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REPORT ON USE OF ACETYLENE
GAS BY THE CANADIAN GOVERN-
MENT AS AN ILLUMINANT FOR
AIDS TO NAVIGATION



BY

ALBERT ROSS

Captam, U. S. N., Member of the Light-House Board




WASHINGTON

GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE
1907



Property of the United States Government.



REPORT ON USE OF ACETYLENE
GAS BY THE CANADIAN GOVERN-
MENT AS AN ILLUMINANT FOR
AIDS TO NAVIGATION



BY
ALBERT ROSS

Captain, U. S. N., Member of the Light-House Board




WASHINGTON

GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE
1907



LETTER OF TRANSMITTAL



DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE AND LABOR,

LIGHT-HOUSE BOARD,
Washington, October 3, 1906. '

SIRS: I have the honor to report that in obedience to the Board's
orders of September 21/1906, I proceeded to Ottawa, Canada, and
conferred with the Canadian light-house officials on light-house mat-
ters, and especially in regard to acetylene lighting. My report is
appended hereto.

The trip was made successful and its value very much enhanced by
the interest shown by the prime minister, Sir Wilfrid Laurier; the
consul-general of the United States at Ottawa, Mr. John G. Foster;
the deputy minister of marine and fisheries, Col. F. Gourdeau, and
Mr. James F. Fraser, commissioner of lights Therefore especial
acknowledgment is made of their courtesy.

Respectfully, A. Ross,

Captain, U. S. Navy.
The LIGHT-HOUSE BOARD,

Washington, D. C.

3



598349



ACETYLENE GAS AS AN ILLUMINANT FOR AIDS TO

NAVIGATION.



STATUS OF LIGHTING IN CANADA.

The greater number of light-houses in Canada still use oil, most of
which is purchased in the United States, of the standard required by
the United States Light-House Board for the use of stations having
dioptric lights. Oil for other lights is purchased from a Canadian com-
pany.

Buoys of the Pintsch gas type are operated under a pressure of 8
atmospheres. Buoys of the Willson automatic low-pressure acety-
lene gas type have been adopted, and will eventually take the place
of all other lighted buoys in the Canadian light-house service. Some
shore stations use acetylene gas under pressure of from 10 to 14
atmospheres and others use the Willson automatic low-pressure
acetylene-gas beacon. The most important stations, however, are
fitted with petroleum vapor lamps.






ACETYLENE-PRESSURE LIGHTS.



Acetylene gas was first used in the Canadian light-house service in
1901, when acetylene generators were installed in several small river
lights. Experiments were made with several gas-generating machines,
but none proved entirely satisfactory. Great difficulty was experi-
enced from carbonization of lava tips, as well as in the construction
of the tips themselves. The most satisfactory tip discovered is that
at present in use. It is made in the United States.

In 1903 all the gas buoys were fitted with " Economic" burners,
that burned acetylene with single one-fourth foot burners. The
standard Pintsch gas lanterns of 200 mm. lenses were used.

A pressure plant was installed on the light-house tender Scout, and
its use was continued until the spring of 1905, when an explosion
occurred while the tender was engaged in filling three gas buoys at
the government dry dock at Kingston, Ontario. Two had been filled
to 12 atmospheres and a third was being filled. A pressure of at
least 6 atmospheres had been obtained, when, without warning, the
first buoy, which had been filled for about an hour and a hah 5 , exploded.
The shock ruptured and exploded the second buoy alongside and blew
the third buoy on its side, breaking the hose and lighting the gas. As

5



\
6 ACETYLENE GAS FOK AIDS TO NAVIGATION.



a result 4 ,ine^, -mcl.ij&ing the captain, were killed and the steamer's
.upper lyocka. were burned. The buoys which failed were two of 39
iliailow'-ife'aft :gas ibiioy^' which had been handed over in 1902 by the
department of railways and canals when the marine department took
over the buoyage of the upper St. Lawrence between Lachine and
Fresco tt. They were defective in construction. The vessel was
rebuilt, and the generating plant was installed at the Prescott Buoy
Station.

Since the explosion the method pursued has been to reduce the
pressure in the gas receptacles to about one-half or two-thirds, with
the consequent expense of more frequent refilling or recharging.

Another difficulty found in the acetylene buoys was that the cop-
per hood of the gas lantern was affected by the gases of combustion,
which caused a slimy deposit to fall on the lantern and burner. This
was obviated by substituting sheet nickel for sheet copper in the central
tube and by heavily nickel plating the surfaces exposed to the gases
of combustion. At the same time an effort was made to purify the
gas, and this has been accomplished in such manner that little diffi-
culty is now experienced from carbonization of tips.

