Supercharger

15 Oct

Chad Lee lived with a single, all-consuming ambition: to become known as an important inventor of the new, twentieth century.

In 1910, his place of work and residence was Pottstown, Pennsylvania, a city of iron and steel facilities, rolling mills, and machine shops.

Chad had worked some in many of these plants, becoming a skilled machinist at an early age. His passion became the automobile engine and race cars, and his dream was one of making a contribution to the technology of this new means of transportation.

In a few years, he owned his own machine shop that specialized in the repair of internal combustion engines. Yet his heart remained in the area that entranced him: the inventing of means of augmenting the speed and the horsepower of the still insufficiently powerful automotive engine.

Chad developed what he named his supercharger: an air compressor able to increase the density and the pressure of intake of oxygen into the engine cylinders. By burning more fuel, this addition would multiply an engine’s power.

Once he had one that worked, Chad decided to submit his project for a patent. This was what brought him in contact with Ed Brau, a Philadelphia attorney who specialized in patent law.

The lawyer came to Pottstown by train to meet and confer with his new client. He wrote that he wished to see the innovation created by Chad Lee.

Tall and slim in a smart brown woolen suit, Brau found the inventor busy in his machine shop. The short and hyperactive Chad led his visitor into his small, cluttered office. The two sat down, studying each other with unconcealed curiosity.

“I am interested and intrigued by your diagrams and descriptions,” declared the attorney. “It became important to me to come here and see it for myself.”

“That will happen at once, sir. After that, I want you to come home with me and share dinner there. I am a bachelor, but I have an aunt living with me who is expert at homemaking and cooking as well. The two of us can talk all evening, and I have a vacant bedroom that is available. There is no need for you to head back to Philadelphia at once.”

“That sounds good to me,” said Ed. “Now, I am ready to have a look at the supercharger you have built.”

The pair rose and walked to the opposite end of the machine ship.

The lawyer was surprised at the size, variety, and tastiness of the meal he shared with the inventor. He complimented his host on the aunt’s cooking, then proceeded to get down to business.

“I would like to act as your general manager for the sale and contracting of your supercharger, once I obtain a legal patent for you, Chad. My experience and knowledge can be of use in forming a spectacular fortune in your name. In the future, your invention will revolutionize the automobile as we know it today. Horsepower can be magnified for every kind of internal combustion engine, I predict.”

Chad seemed overwhelmed and speechless for a time. “You are willing to help me out in the marketing of the supercharger? It will go far and have many possible applications, then?”

Ed Braun beamed a warm smile. “Certainly, my friend. I can identify a great breakthrough when I see it.”

“I intend to drive a racer equipped with a supercharger in a hill climb over in Wilkes-Barr this summer. My chances of winning it with my increase in torque and horsepower are very good.”

“We shall see what the results will be,” remarked the attorney.

Ed Braun was present for the dusty upward race in which his client was the surprising victor, finishing far ahead of the pack of slower competitors. He took Chad to a downtown restaurant by taxicab to celebrate the achievement.

“This is positive proof of what compressed air can do for gasoline-powered engines,” boasted the business manager for the invention. “I think that we must look forward to bigger, more important races to come, where the public will be able to see the results of supercharging. Are you willing to go farther afield to test it, Chad?”

“Yes, I certainly am. We are sure to have more victories like today’s. Where do you plan to have me drive in a race?”

“There is going to be a 500-mile race in Indianapolis, Indiana next Memorial Day. Cars from all over the country are going to be run. That would be a wonderful occasion for showing off what we have. What do you think?”

“It sounds good to me,” grinned the race winner.

An International Sweepstakes was organized with a distance of 500 miles. Forty starters were to be admitted to race on a 2.5 mile oval, in a counter clockwise direction. Rows of three cars apiece were set up.

For the first “500” of 1911, the maximum engine size was to be 600 cubic inches.

Chad Lee was himself to be the driver of his unique race car, equipped with the air-compressing supercharger he had invented on his own.

Ed Baum accompanied his partner by train that also transported the vehicle that was going to run in the historically long auto race.

“This will be the high point of fast racing in this country,” noted the attorney as they crossed Ohio. “With a purse of $25,000, it will draw the best engine-builders that there are.”

“But we will have the only car using a supercharger, won’t we?” replied the one who was going to drive it.

When the two reached Indianapolis, they found a hotel, then went out to the speedway office. An unexpected problem arose there.

“You will have to have a riding mechanic in your car with you,” said one official of the race to Chad and Ed. “If you did not come here with one, we have a list of local qualified people.”

Ed told the man that they would like to see that roll and pick one to ride along with Chad, the pilot.

Looking over the roster, the lawyer picked one of the older ones with experience in the field of auto racing.

“That is a good choice,” said the official. “The mechanic will be responsible for keeping watch over the oil pressure and looking out for the path of the other traffic on the track.”

The mechanic appeared the following morning at the garage bay assigned to the racer of Chad Lee. He was a large, blond-haired man with a broad, warm smile.

“My name is Ike James,” said the one who would accompany the driver.

The other two shook hands with their new employee.

“I am going you something interesting that we have on this particular race car,” said Chad. “Follow me.”

The inventor led his new assistant to the vehicle, showing him the supercharger on one side.

“This is a three-stage centrifugal compressor,” explained Chad. “It operates by what is called forced induction. I used three twelve-bladed impellers to produce a flow of pressurized air. They are driven by a strong leather belt attached directly to the car’s crankshaft.

“An intake valve fills the cylinders of the engine with a stream of compressed, dense air. The result I get is the burning of much more fuel on each power stroke, due to the increased amount of oxygen that becomes available.

“All of this gives my engine increased torque. There is more horsepower here than any automobile has ever enjoyed before.”

