West Michigan Chapter of the Buick Club of America




FIRE!    There is nothing more fearsome than your old Buick catching on fire. Your heart reacts to the adrenaline rush like a four-barrel Rochester with a bad accelerator pump. First it hesitates and acts like it’s going to stall and then it kicks in and you’re hanging on for dear life!
    Life's pathway is on a right angle with good fortune and tragedy. It's kind of like driving down a highway, full of intersections, but with no stop signs. The odds are pretty good that you'll miss most of the cross-traffic but occasionally there's that "fluke"…

Cold Buick with a Nearly Dead Battery
    It was on a cold winter's day when chapter member, Del Carpenter, had his "fluke." It started out with a simple statement, "Son, I need you to help me start my Buick!"
    The old Buick had sat outside for a couple of months, waiting its turn in the repair shop. Now, covered with snow it was stone cold to the core. The battery, for lack of a charger, was weak and would provide only a few good cranks – but Del knew that.
    Del understood how the Buick would respond and he would have to use every trick he knew to get it started and keep it running. He had one shot at starting it and he knew he would have to have fuel in the cylinders on the first crank.
    There is no good way to know that the fuel system is fully charged. We often just "crank" and "pump" until the engine catches. This works fine if the battery is strong enough to crank the engine over a number of times. But, if everything isn't just "so," then priming the carburetor is in order.

Nectar of the Internal Combustion Engine

    Ahha, gasoline, the nectar of the internal combustion engine and the nemesis to those who handle it improperly. Del, however, is not unwise when it comes to handling it. He knows that with a weak battery he must prime the engine to get it started. He knows that he shouldn’t pour gasoline down the carburetor from a gas can. He knows gasoline could spill and the car could catch on fire. He knows all of that.
Pouring Raw Gasoline Into A Carb.Gasoline and The Soup Can
    Instead of fumbling with a large gasoline can, Del finds a small, clean soup can. He pours some gasoline into the can and places the gas can a safe distance from the car. He will remove the breather from the Buick carburetor, pour gasoline down its throat and have his son crank the engine. What could possibly go wrong?
    First, Del pours a little "prime" into the carburetor and shouts to his son, "Ok, crank it!" The starter engages and begins to growl deeply as it turns 300 cubic inches of displacement. Del thinks, "Maybe this isn't going to work." when suddenly the engine catches and begins to sputter to life. Even though his son is frantically pumping on the gas pedal Del can tell it’s not getting enough gas. Del gingerly tips the soup can ever so slightly, feeding the carburetor with more gasoline. The engine begins to pick up some momentum but then suddenly a valve doesn’t close completely and raw gasoline is ignited in the intake manifold -- backfire!
    In the time it takes to blink Del suddenly realizes that pouring gasoline from an open can wasn't one of his smarter moves. The backfire belches an eight-inch ball of flame from the carburetor, ignites the gasoline in the open soup can and causes Del to jerk violently backward.

My Arm’s On Fire!

    Winter Coat Sleeve On FireFlaming gasoline now spills onto the sleeve of his winter coat. He jumps backward from the Buick in horrified disbelief. Various thoughts scream through his brain. Incredibly, the first few don't deal with how to handle the situation.
    "My arm's on fire!" -- as if that wasn't obvious.
    "This can't be happening." he thinks in disbelief.
    "It will go out quickly," he hopes for a quick resolution.
    "It's not going out!" as he realizes the gravity of the situation.
    "Get the coat off, quick!" as he thinks about survival.

Faster Than Superman Can Change Clothes

    Under normal circumstances, a winter coat takes six seconds to remove. Normally it’s unzipped and each arm is removed – one at a time. Del doesn't remember taking the coat off nor does his son recall seeing him do it. One instant Del is standing in the snow with his arm looking like a flaming marshmallow and the next instant he's in shirtsleeves.
    Now that Del has spared his arm from the flames his attention turns to his burning winter jacket lying in the snow. He begins to kick snow on the sleeve and jump up and down on it. You know, in retrospect, stomping on a gasoline fire isn't all that smart either. It could have caught Del's paint leg on fire and he would have had to shuck his pants as well … is he a brief or boxer kind of guy?

How To Save Face With A Son

    As Del surveys the damage to his smoldering, crumpled jacket lying in the snow, he notices his son standing not to far away with his mouth agape and eyes as big a saucers. Something inside tells Del this is an excellent opportunity to tell his son about the dangers of gasoline, but his mouth does not fill with words. Instead, he just shakes his head. His son understands. A picture is worth a thousand words. An open container of gasoline is nothing to fool with and can turn into a tragic nightmare in the blink of an eye.
Fire Fighting Equipment
Lesson Learned
    1. NEVER pour gasoline into a carburetor from an open container. Some would use squeeze bottles to minimize the risk but Del thinks that even that is much too dangerous.
    2. NEVER try and start a cold engine with the breather off the carburetor. If it must be primed, replace the breather before cranking.
    3. NEVER stick your head under the hood while trying to start an engine. A fireball from the carburetor could do a number on your eyebrows, or worse, your eyes.
    4. Whenever possible, use a fully charged battery when cranking a reluctant engine.


    That year, for Christmas, Del received a brand new battery charger. His excuse for catching his sleeve on fire was that the battery was nearly dead and because he didn't have a battery charger he had to do what he did because of it and that’s why his sleeve caught on fire.
    Go figure!
    It was, however, obvious to Del's family that from that "flaming" day forward, gasoline was given a lot more respect around their home.

Thanks to Mark Topoliski for providing the artwork.