Don't forget to check out the chapter on Mystery Engines.
Enjoy! - Jeff Napier, author
Look at the cool way they have two flat belts on the flywheel, each powering one generator.
Back in the day, this would have been a fantastic machine. All you'd need to do is load it up with wood and water, build a fire, and wrap a flat belt around the pulley on the shaft opposite the flywheel. The belt could turn a sawmill, grain separator, water well, whatever you needed. The machine was probably built just a short time before tractors. People hadn't quite figured out that a steam engine could also propel itself. You'll see that this machine doesn't have any power mechanism going to the wheels, and it attachment points up front so it could be pulled to where it was needed by horses. In a few short years they did figure out how to make self-propelled steam engines. In time they evolved into machines that could harvest crops, move earth and do all sorts of tasks, such as smoothing new pavement.
Look at the steering mechanism on that machine! Pretty silly to use a chain by today's standards, but at the speeds this thing ran, it probably worked just fine.
The triple-expansion steam engine accepted very hot steam into the smallest cylinder, where the engine developed the most power. The steam was then piped into the middle cylinder taking advantage of some of the kinetic energy in the slightly cooler steam. Finally, the large cylinder used what energy could still be harvested.
The above picture is a double-expansion engine, not too different from the single-cylinder model used in the African Queen. The flywheel, which would have been quite large, is not included with the engine in the picture.
This stationary single-cylinder two-stroke engine dates back to the early 1900s. These turned so slowly that the exhaust system did not require a muffler. They were fairly quite because the exhaust port did not pop open, but slid open letting the exhaust gas out slowly, and therefore quietly. Most of these engines had a governor to regulate the speed. Because the flywheels were so heavy, when idling, only one out of several cycles would fire, so the sound they made was an enjoyable "pop, clink, clink, clink, pop, clink, clink, clink, clink, pop" and so on. The idling speed no more than 300 RPM.
That big tank you see on the left is the radiator.
You may be familiar with four-stroke engines, in which you get one power stroke for every two turns of the crankshaft. First, as the piston goes down, air-fuel mix is drawn in through an intake valve. The valve closes as the piston starts to move up, compressing the mix. Just before the piston reaches the top, a spark plug ignites the mix - or in the case of a diesel engine, the mix ignites automatically due to ambient heat caused by compression. This pushes the piston down - the power stroke. The fourth stroke is the return of the piston to the top, during which the exhaust gas is pushed out an exhaust port.
The typical gasoline two-stroke engine is simpler. An intake valve lets air into the crankcase drawn by the suction created when the piston is moving up. At the top of the stroke, the air-fuel mix is ignited, driving the piston down. When the piston gets near the bottom, it uncovers ports in the sides of the cylinder. One port lets the exhaust out. A port on the other side of the cylinder is a passageway from the crankcase, letting another charge of air-fuel mix into the cylinder.
Two-stroke engines present a couple of problems, but also have some advantages. Because the crankcase is used to transport air, it is not practical to fill it with oil to lubricate the crankshaft, connecting rod and cylinder wall. With many two-stroke engines, oil is mixed into the incoming air to provide lubrication. This little bit of oil is burned, which typically causes heavy, visible pollution. On the other hand, a two-stroke engine does not need to have timed valves at the top of the cylinder, so can be made lighter in weight and has fewer moving parts.
This is the first diesel engine built in 1897 by Rudolf Diesel himself. The size of the flywheel compared to the cylinder is remarkable, isn't it. This must have turned quite slowly.
The above picture is a gasoline engine on a wagon that was used to pump water to put out fires.
The largest part of the engine is a tank that was filled with water or oil for cooling. If filled with water, you had to be sure to keep it filled, since if it all evaporated, your engine would overheat. If filled with oil, it had less cooling effect since oil doesn't evaporate like water, so the heat had to be carried away by radiation only. This kind of engine was most often used for pumping water and sometimes for generating electricity. It was called a "hit and miss" engine, because when idling, it would turn as many as twenty revolutions between firings.
This tractor, built in 1951, is one of many similar two-cylinder models built by John Deere from 1923 until approximately 1958. These had large flywheels and ran at low RPMs. You could hear each individual mellow exhaust pop even running at full speed, which led to them being colloquially called "Johnny Poppers."
Many of the earliest Johnny Poppers were started by turning the flywheel by hand. The farmer would grip the flywheel and slowly turn it to bring the engine through an intake stroke, then quickly run it through a compression stroke and let go, hoping that the single firing would set the engine in motion. Later, they came equipped with electric starting motors.
