Off-grid in 1911

This is a letter to the editor of “The Model Engineer and Electrician” which appeared on 29-Jun-1911.  It is in two parts, the first gives a description of the use of engines in farming and the second is a discussion of the use of lead-acid accumulators to provide domestic lighting.  I’ve edited the text slightly and illustrated it with adverts taken from the same magazine.

The prices in the adverts are in “old money” i.e. pound, shillings and pence.  One pound in 1911 is very roughly the equivalent of £95 today.  The output of bulbs described in the adverts is given in candle power, this is not directly comparable with the lumen used today, but a very rough comparison might be that 1 candle power is equivalent to 10 lumens (this is a guess).

The business of up-to-date farming needs, in addition to much other knowledge, a good general knowledge of engineering and mechanics. Labour saving machinery is continually being introduced on the farm, and the success or failure of this machinery is largely dependent on the way it is looked after. To illustrate the usefulness of model engineering, I may say, as a practical farmer, that the number of times that serious loss of time has occurred through the breakdown of machinery would have been a very small one had I practised model engineering as a hobby in my younger days.  Such simple things may hinder a gang of men at harvest time, such as the thread worn from a pin, the breaking of a spring; and this when delay may mean the loss of a crop.

The cost of this generator set in today’s money is roughly £1,250.  The text states that it will run on either petrol or gas

Years ago farmers used to do all their chaff-cutting, root-pulping, etc., by hand and used to send their corn to the local mill to be ground. Now, all up-to-date farmers have an oil engine, motor engine or steam engine to do the work and the latest idea is to have an engine which will do all the pulping, grinding, etc., threshing, and haul the implements on the land. Trials were held last year by the R. A.S.E. to test such motors, and to the surprise of many, a steam engine won. The ordinary oil engine is generally used on farms; but the petrol motor engine being largely offered the market.  In my own case, I use a motor engine, one that starts on petrol and works on paraffin, and I think this is the type that will be the greater favourite, because duty-free petrol at 11d (approx. £1.00/litre). is much dearer than paraffin at 4d (approx. £0.35/litre).   I am afraid, however, that as long as motor engines are electrically ignited, they will never be so popular with the farmer as the ordinary oil engines, which have not accumulators to run down, plugs to soot up, contact-makers to get worn, and the other little troubles with which the busy farmer would perhaps soon get out of patience.

 Personally, however, I would not exchange my little motor engine of  3 to 4 bhp for the best ordinary oil engine. It is so easily started, and can be used if only a bushel of corn or a bag of chaff is wanted. It is on wheels, we keep it in the barn in the winter and in a sort of workshop close to the house in the summer time, where we saw wood for fires, also for making any rough articles which may be required. Whilst the engine is doing this work, from a second pulley a small dynamo is driven which charges several 4-volt accumulators which are used for lighting parts of the house and buildings.

These lights are very handy indeed, in fact, I have been so impressed with this 4-volt lighting that I am thinking of putting it all over the house. In the stables it is particularly useful.  as we find a small 2 or 4 c.-p. lamp is ample for a 3-stall stable; in fact, it gives a much better light than a lantern with a smoked globe.  About the house, too, In the pantry, cellar, dairy, bathroom, back-kitchen, etc., a 2 or 4 c.-p. gives ample light for the purpose for which it is required. In small bedrooms, too, it is ample for a man; but, needless to say, a lady would require an additional light at the looking-glass.

 What I like about 4-volt lighting is that I can do the wiring myself, and feel pretty safe a fire won’t be caused, though I am aware a short circuit close to an accumulator would possibly cause a fire if no fuse was in circuit.  Another thing is that it is easy to get 4-volt portable accumulators.   Then, if I went in for 25-volt lighting, It would all have to be done from one stationary battery, and it would be a big business laying the wires under roadways, etc. and cost a good deal. As It I have one accumulator for bedrooms, etc. another for pantry, etc. another for stables, and another for cow houses etc. It hinders, rather, connecting up for charging and redistributing the accumulators again; but It is very little trouble when done regularly.
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About SolarBucket

I trained as a mechanical engineer in the 1970's and then spent most of the following 25 years doing sums and software for Oil and Gas Exploration. Current interests are the study of wind and solar resources.
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One Response to Off-grid in 1911

  1. Pingback: Off-grid in 1911 | solarbucket – WORLD ORGANIC NEWS

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