Chapter 13 – Jason and Stephan Build a Water Heater


Dunstable, June 1862

The following day, Jason rose early as usual. He sponged himself off and dried himself. His uncle had brought some of his drafting tools and promised the rest of his books would be safe until he found something more permanent. He headed to the kitchen and decided to start the dishes early. He started the hot water kettle for a rinse. He arranged the pile for efficiency and then filled one basin with wash water. He set a pile in the wash water and then began. He quickly fell into a routine: wash a set of dishes and then rinse.  After the first pile was done, the water was on the boil and he gave the final hot water rinse to the pile. He filled the pot and began the process again.  After three rounds or so, the plates were done and he had a good size stack of dishes to dry them. He was at this task when Jolene came into the kitchen.

“Jason. You didn’t have to start early” she said.

“I wake early. And I figured I would get an early start. And maybe a few extra hours to pay the rent, “ he said with a grin.

“There are other ways to handle that. Stephan will see to that. Have you had breakfast?”

“No. I didn’t usually have breakfast until I got the first round of chores done.”

“Then get a fry pan and fix that.  Only I start the day with work. Everyone else starts with breakfast. There are a couple of eggs. You can use ham or sausage and make yourself an omelet. There are two burners. I can manage with one if you’re fast.”

Jason noted that she didn’t offer to make it. He found the sausage and cut off two good slices.  He found a bowl, cracked the eggs and whipped in some milk. He grated some cheese; finely chopped some of the onion and a green pepper. There was a bit of spinach so he chopped up some of those leaves for color and flavor.  Jolene was eying him as she worked chopping onions, parsnips, carrots and celery in preparation for today’s soup. The sausage was done and he removed the slices. He turned the heat up a bit and waited. He then poured the egg batter in. After about two minutes, he tested the edges with the spatula. They seemed done and he loosened the egg, and shuffled the pan to test it a bit. He then tried to flip the omelet and it worked – just. The edge caught on the skillet and he pushed it in. He poured his mixings in and let the them cook a bit before folding it and putting on a plate with the sausage and then turning the burner down. Jolene eyed the omelet.

“You’ll make a fine husband. Your skillet work needs practice though if you plan to be a cook. Otherwise  – passable.”

Jason was a little annoyed at the idea that she was grading him.  And then he tried to think better. He was in her domain.  Perhaps she was eyeing him for other positions. More likely she was used to working alone and his presence was disturbing her.

“I did a little cooking at University and occasionally at home.” Jason was a little surprised saying that hurt a little. He got a little reminder his current status.

Jolene said “It was better than Stephan can do, but Stephanie is better than you. But as I said – practice.”

Jason set his plate on the table and gathered some utensils, “I’m usually up before dawn on the farm. I’m still used to those hours. Sorry to get in your way. What should I do for breakfast normally?”

“What you just did or bread and cheese or oatmeal if you like – but you’ll need to get them. I start work now. Stephan and Stephanie come down in about an hour and she cooks eggs, meat and potatoes. Start a pot of coffee. Stephan likes the stuff after his travels and I’ve acquired a taste for it in the morning. “

“I’ll need a bit of help. I haven’t made any before.”

“Get the water in the kettle boiling and I’ll show you.”

Jason set the kettle on again. Jolene pulled out a tall pot with a spout. She put a cup of coffee beans in the coffee grinder and turned. The grounds ended up in a drawer below and she dumped these into the tall conical pot.  In a short while, the water was on the boil.  She poured the hot water onto the coffee and she went back to chopping and set a large soup pot on one of the burners.

“That’s it?” Jason asked.

“It is really easy.  But timing is everything.” She put some butter in the large soup pot and, after a moment to let the butter melt,  she tossed the vegetables in for browning and cooking. While they were cooking she said, “tap the side of the pot several times. This should break the surface of the coffee and the grounds will sink.”

Sure enough, they did. About 15 minutes later Stephan and Stephanie came down and by then the grounds had completely settled.  Stephan poured himself a cup and had it without cream or sugar. Jolene added cream and sugar. Stephanie set the kettle on the stove again. Stephan fixed himself some cheese, bread and a bit of ham. Stephanie had just the cheese and bread. Jolene fried up an egg and some sausage. Jason poured out mugs of coffee for the other three.

Jolene said to the others, “Jason apparently gets up before the sun. He has already got the dishes done.”

Stephan said, “Then he and I can spend the time without a problem?”

Jolene replied, “I want him back after lunch.”

Jason asked Stephanie in a sotto whisper, “Do they trade all of us like stamps?”

Stephanie replied, “More or less” and took a sip of coffee. “You new ones get moved around a bit until they find a spot for you.”

“Any you?,” he asked.

“I think they work that out in bed,” she said giggling.

“You are mistaken lass. We have other things to work out. I believe your duty schedule is arranged sometime after dinner, “ Stephan said a bit loudly.

