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In the Shop

RSS By: Dan Anderson, Farm Journal

As a farm machinery mechanic and writer, Dan brings a hands-on approach that only a pro can muster. Along with his In the Shop blog, Dan writes a column by the same name as well as the Shop Series for Farm Journal magazine. Always providing practical information, he is a master at tackling technical topics and making them easy for all of our readers to understand. He and his wife, Becky, live near Bouton, Iowa.

"In The Shop" Chemistry Lesson

May 11, 2009
 This is purely hypothetical, because nobody would be this stupid. But for the sake of education and entertainment, suppose that somebody needed trash barrels for his home workshop and, uh, "acquired" some nice, big plastic barrels used to ship battery acid to farm equipment dealerships.

And let's suppose that person carefully used a saw to remove the tops of the plastic barrels. Once the tops were off, that person noted there was liquid residue in the bottom of the barrels--maybe a couple quarts in each barrel. The odor reminded this genius that the liquid was probably concentrated battery acid, so he decided to use a garden hose to add a couple gallons of water to each barrel, then he...

...tipped the barrels over onto his crushed limestone driveway, with the intent that the liquids would drain down and into the driveway and maybe even provide weed control for the rest of the summer. 

Those of you who actually paid attention in high school chemistry class probably saw the words "concentrated acid" and "crushed limestone" in the previous paragraphs and predicted what would happen. This fellow was blissfully unaware of what happens when a concentrated acid meets a strong base, but quickly learned that the result is an immediate and near-violent chemical reaction.

For a brief moment the hissing, steaming, bubbling, frothing chemical reaction was kind of cool and actually entertaining, until the fellow realized that the whole mess was creeping downhill toward his wife's prized bed of perennial flowers. "Dilution" seemed like a reasonable solution, so he grabbed the garden hose and started "diluting" his creation. Which merely enhanced the chemical reaction, increased its volume, and sped its flow toward the flowerbed.

Long story short, the next five minutes were spent in frantic efforts with shovel and rake to dam, divert and control the bubbling, frothing, steaming tide. Our hero was able to save the flowerbed, but the upper surface of his crushed limestone driveway was converted to a milky paste that eventually hardened into an incriminating crust that caused his wife to ask, "What happened to the driveway?" when she got home later that evening.

The fellow muttered something to pacify his wife, then manhandled his newly rinsed trash barrels into his shop and became VERY busy working on the lawnmower. 

End of chemistry lesson.

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