Using Ethanol

Dear Dr. Motorhead,

Last month I was visiting dear old friends in Florida. You know, the ones like most who live down there, and have dinner between 4:30 and 5:00 in the evening. We chatted after dinners to the wee, wee hours of 8:30 or 9:00 every night. It was a good thing my kids didn’t know my wife and I were such cavorters on our vacation. Needless to say, I had plenty of time to catch up on my reading while stashed away in the guest room, trying to fall a sleep as early as my gracious hosts.

On one such evening, I picked up a copy of The Sheerline, Sunnyland Chapter’s newsletter and read it from stem to stern. I made note, however, of an article written by a Herr Doctor Helmut Motorkopf. This article was fascinating in its content and raised some caution about the fuel we use in our old boats. The most interesting and curious thought I had was in regards to the authors name. I remember your grandfather changed his sir name from Motorkopf to Motorhead shortly after immigrating from the old country. Is this guy some distant relative of yours? Do you even know of this person? Does he even know what he is talking about? I mean, isn’t there only one Dr. Motorhead? Are you writing under an alias? I am trying hard not to feel betrayed here. Oh great one, tell me about what this Floridian is writing about. Do you eat dinner at 5:00 like this guy? I have sent with this letter, the edition of which I speak for your reference and critique. The article is entitled, “The Use of Alcohol-Primed Motor Fuels in Antique and Classic Boat Engines”. I just hope there isn’t one more thing I have to worry about. I so hate having to worry. Oh, by the way; on our trip back from Florida we stopped to visit some other close friends in Milwaukee. I have always wanted to visit Lou Brisity’s Transmission and Speed Merchant Shop.

Boy, was I impressed! That guy can do it all — a bit of a
perfectionist though. Oh well, it’s a shame. I guess we all can’t be like you Dr. Motorhead — or may I call you Fred?

Oh, and Fred, we also made another stop just prior to crossing the Minnesota border. We were just north of fashionable Somerset WI, visiting the Clarks. You know, as in Bob and Renee. Bob and I had a lengthy discussion regarding some new products that he had discovered (well, not actually discovered as in working in his secret basement laboratory.) He came across it while visiting his most favorite plumber, Kim. Did you know Kim is the only plumber in the United States without a crack back? Back to our conversation. Bob showed me two products and told me there is nothing better in the whole world when it comes to fogging oil and super penetrating oils. These are PB penetrating oil and Stabil fogging oil. I must say I am skeptical because it says right on the can “As seen on TV”, and you know what the quality of some of that stuff really is. Anyway, I know Bob is very knowledgeable when it comes to fine cigars and Canadian whisky, but before I go out and spend my hard-earned cash, I wanted to make sure it carried the “Dr. Motorhead Seal of Approval”.

Well, we made it home from a very enjoyable adventure and hoped you might have some time to de-mystify all of this cool stuff for me.
One last thing. Isn’t there a saying somewhere that “Old wood boaters never die, they just move to Mt. Dora?”
Happy Wanderer

Dear Happy,
Let me start at the top, as that is exactly where I am at the moment. Am I writing under an alias as Dr. Motorkopf? No. I have my allegiance to The Boathouse readers. I have been asked many times to answer questions in many, many different magazines such as I do here. Most notably the ACBS Rudder. I have declined, as my most important work belongs here at home in Minnesota. I do not want to get spread too thin and not perform 100% for all you BSLOLers.

Is Dr. Motorkopf a realitive of mine? No, I am the only surviving descendant of the great Motorheads (Motorkopfs) who have preceded me. The fact is, I know who writes that article for the Sheerline. It is none other than Gordon Millar, ex-resident of Minnesota and current resident of Florida. Is he plagiarizing my name? Yes, absolutely, and I am going to file suit and challenge him to an arm wrestling match as soon as I finish this letter. Does he know what he is talking about? Yes he really does, especially when it comes to gasoline and its composition and additives. I would be so bold as to say there is no other authority than Gordon. Besides, he has a cool boat and likes to fly.