Models were available that used gasoline, diesel or 'distillate,' which was kerosene, vegetable oil, or any sort of liquid that would burn, according to who you asked.
At first, most of the John Deere tractors were tricycle configuration. With one or two front wheels close to the middle, they were accident-prone. Later versions had the front wheels wider apart so the tractors wouldn't be as easy to tip over.
Thousands of these two-cylinder tractors are still running to this day.
image by dave_7
For a while, Mazda was enamored of "rotary," also known as "wankel" engines. Invented in Germany by Felix Wankel, these use a sliding three-lobed rotor that runs through a two-lobed space, called an epitrochoid, alternately squeezing and expanding volumes of space. The advantages are that it can be a lightweight design and runs very smoothly. Many people were interested in developing this engine commercially, including General Motors, which paid $50 million for the rights, and never built any prototypes that worked right. The problem was the seals at the apexes of the rotor. They did not last long enough. Finally, Mazda figured it out, turning out engines that would run 100,000 miles or more without needing overhaul. The Mazda engine has two rotors and chambers. Rumor has it that the engine ran so smoothly, one could stand a coin on edge on an idling engine.
This engine in the preceding picture started out to be an ordinary American V8 car engine. The cost of an engine modified to this extent may exceed the cost of an entire new car. This is also particularly tall. It appears to be around sixty inches, or five feet (1.5 meters) tall. A driver would not be able to see to the right in any ordinary car since the view would be obscured by the scoop, dual carburetors and supercharger.
Tatra is a car by a manufacturer you've probably never heard of: Tatra. Their 603 line was made in Czechoslovakia between 1956 and 1975. The 2,5 liter engine is mounted in the rear, and is air-cooled with eight cylinders, very much like the six-cylinder Corvair of nearly the same years.
The Chevrolet Corvair engine. Talk about 'junk in your trunk.' Look how that thing is shoehorned in there! The middle cylinders had a tendency to overheat. The Corvairs were made between 1959 and 1969. Do you suppose the Chevy engineers knew about the Tatra?
The Smart Car, or officially "Smart Automobile" is distributed in America with a 1.0 liter, 70 horsepower engine. The estimated gas mileage is 34/38 mpg. In some other countries, it can be had with an 800 cc diesel engine that gets much better gas mileage. The company is soon to come out with what they call a "hybrid," that will actually be an all-electric car. 2,100 early adopter prototypes are already running around in London. They have a range of 84 miles (135 km).
Do you know the difference between a turbocharger and a supercharger? The super charger is driven by a belt, chain or gears from the rotation of the engine. A turbo charger has two fans or turbines. One is turned by the force of the exhaust leaving the engine. The other compresses the air.
The Stirling engine, which is an external combustion engine, has been one of the most popular engines in literature about fuel economy and do-it-yourself engines for the past forty years or so. This is an engine that typically has a double-acting cylinder that utilizes temperature differential to expand and contract a gas. It doesn't take very much variation in temperature for it to work. So, it's big advantage is that you can get temperature differential in a wide variety of ways ranging from using surface plus deep ocean water, atmospheric conditions, and of course heat sources, such as burning fossil fuels.
The Stirling engine is so common that you may have oned one at one time. It takes the form of the "Drinking Happy Bird," also known as the "Dippy Bird," and "Lucky Bird," a fun little desk toy invented by Eddie Albert, a movie and television actor from the 1940s through 1980s. He was probably best known for the lead role in the TV series Green Acres, as attorney-turned-farmer Oliver Wendell Douglass. The Lucky Bird may not look like an engine to you, but as you watch it dip its beak into a glass of water hour after hour, imagine a bigger version, with a connecting rod and flywheel attached. The temperature differential for the Lucky Bird comes from the evaporation of water from the bird's cloth beak. The beak is therefore cooler than the rest of the engine. . . I mean, bird. Eddie Albert was an environmental activist, interested in things like organic farming, and reducing pollution and waste. It would be no surprise that he would have heard about the Stirling engine as a way of reducing dependence on fossil fuels, and that knowledge may have led to his whimsical invention. By the way, the interest in organic food, and perhaps simpler living, must have been good for him. He died after living 99 years, in 2005.
