Engineering News — February, 1895

Ever since the famous expedition, in the fall of 1891, of Gen. "Cloud-Compelling" Dyrenforth and his party of assistants to bombard the skies which overhang the and plains of Texas, there has been a good deal of popular interest in the subject of rainmaking. The "bomb" method, by which the atmosphere is "whacked" with explosions until it sheds drops of moisture like an erring school boy has yielded its place in popular favor to a more mysterious process, by which certain unknown gases are poured forth from a secret apparatus. If the claims of the originators of this process are to be believed, these gases possess a potency only to be compared with that of the mysterious "vapors" in the "Arabian Nights," which, issuing from a tiny casket or a nut were transformed into a palace, a fortress, an evil genie, or other object whose volume bore no relation to the size of the original containing vessel.

During the past two or three years various scattered newspaper articles have given information concerning the working of this process at various points; and while we are accustomed to place small reliance on newspaper reports concerning any technical matter, our curiosity was aroused by the statement that the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Ry. Co. had interested itself in the matter, and we, therefore, applied to officials of that company for a verification or contradiction of the reports. We are indebted to their courtesy for the following information, which we present substantially as received, commenting upon it in our editorial columns.

The system of "rainmaking" used by the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Ry. Co. consists in injecting a gas, or mixture of gases, into the air which "supply the element lacking in the atmosphere, in order that rain may fall." The composition of this gas or mixture of gases is a secret with the inventor, Mr. C. B. Jewell, of Goodland, Kan., a train despatcher in the offices of the above railway. In a letter to us Mr. Jewell describes his apparatus and mode of operation in a general way. The laboratory used in the field is a freight car, at one end of which three pipes project up through the roof. Each of these pipes divides into two pipes just inside the car and the six pipes connect with six jars in which the gases are made. The letter continues:
On the opposite side of the car is a long shelf on and under which we keep our materials. Directly over this shelf is a second shelf divided into 13 compartments, in which rests our battery. At the end of the battery there is a large jug which is filed with a solution and is connected with the battery, which is also connected with the six large jars in which we make the gases. The tank shown on the top of the car is filled with water. This water we prepare before using, making it as soft as possible. The pipe near the left end of the car runs from the sink inside to a large hole dug in the ground to hold the waste. Sometimes this pipe is used as a ground connection from the battery. The other end of the car is partitioned off and is used for a sleeping apartment and office. My entire time is taken up while on the road answering correspondence, which comes from all parts of the world, and attending to the machine, which is operated night and day. I have used this process on the line of this road for two seasons. Last year I had three cars just like the one I send you photograph of, and expect to have several more this year. Had there not been such hard times, several of the railroads in the arid regions would have used my process in 1894. My materials are furnished in Chicago by several different houses, and neither house knows what the other house furnishes, or which the other houses are. The men who operate the cars for me do not know what they are using, but simply follow my instructions.

My process has been used 66 times and at no time have I failed to produce rain, but at four places the rains were mere sprinkles, and were termed failures, and to save argument were so admitted by me. These failures were due to very high and changeable winds. There are no phenomena connected with these artificial rains any more than with a natural rain. Mind you, we do not make rain. All we do is to bring about the same conditions which nature does when rain is produced, and when we do this a natural rain will fall. Nature and her laws are never wrong, and all efforts in this line must be made in accordance with the laws of nature, or failure must follow.

Briefly described, therefore, the rainmaking system of the Rock Island road is to run one or more cars into the territory which needs rain and start the manufacture of the mysterious gases which escape through the pipes in the car roof. An effort has been made to get a description of some of the phenomena attending one or two of these rains, but nothing of much value has been secured. The following letters give the most definite information:
Sir: In answer to your favor permit me to relate the actual experiments which were made here about two years ago. We were suffering for want of moisture, and I made application to our official department to have

Rainmaker Jewell come here and make a test. At about 2 p.m. he commenced operation, the skies were cloudless, and at about 5 p.m. the clouds began to appear, and at 9 p.m. we had a rainfall of 0.78 inches, as shown by the government gage. This included his first test at this point. The second test was followed by better results, there being a precipitation of 1 in. of rain. In the spring of 1894 we had him here again, the weather was cool and the experiment was not a success, which I firmly believe was due to the unfavorable weather. The last experiment was conducted by H. Hutchinson, one of Mr. Jewell's substitutes, and who is not well versed in the science of electricity, which is an essential factor in tests of this nature. There is one point in your letter which I failed to answer, and that was the territory over which the rainfall extended. I would call it a local rain, as it did not extend over a radius exceeding 30 miles. I have no interest in Mr. Jewell's rainmaking scheme, and have given you the plain facts, as I was very much interested in the matter and gave it close attention.

Yours truly, J. B. Bailey.

Phillipsburg, Kan., Jan. 29, 1895.

Sir: Mr. Jewell gave us a fine shower in, I think, three days. He stationed one car at Mankato, one here and one at Beatrice, Neb. We had a heavy rain from east of Beatrice to west of Mankato, about 60 miles. I do not remember what the fall of water was, but think it was 3½ his. I have all confidence In Mr. Jewell's power to produce rain.

Yours truly, J. A. Whittemore.

Belleville Kan., Jan. 26, 1895.

(We comment upon this letter in the editorial columns. "Can We Make It Rain?"-Ed.)