A few of the high points he mentions in his article regarding ethanol-blended gasoline. We are in for a change with the composition of our gasoline. The gas docks do not have ethanol-blended gasoline as of yet. This ethanol does have different burning characteristics than gasoline and our engines today have computers to make sure they perform as they should when switching from one fuel to another. Our old flatheads do not have computers to make minute changes in timing and fuel management adjustments. There is an opportunity for carburetor icing because of reduced inlet manifold temperatures. Ethanol blended gasoline can cause problems with gaskets, rubber components and corrosion. There is an opportunity to collect more water in our gas tanks with ethanol in the gas. We should have a way to drain this water easily.

Here in Minnesota we know that all gas at the pumps contain at least 10% ethanol or grain alcohol, a renewable and clean burning resource. The gas docks as of yet are not required to have this blend. So what do you do if you don’t live on a lake allowing you to get your gas at a gas dock? What if your lake does not have a gas dock? Or, what if you just don’t want to pay $1.00 more per gallon for dock gasoline? The answer: use ethanol-blended gasoline with pride. Nothing Mr. Millar is stating in his article is incorrect. Please do not get me wrong; I feel that he is making just a little too big a deal out of the facts.

The carburetors in our flat heads are archaic cast iron and with few adjustments. Yet they are dependable, easy to maintain and do the job. They have idle adjustment screws, low-speed air/fuel adjustments and most zenith carburetors have high-speed air/fuel adjustments. If you use ethanol-blended gasoline, adjust your carburetor as you have been taught through Steve Merjanian’s spring tune up primer. If you are a real perfectionist like Lou Brisity, you will have your head in the motor box once a week anyway, so no big deal if you go back and forth between different types of fuel. Just make the simple adjustment. If you aren’t a perfectionist, no big deal either because you will hardly notice a change in performance. Even if you use only one type of fuel, you will be making manual changes in your archaic carburetor, like Lou, throughout the spring, summer and fall because of temperature, pressure and humidity changes as the season progresses. Your car computer does this automatically. So, who needs a computer when all you need is a screwdriver to occasionally adjust your carburetor properly?

Carburetor icing occurs when the moisture freezes at the intake of the carburetor. This freezing can eventually choke off all the needed air to
perform combustion. This freezing can take place when the air temperature is well above freezing. Compressed air cools when it is forced through your venturi. Anyone who flies knows this is a real issue that applies to airplanes with normally aspirated, non-fuel injected engines. This problem exists for the most part when the air is cold and damp, long after we have put our boats away for the winter. Although rare, icing can occur with warmer temperatures, as high as 60 degrees Fahrenheit. However, I have used ethanol-blended gasoline in my boat for years and have never experienced carburetor icing. Although I did once while flying, and that was kind of scary, especially when it happened to me while turning base to final.

What about the issue of corrosion and deterioration of rubber components in our engines? Yes, this is true for very old fuel pumps and nothing else, in my opinion. All new rubber gaskets and fuel pumps use ethanol-resistant compounds. If your fuel pump is one of those older ones that have not been replaced then, sooner or later, you will need to if you use ethanol; the rubber diaphragm will pretty much fall apart. No big deal here. I’ve taught you all the simple procedure of replacing your pump.

What about collecting water in the gas tank? Alcohol absorbs water. Ever heard of the product “Heet”? “Heet” is alcohol that absorbs water and melts small amounts of ice in your gas lines. By the way you Minnesotans, have you had any gas lines freeze up in your car with this ethanol-blended gasoline lately? The alcohol is already in the gas. Save your money and leave that can of “Heet” on the shelf; your gasoline is doing the job. It is true that ethanol can only absorb or hold so much water before the two separate, but with each new tank of gas is another jolt of moisture-absorbing ethanol sloshing around with every wave you hit. So, in my opinion, there’s much less chance of excess water accumulating in the bottom of your tank with this new fuel.
So, do as the good Doctor does — use ethanol right from the gas station; save yourself $1.00 per gallon and support Minnesota agriculture.

What about PB penetrating oil and Stabil fogging oil? I don’t know anything about this stuff. I am going to send Piston out to get some and we will get to the laboratory post hast to analyze this new discovery. Oh, by the way Bob, the only Clark that did any discovery was the won traveling with Lewis. No, I take that back, there were some indigenous people who, in fact, traveled the Missouri River long before they did.