Experiments Nos. 1, 2, and 3 relate to the Earle process, from which great results were expected from 1839 to 1844. It consisted in immersing timber, rope, canvas, etc., in a hot solution of one pound of sulphate of copper and three pounds of sulphate of iron mixed in twenty gallons of water. It was first tested on some hemlock paving blocks on Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, and for a time seemed to promise good results. Experiments with prepared rope, exposed in a fungus pit, by Mr. James Archbald, Chief Engineer of the Delaware and Hudson Canal, seemed also favorable.
The process was, therefore, thoroughly tried at the Watervliet Arsenal, where it was applied to some 63,000 cubic ft. of timber, at a cost of about seven cents per cubic foot. The timber was used for various ordnance purposes, and while it was found to have its life extended, as would naturally be expected from the known character of the antiseptics used, its strength was so far impaired, and it checked and warped so badly, that the process was abandoned in 1844.
The committee is indebted to General S.V. Benet, Chief of Ordnance, for a full copy of the reports upon these experiments.
Experiments Nos. 4 and 7 represent the lime process, which has been applied to a considerable extent in France. The fact that platforms and boxes used for mixing lime mortar seem to resist decay has repeatedly suggested the use of lime for preserving timber. In 1840 Mr. W.R. Huffnagle, Engineer of the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad, laid a portion of its track on white pine sills, which had been soaked for three months in a vat of lime-water as strong as could be maintained. Similar experiments were tried on the Baltimore and Ohio in 1850. The result was not satisfactory, as might be expected from the fact that lime is a comparatively weak antiseptic (52.5 by atomic weight, while creosote is 216), and from the extreme tediousness of three months' soaking.
Experiments Nos. 5 and 8 were tried with sulphate of iron, sometimes known as payenizing, and the particulars of the former have been furnished by Mr. I. Hinckley, President of the Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad, to whom your committee is much indebted for a large mass of information on the subject of timber preservation.
Mr. Hinckley has had longer and more varied experience on this subject than any other person in this country. Beginning with sulphate of copper in 1846, following with chloride of mercury in 1847, and chloride of zinc in 1852, going back to chloride of mercury, and again to chloride of zinc, using the latter until 1865, then using creosote to protect the piles against the teredo at Taunton Great River (experiment No. 2. creosoting), he has had millions of feet of timber and lumber prepared by the various processes, and has kindly placed at our disposal many original reports in manuscript and pamphlets which are now very rare.
Experiment No. 6 was made by Mr. Ashbel Welch, former President of this Society, and consisted in boring hemlock track sills 6 × 12 with a 1-1/8 inch auger-hole 10 inches deep every 15 inches. These were filled with common salt and plugged up, as is not infrequently done in ship-building, but while the life of the timber was somewhat lengthened, it was concluded that the process did not pay.
Salt has been experimented with numberless times. It is cheap, but is a comparatively weak antiseptic, its atomic weight being 58.8 in the hydrogen scale, as against 135.5 for chloride of mercury.
Experiment No. 9 is included in order to notice the well-known and most ancient process of charring the outside of timber. In this particular case, the fence posts after charring were dipped for about three feet into a hot mixture of raw linseed oil and pulverized charcoal, which probably acted by closing the sap cells against the intrusion of moisture, which, as is well known, much hastens decay. The posts, which had been set butt-end upward, were mostly sound in 1879, after 24 years' exposure.
Experiments Nos. 41, 42, 43, and 44 did not, however, result as well, and numberless failures throughout the country attest that charring is uncertain and disappointing in its results.
Much ingenuity has been wasted in devising and patenting machinery for charring wood on a large scale to preserve it against decay. The process, however, is so tedious in comparison with the benefits which it confers, and the charred surface is so objectionable for many uses, that nothing is to be expected from the process upon a large commercial scale.
In 1857-58 Mr. H.K. Nichols tried sundry experiments (No. 10), at Pottsville, Pa., upon timber which he endeavored to impregnate with pyrolignite of iron by means of capillary action. Similar experiments had previously been thoroughly tried in France by Dr. Boucherie, but the result has not been found satisfactory.
In 1858 the Erie Railway purchased the right of using the Nichols patent, and erected machinery at its Owego Bridge shop for boring a 2 inch hole longitudinally through the center of bridge timbers. This continued till 1870, when the works were burned, and in rebuilding them the boring machinery was not replaced. The longitudinal hole allowed a portion of the sap to evaporate without checking the outside of the timber, and undoubtedly lengthened its life. It is believed there are yet (1885) some sticks of timber in the bridges of the road that were so prepared in 1868 or 1869.
In 1867 Mr. W.H. Smith patented a method of preserving timber, by incasing it in vitrified earthenware pipes, and filling the space between the timber and the pipe with a grouting of hydraulic cement. This was applied to the railroad bridge connecting the mainland with Galveston Island (experiment No. 12), and so well did it seem to succeed at first that it was proposed to extend the process to railroad trestlework, to fencing, to supports for houses, and to telegraph poles. But after a while the earthenware pipes were displaced and broken, the process was given up, and Galveston bridge is now creosoted.