You may be interested in exactly how this version of a Stirling engine works. No doubt you have a technical mind, being interested in a book about engines, after all. So here you go:
You start this engine by wetting the bird's beak. The water evaporates, causing the beak to be cooler than the rest of the bird. The neck and head of the bird is filled with a gas that expands and contracts quite a bit in changing temperatures. As the gas contracts, it sucks liquid from the bottom of the bird into the neck, until the bird becomes sufficiently top heavy to lean forward and take another drink, thereby keeping the beak wet. As soon as the bird tips forward, the vacuum seal in the neck tube is broken, allowing the liquid to run back to the bottom, and causing the bird to tip up and start rocking again.
If you were to set your lucky bird in a spot where the sun shines on his bottom, but not his head, he would probably would become hyperactive in some sort of bird-like way.
Spacecraft of the future are likely to use ion plasma engines.
Caption from the source webpage:
The ion propulsion system (IPS), provided by NSTAR (NASA SEP Technology Application Readiness), uses a hollow cathode to produce electrons to collisionally ionize xenon. The Xe+ is electrostatically accelerated through a potential of up to 1280 V and emitted from the 30-cm thruster through a molybdenum grid. A separate electron beam is emitted to produce a neutral plasma beam. The power processing unit (PPU) of the IPS can accept as much as 2.5 kW, corresponding to a peak thruster operating power of 2.3 kW and a thrust of 92 mN. Throttling is achieved by balancing thruster and Xe feed system parameters at lower power levels, and at the lowest thruster power, 500 W, the thrust is 20 mN. The specific impulse decreases from 3100 s at high power to 1900 s at the minimum throttle level.
This Atkinson engine has strange linkage that causes the piston to move up and down twice for each turn of the flywheel. Furthermore, it can be designed so the stroke of the piston doesn't have to be the same length in the compression/combustion stroke as for the exhaust/intake stroke, and so has the possibility of greater fuel efficiency. Toyota calls their Prius and Camry Hybrid engines "Atkinson-cycle" engines, but in reality they aren't as weird as this. The Toyota engines just vary the valve timing at different RPMs and loads for greater efficiency.
Can you believe it? The US government, as well as other countries, seriously considered making nuclear-powered aircraft! This prototype was for a bomber. The problem was shielding. In order to shield the engine sufficiently to keep the pilot alive, the airplane would weigh too much.
As used in the locomotive shown in the photo below. The generator is included in the picture.
As you probably know, train locomotives have diesel engines that drive generators. The generators power electric motors in the wheel assemblies. So, there is no transmission or driveshaft making application of great torque over a wide range of speeds more efficient.
Until recently, locomotives had one large diesel engine in each locomotive. Now, many designers and retrofitters are putting multiple, typically three, mid-size engine/generator sets in each locomotive. It is easy to compound the power from several engines, since they produce DC electricity instead of directly driving the wheels. Smaller engines are cheaper to produce, and maintenance is a snap. Just remove an engine or and pop a new one in its place.
When you look at a locomotive service manual, you may be surprised to discover that most of the information is about lifting equipment, since most parts weigh more than a human can carry. For instance, on the General Electric (GE) sixteen-cylinder 10,000 horsepower engine, the crankshaft weights two tons, each piston is 395 pounds (175 kg), and even a wrist pin is 35 pounds (16 kg).
Several US WWII submarines were equipped with these weird Fairbanks-Morse engines including the Pampanito, which is docked as a museum in San Francisco. The sub had four of these, two in each engine room. They are two-stroke ten-cylinder diesel engines. But what's weird is that each engine had two crankshafts and twenty pistons. One crank was at the top, and the other at the bottom. The pistons came together in the middle of each cylinder for high compression without the need for as much piston movement. These turned out to be very reliable engines.
This submarine was built in Italy 1926 for Romania, several years after WWI ended, but well before the beginning of WWII. It served nine cautious patrols during the war. The Romanians were very careful with this submarine, because it was the only one they had. It had two of these Krupp engines. With a length of 223 feet (68 meters), a 19-foot beam (5.9 meters), and a surface displacement of 650 tons, it had a top surface speed of 14 knots (26 km/h; 16 mph), a submerged speed of 9 knots (17 km/h; 10 mph), and could go 2,000 nautical miles (3,704 km; 2,302 mi) before refueling. It carried forty men. This was retrofitted with a snorkel, so it could hide just under the surface of the water yet keep the engines running. Depending on lead-acid batteries severely limited the time the submarine could be completely submerged and the distance it could cover, as was the case with all submarines of the era. The Soviet Union took over this submarine in August 1944, returning it many years later in rough condition. The Romanians had new submarines by then, so they never put the Delfinul back out to sea.