Both Stephanie and Jason blushed a bit and Jolene hit Stephan solidly. There was discussion of the coffee, where to get eggs and general eating. Finally, Jolene asked “What’s this project you want Jason for?”

“’Tis a secret. Something his uncle and I discussed yesterday. Jason you are now officially sworn to secrecy,” Stephan said with mock solemnity.

“ Maybe they are designing a new form of sponge” Jolene suggested to Stephanie.

“Really? I would have expected an improved dart for competition, “ the young woman responded.

“Mr. McNeill. Shall we remove ourselves from these philistines and create our masterpiece?” Stephan asked indignantly.

“Um… sir,” Jason said sounding anything but. He had no idea what Stephan was asking him to do.

“Good. Bring your drafting tools and notebooks to my office. There is a chalk board in there for us to work on, “ Stephan said with finality.

The dishes were cleared and placed in the sink by Jolene and Stephanie. Stephanie started working on them.  Jason said “I’ll do those later.”

“Father has you and you’ve already done work so it’s my turn,” she said cheerfully.

“Come along lad. She has the right of it – it’s her turn and you’ve creating to do,” Stephan said from across the room.

Jason retrieved his two sketch books, his drafting box of compasses, pencils, rubbers, curves and such. He came down with his bag and headed to Stephan’s office. Unlike a typical business office, one wall was covered with a chalkboard. There was also a large drafting table facing the chalkboard. Stephan sat at it with his own sketchbook closed.

“Now lad, in the midst of our quality control exercise yesterday, Patrick told me you had some notions about heating water,” Stephan asked.

Jason almost hit his head when he realized what this was about. His uncle had let Stephan know what he was working on. “I don’t know. It was an early draft.”

“And that is why you and I are talking. If you are going to be as good as word says you’re going to be, you have to work with people,” Stephan said.

“If you say so” said Jason. On the whole, people had not been  a plus in his exercises at the University. Professor Maxwell was interesting to work with, but he tended to come out of an office and hand Jason some experiment to set up or measurements to gather.  They didn’t really talk much about the work he was doing. Jason figured it out from the boards and notes and experiments he was asked to do.

“I say so because I designed things you can’t fathom and I did it with other people. Now what is your specialty, your interest?,” Stephan asked.  Jason thought this was an odd statement from him. Jason knew he had designed the brewery and some of the items around the kitchen but they were hardly ground breaking.

“I am really more interested in electrics and chemistry,“ Jason said.

“And you’re designing a water heater?  Good Lord, the thing will likely explode,” Stephan looked shocked although the voice was kind.

“I added pressure release valves” Jason said somewhat defensively.

“Aye good. Now me, I was a boiler specialist. Made ‘em big and small,” Stephan said with a bit of pride.

“Then why haven’t you put something in?,” Jason asked.

“Two reasons. First I couldn’t solve the thermostat problem. The second reason is complicated, but let’s just say you are my opportunity to fix that,” Stephan said a bit quietly.

“I don’t understand,” Jason said.

“No, you don’t. And it’s unlikely you will and you don’t have to. However, I would rather have you build it right the first time. Simply put – I am going to help you design a water heater,” Stephan said.

Jason asked, “Why are you doing this?” Nobody every helped him.

“You’re supposed to be a smart one lad. The world hasn’t treated you right so far. Well, if I can help to change that a bit…it’s what I should do. Plus, the kitchen gets a water heater and that will make Jolene happy,” Stephan’s bearded face remained inscrutable as he said this.  Jason considered it. He had known Stephan was capable in large boilers and Jason certainly needed help in that area.

Jason considered for a moment. Then he moved in to designing.  “The problem with thermostats and water heaters is that everyone looks at water heaters as big teapots. What if we changed that? We might solve or eliminate the whole thermostat issue entirely.”

“I like boilers. How is making something that isn’t a boiler going to solve the thermostat issue?” Stephan sounded remarkably like one of his professors as he explained results.

“If the water was heated as needed, we build a switch that says ‘water flows – gas on’ and when it doesn’t the gas stops,” Jason asked.

“Sketch a diagram on the board,” Stephan demanded. This was definitely like one of his professors.

Jason grabbed a piece of chalk and began making a diagram of the water path through the heating element.  Rather than having a big boiler, Jason sketched a snaking pipe from top to bottom. He then had a second pipe, the gas element, following the water pipe the entire way.  At the top end of the snake, he had a device box that would be his thermostat.

Initial Water Heater

“Two things. One – this will need a fair amount of gas to heat” said Stephan

“True” observed Jason.

“Two – the latent heat might boil off the water building pressure,” Stephan said critically.

Jason  commented “If ‘water stops/gas off’ works, there will be some latent heat, but water is a good heat sink – that is why it is so commonly as a coolant.“

“That and nobody has thought of anything else as a coolant. Your device needs to do two things: ‘water on/gas starts and ignites’ and ‘water off/gas stops’”

Jason said “I’ve already solved that. I will toss a harder challenge. How is the water delivered to the system?”