Up to this time endeavor had been made to keep the consumption
of gas at about the same as the Pintsch gas on the score of economy.
The Canadian government officials now feel that the best light that
can be obtained should be burned hi order to give to navigators the most
efficient aid that can be supplied. This standard was shown in
everything offered for inspection. In 1904 the burner was increased
to 2 half -foot main flames and in addition occulting burners were fitted
with 2 one-eighth foot pilot flames. Since the adoption of the Will-
son buoy it has been the policy of the Canadian government to remove
all pressure buoys at a distance from the compressing plants and to use
them as permanent beacons on shore.

In the shore stations between Montreal and Kingston 'two cylinders
42 inches in diameter and 20 feet long were installed in the lower
story of each light-house, and acetylene was substituted for the oil.
This change was readily made, as the tender can approach within 300
or 400 feet of each light and supply acetylene gas through hose.
These welded-steel gas holders contain 265 cubic feet per atmosphere
and were filled to a pressure of from 10 to 12 atmospheres, since
reduced to 10. A reducing valve is used, and keepers are found unnec-
essary.

In many cases where the tower was old and built of wood it was
torn down, and a steel gas holder was up-ended on a concrete base,
the gas lantern being placed on a square steel box 20 inches on a side
containing the reducing valve, which was bolted to the manhole
cover. This made a permanent structure which required only
painting. The question of protection from cold weather was not



ACETYLENE GAS FOB AIDS TO NAVIGATION. 7

considered, as shown in the picture of the Dock Island, British Colum-
bia, beacon.

By this system of installation numerous keepers were dispensed with,
allowing the establishment of other lights. In some cases a series
of from 4 to 7 lights in close proximity was placed in charge of one
caretaker. After a trial of two years the system has been found
economical and practical. It requires, however, that the stations
be in proximity to the gas-generating plant, and that a vessel be fur-
nished to attend them.

In the ship channel of the St. Lawrence River 45 compression gas
buoys are in service, requiring as a tender a gas and derrick scow 90




Dock Island, British Columbia, light, on the run between Victoria and
Vancouver, installed March 7, 1906. It contains a 200 mm. lantern, is
charged with 1,000 pounds of carbide, and runs four months with-
out recharging. As will be seen, no particular care is taken with
regard to temperature conditions.

feet long, 26 feet wide, and of 6 feet draft, with a steam derrick and
drum hoist engine of 10 tons capacity. The generating plant located
in the after end of the scow includes a "Scout-type generator" with
a capacity of 4,000 feet of gas per hour, and has the necessary scrub-
ber, low pressure (fore) drier, to dry the gas over calcium carbide,
twin three-stage gas compressors of the Ingersoll-Sergeant type, an
after cooler and after drier (high pressure) , and a purifying plant.

The compression system of acetylene is in use in other districts
both for buoys and for shore stations, and it was intended to establish
it in Halifax Harbor, but this will not now be done on account of the
adoption of the Willson low-pressure buoy.

2401507 2



8 AQETYLENE GAS FOK AIDS TO NAVIGATION.

PETROLEUM VAPOR LAMPS.

In about eight-tenths of the lights under the Canadian government
oil is still used, and in about one-tenth of the most important petro-
leum vapor lamps are now being installed. The intention was to
install this lamp in all of the first-order lights with a mantle sufficient
for the requirements of that order. Difficulty, however, has been
experienced in the use of mantles of sufficient size to fulfill the
requirements of a first-order light. An 85 mm. mantle has been
tried, but it is not so reliable as desired. The smaller mantles up to
and including 55 mm. have been found entirely satisfactory, and,
in the light-houses so far equipped there has been a " consequent
increase of light of 500 per cent over the ordinary burner in propor-
tion to the oil consumed."

Experiments are also being made in the use of a mantle, with acety-
lene gas for lights of the first, second, and third orders. This, how-
ever, is only in the experimental stage, and the greater amount of
work is being done on the production of a larger mantle for use with
the petroleum vapor lamp.

It is the intention, as funds become available, to continue the
installation of these lamps in all of the important stations, and to
extend the Willson low-pressure automatic acetylene system to minor
stations and floating aids to navigation, thus obtaining much more
satisfactory results than have been obtained by the use of ordinary
oil, Pintsch gas, or acetylene gas under pressure.

WILLSON AUTOMATIC GAS BUOY.