This was a 42-cylinder diesel engine developing 4,000 horsepower used to power Russian battleships, Average fuel consumption was supposedly 179 gallons (680 liters) per hour.
The Double Mamba was an early 3,000-horsepower turboprop jet engine developed just after World War II. This was two engines in one, with the capability of shutting down one side for better fuel consumption.
The Double Mamba was mostly used for the British Fairay Gannet, an anti-submarine war plane. You can't really tell by looking at the picture, but this has two propellers, one in front of the other. They spin in opposite directions. The engine was also used in some Westwind Whirlwind helicopters.
Look at all those cylinders!
This 800-horse supercharged seven-cylinder supercharged radial engine was used in helicopters and airplanes. Designed in 1942, the first flight wasn't until 1949.
This engine, small enough to fit in a tablespoon, is a two-stroke diesel. It must be terribly loud. Look how the exhaust ports just vent to the outside world without any sort of muffler.
This diesel engine, probably most often used in marine applications, or for portable electric generation, is four times larger than a large automobile engine.
Notice that the above motorcycle uses a shaft drive rather than a chain.
This Napier Deltic is certainly a weird engine. Here is a description from Wikipedia:
"The Napier Deltic engine is a British opposed-piston valveless, two-stroke Diesel engine used in marine and locomotive applications, designed and produced by Napier & Son. The cylinders were divided in three blocks in a triangular arrangement, the blocks forming sides with crankshafts located in each apex of the triangle."
I found this fascinating little illustration in Wikimedia Commons. When following the link back and googling around for the inventor, all I came up with keeps this a mystery. The inventor is evidently Wolfhart Willimczik, shown below. On his Wikimedia Commons accreditation page, he surprised my by saying this:
"The communists are trying to erase any trace of me and my inventions - first at the German Wikipedia, than in the US-Wikipedia, than a try at commons and right now in October 2010 they killed my entire website, but I am coming back at www.InventorWolfhart.com--InventorWolfhart (talk) 01:46, 18 October 2010 (UTC)"
If you find connpiracy theories fascinating then here you go:
He also has a small presence on YouTube:
Your author thinks part of what's going on here may be a hoax. When you look at this page, it appears to be legitimate mechanical inventions from a company called Wolfhart Industries. Is it possible that they've invented some pump designs that are alternative, and perhaps slight improvements over current pumps, but nothing more? Given that, someone could pretend to be our Mr. Willimczik, posting little mysterious bits here and there about engines, which in reality are just unusual pump configurations.
My first was a 1971 Land Rover 88. "88" is the wheelbase, the measurement from axle to axle. They also made a "109" with five doors. This had a fairly normal gasoline four-stroke, four-cylinder engine except for one thing: It was over-square. This means that the stroke was longer than the width of the cylinders, unusual in modern automotive design. An over-square engine will develop good torque over a wider range of speed, but struggles with high speeds. To make matters worse, this car was geared low since Land Rovers have been pressed into a huge variety of services. Land Rovers actually have a power take-off option like farm tractors. They have been used to mow lawns and harvest crops, as tow trucks, fire trucks, wildlife rescue vehicles, and for military purposes. Being geared low, with the over-square engine, the fastest this thing could go was around 62 miles per hour (100 kph). At that, the engine was screaming at 4,500 RPM, which for this over-square 2.5-liter engine was just too much. At 44,000 miles (70,800 km) on the odometer, it started burning oil.
The Land Rover had some other idiosyncrasies by today's standards. Besides no power steering, a very stiff clutch pedal, and no air conditioning, only third and fourth gears were synchronized. In order to shift up or down into second, it had to be double-clutched. This is a technique in which you shift into neutral, let out the clutch momentarily to get the gears on the input side of the transmission spinning at the same speed as the output gears, so you can then press the clutch in again, and get the new gear to mesh smoothly. To downshift, meaning to get the input side gears spinning fast enough to match the output gears, you rev up the engine while in neutral. With just a bit of practice, it becomes second nature. Double-clutching on normal automobiles hasn't been required for fifty years although many big trucks still require this technique. In time, truck drivers get so good at matching gear speeds, they don't use the clutch except when starting out from a dead stop.
