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Hemi Hunter's Top Fuel Tales

Top Fuel Oil Burners

By Gary Peters

As most of the older drag racers will remember, a heated garage was a thing of luxury back in the old days. I'm sure we all spent many an evening working in the cold. If you read the last story from our adventures (January 4), you'll remember that the owner of the garage we worked in to get the Hemi Hunter ready to race was called Herman the German. Well, originally the garage wasn't heated, but Herman came to us one night and said he would build and install a hot air oil burner if we would help, and pay a little extra each month for the rent. This sounded good to us; let's do it.

Now Herman was a maintenance man from the Bethlehem Steel Corporation in Bethlehem, PA. So we figure he has the knowledge to build the unit. One night he shows up with the unit he built from scratch, and we help him to install the burner onto the ceiling. We run the fuel line and stuff to the fuel tank he installed outside in the back of the garage. The garage was big, and could hold about 12 cars if needed.

We add our two cents and tell Herman we'll supply the blower for forcing the hot air through the pair of ceiling ducts we also hung. He wasn't the only one to show his expertise in providing heat. Now what do you think a bunch of top fuel racers would use for the blower? You got it, the Bowers 6-71 blower we banged when the car ran its first six-second pass! This little pop bent the rotors, and I had to chuck them up in our lathe and turn the rotors down until they spun in the housing. The clearance from the rotors to the case ended up at about eighteen thousandths. I guess it wasn't such a little pop after all. Now this meant the $2800 blower wasn't good for the car anymore anyway. We get a V belt pulley (probably from a Chevy) and installed it to an old blower pulley. Then we found a belt and hooked everything up to the electric motor Herman supplied. This all took several weeks of work.

Herman made the sheet metal bottom to cover the output side of the 6-71, and bolted everything together. He's like a kid in a candy store; the big blower has him excited to fire up his AA/Oil Burner. Herman stands on a ladder and cracks the fuel line until oil flows to the burner unit. Knowing what we know about burning fuel and blowers, we stand back at the corner of the garage. The thermostat is turned up, and we wait for the unit to start. Nothing. Herman checks the fuel flow again. Still nothing. He's scratching his head, and we go back to working on the car, in the cold.

Herman starts tracing wires, etc., trying to find the problem. He's at it for about a half-hour when he asks me if we have an electrical meter. I said sure. I go to the toolbox and go up a second ladder to hand the meter to Herman. I look into the bottom of the oil burner housing and notice it has about an inch of fuel oil laying in the bottom. I ask Herman if this isn't dangerous. What if he gets the thing to spark to life? He just looks at me as if I didn't know a thing about fuel vapor's and electrical sparks. "This stuff isn't nitro you know," he tells me.

I quickly go down the ladder, grab Jim and Danny, and tell them we're going for a beer at the bar up the street. They look at me funny and ask what the heck I'm doing -- we still had work to do on the car. We usually didn't get to the bar till after 10 o'clock; it was only around eight. I quickly tell them what I saw, and explained how Herman was determined to get the thing lit. Next thing I know we're all sitting at the bar.

The bartender knew us, but was puzzled why we were at his place so early. We just told him we got thirsty, cold, and needed a beer. We sat there sipping the beer waiting for what we thought would be a major explosion, sooner or later. I don't know, after about the sixth beer, it was either the beer or our consciences that made us make the next move. We didn't say much to each other, but after awhile we became concerned for Herman the German, and decided to return to the garage and stop him from experimenting. After all, we had all our worldly car and parts in that garage.

We slowly approach the garage and look through the door window, hoping now is not the time for the big bang. Herman is standing there in his under wear, waving at us to come in. We walk into the garage and the heat from the system has the garage toasty warm. The thing would only have to run for about two minutes to get the garage to 80 degrees. Herman removed his shirt and pants because he got them soaked with fuel oil. He thought that was a little dangerous, but was determined to get the thing running. I don't know if that unit is still in use today -- no one's been back to the garage in 25 years. Herman passed away about 10 years ago; I saw his name in the paper. But if someone ever called in an oil burner company to fix the thing, they probably never saw a AA/Fuel heating system before. 

Gary Peters


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