The first automatic gas buoy was made by Mr. Thomas L. Willson.
It was given to the Canadian government for test in August, 1904,
and shortly thereafter was followed by three others, each of a special
type, including the combination gas and whistling buoy. The depart-
ment of marine at once recognized the utility of the invention and
gave Mr. Willson orders for additional buoys of various types to the
number of 48 for the year 1904-5. This was later supplemented by
an order for 12 shallow-draft buoys and an automatic beacon.

The International Marine Signal Company, of Ottawa, was incor-
porated August 24, 1906, to manufacture the Willson automatic buoy
and carry on a general marine-signal business. The plant at present
is composed of two buildings. The larger is a one-story shop, 575
feet long by 60 feet wide, and is now being extended, so that by
November, 1907, it will be 1;200 feet long. A railroad track extends
through the center of the building and connects with the Canadian
Pacific Railroad. This shop, as well as the other, was filled with
buoys in all stages of construction, the entire plant being used exclu-
sively for manufacture for the Canadian government. The present



ACETYLENE GAS FOB AIDS TO NAVIGATION. 9

daily capacity of both shops is one buoy. After November 1 it will
be two buoys, and by November, 1907, it is estimated the output will
be an average of four buoys daily.

TYPES OF BUOYS.

A description of the types of gas buoys and gas and whistling buoys
which have been placed in service follows:

Nos. 5 and 6 shallow-draft river and harbor gas buoy. This is a small
buoy in which a Pintsch gas lantern is used with two one-fourth foot
main flames and two one-eighth foot pilot flames. The flotation
chamber, 6 feet in diameter, is cylindrical and is formed of a body
plate and two shallow dished heads. The generating tube is 24 inches
in diameter. The light is exhibited 1\ feet above the water.




N". 7 buoy off light-house depot, Prescott, Ontario.

No. 7 standard gas buoy. This size of buoy has been adopted as the
standard for general requirements. It has a cylindrical flotation
chamber composed of a body plate and two shallow dished heads.
The diameter of the flotation chamber is 7 feet. A standard Pintsch
gas lantern is used with two one-fourth foot and two one-eighth foot
pilot flames, and the light is exhibited 1\ feet above the water. The
generating tube is 30 inches in diameter and the carbide charge is
2,500 pounds.

No. 9 combined gas and whistling buoy. This is the lighted whistling
buoy, the Courtenay principle being used to produce the sound. It
has a cylindrical flotation chamber 9 feet in diameter, is composed of
a body plate and two shallow dished heads, and draws about 19 J feet
of water. The generating tube is centrally located, and twin whistling



10 ACETYLENE GAS FOR AIDS TO NAVIGATION.

tubes, 20 inches in diameter, are provided. It has a 10-inch whistle,
and was designed to have the same whistling power as the Courtenay
buoys now in the Canadian service. The light, exhibited from a stand-
ard gas lantern, is shown 16 feet above the surface of the water. The
generating tube is 30 inches in diameter, and the carbide charge is
3,000 pounds.

The types of buoys mentioned below are modifications of those
already described, the changes consisting only in shape and size.
Illustrations of these buoys and the method of their construction will
be found in the pamphlet entitled "Automatic Gas Buoys." a

No. 6% shallow-draft gas buoy. In future this will be used for the
same service as the No. 5 buoy. The notation chamber consists of
two symmetrical hemispheroidal heads with a collision rail of 65-
pound railroad steel riveted at the junction of the two pieces.

No. 8% automatic gas buoy (standard) . This buoy is shown in the
figure herewith. The float chamber is formed of two heavy steel plates
pressed to hemispheroidal shape, as shown. The abutting edges are
machined, and a heavy tee rail is closely riveted over the joint so as
to form both a butt strap and a collision rail. The float chamber is
8J feet in diameter, and it is 9 feet 4 inches in diameter over the col-
lision rail. The generator tube is a heavy welded steel tube, holding
a charge of 2,500 pounds of carbide. The lantern table is fitted to
take either the 200 mm., 300 mm., or the 375 mm. lantern. The
weight of this buoy is 5 tons without its charge and 6J tons when
charged. The operating parts of all automatic gas buoys are similar,
although the various types differ in size, shape, draft, and height of
focal plane.

