Battery Restoration, Improvised Insulation, and Switchel: Hints From C.D. Prewitt

A grab bag of ideas and recommendations on battery restoration, improvised insulation from materials readily at hand, drinking switchel, and using D.C. power.
By the MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
January/February 1973
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With proper care, you can make your batteries last longer and even revive them for a short time.

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I notice that under "Feedback on Buying Used Pickups", Robert Stewart says that he uses a piece of emery cloth to brighten the contacts of his storage battery and give it longer life. He could also use a "male-female" wire brush made for this purpose and obtainable from auto suppliers. The stainless steel kind are best, since the others rust out rather quickly. To prevent corrosion of the terminals, grease (preferably not thickened oil) can be applied.

Since Ohm's law says E=IR, it's good practice to keep the contacts of dry cells clean, and I lengthen the life of my flashlight batteries by the same method . . . only I prefer steel wool for this job.

Another trick with flashlight cells: If you're in a tight spot for light and your batteries have just run down, try heating them . . . not too hot! You should be able to pick them up and give them some additional mileage. (I believe the heat drives away some hydrogen which is polarizing them.)

And here's another: a way to charge flashlight batteries. With the aid of a short length of wire as a connector, hold your cells across a storage battery so as to join them positive to positive and negative to negative. (The battery is six-volt, of course, unless you're trying to charge four flashlight cells.) If you hold the connection for a minute or so—until you feel the cells getting just a bit warm—they will again give a fairly bright light. It won't last long, but it may be enough to get you out of a tricky situation . . . as it has done for me.

And still another: If you want a bright flashlight in a small package, go to the dime store and buy a $1.00 two-cell model (that uses "D" batteries). Change the bulb to about a five-volt type . . . I like a PR-13 (4.75 volts) best because it lasts very well and will outlive several batteries. Then, instead of the regular two "D" cells, put in four "1/2 D". Those I've seen (by Eveready) are alkaline, and at least the equivalent of the carbon-zinc "D" kind.

Now you really have a light in your pocket!

Improvised Insulation

Insulating the home can pay big dividends. Of course, if you've just bought a house, it's likely that you've found many other things to do . . . and if you're short of bread, a conventional insulating job can sound expensive. But a lot of heat conservation can often be improvised.

Many of your household items—bookcases for instance—can work for you if you place them along the outside walls. Six or eight inches of books make good insulation. And, if you cover your bookcases with plastic so that it hangs down in front, you'll be making a dead air cell as well as keeping dust off your collection of reading matter.

In the same way, an outside wall is the one to hang clothes on, so that they can insulate the house when they aren't insulating you. Put your sofa against an outside wall, too . . . also chests, because the drawers are dead air cells.

Other things being equal, there's more heat lost per square foot through the ceiling than anywhere else . . . so if you have an attic space, cover all the unused floor area with closed empty paper boxes.

Now take a look at your doors. If they have panels, the insets are probably not over 1/4 to 1/2-inch thick . . . mighty little to have between you and the outdoors in winter. But there is a thicker wood frame around the panels and, if you bridge from one edge of each door to the other by tacking or taping corrugated box board to the thick wood around the edges (leaving an air space between panel and box board), you'll increase the insulating power of the door considerably. You can do this on both sides . . . but if rain strikes the outside, you must waterproof the paper covering with varnish or the like to protect it.

If you have screen doors and windows, make them into storm doors and windows by covering them with plastic.

By using the tricks I've mentioned, I cut the fuel bill for my board shack in the country to a third of what it formerly was.

Making Switchel

Although I've seen a good many articles in MOTHER EARTH NEWS about natural foods, I've seen less about beverages . . . so I thought I'd bring up the subject of switchel, which (prior to the appearance of carbonated drinks on the market) seems to have been used from New England to the deep South.

Essentially, switchel is either molasses or honey diluted with water and acidified with vinegar (a natural product and probably better for one than the phosphoric acid which is used in most, if not all, of our soft drinks. In recent years various groups of researchers have been giving this chemical a bad time on the grounds that it's very injurious to teeth, so maybe it's time to give some thought to another method of acidification.)

