm acetylene generators for lighting were common, but I had never seen one or even detailed drawings of one. I've seen welding acetylene generators, but these were always vertical units, usually with a glass chamber on top. Our synagogue building was built in 1920, in a small village in NY State. At the time, there was neither grid power, no running water, no inside plumbing and no central heat. I am 'the building committee", entrusted to look after the maintenance and upkeep of the building. I've been in this position for somewhere around twenty (20) years, so got familiar with the building. It is built to the plans for a simple country church, which was what the local builder knew. There are open heavy wood trusses supporting the roof. Over the years, the synagogue got electricity, town water, and inside plumbing. We even added Mitsubishi 'split system' HVAC a few years back. There is a small attic over the social area of the building, and I've been up there a few times. When I first went up to that attic, I found these old gas light fixtures with shades made like stained glass work, by soldering lead channel strips to hold the glass parts in place. These fixtures had gas jets in them. I was able to look at the roof trusses from the attic thru a ventilation louver and saw 1/2" screwed steel pipe run on the tops of the bottom chords of each truss, not visible from inside the synagogue. This was the gas distribution piping.
The only plausible source of illuminating gas would have been an acetylene generator, long gone and no one left alive who knew anything about it. I've wondered for the past 20 + years what an on-site acetylene generator for small buildings would have looked like. Thank you for posting the patent drawings.

Acetylene lights used a 'full rich' acetylene flame, no air mixer on the burners. Straight gas jets. Most of us have used oxyacetylene torches in one way or another for most of our working lives. We have all had the experience of cracking the acetylene valve and lighting a 'full rich flame' on a torch. Soot and soot particles are in the air, and the flame is luminous but little heat. When we babbitt bearings, I often 'smoke up' the mandrel or shaft using an oxyacetylene torch with the full rich flame to coat the mandrel or shaft with 'lampblack' (carbon soot). Knowing that from experience, I often wondered what kind of mess the acetylene lighting created, how often the jets had to be cleaned of accumulated carbon/soot and how often the lampshades or reflectors had to be cleaned, and how much black soot wound up on the ceilings.

Early automobiles and even motorcycles and bicycles used carbide/water acetylene generators or self-contained lamps. As a kid, I had a 'carbide bug'- a brass cap lamp that miners or spelunkers would use. The bottom container took some crushed carbide (aka "lamp grade carbide", in a green can from "Shawingan" or similar name). The top container filled with water. Open a small valve with graduated thumb tab and the water began trickling down into the carbide. A 'cigarette lighter' type spark igniter (knurled steel wheel and spring loaded lighter flint) was set in the reflector. The 'bug' threw a bright light and was a handy light if you had carbide and water.

About 1985, I was on a job and we had some 'pipeliners' (welders who had their own 'rig trucks' to weld field run piping) on the project. One older pipeliner told me he had been raised on a small family farm, and they had an acetylene generator for lighting. He recalled that the spent carbide/water was scooped out of the generator and used to whitewash the inside of their milking barn, milk house, and the bases of the trunks of all their fruit trees. I never asked him about how the generator was designed. He did say he did not like the job of mucking out the spent carbide slurry, recalling it stank.
I've only seen 2 of them in real life, both were the horizontal type, and neither exactly matched the patent drawings, or the pictured tank in first photo. External bits and pieces could have easily been repurposed or discarded in the last 150 years, we need more pics of it to see if there are any loading/unloading ports. We've given the OP a few things to look for, hopefully he can respond with more info.

There was a really cool ornate one on ebay 10-15 years ago, it was so cool I wanted it for decoration in my home, price was right, it was far away, and I ultimately decided against it because of the floor space it would consume. IIRC it was weight powered, only instead of cables it had chains.

Edit: My only experience with carbide was as a child with a toy cannon, I remember the leftover water was white and had a special kind of stink, maybe rotten eggs?
 
Last edited:

enginebill

Stainless
Joined
Feb 17, 2005
Location
Plymouth Meeting PA
It is not an acetylene generating system but it is for gas lighting. It is a gasoline lighting system. What you have in the basement is the air pump. The weight would rotate the drum with water in it like a clock work. The drum would pump air through the gasoline vapor tank, usually buried in the ground, picking up the vapor from the gasoline and then to the lamps in the house.