The buoy consists essentially of a gas generator (1) supported by
a float chamber (2), a lantern support (3) attached to the deck of
the float chamber, a lantern (4), and a purifier chamber (5) located
in the top of the generator; there is also a counterweight (6) at-
tached to the bottom of the generator tube, to give the buoy suffi-
cient stability. The generator (1) has a diaphragm (7) near the
bottom; the center of the diaphragm is fitted with a conical-seated
A r alve (8), which is shown open; this valve is mounted on the valve
stem (9), which passes up through the center of the generator and
through the generator head (10) ; the upper end of the valve stem
has a thread cut upon it, and is fitted with a hexagon nut (11) just
above the generator head ; the part of the stem passing through the
generator head has a keyway cut in it, and a spline is fitted into the
generator head engaging the keyway, so that when nut (11) is turned
to open or close the valve, the stem can not turn, but can only move
up or down. To the extreme top end of the valve stem is attached a

On file in the Office of the Light-House Board, Department of Commerce and
Labor, Washington.



ACETYLENE GAS FOE AIDS TO NAVIGATION.



11



stop collar (12) to prevent the nut (11) being turned so far as to
drop the valve and valve stem. A cap (14) screws down onto the
generator head against a rubber packing, so as to prevent leakage of
gas when the buoy is
in operation; it also
serves to prevent the
valve stem (9) rising,
and so holds the valve
(8) securely open.
The valve stem (9)
is surrounded by a
guard pipe (13),
where it passes
through the carbide
charge; this pipe is
screwed firmly into a
hub on the under side
of the generator head.
The conical valve seat
in the center of the
diaphragm (7) is pro-
vided with a rubber
packing (15) which
is held in a groove in
the valve seat so as
to project enough to
make a good joint
with the valve (8)
when it is closed, even
if it is quite foul.
A steel grate (16) is
attached to the inside
of the generator a
short distance above
the diaphragm ; the
charge of calcium
carbide rests on this
grate.

The operation of
the gas apparatus
is as follows: The

"enerator ( 1 ) is filled Interior view of a Willson low-pressure automatic gas buoy.

with carbide as shown, and the buoy is placed in the water
with the valve (8) open and the valve cap (14) in place. Water
enters the bottom of the generator tube through the hole shown in




12



ACETYLENE GAS FOR AIDS TO NAVIGATION.



the center of the counterweight (6) and then passes through the
valve (8) up toward the grate (16) and finally reaches the carbide
resting on the grate ; this at once produces gas, which passes through
the purifier (5), thence through the small valve (17) and pipe (18)
to the lantern (4), to which the pipe is connected by the coup-
ling (19). When gas is produced faster than it is burned in the lan-
tern, it accumulates in the generator and presses the water downward
away from the carbide, thus stopping the generation of gas (the
illustration shows the generator in this condition). When the sur-
plus gas is consumed the water reaches the carbide again and more
gas is produced.

No. 11 combined gas and whistling buoy. This is similar in general
design to the No. 9 buoy, but the flotation chamber is 11 feet in
diameter, the whistle 18 inches in diameter, and the two whistling
tubes 36 inches in diameter. The light will be exhibited 30 feet above
the water from a gas lantern carrying a lens either 375 or 500 mm. in
diameter.

No. 14 combined gas and whistling buoy. This is designed for posi-
tions of sufficient importance to call for a light-ship. The flotation
chamber is elliptical, with axes of 11 and 14 feet. The whistling
tubes are 48 inches, and the whistle 18 inches in diameter. The light
will be exhibited 30 feet above the water from a gas lantern carrying
a 500 mm. lens.

A comparative idea of the buoys will be gained from studying the
following table:





>>




* '


s


fs*.


3





1^




3-d




!? < ..


0)"^


S'fe^


- .




2r


Type num-
ber of buoy.


5|


Shape of flotation
chamber.


*"**,

+" i

hi


ee<pa
-H bo-^


o -(J 3


11


0*0

111


MH o3
O




Q




Q


O


u 5


Q


Q


9


5...


Ft. In.
6


Cylindrical


Ft. In.
5 9


Inches.
24


Lbs. Inches.
1 000


Indies.

o


mm.
200


Ft. In.

7 4


6 .


6


do


6


24


1*000


o






7


9 4


. do


7 3


30


2*500


o


200


7 fi


84...


10 5


Spheroidal


8 6


30


2 500


o


orjA




9 .


19 4


Cylindrical


8 10


30


20






















or 200




11
11X144.


26 8
26 8


do
Elliptical


11


30
30


3,000 36
3 000 48


18
18


375
500


30

on n





















It will be noticed that with the increase in the size of the gas buoy,
the size of the lantern, the consumption of gas, and the power of the
light have increased. The lens of 500 mm. diameter corresponds to
the fourth order; 375 mm., fifth order; 300 mm., sixth order, 200
mm., to less than the seventh order, while the lens of 100 mm. can
not well be classified. The 375 mm. lanterns will be used on all
whistling buoys, and eventually 300 mm. lanterns on all standard



ACETYLENE GAS FOR AIDS TO NAVIGATION.