“Boy, I thought you were smarter. Gravity feed from the roof. Just like factory sprinklers,” Stephan said a bit harshly.

“Factory sprinkler tanks are replenished through rain and the occasional pumping of some underpaid soul. How do you propose to get the water on the tank, on the roof? Or is that the Dishwasher’s new task?” Jason asked. He also thought that much water at the top of the building might be a problem, but didn’t want to bring that up now.

“Eh… you have a point. I still think gravity feed is the best method,” Stephan said sounding a bit less combative and even a bit defensive. “How does this magic device of yours work?”

Jason went to the board. “We put a propeller in the water delivery tube. The spinning of the propeller will generate an electrical current.  That current powers a magnet. The magnet pulls the switch to turn the gas on. The water stops; the propeller stops; the current stops and no magnet.  The switch returns – no gas”

Stephan looked at the design. Scratching his beard. “No one has used electronics around here much. “

“I had a couple of summers with a young professor who has been studying electrons and magnetism. James Maxwell. He has shown they are related. It’s rather remarkable. I am convinced everything will be electric eventually,“ Jason said proudly.

“Oh I am sure you’re right. The question is ‘how fast?’” Stephan studied the design. “We’ll need some special flanges so you can service the propeller and switch. We’ll also need to add a safety around the gas switch.  I do not want those pipes heating without water in them.” Stephan said stridently.

Jason nodded. He knew boiling liquid increases in volume over 1000 times. That is how steam engines work so well. But in this case, it could mean catastrophic explosion. “So could you make this boiler work?” Jason asked.

“’Taint a boiler. It’s a heater. The water cascades through a series of smaller pipes of brass. Those are over the gas jets. Snake the tubes around twice and, presto, hot water at the end.  I don’t want the water to boil,” Stephan said.

“We’ll need to do some heat transfer equations to make sure your tube is small enough or long enough,” Jason suggested.

“Hoy! You young spuds got no sense of adventure. All right, when I’ve got the specs on the brass tubes, I’ll let you do the math,“  Stephan said laughing.

Jason grinned. This was a lot more interesting than what he would have done.

Stephan said “Now you spend the next hour drafting your propeller, magnet switchy thing and I shall start on a humble heater.”

Jason pulled out his sketch book, pencils, compasses, French curves, rulers and began the drafting process. He started with the engine or propeller that would generate the current. A copper wire coil in which a magnet was rotated (by the propeller) would generate a charge. He might have to make or cut the magnets himself. He drew some quick sketches of the basic outline and then proceeded to more formal design and drafting.  Much would depend on the materials that he used. He was about a quarter done with the propeller assembly when Stephan coughed slightly.

“All right lad. There is a business to run and Jolene will make me pay dearly if I keep you from those dishes.” Jason looked at the clock on the wall. It was now 11:30. Somehow he hadn’t looked up and three and half hours had passed. The last time he had been so lost in work had been with Dr. Maxwell at the University. “Will we be doing this regularly?” he asked hopefully.

“Everyday. Lad. Everyday. I expect until the beast is built. You’re better with the math and theory than me. And I know a bit about boilers you don’t,” Stephan said. There was a smile on his face. Jason could sense he had lost track of time as well.

Jason considered for a moment and then asked, “When I showed you the design of the switch, it wasn’t shocking or even new to you, was it?”

Stephan looked at the diagram. “I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.”

“Dr. Maxwell has only just published this information. Unless you’ve read it, this device is actually new.  The principles, the materials, it is all new. You didn’t question the principle or even the design. It’s like it you had already seen the like.”

Stephan looked at Jason and his eyes got narrow. “Lad, it’s best you learn something early or our collaboration will end quickly. There are some things I can’t talk about.  You are observant and sharp to notice people when they act out of sorts. But there are questions I won’t answer. I am bound by oaths you cannot understand. So let’s just say I contained my surprise well and leave it at that.“

After a moment, as they walked to join the rest of the group eating lunch. Jason said, “Let me ask a different way. Am I to assume that what I have designed will work because you chose not to question it?”

“Now boy, if you aren’t sure it will work, why should I be?” Stephan said with a bit of acid in his voice.

It was a nonanswer and an answer. Jason believed it would work, but would have to test it. Stephan already knew it would work for reasons Jason couldn’t ask.  He could ask why there was a mystery and he was certain he would only  be told – don’t ask.  Well, time for some lunch and then it was dishes and whatever else Jolene had planned for him in the afternoon.

 

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One thought on “Chapter 13 – Jason and Stephan Build a Water Heater

  1. Pingback: The Recruting Matter – Chapter 13 – Jason and Stephan build a water heater | The Finder's Saga

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