The Dr. Gribbleflotz Chronicles, Part 2: Dr. Phil’s Amazing Essence Of Fire Tablets

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1633, Jena, Dr. Gribbleflotz's office

Dr. Phillip Theophrastus Gribbleflotz took another look at the bill. He was spending that much on candles? Surely not. "Frau Mittelhausen. This bill for candles. Who has been using wax candles so wastefully?"

Frau Mittelhausen sighed heavily before looking Dr. Gribbleflotz straight in the eye. "You have been, Herr Doctor. You use the good wax candles to heat your beakers. Why you can't use that alcohol burner the up-timers provided, I don't know."

Phillip paused to digest Frau Mittelhausen's statement. Well, yes, he did use candles to heat the beakers sometimes. Especially when he didn't want a big fire. The problem was that the tallow candles didn't give anything like the same heat. And they produced too much soot. Even wax candles, which burned cleaner and hotter, made a lot of soot. He often needed to use several candles at once.

He knew what he needed. Something like the "Bunsen burners" at the up-timer high school. However, that would have to wait until he had access to gas. He knew there had been talk of producing "propane," but for now that was as far off as his much-needed aluminum. As for the alcohol burner the Kubiak Country people had given him, it was very clever. But he could never see the flame, and the alcohol was always evaporating, and it always ran out at the most inconvenient moment. At least with candles he could easily add more, and the heat they put out was greater than that of the single alcohol burner.

He returned to checking the bills. "There must be a better way."

 

1633, Jena, the new HDG Enterprizes facility

Dr. Gribbleflotz walked around the site of what would soon be the head office and main manufactory of HDG Enterprizes. The new facility was a large compound with buildings for the various production lines, accommodations for laborants and other employees who lived on site, the head office, and the new apartment building for himself and his household. Finally, there was the set of rooms that were his personal office and laboratory.

The current area of interest was the large waterwheel, or more precisely, the area where the waterwheel would be installed. Phillip could see the men clambering around the heavy structure that would eventually support the wheel. He joined the small crowd watching an older man slapping clay around the joints in the steel. Confused, he continued to watch.

"You might want to step back, Dr. Gribbleflotz."

Phillip turned and looked up to see Ted Kubiak. "What is he doing?" He pointed to Erwin O'Keefe.

Ted followed Phillip's pointing arm. "We want to weld the steel frame together. Erwin is going to thermite weld. Right now he's slapping on clay to contain the molten steel until it cools."

"Molten steel? How can you melt steel without a furnace?"

"It's a chemical reaction, Dr.. I can ask Erwin to explain if you like, but for now, just watch. This is really cool."

Phillip watched as Erwin set an odd package over one of the clay covered joints, lit a fuse and jogged back a considerable distance. After a few moments, the brightest light Phillip had ever seen burst from the package. White-hot droplets leaked from the bottom of the clay seals.

Ted pointed. "Those droplets are molten iron from the thermite. The clay holds it in, and the iron cools in place to make a weld. It's really neat to watch."

Phillip stared, awe struck. "Yes, please, Herr Kubiak. Do ask Erwin to explain."

****

Dr. Gribbleflotz idly fondled a crude iron ingot while he read the letter from Erwin O'Keefe. The ingot was the product of a final demonstration of the thermite reaction that Herr O'Keefe had conducted with one of the remaining thermite kits he had brought with him. The demonstration had so impressed Phillip that he had asked for a "cheat sheet." Herr O'Keefe's letter described the thermite reaction in such detail that he was sure he could easily duplicate it. Herr O'Keefe had even included a couple of alternative methods of initiating the reaction.

Phillip looked over at his cabinet of chemicals in their jars and bottles. He selected a couple of jars and walked to his fume cupboard. He placed a watch glass on a dished firebrick and carefully measured out a small amount of the purple crystals from the up-time "chemistry set." Then he added just a drop of the oily liquid, clicking the stopwatch function of his pocket watch at the same time.

While he waited Phillip admired the "Buick" logo on the door of the fume cupboard. He watched through the safety glass of the fume cupboard door as the purple powder ignited. With the first signs of ignition Phillip stopped his watch. After observing the whole pile of crystals burn, he retreated to his desk where he made notes in his journal. The observed time for the reaction to occur was within the range Herr O'Keefe had written. It was a most interesting experiment, but not as interesting as melting iron in a ceramic pot would be.

As he read Erwin O'Keefe's directions, Phillip could see a potential problem. The thermite reaction used aluminum. Aluminum was a rare and strategic resource. The Kubiak people had indicated he was lucky to get the few pounds they had been able to provide.

Unlike his aluminum pyramid, the thermite reaction could use any aluminum. Minor impurities did not matter. Phillip looked along his bookshelf, toward the model pyramid with its faceted gems. He sighed. He had had such hopes when the Kubiak Country people had provided him with the ingots of aluminum. However, his tests with the scale model had failed to invigorate the Quinta Essentia of the small rodents he had tested it on. It was the aluminum he had concluded. It wasn't pure. The Kubiak Country people had admitted that there were other elements in the mix.

Phillip already knew that pure aluminum would not be available until the up-timers were able to mine the ore. Well, they had admitted that there might be a way to purify the aluminum. However, it required a chemical he wanted nothing to do with. After reading the up-timer handling instructions and warnings, he was happy to let others play with hydrofluoric acid.

He walked over to his store cupboard. Once there, he picked up the few remaining ingots of aluminum. At a guess he had half a pound left. Biting his lip, he turned his gaze to his dysfunctional model pyramid. Make that two pounds.

Seated back at his desk he caressed the iron ingot while he re-read Erwin's letter. An image appeared in his mind. He could see it vividly. He, Dr. Phillip Theophrastus Gribbleflotz, the World's Greatest Alchemist, giving one of his justly famous seminars, and as the pièce de resistance, a demonstration of thermite with . . . Phillip looked down at the iron ingot in his hand . . . a specially molded shape. Something special. Something of distinction.

Thinking of distinction, he looked down at Erwin O'Keefe's letter. No. "Thermite Reaction" didn't have the right ring to it. It needed something more. A real name. Phillip allowed his mind to wander as he searched for inspiration. The molten iron could obviously be molded into any shape. It would take a little experimentation to get it right, but imagine, in a haze of the brightest light, forming an ingot of pure iron from the dross of rust. Phillip shivered. It was almost a holy event. Then it struck him. The "Gribbleflotz Candles of the Essence of Light." Nobody else in Jena would be able to duplicate the demonstration, and if people should want to buy the iron ingot . . . Maybe if it was formed into some significant shape? The ideas ran through his mind while he visualized the demand for his demonstrations.



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