13



buoys, while the No. 11 gas and whistling buoys may carry 500 mm.
lanterns if the importance of the locality warrants it.

The great increase in the light power of the larger automatic
buoys, due to the use of acetylene and the size of gas lanterns
employed, makes them in reality floating light-houses of an order
superior to many of the light-houses in Canada.







No. 7 buoy on deck of Canadian light-house tender Scout.
BURNERS.

The principal difficulty experienced in the use of acetylene for
light-house work has been with the burners, but each season has
produced changes and improvements. It was not considered neces-
sary to purify the acetylene used until the middle of 1905, when
purifiers were added to the automatic buoys with excellent results.



14



ACETYLENE GAS FOR AIDS TO NAVIGATION.



"Economic" burners are used in buoys and shore stations using
compression and low-pressure acetylene gas. They are of the type
shown in the samples and vary from the single one-fourth-foot
flame, one-eighth pilot burner, to the six-burner type, one-half-foot
flame with four and six one-eighth pilot burners. At present use is
made of the following sizes, tips for which are made in the United
States:





Main


Pilot








flames


flames






Size of buoy.


(one-
fourth of


(one-
eighth of


Lens.


Order.




a foot) .


a foot) .






No. 5...


2


2


mm.
100-200


7


No 6


2


2


200


7


No. 6i...


2


2


200




No. 7


2 4


9 4


200-300


6-7


No 8i


2-4


2 4


200-375




No. 9...


4


2-4


300-375


5-6


No. 11.


'Hi 1 ,


46


375-500


4-5


Light-ship


9


6


500


4


Fixed for shore stations


2-6




500 and










up.





a One-haif foot.
CHARGING THE BUOY.

In the low-pressure acetylene buoy the carbide charge (from \ to
\\ tons) is carried in a central generating tube of welded steel, sup-
ported by a flotation chamber. The carbide rests on a cast-steel
grating, below which is a diaphragm of steel with an 8-inch opening
closed by a valve operated by a valve stem which passes through a
tube in the carbide chamber, then through the cast-steel head of the
same, and is operated from the deck of the buoy. The bottom of
the generating tube is open to the water, and the top is closed by a
steel casting containing the purifier and the door for filling the buoy.
The buoy, with valve closed, is filled with carbide before placing on
station. The valve is opened when the buoy is moored, admitting
water to the charge. The air is then blown out of the generating
tube through a small plug and out of the gas lantern in the usual
way, after which the lamp is lighted. At Quebec the officials, on
learning of our arrival, delayed the filling of two low-pressure auto-
matic Willson buoys with carbide until we were present. The
method of charging, etc., at this station was as follows:

The valves in the bottom diaphragm had been closed and the
manhole plates removed. Carbide in tin cans was emptied into coal
scuttles, passed up a ladder, and poured into a canvas chute, which
was long enough to extend to the grating in the charging chamber.
The chute was used to prevent the lumps of carbide from striking

o On file in the Office of the Light-House Board, Department of Commerce and Labor
Washington, D. C.



ACETYLENE GAS FOR AIDS TO NAVIGATION. 15

the iron walls or grating, and, thus to avoid sparks and the ignition
of gas evolved from any moisture in the chamber. These were No. 9
buoys and had a capacity of 3,000 pounds of carbide. When the .
chamber was filled, the manhole plates w r ere put on, connections were
made, and the buoys were ready to put on station. The moorings
used for anchoring them were 1-inch to l^-inch chains of a length
not less than two to two and one-half times the depth of the water,
with cement sinkers, mushrooms, or stockless anchors, depending on
the character of the bottom and attendant circumstances. After
the buoy is in the water the bottom valve is opened, allowing the
water to attack the carbide and the small blow-offs, provided in the
head of the buoy and the lantern, are opened to permit the gas to
drive out the air in the buoy. The connections between the buoy
and the lantern are then tested with soapsuds and the lantern lighted.
The No. 11 and light-ship buoys require for handling a vessel having
a 25-ton derrick and large deck space. It has been the custom to fill
the buoys at the wharf and tow them to the station. They can be filled
on station by closing the bottom valve, pumping or blowing out by
ejector the water and lime deposit, then filling from a tender or other
vessel. The better method, however, is to lift the buoy clear of the
water, wash out the carbide chamber above and below the grating,
close the lower valve, and then charge with carbide, opening


1

Online LibraryAlbert RossReport on use of acetylene gas by the Canadian government as an illuminant for aids to navigation → online text (page 1 of 2)