This post is a section from Home Waterworks, by Carleton J. Lynde, ©1912. In keeping with the simple is better historic theme of creating a survival homestead, the hydraulic ram pumps are probably the best bet anywhere, unless you have a gravity fed spring water supply line. Low maintenance equipment with a high reliability factor is what you want to see on your homestead for years of productivity. Totally non electric, the ram pump is not susceptible to the fear of electromagnetic disruption, and requires no fuel besides water, so you are not held to the whims and availability of the energy market. It’s truly a deal that cannot be beaten by anyone.

Warning- just because you find a homestead away from town, it doesn’t automatically give you clean potable water. Have your water tested, or buy a kit and test it your self for safety’s sake. Ram pumps will move your water, but they won’t make it safe to drink. We’ll get into filtration and safe water in another installment.


Every foot-pound of work obtained from running water and from wind is clear gain. When coal, wood or oil is burned to drive an engine the work is done, but the fuel is gone forever. The work done is a gain, but against this must be placed so much fuel which cannot be used again. The work done by running water and by wind, however, is all gain, since the work done is a gain and the energy used would otherwise be wasted.

The hydraulic ram (Fig. 73) is one method of utilizing the energy of running water to pump water from a spring or brook into an elevated tank or into a pneumatic tank. It can be used where the running water has a fall of at least eighteen inches, although a fall of from three to ten feet gives better service. It will lift water from six to thirty feet for every foot of fall, according to the size and style of the ram; for example, if the fall from the brook to the ram is three feet, the ram will lift water from eighteen to ninety feet according to the size and style of ram.

How the ram works.

The operation of the ram (Fig. 74) is as follows. The water from the brook or spring flows down the drive pipe G and out at the working valve F, as shown in Fig. 74. The rate of flow of the water rapidly increases and when it reaches a certain velocity the valve F is suddenly closed by the force of the water. The momentum of the water in the drive pipe forces up the valve E and drives part of the water into the air chamber. The air in the chamber is compressed and thus exerts a back pressure on the water, which brings it to rest and starts it moving back up the drive pipe. This reaction or backward movement of the water closes the valve E and allows the valve F to open of its own weight. The water starts flowing down the drive pipe again, the valve F closes, and more water is forced into the air chamber, etc. This operation is repeated from twenty to two hundred times a minute according to the ratio of the fall to the height the water is pumped. The compressed air in the chamber forces water through the discharge pipe to the elevated tank, and from there the water flows to the house and stables by gravity.

At the base of the ram, just to the right of the flange of the drive pipe, is shown a small air valve C, called a sniffling valve. It serves to keep up the supply of air in the air chamber. Air is absorbed by water, and in time all the air in the chamber would be absorbed, and the chamber would become water-logged, if a fresh supply were not admitted. The sniffling valve admits this fresh supply of air as follows: on the reaction or backward movement of the water a partial vacuum is created in the base of the ram B, and as a result, the pressure of the atmosphere forces a little air in through the sniffling valve; on the next forward rush of water, this air is carried into the air chamber.

In general the ram uses the energy of running water to force part of it to a higher level. If there were no loss of energy from friction in the pipes and valves, the fraction of the water raised would be the ratio of the fall to the lift; for example, if the fall were three feet and the lift thirty feet, three-thirtieths or one-tenth of the water would be lifted. There is loss of energy in friction, however, and only about one fourteenth of the water is lifted when the ratio is one to ten; if the ratio is one to five, only one-seventh is lifted and similarly for other ratios, the amount lifted being always somewhat smaller than the theoretical amount.

In Fig. 75 is shown a sectional view of the Niagara hydraulic engine, a very efficient ram. The water enters through the drive pipe A and flows out through the working valve 13. At a certain velocity the force of the water closes the valve 13 and the momentum of the water in the drive pipe drives a part of the water into the air chamber G.

Fig. 75. Sectional view of Niagara hydraulic engine.

The compressed air in this chamber stops the rush of water and starts the reaction; this closes the valve E and allows the valve 13 to open again; also on the reaction a little air is forced in through the sniffling valve F by the pressure of the atmosphere. The compressed air in G keeps a steady flow of water moving through the discharge pipe C. The upper drawing gives a better view of the sniffling valve.

The rate of flow of water is regulated by the set nuts H at the top of the stem of the working valve. If more water is wanted, the nuts are unscrewed so that the valve has a longer motion and works more slowly. The water in the drive pipe then acquires a greater velocity before the valve closes, and therefore it has a greater momentum. As a result, more water is forced into the air chamber at each ramming motion; the air is compressed to a smaller volume, and therefore exerts a greater force and drives more water up through the delivery pipe.

If less water is wanted, the nuts are screwed down so that the valve works more rapidly on a shorter motion. The valve closes when the velocity of the water in the drive pipe is small; therefore the momentum of the water is small and less water is forced into the air chamber. The air in the chamber is not compressed so much and therefore a smaller quantity of water is forced through the discharge pipe in the same time.

The double acting ram.

Rams are made to force water from a spring into an elevated tank by means of the power of a neighboring river or brook, the water of which may not be fit to drink.

Fig. 76. Double-acting ram.

Fig. 76 is a sectional cut of the Niagara double-acting hydraulic engine. It is the same as the single-acting ram except that a supply pipe S from the spring is arranged to deliver water just below the valve E. The action of the ram is also the same as that of the single-acting ram, except that on the reaction the water enters the ram from the spring andfills the base T. On the next ramming motion of the water from the brook, the spring water is forced into the air chamber and out through the delivery pipe C. The ram is so adjusted that there is an excess of spring water and some of it flows out through the working valve D. This is brought about by the stand pipe on the pipe from the spring. It is made high enough to give a rapid flow of- spring water on the reaction. This excess of spring water prevents the river water from entering the air chamber and delivery pipe. The check valve on the springwater pipe prevents the spring water from being driven back up the pipe by the ramming motion of the water in the drive pipe.

Fig. 77. A standard ram.

The equipment.

The drive pipe is made as straight as possible, to allow the water a free flow. Where a bend must be made, as at the point it enters the ram, the whole pipe is bent in a long curve. The length of the drive pipe is important, and the manufacturers prefer to give information on this point for each installation. For the standard ram, however, the length is usually the same length as the lift. The end of the drive pipe in the spring or brook is protected by a strainer to keep out anything which might obstruct the valves. The area of waterway in the strainer should be two and one-half times the area of the pipe.

The ram is usually placed in a pit from which a large drain carries the excess water to a lower level. If the pipes are laid underground and the ram is covered in winter, there is no trouble from frost, particularly when the ram is allowed to run continuously. The delivery pipe is laid with as few bends as possible to avoid friction, but this is not as important in the delivery pipe as in the case of the drive pipe. The elevated tank should be provided with a well arranged overflow pipe, as the ram keeps it full to overflowing the greater part of the time.

A satisfactory engine.

Next to a natural gravity supply, the ram is the cheapest and most satisfactory means of obtaining running water. When once adjusted, it works away day and night, week in and week out, without attention, and after the first cost, which is not great, the only expense is for valves. These must be renewed every year or two according to the service.

In purchasing water-supply materials of any kind, it is well to remember that a cheap outfit is not necessarily an inexpensive one. It is better to pay a little more for a first-class outfit that will last a lifetime.


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