Tuesday, September 6, 2016

A Red Hot Mystery Artifact Reveal...

Hello again! Last call for any guesses on this here Mystery Artifact? We got a guess for the lantern on an old firetruck, but it's a little stranger than that...

This is a heater for a car...more specifically, for the engine block of a car. Perhaps the patent for this mystery artifact can explain it better: The invention relates to portable oil burning heaters of the distillate type which are especially adapted for keeping warm the motors of automobiles and airplanes when stored in unheated garages or parked in the open in localities subject to low temperatures. 

The way you use this artifact is to hang it by the hook under the hood of one's car. Though this might seem weird now, the patent is from 1940, when the hoods of cars were much more likely to fit something like this heater. 

The canister at the bottom is meant to be filled up with kerosene, and inside the cylindrical part on the top is where the flame sits. The can-like cylindrical part on the top of this object is actually just a snuffer, and it would be used with the screen underneath exposed. The patent for the artifact says this is ok because: "air can enter through the screen but flame cannot pass from the interior to the exterior of the screen there is no liability of explosion or danger of accidental fire."
These days, a very similar kind of thing is used, but without the flame (which seems a little scary, right?). Many people, especially in northern states here in the U.S., Canada, Scandinavia and so on, use something called a block heater, which is a heater inside the hood of their car. These block heaters are powered by electricity, and is usually plugged into an outside outlet, like this:

A block heater in use in Sweden.
Both the modern block heaters and these kerosene ones were meant to keep a few things in particular warm. Block heaters keep coolant warm. I know, that sounds weird, doesn’t it? The coolant spreads the heat that it receives throughout the engine block, and that makes it easier for the car to start. One of the most important things that gets heated in this process is the motor oil, which can congeal at low temperatures. If it gets too cold, it's pretty much impossible for the oil to do its job of lubricating the engine. So, perhaps the heater doesn't keep the engine "red hot," but it does keep it warm enough to keep your automobile working safely. 

I don't know about you, but I found this artifact pretty fascinating (and a little dangerous). I'm pretty glad it doesn't get quite cold enough here in central Illinois to need one of these heaters!  Stay tuned for another mystery artifact! As always, if you're interested in a closer look at this or any of our recent mystery artifacts, please come visit us and take a look around the museum. We are now open 1-5 pm 7 days a week. 

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