In 1979 I wrote "Brown's Alcohol Motor Fuel Cookbook." Five years before I had read Donald Despain's "The One and Only Solution to the Farm Problem." Despain postulated that alcohol made from grain and used as motor fuel would keep our farmers prosperous. Farmer prosperity would then spill over into the rest of our economy.
The appendix in Despain's book included ads from the 1930s for cars made by Chrysler modified to run on alcohol and sent to New Zealand and locomotives in the Philippines running on alcohol.
What Despain's book did not include was either any how-to information to make alcohol or how to modify automobiles to run on it.
Neither did anyone else's book.
I was on my own.
I started by making repeated trips to the Wild Turkey distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. The supervisor there, J. D. Cook, answered all my questions.
I would then go home and experiment on the kitchen stove, taking notes. Every time my experiment failed, I would take my notes back to Lawrenceburg and J. D. Cook would point out what I did wrong.
Finally, I "got" it.
The other part of the book was the result of a college chemistry class and a power mechanics class I took at Berea College, Kentucky. In those classes I learned how much alcohol had to flow through a carburetor and why.
How I learned it had nothing to do with what I was taught in the class. I was experimenting using the shop facilities.
I knew I had to use more alcohol than gasoline since I had learned that ethyl alcohol was 30% by weight oxidized oxygen. Oxidized oxygen is no more flammable than water.
As part of my experiment I poured some 190 proof alcohol into the gas tank of the Briggs & Stratton engine I was working on and began unscrewing the needle valve to the carburetor to allow more fuel to flow.
The shop teacher, Donald Hudson, came by and said, "Brown, you're running that way too rich."
"How do you know that?" I asked.
The engine was running, but weakly.
"Maybe because your needle valve is dripping fuel," he said.
I began screwing the needle valve back in, slowly.
The engine caught with a roar.
"What's that smell?" he asked.
"Alcohol," I said.
"If I had known that's what you were doing with the engine, I'd have had you go over to the college library and do more research before you attempted it," he said.
I explained to him that there wasn't any more information on it, in the Berea College Library or any other.
Some time later I did find a 1959 MIT thesis on ethyl alcohol as a motor fuel. Most of it was incorrect.
What I had not learned was how to get alcohol past 140 proof (which is 30% water). In an advanced chemistry class I learned how to build what is known to chemical engineers as a fractionating column. To moonshiners it's known as a "rock still" (a pipe full of rocks).
A fractionating column works by separating liquids that boil at different temperatures. With a fractionating column you can get 190 proof (5% water) alcohol, separate paint from paint thinner, grease from parts cleaner, and much more.
After I learned how a fractionating column works, I wrote "How to Build a Junkyard Still" in 1981.
"Brown's Alcohol Motor Fuel Cookbook" will show you how to make 140 proof alcohol and modify your fuel system to run on it. What it will not show you how to do is achieve optimum efficiency by making 190 proof alcohol. "How to Build A Junkyard Still" shows you how to do so as well as build a fractionating column (rock still) and why it works.
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This page was updated on 5 November 2011