 

Joe Michaels

Diamond
Joined
Apr 3, 2004
Location
Shandaken, NY, USA
This thread is evolving into something quite interesting. The gasoline vapor lighting system is a new one for me to learn about. In reading the article about the gasoline lighting system, the two inventors were named Gilbert & Barker. They evidently went on to develop handling/metering/dispensing equipment for gasoline. Many older gasoline pumps were made by Gilbert-Barker and later "Gilbarco", a name which still survives.

Up until now, the only 'gasoline lighting' I kbnew of, and use to this day, are the liquid-fueled Coleman lanterns. We always have a few Coleman gasoline lanterns handy, hanging on hooks in the garage. Before we installed a hard-wired auto start generator, we relied on the 'Colemans' when we had power outages. Outages are a fairly regular occurance where we live, and we used to use an engine driven Lincoln welder as the standby generator. Of course, outages happen more often than not on stormy nights. I'd find my way in the dark to the Coleman lanterns in the garage, grab one off the hook, and light a kitchen match. We kept the 'Colemans' fueled, cleaned, good mantles in them and pumped up. Get a Coleman lit, horse the Lincoln welder out of the garage, go into the basement, open the main breaker to disconnect the house from incoming grid power, back up to the garage to hook up the welder and backfeed the service panel. We kept the Coleman lanterns handy and depended on them for quite a few years, Great light, and no batteries to go flat or leak. I used to buy the Coleman lanterns for 50 cents or a buck at yard sales as modern people do not want to mess with them. I found two of them by the roadside on metal pickup days. One Coleman I have is a US Army Issue lantern. OD color, and an extra 'filler cap' on the tank. This cap accesses a tubular spare parts compartment. The guy I bought it from said he'd used it during his time at Fort Sill, when on field maneuvers and living in a tent. He took it home from the Army, never used it, and sold it to me for a buck. Nice collectable GI lantern. I use "Coleman fuel" in the lanterns. I think that is something like 'naptha'. Supposedly, a Coleman lantern or stove will run on unleaded gasoline. The mantles are based on a patent by Wellsbach, and become incandescent, throwing a good bright light. I imagine the gasoline generator lighting systems used mantles. The acetylene lighting seems like it could not utilize mantles, too sooty and too cold a flame. I think the gasoline vapor lighting system was used in some railroad passenger coaches. I've read accounts of railroad passenger train accidents in which the gasoline lighting system was mentioned as a contributing cause to loss of life. I never, until this thread, knew anything about the gasoline lighting systems such as the Gilbert-Barker generator. In the event of collisions or other accidents, the wooden coaches and the gasoline lighting systems would result in infernos and many passengers burned to death.
 

dalmatiangirl61

Diamond
Joined
Jan 31, 2011
Location
BFE Nevada/San Marcos Tx
Joe
Thanks, I'm familiar with the Gilbarco name, but did not make the connection with Gilbert and Barker. We used Coleman lanterns quite a bit when I was young, great for general camping, and the best light you could get for floundering on the Texas coast. Still have a few in my collection of camping gear, including a still in the box unused military surplus one that specifies it is for unleaded gasoline only.
 

jim rozen

Diamond
Joined
Feb 26, 2004
Location
peekskill, NY
CRT phospors were basically willimite, mined right out of the ground in NJ originally. (zinc orthosilicate) The green P1 phoshor, that is. Lantern mantles used cerium and thorium oxides, cool stuff:


Carbide lamps, a lot of fun. Can be used to set your buddies feet on fire when caving, if they're in front of you. One of these is a bicycle lamp. The miner's lamps use a single fine ceramic orifice to form a single jet of gas, that has incandescent carbon particles in it. The carbon combusts completely - there's zero soot deposited in normal operation. The bicycle lamp has two opposed orifices which form two intersecting, opposed gas streams forming a wide, fan-shaped flame.

carbide_lamps.jpg


Our house in peekskill was originally illuminated by 'city gas' and still has the 1/2 inch galvanized piping in the walls. The original electric lamp fixtures were screwed to the gas nipples on the walls in most of the rooms.

(also: notice the strikers om the two Justrite lamps - one cups one's hand over the reflector, trapping the gas for a bit, and then operate the striker with your palm, sliding off to the side. Done correctly the lamp flame ignites with a satisfying POP and if one waits too long the pop is somewhat louder!)
 
Last edited:

JST

Diamond
Joined
Jun 16, 2001
Location
St Louis
My great-great aunts had a gasoline light system, per my father's info. Air bubbled through a barrel of gasoline, and piped to the lamps in a manner similar to gas. Back well prior to 1900, of course.

