In 1868 Mr. S. Beer patented a process for preserving wood by simply washing out the sap from its cells. Having ascertained that borax is a solvent for sap, he prepared a number of specimens by boiling them in a solution of borax. For small specimens, this answered well, and a signboard treated in that way (experiment No. 13) was preserved a long time; but when applied to large timber, the process was found very tedious and slow, and no headway has been made in introducing it.
Experiment No. 14 was brought about by accident. Some years age it was discovered that there was a strip of road in the track of the Union Pacific Railroad, in Wyoming Territory, about ten miles in length, where the ties do not decay at all. The Chief Engineer, Mr. Blinkinsderfer, kindly took up a cotton wood tie in 1882, which had been laid in 1868, and sent a, piece of it to the committee. It is as sound and a good deal harder than when first laid, 14 years before, while on some other parts of the road cottonwood ties perish in two or five years.
The character of the soil where these results have been observed is light and soapy, and Mr. E. Dickinson, Superintendent of the Laramie Division, furnishes the following analysis:
Sodium chloride 10.64 Potassium 4.70 Magnesium sulphate 1.70 Silica 0.09 Alumina 1.94 Ferric oxide 5.84 Calcium carbonate 22.33 Magnesium 3.39 Organic matter 4.20 Insoluble matter 941.47 Loss in analysis 4.00 Traces of phosphorous acid and ammonia.
The following remarks made by the chemists who made the analysis may be of interest:
"The decay of wood arises from the presence in the wood of substances which are foreign to the woody fiber, but are present in the juices of the wood while growing, and consist of albuminous matter, which, when beginning to decay, causes also the destruction of the other constituents of the wood."
"One of the means adopted to prevent the destruction of wood by decay is by the chemical alteration of the constituents of the sap."
"This is brought about by impregnating the wood with some substance which either enters into combination with the constitutents of the sap or so alters their properties as to prevent the setting up of decomposition."
"The analysis of this soil shows that it contains large quantities of the substances (sodium, potassium chloride, calcium, and iron) most used in the different processes of preserving or kyanizing wood. It also contains much inorganic matter, which also acts as a preserving agent."
Some of the ties so preserved have been transferred to other portions of the track, and some of the soil has also been transported to other localities, so that it is hoped that in the discussion that may be expected to follow this report, some further light will be thrown on the subject by an account of the results of these experiments.
Experiments Nos. 15, 16, 17, and 18 are most instructive, and convey a useful lesson.
In 1865 Mr. B.S. Foreman patented the application of a dry powder for preserving wood, which was composed of certain proportions of salt, arsenic, and corrosive sublimate. This action was based upon an experience which he had had when, as a working mechanic of Ellisburg, Jefferson County, N.Y., in 1838, he had preserved a water-wheel shaft by inserting such a compound in powder in the body of the wood, and ascertained that it was still sound some 14 years later.
His theory of the action of his compound upon timber was briefly this:
"That all wood before it can decay must ferment; that fermentation cannot exist without heat and moisture; that the chemical property or nature of his compound, when inserted dry into wood, is to attract moisture, and this moisture, aided by fermentation, liquefies the compound; that capillary attraction must inevitably convey it through the sap ducts and medullary rays to every fiber of the stick.... Were these crystallizations salt alone, they would soon dissolve, but the arsenic and corrosive sublimate have rendered them insoluble; hence they remain intact while any fiber of the wood is left."
"The antiseptic qualities of arsenic are also well known, and have been known for centuries. Chemical analysis of the mummies of Egypt to-day shows the presence of arsenic in large quantities in every portion of their substance. Whatever other ingredients may have entered into the compound that has been so potent in preserving from decay the bodies of the old kings of Egypt, and even the linen vestments of their tombs, arsenic was most certainly one."
The mode of application used by Mr. Foreman was to bore holes two inches in diameter three-fourths of the way through sticks of square timber, four feet apart, to fill them with the dry powder, and to plug them up with a bung. For railroad ties he bored two holes two inches in diameter, six inches inside of the rails, and filled and plugged them. Fresh cut lumber and shingles were prepared by piling layers upon each other with the dry powder sprinkled between in the ratio of twenty pounds to the thousand feet of lumber. This was allowed to remain at a temperature of at least 458° F. until fermentation took place, when the lumber was considered fully "foremanized."
The process was first applied to the timber and lumber for a steamboat, and in 1879 the result was reported to be favorable. It was then applied to some ties on the Illinois Central Railroad, where it did not succeed, and to some on the Chicago and Northwestern, where they seem to have been lost sight of, being few in number, so that your committee has not been able to learn the result.
Great expectations were, however, entertained, and a conditional sale was made to various parties of the right of using the process, notably, it is said, to the Memphis and Charleston Railroad for $50,000; and some ten miles of ties were prepared on that road, when the poisonous nature of the ingredients used brought about disaster.