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Alternate Fuels in Vintage Tractors ???

Posted: Fri May 25, 2018 10:49 pm
by BearKiller
When reading specifications of various early tractors, I, more often than not, see various engine options that burn fuels other than gasoline or diesel; yet, I have seen very little in the way of explanations of these alternate fuels and how the engines were different.

Kerosene: I know what Kerosene is. How did an engine designed specifically to burn Kerosene differ from a gasoline or diesel engine ? Did it have an injector pump ?

All Fuel: What fuels were considered "All Fuel" ? How did an engine designed specifically to burn "All Fuel" differ from a gasoline or diesel engine ? Did it have both, spark ignition and an injector pump ?

Tractor Fuel: What is "Tractor Fuel" ? How did an engine designed specifically to burn "Tractor Fuel" differ from a gasoline or diesel engine ?

On EDIT: I just remembered another alternate fuel option: Distillate: What is "Distillate" and how is it different from other fuels?

These are just three(now four) examples of many I have seen.

I have heard old timers, and not mechanical geniuses in the loosest sense of the term, talk of starting an engine on gasoline and then switching over to some other fuel; yet, in all the many tractor shows and a lifetime of working on various farms, I have never actually seen this being applied; to actually be feasible, I would think that a spark ignition would be necessary to fire the gasoline and possibly injectors and compression ignition to fire the other fuel.

Re: Alternate Fuels in Vintage Tractors ???

Posted: Sat May 26, 2018 5:55 am
by dag1450
That's when men were MEN! I think some of this stuff your referring to has to do with starting. Starting old stuff like that was a job in itself... let alone the work to be done. One that I saw...had to have 15 steps of levers, leavers, clutches, dials and thingamajigs. I have seen some old Cats with what they can a pony motor. It's a small gas engine at the rear of the main engine that u start first...then that pony will crank the diesel engine to start. I'm pretty sure IH heavy equipment had a dual fuel type diesel. Again gas was just for starting then diesel took over. Sounds painful to maintain.
This equipment was not kids stuff like we have today :lol:

Re: Alternate Fuels in Vintage Tractors ???

Posted: Sat May 26, 2018 10:20 am
by BearKiller
I found this explanation of what distillate fuels are: ... elOil.aspx

According to that, "distillate fuel" is a broad term covering everything from #1 furnace oil to #4 diesel fuel, which would make me think that a "distillate fuel" engine most likely would be restricted to using a specific grade of distillate and not just any distillate.

It does not list Kerosene in the distillates definition, but I would think that it would be included in the description, as it is almost identical to #1 fuel oil.

When I was a wee lad, we owned a filling-station and had two "lamp oil" pumps; one was Kerosene and the other Coal Oil, which was the cheaper of the two; cheaper being a very thin margin, as either choice was almost free compared to today's prices; either was less than fifteen cents/gallon.

On EDIT: After some more reading, it gets even more confusing, as gasoline is also considered a distillate fuel, yet engine manufacturers would often offer a gasoline engine and a distillate engine.

Re: Alternate Fuels in Vintage Tractors ???

Posted: Sat May 26, 2018 9:15 pm
by SWilliams
Distillate in this case was mostly kerosene/heating oil as it was cheaper and more available to the farms at the time than having gasoline delivered.
The engines built to run on it were set up with some equipment that the gasoline versions didn't have. Namely a two chambered fuel tank, radiator shutters and in most an exhaust damper. o injection pump on most although there were gas/diesel engines that you started on gas then switched to diesel which used both fuel systems on the same engine, but they were not real popular on farm equipment, they did make it a while on heavy equipment though.

To run most of the distillate engines you filled the large tank with distillate, the smaller tank with gas. You would start AND shut down the engine using gasoline. To do that you opened the valve on the gas tank, cranked the engine to start it. Once running you would close the shutters and the exhaust damper to get the engine to run hotter. Once it got up to temperature you would slowly close the gas valve while opening the distillate valve. With the engine running on distillate you did your work, if you ran low on fuel you had a choice, if extra fuel was close by, you could crank the shutters closed, close the exhaust damper more to raise the engine temperature higher. Then shut it down, fill the tank and restart as fast as possible. OR you could do the same process that you did to shut the engine odd for a longer period. For that you reversed the starting process. Namely you open the radiator shutters to let the engine cool just a bit, then switch the valves so you get gas into the carb. Run it until you have flushed the distillate out and returned the shutters and exhaust back to the gas positions. If you didn't switch over and ran out of fuel or just forgot, you got the fun of draining the carb and flushing the fuel line, which is another reason many distillate capable carbs have easy access bowl drains... Have done that once on my F-20..... These days it runs on only gas as the "cheaper" fuels no longer are and the dual fuel parts are mostly rotted or seized.