"Can we make it rain?" is certainly the modern counterpart of the question propounded to Job by the voice from the whirlwind: "Hath the rain a father?" The paternity of the rain has indeed been claimed by men in all ages, and the modern claimant differs from his predecessors only in having used "science" instead of superstition in the conception of his offspring. In another column we have outlined briefly the work of rainmaking, which the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Ry. has been conducting during the two seasons past, and proposes to continue during the coming summer on such of its lines as penetrate the arid and semi-arid regions. The evidence for and against the claim that rain has been actually produced through the efforts of these rainmakers we lay before our readers for what it is worth. In sifting this evidence, it is well to consider for a moment how rain is produced in nature. The aqueous vapor of the atmosphere which condenses into cloud, and falls as rain, is derived from the evaporation of water, partly from the earth, but mostly from the ocean. A warm air holds more moisture than a cold air; and consequently if a saturated air is cooled, it precipitates part of its moisture, or, in other words, it rains. It is now generally held that dynamic cooling is, if not the sole cause, at least the principal cause of rain. By dynamic cooling is meant the cooling of air due to expansion when raised in altitude and brought under less pressure. There are several different ways in which the air at the surface of the earth may be raised in altitude; but whatever the manner and whatever the altitude, the air must reach the point of saturation before the resulting expansion and cooling can produce rain. The reason why the and regions of the earth are arid is simply and solely because geographical and meteorological conditions are habitually such that moisture-laden winds are deprived of their moisture before reaching them, or, on the other hand, because there is nothing to cause the cooling of these moisture-laden winds and the consequent precipitation.

But, supposing the aqueous vapor exists in the air somewhat below the point of saturation, is it not reasonable to suppose that there may be some way of hastening or forcing condensation, so that rain will fall? If we trace the history of scientific rainmaking, we find that it is upon this hypothesis that most of the various theories are based. The best known and probably the oldest of these theories is that the agitation of the atmosphere Produced by violent explosions acts to concentrate the particles of moisture, until it falls as rain. The popular belief that great battles have always been followed by rain has been much used as an argument in favor of this theory. Aside from the fact that this belief was prevalent long before the days of explosives, a careful summary of the great battles of the world and the character of the weather following them has shown conclusively that days of battle were no more likely to be followed by rain than days when it was quiet all along the line. As our readers will recall, the United States Government made some investigations of this "concussion" theory of rainmaking in the fall of 1891, and through the courtesy of the Department of Agriculture we have been furnished the barograph diagrams taken to show the amount of agitation of the air produced by the explosions. These show that, at a distance of half a mile from the point of explosion, the movement of the air was not sufficient to rustle the leaves of a tree, let alone the condensation of the moisture necessary for the slight rainfalls which followed one or two of the dozen experiments. In the same way the old belief that large fires, like our great forest fires, or the Chicago conflagration, brought rain by the raising of large masses of heated air, which in cooling formed clouds that expanded into the proportions of local storms, has been exploded by a similar compilation of facts.

Concerning the latest system of rainmaking, referred to above as having been taken up by the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Ry. Co., we present such information as we have been able to collect in another column. A word of explanation may be needful, however, to prevent misunderstanding and to answer in advance the criticisms of those who may object that "Engineering News ought not to give space to such 'fakes.'" We conceive it to be the office of a technical journal to Publish information on all subjects of technical interest, together with such comment as may aid its readers to most clearly understand their significance. This alleged system of rainmaking has become more or less widely known through various newspaper articles, it has been taken up experimentally by a great railway corporation, and a large number of witnesses aver that remarkable results have actually been produced by it. These facts are sufficient to justify the presentation of information in these columns, even granting it to be absolutely certain that the scheme were a pure delusion; for it is as much a part of our work to expose the false and fraudulent as to present accounts of excellent work and improvements on former practice.

As for comments upon the system itself, criticism is largely precluded by the fact that it is entirely secret; and it is, of course, well understood that secrecy concerning such a thing is in itself very strong evidence that it is fraudulent. We are, therefore, obliged to fall back on general principles and to say that, so far as can be seen, any effective method of causing the precipitation of rain must operate through some cause proportionate to the effect produced. The chances are many to one that such materials and machinery as could be carried in one end of a box car could not cause the condensation and precipitation of some 60,000,000 tons of' water over an area of several hundred square miles.

Reference to the article in another column will show that it is actually such an effect as this which is claimed for Mr. Jewell's rainmaking process. It is alleged by one witness that a rainfall of 0.78 inches, extending over a radius of some 30 miles, occurred within seven hours of the time the "rainmaker" began operations. Reducing this radius by one-third, to allow for smaller precipitation in the outlying territory, we have still an area of over 1,200 sq. miles, and a precipitation of 0.78 in. means the fall of some 50,000 tons of water on a square mile. Other arguments of equal strength might be presented to show the improbability that the discharge into the air of any gas known to chemistry could cause condensation and precipitation over a wide area. As for the alleged successes, it must be remembered that because a rainfall occurs at a certain time and place is no proof that rainmaking operations carried on at that time and place had anything to do with it.

On the other hand, our knowledge of meteorology is not on the same basis of mathematical certainty as our knowledge of thermo-dynamics, for example. We cannot say positively that by no possible methods can a man cause the rain to fall, much as we may feel the exceeding improbability that rain can ever, be produced by artificial means. The proper attitude of the engineer or scientist on this question, therefore, is to hear and weigh evidence without, prejudice. If Mr. Jewell can water the great American desert with such simple and inexpensive machinery, as he claims, we shall be glad to see him prove it, even though we realize that the chances are many thousand to one that his shrewdness as a weather prophet lies at the bottom of any success he may have achieved, and that the juice which he distills with his secret apparatus is merely concentrated essence of humbug.

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