The late Dr. D.C. Jarvis (author of FOLK MEDICINE), who did a good bit of experimentation with switchel, recommended that it be made with honey rather than molasses (by putting one teaspoonful of honey and one of vinegar into a glass and filling it with water). Dr. Jarvis' extensive tests showed that this beverage was very effective at keeping the system properly acidified . . . and since he also found that people take cold only when their bodies are too alkaline, it seems that switchel, properly used, may increase resistance to this and possibly other diseases.

Another advantage of the drink is that it guards against potassium deficiency. Our land is notoriously lacking in this element, which seems quite natural since all potassium salts—with one exception, which is quite uncommon—are water soluble and must long ago have been washed away to the seas. We do, however, find potassium in both honey and apple cider vinegar.

Moreover, the constant use of switchel seems to act in two ways to ward off the arthritis and bursitis from which many people suffer sooner or later.

First, calcium deposits in the joints are often associated with arthritis, and possibly with bursitis to some extent: Since calcium is acid-soluble, switchel, taken regularly, may be expected to keep the body sufficiently acid to dissolve the calcium and carry it away.

Second, we know that the hard tissues of the body (bones, teeth, etc.) require calcium, the soft tissues (muscles, tendons, ligaments, bursae, etc.) require potassium and the fluid tissues (blood, lymph) need sodium. I have a theory—supported by research results I've seen—that when the soft tissues call for potassium that the starved system is unable to supply, calcium is offered instead . . . possibly causing bursitis when it is absorbed at the joints. If the system is not potassium-deficient, however, this substitution will not be made. Switchel, then, may guard against bursitis by keeping the potassium level adequate.

Dr. Jarvis recommended that a person drink two glasses of switchel per day. I think most of you will find it a rather pleasant-tasting drink. Since I like sweets, I use more honey than Dr. Jarvis advised.

I find my method of preparing this beverage easier than Dr. Jarvis' (which involves much stirring to get the honey and vinegar to mix and the acidified honey to dissolve). I make up a concentrate of four ounces of vinegar added to eight ounces of honey, shake it a bit and put it in the refrigerator. When I want a drink of switchel I pour about an ounce of my mixture into a glass and fill with water. Usually the turbulence blends the drink sufficiently.

One last point . . . if you're interested in doing more with less, consider switchel's low cost!

Using DC Electricity

I notice that some of MOTHER EARTH NEWS' children ask about using windmills and water wheels to generate alternating current. Let me urge you to encourage them in the production of D.C. instead. As you surely know, trying to control both voltage and frequency at standard values for A.C.—under varying loads and also under varying winds—could be difficult and complicated enough to turn play into work. The simpler a machine is, you know, the more likely it is to give satisfactory service with a minimum of breakdowns and adjustments.

It's true that many of our appliances are now made for A.C. . . . but it looks as if we may well be quite close to the turning point. The utility companies started off using D.C. because it worked better, and were forced into the change to A.C. only by the problem of transmitting current over long distances.

That problem may soon be overcome by the decentralization of power sources. The hope of many people is to rid this country of its maze of power lines by locating a fuel cell at each house and, in fact, some of those fuel cells—which generate D.C.—are in use right now. Sixty of them are operating in 20 states, powering homes, businesses, etc. These power plants were manufactured and installed by a consortium of 33 gas companies and Pratt & Whitney Aircraft. Obviously, the utility corporations are after gas sales . . . but fuel cells that will work on gas will generally also operate on kerosene (or homemade methaneMOTHER EARTH NEWS), and I don't expect the oil companies to be far behind (especially since a tank truck can deliver kerosene almost anywhere).

Another probable localized source of D.C. is a recent Russian breakthrough, the magneto-hydro-dynamic process. At this point, however, there may be only one pilot plant . . . I've seen pictures in the scientific magazines.

Given these developments, it doesn't make sense to invert to A.C. when D.C. is nearly always better. D.C. appliances can be had right now if only one taps the right market. Apparently the demand for such equipment is just about ready to expand . . . and if it does, we may expect the manufacturers to go after the business. Meanwhile, all resistance-load devices (lights, heaters, irons, etc.) will work as well on D.C. as on A.C., as will universal wound motors.

A final note: It's also good to know that—besides causing no interference with radio, TV, etc.—direct current creates much less shock hazard than alternating. Because 100 volts r.m.s. has a peak of 141.4 volts, the danger when using A. C. is really greater than it sounds. (Putting a hand on 100 volts D.C. causes little sensation, and then—principally—when the circuit is made or broken.)

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