As far as other fuels, Virtually every fuel type has been tried in tractors Gasoline, Diesel, Electric, Steam, Propane, Natural gas, Fuel Cells have all been there. For most larger tractors diesel won out, for smaller tractors gas won.

Re: Alternate Fuels in Vintage Tractors ???

Posted: Sun May 27, 2018 12:23 am
by BearKiller
Thank you, SWilliams, for the detailed explanation.

So, if I read that correctly, most "distillate" tractor engines ran the distillate through the carburetor and it was fired by the plugs, right?

The process reads very much like the procedure one uses when using unprocessed cooking oil in a diesel engine, such as the Frybrid System.

I once saw an early Dodge/Cummins with the Frybrid System that had been driven some 900-miles one way to a truck rallye; the guy said he used less than a gallon of diesel on the trip.

What seems silly to me is that, way back when any type fuel was ridiculously cheap, people went to all manner of trouble to find the cheapest alternative; now, with diesel prices higher than gasoline, and either better than $3/gallon, one seldom hears of anyone trying a cheaper alternative.

Re: Alternate Fuels in Vintage Tractors ???

Posted: Sun May 27, 2018 5:52 am
by SWilliams
Yep, the distillate was run through the same carb. The engine temperatures were raised to help it flow and ignite when the plugs fired. It works but is a bit of a pain to deal with. You need to clean the plugs more often, the higher operating temperatures mean the cooling system has to be better. Because it was basically a trash by-product of the refining process the actual composition of the fuel could vary from batch to batch and from company to company, you had to keep adjusting the tractor to each new blend and you could gain or lose hp depending on the fuel you had at the moment.
It is still in use these days but not by the general public in tractors or cars. Many of the pipelines and refineries blend it for use in pumping and power generation plants.

As for finding and using something cheaper, there isn't much out there that will run in modern engines with computerized controls that isn't either expensive to convert to and has very limited availability.

Re: Alternate Fuels in Vintage Tractors ???

Posted: Sun May 27, 2018 11:05 pm
by BearKiller
So I guess that "Distillate" "All Fuel" and "Tractor Fuel" are basically all the same stuff.

I would assume that one could burn diesel in one of these dual-fuel engines with pretty much the same result as "distillate"

Looking at the opposite end of the horse, if one ran low on the alternate fuel, yet had plenty of gasoline, could they just switch over to gasoline and go on about their work ?
Would the multi-fuel engine run as strong on gasoline as it would on the alternate fuel ?

Years ago, we had an employee who drove a green 1960s Mercury Montego in which the gas gauge had quit working; this guy hardly ever even wet the bottom of the tank and was forever more running out of gas.
One day, on his way back to work from lunch, he ran out of gas again; this time, he happened to have a can of diesel and poured a gallon or so in the tank.
The old Mercury brought him on in on diesel; but, when he shut off the ignition, it sat there and hammered and knocked until all the fuel was gone.
I would like to have that Mercury today.

Re: Alternate Fuels in Vintage Tractors ???

Posted: Sat Jun 02, 2018 8:03 pm
by SWilliams
Diesel doesn't work well in them. Not enough volatile ingredients to ignite it with spark and compression is too low for compression ignition.
They run just fine on gas. Run mine on it all the time. You lose about 1-2 hp on gas in an all fuel, but if you shave the head a bit to bring the compression up or if there was a propane head available you can easily get what you lost plus some back.
Those old engines were built to be reliable. The issue these days is finding the parts.

Re: Alternate Fuels in Vintage Tractors ???

Posted: Mon Jun 04, 2018 2:44 pm
by BearKiller
This has been a very educational conversation for me and I appreciate you taking the time to share your knowledge with me; thanks !