Two Letters Re: Sources for Gasoline and Diesel Fuel in a Grid-Down Collapse

Mr. Rawles,
A good out-of-the-box solution to diesel fuel transfer comes from Northern Tool & Equipment, item #360. I use mine for diesel, waste vegetable oil, and heating oil.
One nice feature is that it pumps at 10 gpm. That’s moving a lot of fuel in a short period of time. I usually run mine off a 12 VDC jumper battery.
Water often sits at the bottom of storage tanks. You really don’t want to pump that into your vehicle. A quick and cheap modification of the pump assembly solves the problem. I spliced in two feet of 1 inch clear hose near the nozzle. Cut the 3/4 inch pump hose near the nozzle, leaving a few inches to clamp onto. The 1 inch hose slips right over the 3/4 and is fastened by clamps. It’s an easy way to monitor the condition of the fuel being transferred. As soon as the color changes, I shut off the nozzle, to keep water out of my tank.
This winter I was given over 150 gallons of heating oil for the price of hauling it away. It didn’t take long for my pump to pay for itself. – Raymond

This is in regard to your comments, about automotive-type fuel-pumps used as emergency fuel-transfer pumps from underground tanks. In many to most cases, those pumps are useless for that type of task and will not work. Automotive electric fuel pumps are designed to push fuel, not draw fuel. That is why they are mounted either inside the fuel tank, or if external, as near the fuel tank as practical. Most cannot draw fuel from more than 5 feet below (with some variations). One typical example is a full size extended cab pickup truck or a Chevy Suburban. At 17 to 18 feet long, if an electric fuel pump was mounted up front near the engine, and you got the truck pointing up a very steep hill, the engine would die from lack of fuel. That because the front mounted electric pump could wind up being 8 feet above the fuel tank on a 50% incline. That is is why such a rig will have either an engine-mounted mechanical pump, or an electric mounted back towards the fuel source.
The mechanical fuel pumps are more able to draw fuel. Electric fuel-transfer pumps that are specifically designed to draw fuel, also have much more capability to draw fuel than a conventional electric automotive pump. No matter what you get, the laws of physics prevent any pump from drawing any practical amount of fuel from a depth exceeding thirty feet. Most underground tanks are 8 to 12 feet deep and with those, an electric transfer pump, or a hand-suction pump will work, and an automotive-type electric pump will sit there and do nothing but make noise. If you could drop the automotive pump down inside the tank, and let it push fuel up- it could be made to work – but that would be difficult to do in most situations.
There are also hand-driven mechanical pumps that can work at virtually any depth. That because the actual pump goes down in the fuel source, and linkage connects it to up above where the hand-pumping takes place.

[He added in a follow-up e-mail:]
I don’t have any good, easy, and/or cheap suggestions. I have a portable 12 volt fuel internal-gear transfer pump – made for transferring fuel. It will do a lot more than most automotive fuel pumps, but costs over a $100 and is far from the perfect solution. It will work down to 12-15′ but pumping capacity goes way down at those depths. I also suspect, that once a little worn, it won’t do so, without priming.
In regard to the Ford electric pump you mentioned – yes – there are some that do better than others. Some are vane-pumps, some are diaphragm pumps, some are gear, some are piston-pulse, some are bellows – and they all work different. Even those that do manage to pump fuel from a 10′ lift have their pumping volume go down to near zero, i.e. almost, but not quite useless.

I’ve spent a lot of time pumping liquids from various suction depths – when collecting maple sap for making syrup. The physics are the same, just pumping tree sap instead of fuel. The gas-driven diaphragm pumps work the best for depths down to 20 feet, but they are a royal pain to get primed. It’s not so bad dumping water or sap all over the place to get one going – but would be a mess with gas or diesel. All those pumps will work with fuel for short periods of time – and all have warning stickers on them saying not too. Homelite has -or had – a little gas-driven pump called the Waterbug. It is a really nice, compact and light pump that works very well – and hooks to a conventional garden hose. It is marketed for water-pumping only, but there’s nothing inside of it that can’t stand up to diesel fuel. Gasoline, on the other hand, can be dangerous. Since the Water-bug uses small 1/2″ or 3/4″ hose, instead of 1″ or 2″ hose, it is much easier to prime than the bigger pumps. I haven’t used any of mine for pumping fuel – since once I’ve done that – I don’t think I’d ever want to use it for food-grade stuff like maple sap again. I would though, if I had to.

If I ever got into a situation where fuel was 20 feet down and I needed it – I guess I’d have to improvise. The situation will be limited to the size of the hole you have to enter – that may, or may not allow certain types of mechanical rigs. The little automotive electric fuel pumps that usually mount inside a tank will fit through a 1 1/2″” diameter hole – but – if you send one down into a tank, you’ve got to have fuel hose and wire attached to it.
I guess – my answer is still – I don’t have one, good solution. – John from Central New York

JWR Replies: I’ve used an electric fuel pump (salvaged from an old Ford) to pump diesel 8 vertical feet–from a barrel sitting in a pickup bed up to a typical 200 gallon above-ground farm tank (on a +/- 7 foot stand)–using 1/2″ inch (i.d.) hose, without much difficulty. (Although it did seem slower than when I was transferring fuel from one vehicle to another.) Granted, I’ve never tried pumping any higher. The absolute limit, based on atmospheric pressure, would of course be 33 feet but I really doubt that it would pump more than 10 or 12 feet.
I gave away the last pump rig that I had built as a gift last summer. So I’ll have to build another and try testing it to check its vertical limit.
You are absolutely right that the best solution would be a mechanical pump where the pump itself–or at least the pump cylinder, connected by a sucker rod–sits down in the tank. The problem is fitting that assembly down a 3″ diameter tank filler cap. Any ideas, folks?