Gasoline from Standard Oil, of course, complete with all the dirty trickery and so forth that you have heard of, as the barrels were shipped rail.

The system was not quite so bad as it seems, the air was too saturated with vapor to be explosive, it just burned like gas. While some had the barrel in the basement, others had a shed out back for it, which seems much safer to me.

However, the system seems to have "just worked", and was relatively common.

I wondered if the stuff shown was not in some way connected with that, but had no info to go on as to what the parts of the system looked like.

As for gas, I lived in a house from 1902 which was still "wired for gas". it was built for the 1904 fair, apparently for a supervisor of construction or some such. The electric may have been pulled through the old pipes originally, apparently that was done sometimes, but when I rented the place, the pipes were just sawed off in the basement, no wires visible. Some of the fittings for gas lamps still existed.

The gasoline system would have been similar.
 

jim rozen

Diamond
Joined
Feb 26, 2004
Location
peekskill, NY
Our house was 1895 when piped for city gas. Before natural gas was used, city gas was made by injecting steam into retorts containing coke. After a bit of scrubbing the resulting mix of methane and CO was sent into houses. The gasoline approach was probably safer....
 

jim rozen

Diamond
Joined
Feb 26, 2004
Location
peekskill, NY
"only "recquisition paperwork" required was an EMPTY CYLINDER!"

How did the plant build up the 400 psi to refill the dissolved acetone cyllinders? Compressor of some type?
 

enginebill

Stainless
Joined
Feb 17, 2005
Location
Plymouth Meeting PA
Those existed.

"Plumbing" for many was a tiny, easily pulled, soft-drawn Copper tube that wasn't even as large in diameter as insulated electrical wire.

DANGEROUS system would be a gross understatement, so few survived.

The item in this thread is not of that tribe.

At all. One did not "stir" gasoline. Nor mechanically pump it's vapours. No need.
BAD idea, even!

Pressurized, yes. Same as our 1920's vintage 2-burner "white gasoline" camp stove - or "pressure" lanterns.

:D
It is hard to understand what you are talking about but if you are saying that I am wrong, I say that you are wrong and the OP of this thread probably has a Tirrill Equalizing Gas Machine lighting system like the one that we have at the Rough and Tumble Engineers Historical Association museum.

Air certainly was pumped over the tank full of gasoline to pick up its vapors and was very safe. It was safe enough for the company to have been selling the system from 1869 to the 1920's.

This system is nothing like camp stoves or Coleman lanterns. It operated at only about an inch of water column pressure.




IMG_4432.1.JPG
 

Greg Menke

Diamond
Joined
Feb 22, 2004
Location
Baltimore, MD, USA
Acetylene lights used a 'full rich' acetylene flame, no air mixer on the burners. Straight gas jets. Most of us have used oxyacetylene torches in one way or another for most of our working lives. We have all had the experience of cracking the acetylene valve and lighting a 'full rich flame' on a torch. Soot and soot particles are in the air, and the flame is luminous but little heat. When we babbitt bearings, I often 'smoke up' the mandrel or shaft using an oxyacetylene torch with the full rich flame to coat the mandrel or shaft with 'lampblack' (carbon soot). Knowing that from experience, I often wondered what kind of mess the acetylene lighting created, how often the jets had to be cleaned of accumulated carbon/soot and how often the lampshades or reflectors had to be cleaned, and how much black soot wound up on the ceilings.

A while ago I had occasion to use a single tank acetylene torch- just the torch and one hose; the flame was fairly low pressure and approximately neutral, and bright- at the very least it didn't generate noticable soot. I supposed the torch was vented sufficiently to draw in enough air to get good combustion or perhaps the lower pressure/flow exposed the gas to enough air for good burning.

It was quite handy- used it to temper a few parts so I could cut them. Might do for brazing small parts, or at least silver solder- since the flame was comparatively mild compared an oxy setup.

A few years ago I bought a steam rad from a guy who was gas lighting fiend- he had an early 1900's Baltimore rowhouse- a gorgeous place with a turret; which still had some of the original gas plumbing intact, along with the living room's old hybrid gas/electric chandelier still in place. He didn't have gas running to it but oh man I lusted after that old light. He had one of the last Baltimore gas streetlights set up and operating in his yard, plumbed from the house. The place was packed to the gills with gas lighting hardware and paraphernalia.
 








 
Top