BEATING DR. DIESEL
Diesel World|March 2021
A 6 HP HORNSBY OIL ENGINE
JIM ALLEN

SPECIAL THANKS TO RAY HOOLEY AND MIKE MURPHY

Dr. Diesel’s 1898 patent on the compression ignition engine is the well-charted beginning of the engine type we now call a diesel. Missed in all that historical hoopla... when the first production diesels entered the market, they weren’t the only engines running on fuel oil. The Hornsby-Akroyd vaporizing oil engine had been in production six years at that point and tens of thousands had been sold all over the world.

Herbert Akroyd-Stuart (1864-1927) started work on his vaporizing oil engine in 1885 after accidentally setting a fire with paraffin (kerosene). Lamp-grade kerosene is not volatile, which is why it was used indoors as lamp oil, but when he spilled some into a pot of molten tin, it vaporized and was ignited by a nearby open flame. At the time, internal combustion engineers were trying to resolve fuel volatility issues, with gasoline being considered too dangerous for many applications. Fuel oil satisfied the safety aspects (which is why oil engines were often marketed as “safety engines”) but was difficult to ignite. Akroyd-Stuart’s accident had given him a simple idea for igniting fuel oil, kerosene and other less volatile petroleum products.

THE VAPORIZING OIL ENGINE DEBUTS

The idea of vaporizing fuel with heat took form in an 1886 prototype built in Akroyd-Stuart’s father’s Bletchley, England, iron works. Experimentation was ongoing until 1890, when a patent was filed. Rather than creating a company to produce engines, Akroyd-Stuart licensed the design to an existing manufacturer, Richard Hornsby & Sons, of Grantham, England. Hornsby was a well known manufacturer of steam engines but very quickly devoted all it’s effort into perfecting and marketing Akroyd-Stuart’s engine. Production of the Hornsby-Akroyd vaporizing oil engine began in June of 1891 and the first two sales came in the summer of 1892. Those first two engines weren’t retired until 1923, a testament to their design and utility.

The Hornsby-Akroyd vaporizing oil engine, was a four-stroke engine that ran reliably on petroleum products heavier than gasoline or the lightest, most volatile grades of kerosene. That was one of it’s most attractive selling points. An oil engine was safer less complex than steam, which often required special insurance and licenses and it could run on the wildly varied and largely uncategorized range of petroleum products available across the globe in those days, including crude oil. It ran most reliably on what became known as bunker oil because some of the less refined products (like most grades of crude oil) tended to leave heavy deposits that eventually had to be manually cleaned out of the combustion chambers.

DIFFERENT THAN DIESEL

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