This Land Rover had an aluminum body, so it had twice as many wires. In a normal steel car, for every item that uses electricity, you run one wire, usually carrying positive voltage. The return circuit is through the metal. But on an aluminum body you get an effect called electrolytic action where dissimilar metals join. The electrons where a steel component is screwed to the aluminum body trade orbits, which promotes corrosion. Without running ground wires to all the equipment in the car, the area around all the lights and other equipment would rot away. This was evident in a couple of places where the ground wires had become detached, but unnoticed until the corrosion started to become visible.
In 1971, British Leyland, the people who made the Land Rovers, changed their metalurical formula for their steel shafts, gears and other load-carrying components. Unfortunately, they got it wrong. During the 44,000 miles that I owned that car, it broke a transmission jackshaft, clutch master cylinder spring, and rear axles twice,
I'll admit I drove it hard. Hard enough to break mirrors off the sides seven times, but without denting the bodywork.
When the jackshaft broke, I found I couldn't get another one right away. It had to be special ordered. So, I reassembled the transmission without the jackshaft, and just drove around in 4th gear all the time. That's not as bad as it seems, because I was able to use the transfer case to shift from low to high. Of course it had no reverse. But worse, I didn't realize the jackshaft was necessary to throw oil up onto the main shaft. The third/fourth shifting fork rode on a plate-like projection that warped due to overheating, so the shifter started vibrating like crazy. I ended up replacing the entire transmission.
One time when I started the engine, the starter motor didn't disengage. I figured if I revved the engine up, it would cause the starter bendix mechanism to withdraw the pinion gear. Instead, it threw the windings off the armature, jamming the starter motor, and stalling the engine. I had to climb under the Land Rover and remove the starter. You may be wondering how I then got the engine to start. If I had a hill, I could have rolled down the hill and let out the clutch. But it was easier than that. This car came equipped with a starter crank. It was normally clipped in behind the seats. I removed the crank, slipped it through an opening in the bumper, and crank started the engine, just like a 1909 Ford Model T. Well, not quite like that, because the Model T had a smaller engine and lower compression. To start a Land Rover, you pull hard on the crank until you can bring the engine through a single compression stroke. Then if you have the choke set right, it will come to life. The way the crank is hooked in, as soon as the engine starts, the crank disengages, so it doesn't spin with the engine. If you should ever have to crank start a Land Rover, remember to keep your thumb over the top of the crank handle. Otherwise, if the engine should backfire, it will grab the crank and turn it rapidly backward, possibly hurting your thumb.
My next car was a Honda 600. This had a two-cylinder four-stroke engine. The two cylinders were mounted at the front of the car, side-by-side, in a vertical position. For those who don't know, most two-cylinder four-stroke engines have both pistons going up and down at the same time, not opposite each other, as you would expect. This is because the firing stroke in one cylinder happens exactly one revolution after the other.
I bought this car used, and didn't realize someone had cross-threaded one of the spark plugs. One cold winter night I was driving about five miles from home, and I heard a clunk in the engine compartment, followed by a loss of power. Naturally, I pulled over and turned off the engine. That was a mistake! The clunk I heard was the spark plug blowing out of the hole and hitting some sheet metal in the engine compartment. It turned out to be very difficult to get the engine to start again with just one working cylinder, but I did manage to get it running, and limped home at about 20 miles per hour on one cylinder. I then helicoiled the spark plug and the problem never recurred.
I found that even though this car's engine was only 0.6-liter, it could go 80 miles per hour (129 kph). At least for a while. I burned up the intake valves, because at that speed, they didn't spend enough time on their seats to cool down. So I replaced them, drove another 5,000 miles or so, and burned them up again.
Initially, none of them ran. From the group, I was able to get one running, and it became my main car. At first, I didn't think it would run for long, since I had no new parts for it. I even had to reuse the best of the old gaskets I could find on the other four trucks. In time, I got used to the fact that it kept running, and trusted it to commute from Encinitas to San Diego, California, about 25 miles (40 km) each way. I drove it 30,000 miles without needing a single repair other than replacing a clutch cable, before I sold it.
Oh, and there was a little problem with the brakes. The slave cylinders were leaking. I could go ten stops before the need to refill the brake fluid reservoir. After a short while, I installed a funnel on a hose under the dashboard, so I could refill it from inside. I counted my stops, and never once did I have to depend on the parking brake. (I know, crazy, but I was in my early twenties at the time.) One day, inquiring about something else at an auto parts store, I asked whether there was any chance they could special order cylinder kits for my little Suzuki 360. The man behind the counter looked it up, and found out that the brake parts were interchangeable with common Nissan sedans. I could have fixed the brakes at any time, had I only known!
