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Q&A: November 28, 2019 Edition

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Q.Thanks for your research and opinion on [naphtha and white gas] as posted in your Sept. 5 column: not muddied, just more info to sort. Our offset-lithography printing company had a 500-gallon underground tank for naphtha that was used for cleaning and wiping the oil-based ink from the plates and blankets of the printing presses. It was used because it was inexpensive and the fumes were not as volatile as gasoline. The press motors, switches and lighting did not have to be explosion proof.

I’ve used it in my shop for over 60 years as a degreaser, paint thinner and emergency dry cleaning fluid on clothes. Today, it is still available in quart or gallon cans at the hardware store, but is labeled “VM&P Naphtha” (I don’t know what the V, M or P stand for). Spar varnish, thinned about 5-to-1 with naphtha, is great as an undercoat to weathered or untreated wood. The naphtha allows the varnish to soak in deep to seal the wood.
— Chuck Klein, Georgetown, Ohio

A. I’m glad you found it helpful. According to the all-knowing internet, VM&P means “varnish makers and painters.” Apparently, VM&P naphtha is more volatile and dries faster than “ordinary” naphtha.

Q. In your Oct. 24, 2019, column you said you couldn’t measure Amoco white gas against other companies’ leaded high test. In the 1950s and ’60s my father owned only Chryslers with hemi engines, starting with a 1951 Saratoga. You didn’t need a dyno to tell the difference between performance using different gases. When I was growing up in West Virginia as a teenager, regular gas was 19 cents a gallon. Amoco Gold was relatively higher than other premiums, but worth it. All of us hillbillies had seen “Thunder Road,” and knew how a hemi should be run. If Robert Mitchum had had a hemi, he’d still be running.

In the late 1960s I worked on a survey party, surveying for dams in West Virginia and Kentucky. We had to drive along river bottoms to get to the work locations each day, and our policy was “never walk till the truck’s stuck.” We stuck it every day, and dug it out to go home. One day we couldn’t get it out, but discovered an old Cat D-2 nearby. We had to clear a lot of brush to get to it, so I don’t know how long it had been there, but we “borrowed” it, and one of the party knew about the “donkey engine” so we gassed it and it started.That was around 1959 and I haven’t seen one since.
— David Federer, Atlanta, Ga.

A. The D-2 donkey starting engines were set up for pull starting, with a groove around the flywheel to accommodate a rope although later models had electric starters as well. I have not seen a D-2 up close in many years. The starting procedure has many steps that must be taken in a certain order. One crucial item is to kill the donkey by turning off the gas and running the carburetor dry — so that gasoline does not drain down and dilute crankcase oil. I’ve found a number of YouTube videos that show how it’s done. They’re fun to watch and bring back memories.

Q. I have a 1955 Chevy Nomad two-door station wagon. I have always wanted a Nomad and this was the color combination I was looking for: grey roof and coral body. It is in need of a great deal of restoration. The fellow I purchased it from lives in Wisconsin and said it was first owned by a GM executive. I would like to know who this person is and if the story is true.The car is body number #CL30 from the Fisher Body Plant in Cleveland, which is the only plant that stamped out Nomads. The serial number is VC55J063032, showing that it was assembled in mid December 1954. The Nomad was a mid-year addition to the 1955 Chevy line. I have traced back the ownership to 1965 in Madison, Wis., when it was owned by a lawyer. I have talked to him in the past and he said he bought it from a used car lot.

There is nothing extraordinary on the equipment on this car: 265 V-8, four-barrel, 180 bhp, tinted glass, power steering, and Wonderbar signal-seeking radio. The car has been sitting in my garage since 1974.

Since the car has only lived in Wisconsin, if a GM executive owned it he was probably from the Janesville plant. I have tried the GM Heritage Center, but they said they have no information on that year of Chevrolet. Can you help? Also, how many bodies were shipped at one time from the Fisher Body Plant to the assembly plants?
— Terry Golda, Ringoes, N.J.

A. Indeed, GM Heritage is short on records concerning Chevrolet cars. Pontiac and particularly Cadillac divisions were much more conscientious about details of individual cars. Considering that, I think you’ve done very well to trace all but 10 years of your car’s history. Can anyone tell us more about Nomad body production?

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