Similar to my previous post, but perhaps not quite as fun, is an account from Fighter: The True Story of the Battle of Britain, by Len Deighton, which I just finished.

Any comparison of the Merlin engine [as used in the RAF Spitfire and Hurricanes] and the Daimler-Benz DB 601A [as used in Messerschmidt Bf109’s] must begin by mentioning the latter’s fuel-injection system. …

Fuel injection, which puts a measured amount of fuel into each cylinder according to temperature and engine speed, etc., was demonstrably superior to the carburetors that the Merlins used. Carburetors are, at best, subject to the changes of temperature that air combat inevitably brings. At worst they bring a risk of freezing or catching fire. And with such large, high-performance engines, the carburetor system seldom delivers exactly the same amount of fuel simultaneously to each cylinder. Worst of all, the carburetor was subject to the centrifugal effect, so that it starved, and missed a beat or two, as it went into a dive.

The RAF pilots learned how to half-roll before diving, so that fuel from the carburetor was thrown into the engine instead of out of it, but in battle this could be a dangerous time-wasting necessity.


Engineers–those on trains–in the 1800s got a good start in the art of hacking. This is from The Story of American Railroads, a thoroughly well-written and entertaining book by Stewart H. Holbrook written in the 1940s that provides many quotable passages:

Although neither the Santa Fe [railroad] or most of the other roads were in a hurry to adopt new inventions, the Santa Fe held in high esteem a gadget known as a Dutch clock. This device, perhaps the most unpopular one with railroad men of the day, was set up in the caboose and it noted and recorded on a tape the speed at which the train traveled. The rule was that freights should maintain a speed of eighteen miles an hour, no more, no less. The Dutch clock soon brought reprimands to all freight conductors who tried to make up time for the breakdowns of equipment that were forever happening.

After considerable discussion of the Dutch clock, the boys figured out a method of handling the menace. On the first sidetrack out of the terminal, the crew would uncouple the caboose, then uncouple the engine, bring it back to the rear on the main line, set it in behind the caboose, then use it to slam the caboose into the standing train at a speed of exactly 18 miles an hour. This, it had been discovered, so affected the Dutch clock’s insides that thereafter it continued to clock 18 miles an hour regardless of the speed developed. This fixing the Dutch clock was considered fine sport, and always left the train crew with a sense of immoderate satisfaction.