This little truck was powered by a 0.36-liter two-cylinder two-stroke engine under the bed of the truck, just ahead of the rear wheels. Even though the engine was so small, this truck was capable of over 60 miles per hour (96 kph). This air-cooled two-stroke engine had two inline cylinders. Instead of a conventional starter motor with a Bendix gear that engages a ring gear on the flywheel, it had powerful electrical windings built into the flywheel. So it started oddly silently. It also had alternator windings built into the flywheel, and since it had no power steering or any sort of auxiliary equipment, it had no fanbelt.
Because it was a two-stroke, it did burn oil. I was stopped twice by law enforcement officers who wondered if I was illegally polluting. It turns out I was legally polluting, since this was exempt from smog requirements due to its age. It was probably also exempt due to its design, but that would have been hard to explain to the cops.
That was it for small cars for a while. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I had a motorhome that I made out of an old school bus. For some reason, the former owner of the bus customized it somewhat. It had a Chrysler Hemi engine. This is an engine made in the late 1950s that had a hemispherical top to the cylinders, with spark plugs right in the middle between the valves. It had more efficient airflow and combustion qualities.
This engine was modified with ten-to-one compression, a high-lift cam, and headers, so it was rather powerful. This also had twenty-four gears forward and six in reverse. You see, it had a four-speed main transmission, a three-speed auxiliary transmission called a "brownie box," and a two-speed axle. So, it was easily capable of 100 miles per hour (160 kph), and I drove it that fast from time to time. Again, I was crazy, and I certainly don't recommend driving in any foolish way to anyone else, especially after what happened one day. For some insane reason, I was going around 100 in a 30 mph zone. A little Ford sedan pulled out of a side street. When I saw that, I slammed on the brakes, and skidded hundreds of meters. I finally got my speed down just ten feet (three meters) short of ramming the back end of that car. Fortunately, I learned my lesson without anyone getting hurt. It could have been much different. Like my friend who had paralyzed another driver in a drunken accident. He was in the second term of a renewable ten-year judgement when I knew him. The court allowed him to make no more than $10 per hour. So, even though he was in a job that paid $30 per hour, he kept $10, and the rest went to the man he injured.
My bus had a back porch, which I loaded up with welding equipment. For a while, my business was housecalls for welding.
Smokey Rolland bought an old DC3 airplane, cut off the wings and the tail, and mounted it on a truck chassis. It was mechanically kind of junky, but a very interesting conversation piece. He sold it to Bob and Heike Pfeiffer who converted it into what they called "The Smile Shuttle" in the heyday of the US Space Shuttle program. It was a rolling replica of the space shuttle and soon became the most famous motor vehicle in America. It took some doing to bring it up to par. When they replaced the engine, they called me to weld in new engine mounts. From there, I became more involved in their project. We installed an eight-foot (2.4 meter) clear plexiglas dome on the back end. We replaced the steering gear, brakes and as much running gear as needed to make it safe and reliable. We went to an airplane junkyard and installed forty-seven original aircraft instruments on the dashboard. They didn't do anything, but they looked great. We modernized the interior, and made it so that it could be empty, full of seats, or whatever might be needed by the clients that rented it. Just like the actual space shuttles, it could be filled with whatever payload is needed. It was used in parades to hand out flyers from the windows. It was used to carry banners. It was used as a rolling celebrity party, and other such activities.
The airplane from which this was made had an interesting history. It was built late in World War II, and saw unspectacular active duty. It was then sold to Allegheny Airlines where things became more interesting. At one time, an engine mechanic who wasn't certified to fly, or even taxi, overreved the engines. It hopped over the wheel chocks, rolled forward, and crashed into a glass-windowed hanger.
After repairing the damage, it was serving on a regular route from New York to Florida when it was once hijacked to Cuba.
One time, while coming in for a landing at 180 miles per hour (290 kph), the plane hit a goose going 20 miles per hour (32 kpg) the other way. The goose smashed through the aluminum skin of the plane and broke the copilot's legs.
One time, the smile shuttle driver had been drinking the day before, so they let him go. I was available, so I was asked to drive this famous vehicle from San Diego to Las Vegas. We arrived downtown at 4pm and gridlocked the city. Everyone started driving around the block to get another look at our vehicle, and that caused a massive traffic jam.
