By Norris Chambers

            The fenders and other thin metal parts on Model Ts and some other automobiles were subject to cracking and splitting in the early thirties. This was probably due to the very rough roads that they had to traverse in those days. When the cracks got so bad that the owner was bothered he usually had a blacksmith or auto repair shop weld them. No effort was made to smooth the ridges and do a fancy repair job. Sometimes a little paint was brushed on the rough welds.

Many magazines advertised a little portable electric welder that operated from the six volt battery in the car. It was nothing more than a cable set that connected to the battery on one end and a clamp on the other end that held the small welding rods that were used. Another cable that was furnished connected the article to be welded to the car frame. The automobile engine was started and the battery and generator furnished enough power to weld fenders and other small articles. These little welding machines were great for small jobs but didnít do any of the larger jobs that needed to be done from time to time on the farm.

We knew one farmer, George Windman, who was fortunate enough to be on the road where a power line was installed to bring electricity to a gasoline refinery that was being constructed a few miles north of our community. George was one of the very few in our end of the county to have electricity. In a few days he decided that if a battery worked on a small job with a small welding rod the regular power should work on a large job with a larger welding rod. Of course he was wrong. When he tried it there was a quick flash and the rod stuck to the metal he was attempting to weld. At almost the same time the fuse in his main power box opened the circuit and he was without power until he made a trip to town and got another fuse.

Another advertisement that was quite popular in magazines pictured a nice little welding set that worked with the regular power line and was very economical. It didnít use an expensive transformer but utilized water for the current control. According to the advertisement it could do either light or heavy welding. George ordered one. Clifton was in the post office when he picked it up and managed to get us an invitation to come and see the new welder operate.

The device looked real professional. It had a nice rod holder with two cables attached. One connected to an electrical power plug and the other to one end of a small box. A cable on the other end of the box connected to the other terminal of the plug. There was a metal plate on each inside end of the box that the wires connected to. The kit even contained a dark set of goggles to protect the eyes from the bright light when welding. The instructions said to fill the box with water and it would act as a limiting resistor for welding. If you needed more welding power than the water allowed add a small amount of salt. This would lower the resistance of the water and allow more current to pass.

The instructions sounded simple enough so we soon had everything connected. George made a hasty trip to the kitchen and returned with a big salt shaker. We found a couple of pieces of scrap metal and Clifton took the goggles and prepared to test the new welding process. When he touched the welding rod to the metal there was a slight arc but it was obvious that we needed more current. I took the salt shaker and started sprinkling salt into the small tank. The arc began to increase in size and after considerable salting Clifton was doing a pretty good job of welding.

We were about ready to give three cheers for the new welder when we noticed that the water had begun to boil in the tank. The boiling became more violent and the tank was steaming like a train whistle. The welding job needed more current. I poured some more water in the tank and shook a little more salt into it. This helped for a short time but it was soon steaming again. We stopped the demonstration for a consultation. We were convinced that we had followed the directions and we were convinced that the machine was meant for small jobs that could be finished before the water heated.

I suggested that we build a large wooden tank that would hold enough water to use the welder for a reasonable length of time without the overheating problem. Everyone agreed that it was a good idea so we proceeded to build a box eight feet long and about a foot in height and two feet in width. George managed to find some sheet aluminum for the end connectors and we soon had it ready to try. It wasnít an easy job carrying that much water from the well to the blacksmith shop but with one worker bailing water from the well and two carrying it in buckets we soon had it full and ready to try.

It took lots of salt to get the current high enough for welding, but it worked. The water was slowly warming and after several minutes it began to steam. We agreed that any normal job could be completed before the water overheated.  But the system was large and it took considerable work to get it ready for use.  George was satisfied and used the welder until he acquired a better one. The country engineers triumphed again!

Was making the welder fun? Of course Ė if you want to build one and have fun see if you can find a salt mine and an economical water supply!