Chad smiled with pride he felt to be justified. “Let me open up the supercharger and show you what the parts look like, Ike.”

Chad worked on the engine with his mechanic, getting it into top running condition. Ike was amazed and dazzled by how improved the functioning of the motor became with its new, unusual attachment.

“It’s time we went and got ourselves some dinner,” eventually said the inventor. “We certainly deserve it after all we’ve done here today.”

The garage bay become quiet and motionless for a considerable length of time, until two men entered, one of them turning the lights on. He was the tall, skinny figure named Ed Brau, the lawyer from Philadelphia.

The other was the owner of a car-making company located in Chicago. He was there to have a look at the supercharger that no one had heard of before or was familiar with.

It was Ed who was doing most of the talking as they approached the racer.

“You will witness for yourself the extraordinary speed that this addition gives to my car,” murmured the attorney, grinning with confidence.

“What was it that lead you to think of doing something like this?” asked the man in a blue business suit and straw hat. “How does an inventor conceive his innovations?”

“That is a profound mystery,” replied Ed, opening the hood of the racer and pointing to the connections of the supercharger to the engine’s crankshaft. “It is up to investors such as you to apply such a mechanism in practice, my friend.”

The two grinned at each other, thinking of the future applications of the new invention.

Two weeks of track practice and time trials followed.

Chad and Ike were busy mornings and afternoons in the preparation for the actual 500 mile competition. Racer teams arrived from many near and distant places. Excitement rose as Memorial Day came closer.

Ed Bauer held many meetings with the potential investor in the future development of the invention that he himself now claimed to have conceived and assembled.

The pair held an encounter in the garage bay one afternoon while the race car was out on the track, hurling around the two and a half mile oval at an unusually swift speed.

“I am convinced that the best racing cars in future years are going to be equipped in compressors such as the one you invented. There is nothing to present me becoming the developer and builder of the system.

“You and I must form a business partnership written out on paper, Mr. Bauer. That would make the future definite for both of us, I believe.”

“Yes, that is the next logical step,” responded Ed. “But that can be put off for a few weeks. Only until this Memorial Day race is ended and we have clear notice and proof of victory. Everything will be much clearer at that time, I believe.”

“Yes, that makes sense to me. But I can hardly wait to start on putting these superchargers together and finding buyers for them.”

“That should happen in just a few days,” muttered Ed. “Then, it will be full speed ahead for the two of us.”

The two of them made their way out to the race track, unaware that the mechanic, Ike James, had been working behind an inner door of the garage and had heard everything that both men had said to each other.

How does one tell his employer that his partner is a scoundrel and a swindler, claiming to be the person who created a marvelous technical advance? That was the problem that Ike now had to wrestle with.

After a night of restless sleep, the mechanic walked to the race track earlier than usual. He was cleaning various portions of the race car engine when Chad entered the bay, looking cheerful and optimistic.

Am I going to deliver to him a crushing blow? Ike asked himself. How can I reveal the truth to him without striking him with a terrible hurt?

The pair exchanged good mornings and Ike decided to ask a question of interest to himself.

“I imagine that you knew Mr. Brau for a long time before joining with him in coming out here to Indianapolis for an auto race that is new,” he said without facial or vocal expression that indicated his inner, unvoiced thoughts.

“No, Ike. I only came into contact with him because I had an invention in need of formal, legal patenting. He was the lawyer who agreed to carry that out for me.”

“But Ed told me he lived in Philadelphia,” noted the mechanic. “How did you get together with someone in a different city?”

“It was all done by letters,” answered Chad. “He traveled up to Pottstown to see me and my supercharger. We clicked with each other from the first moment. Things just drew the two of us together.”

“He gave up and abandoned his legal practice for the sake of promoting your supercharger?” asked Ike in a slightly suspicious voice.

“What are you implying?” said Chad, his voice rising a little.

The other hesitated several seconds.

“Let me tell you what I overheard here in the garage last night,” he said, then going on to give the kernel of the conversation between Ed Brau and the potential investor in the supercharger invention.

All that day, the thoughts of Chad fell into an ever deeper and darker fog.

He tried to avoid speaking with Ed Brau, but did not want to give any indication whatever of his troubled state of mind.

What was he to believe? How should he seek to learn what the truth was?

Two days passed and the holiday on which the first 500 mile race was to occur arrived.

His nerves raw and tense, Chad made his way to the new track and the garage bay holding his race car equipped with the supercharger.

He instantly noticed that something was amiss. The supercharger was gone, detached from the engine of the race. It had vanished and would not be available for the day’s great competition.

What had happened to his invention? Who could have committed such a theft?

The chance that had been his of being the day’s winner was gone. It was impossible to win without the most important advantage, his personal brainchild.

Who could have done such an evil deed against him?

Chad noticed that there was a piece of paper lying on the driver’s seat within the cockpit of the racer.

He grabbed for it and read the words with breathless speed. His heart pounded like a racing engine.

“Chad, I had to do this in order to stop Ed Brau from selling out your supercharger to a businessman from Chicago here at the race.

“This is the only way I could think of to make you realize that Ed means to rob you blind.

“Forgive me from sabotaging a great victory. You will enjoy it in some other race at another time. Your true friend, Ike James.”

Ed Brau entered the bay in a couple of minutes, finding his partner unconscious, having fainted on the side of the race car, his head sticking into the interior and lying on the driver’s seat.

There was a paper note in Chad’s right hand.

Ed took it and quickly read it. He crumbled up the paper and dropped it inside the racer, then turned around and rushed away with speed.

His plans were smashed and escape appeared the only way out for him.

The car with he supercharger had to be scratched from the line-up that day.

The unconscious driver had to be taken by ambulance to an Indianapolis Hospital.

His mechanic assistant was gone and could not be found.

The breakthrough invention did not make any history that Memorial Day.

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