I moved on and lost track of the Pfeiffers and their smile shuttle for several years. Evidently it spent quite a bit of time in Europe, finally ending up back in the western United States. It was sold to Phil and Becky Petersen who have converted it into a rolling cafe.
At one point, the idea of a home with an engine it it fascinated me, so I bought a used GMC motorhome.
That turned out to be an elegant but troublesome vehicle. it seems I spent more time under it fixing something than I did in it. General Motors made only 1,800 of these between 1973 and 1978. Although they were ahead of their time in many ways, they were badly under-designed in others. For instance, they used an ordinary Cadillac or Oldsmobile Toronado 455-cubic inch (7.4 liter) engine and transmission. Even though this vehicle weighed two and a half times as much as those luxury cars, it had the same front-wheel drive differential gearing. Combined with the 16.5-inch wheels, this high gearing was supposed to improve gas mileage. Gas mileage was also improved by the low ground clearance allowed because this had no driveshaft to the rear wheels. It did manage ten miles per gallon, about the same as an ordinary full-size pickup truck. But, the transmission wanted to overheat. I installed another auxiliary oil cooler, but the tranny oil still wanted to turn brown. I watched over that very carefully, and during the time I owned the vehicle, I did not wreck the transmission, but no doubt I came close. I did wreck a rear wheel bearing.
One day, I was driving along, and the motorhome felt sluggish, as if perhaps the parking brake was sticking. I pulled over, felt the hubs, but none of the wheels were especially warm. So, I pulled out and drove a couple of miles when suddenly I saw a wheel pass me on the highway. Just a wheel went rolling by! It curved off to the right, hopped over a fence, and disappeared in a corn field. Then it came to my attention that my vehicle was skidding somewhat sideways. That was my wheel! I quickly pulled off the road and assessed the damage. First, I was in a very quiet part of Ohio, and this was in the days before cell phones. I looked at the back end of the vehicle. On the right hand side, one wheel was sure enough missing. The walking beam tandem axle suspension design was no help. The other wheel had just levered up, and was jammed against the top of the inside fender well. The wheel had come off brake drum and all, leaving the axle which was quite hot, to slowly melt its way into the blacktop.
Not knowing quite what I could do, I went off into the corn field looking for the wheel. It was easy to find, because it had hit some corn and came to a stop just on the other side of the fence. It was a chore lifting the wheel back over the fence, especially with the cast iron brake drum attached.
I sat down for a moment on the back bumper of the motorhome wondering what to do, and within a minute a state patrolman pulled up and told me "You can't park here." He was joking. In fact, he gave me a ride into town to get parts. There was exactly one junk yard in the nearby town, and they had exactly one Oldsmobile Toronado, and it was the right year. Yes, they had the axle, bearings, and parts I needed! $30 later, I hitchhiked back out to the vehicle with the brake drum and small parts in my backpack. It took some doing, but I was able to dig the axle out of the blacktop, and jack the motorhome up enough to reinstall the wheel.
The only problem was the brake line had been torn off. Not knowing any better, I took a pair of pliers and folded it up like the opening strip of a sardine can so it wouldn't leak. I had brakes on only five of the six wheels, but I figured that would be OK for a while. Sure enough, my sardine-can repair worked. The brake line didn't leak. I drove a couple hundred miles to a repair shop where it was all fixed properly.
The problem had started because of a design flaw. When you think about turning with tandem rear wheels - one in front of the other, you can probably visualize the tremendous lateral force applied to the bearings. And remember, these were only ordinary car bearings. So, the moral of the story, don't get a motorhome with car bearings!
I only drove that motorhome ten or fifteen thousand miles before I gave up on it. In addition to the wheel bearing problem, I had to repair or replace the radiator, a suspension air bag, the shock absorbers, a rear suspension pivot pin (which I had to make on a lathe, since the part was unavailable), a CV joint, the exhaust system, an engine oil cooler adapter, the tires which wore out all too quickly, and some interior equipment such as the water pump and water heater.
My current car is a Toyota Camry hybrid, with which I'm delighted. It averages 37 miles per gallon, which is good since it is a bigger car than a Prius. Interestingly, there is no connection between the engine and the wheels. The engine turns a generator which powers a motor, sometimes with the help of a big battery, which turns the wheels. This car also has regenerative breaking. When slowing down, the wheels turn the generator which stores additional electricity in the battery.
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