Can you start a Diesel engine without electricity?


I have had a couple older diesel tractors. Both had a manual shutoff valve/lever. Pull the lever and it will shutoff the flow of fuel to the injector pump which will kill the engine.

I have a 2 cylinder diesel engine that powers a outdoor construction style light tower. It has a optional kick starter. Never tried it but doable. That engine does not even have glow plugs to warm it up and it starts easily.

Older diesel engine with mechanical injector pump could absolutely be started without electric starter. Better have arms like Popeye. I can’t imagine starting a 4 or 6 cylinder diesel engine by hand. My grandpa has stories of his old model T, they would take a pan of coals from the fireplace and put it under the engine to warm it up before going out and cranking it by hand. Small gasoline engine is much different than diesel. Given what I just said, I think many of the older diesels had compression relief valves that would make it easier to turn by hand.

Some of the older diesel engines would have a gasoline pony motor that was then used to start the diesel. Imagine a lawnmower engine that you start with pull rope. It spins up then you engage the clutch on the pony motor to start the diesel engine.

There is a youtube video out there of some old time using a blank bullet to start a old engine. The firing of the bullet blank was enough to get the engine rotating to start. I think that was actually a kerosene tractor but I can’t remember.

I am by no means a diesel expert. I actually have limited exposure to diesel equipment. I know just enough to be dangerous.


Compression release can make a big difference. When I bought my Toro lawn mower back in the 80’s I said I wanted electric start because I was tired of pulling the rope. They said I didn’t need it with their guaranteed to start on the first or second pull model due to the compression release. Sure enough worked like a charm. No problem starting at all, at least for the first ten years or so.


But how old were you during basic training . . . ?

I’m middle aged, and my night vision isn’t what it used to be at age 18 or whatever


I had my 21st birthday on my first day and was really out of shape. They fixed that though. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Most of us were also flabby 20-22 year olds so didn’t feel out of place, except for that one gung ho 17 year old from WV that I still worry about. We tried to tell him not to be so eager and keep your head down and the object is to stay alive, but I don’t think he was listening to us.


I’m not trying to be a smart alec here . . .

But I hear that life expectancy of “fresh” 2nd lieutenants in Vietnam was abysmal

And I also heard that the troops also told them pretty much what you said “Keep your head down and stay alive.” Or was it more like “Don’t be too eager. WE want to stay alive.”


I never made it any farther than Georgia so I don’t know. We were mostly Reservists and National Guard. That kid wasn’t though and we knew he was headed for the jungle and because he had no other background, likely would be picked for infantry so if he didn’t settle down, he’d do something stupid and be a prime target.


These are gross misrepresentations of those who served based on isolated incidents. Yes, a few butterbars that didn’t have any common sense got fragged, and the smart ones listened to the experienced troops. But overall those who served followed orders and did so honorably, enormously courageously, and in the best military tradition. Toward the end of the war there was a breakdown in morale, but it was largely due to what was going on back home.

And Jane Fonda, the traitor who got away with it, contributed to the problems greatly. Her standing in front of the cameras WITH the enemy and shouting that the prisoners being held in the Hanoi Hilton were “war criminals who should be tried and executed” (yes, it’s on video) and getting prisoners beaten and forced to get in front of cameras did an enormous amount of damage to morale. She also said there were no prisoners in Hanoi, only deserters being kept by the North Vietnamese government in hotels… a total complete lie.
In any other country, in any other war, she’d have been tried for treason and executed. Instead she went on to live in luxury and sell theighmasters.

I’m sorry, but there are far, far, far too many false and negative stories about those who served in Viet Nam. Please don’t contribute to them. Let us rest. Please.


@the_same_mountainbike Agree. Just finished the book “Things they Carried”. Kind of haunting but a window into every day operations there. Ordinary kids is all.


I’m going to have to get that book. It sounds interesting. Thanks for the tip. :blush:


Hi again. I’m technically replying to TSM, but it’s meant for the group. Before we go too far down this path, could we please bring this back on topic? Thanks.


Point made.

I’m unfamiliar with “carbide lamps” for cars. Except in very, very, very old cars. I’m gonna have to look those up. There’s always something new coming on the market. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

Nevermind. I think I just realized that you were alluding to exactly those old lamps… as a tung-in-cheek possibility for a car without electricity. Sometimes it takes me a minute. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:


OK, from the book you can actually smell the canvas from the top of a “deuce and a half” (that’s a truck). Heh, heh, heh. Tim Obrien. Been around for about 25 years, just never read it. Christmas gift.

Oh yeah and they had big diesel engines.


Don’t make ME out to be the bad guy

I’m thinking of veterans who were willing to go public . . . on documentaries and other methods . . . that said those things I had mentioned. Can’t blame me for watching it and believing them.

As far as the fragging . . . you’re the one that brought it up, not me. I didn’t even allude to it

And I believe I didn’t make any blanket statements

But I’m in agreement with you, in regards to Jane Fonda. I also consider those kinds of actions to be traitorous

When I was working at the US army base in the 1990s . . . as a civilian mechanic . . . we had hundreds of those deuce and a halfs in storage, out in the open, half sunk into the mud. Every once in awhile, we’d get a work order to drag some out of the mud and get them back into functioning condition. I was impressed by the rugged construction :smile:

I believe operation provide comfort was the name of the game in those days, in case anybody’s wondering


I never meant to do that. Sincere apologies if it came out that way.


We’re good :smiley:


I admire OP’s enthusiasm to do sound research for his upcoming book and his curiosity about diesel engines. Not to change the topic away from diesel engines, but I cannot get over the question of how is man-made electricity any different than naturally made electricity? Why is the main character just “allergic” to electricity over the power grid and not to the stuff that comes from the sky? Are these questions relevant in a fiction or is it one of those questions like "how does Superman shave, since he is the man of steel?


Great question @bluekryptonite. The idea for the book came from the Northeast Blackout in 2003 when a tree branch in Akron Ohio started a chain of failures that left Ontario to Philly without power. That sparked the thought of what it would be like to live in our digital, electric world without the ability to access our modern marvels and how would society react to someone like that.


Fiction is full of preposterous premises. How often I have seen outer space dramas where there somehow is gravity that lets the characters walk like on earth, not to mention explosions that can be heard, oh, and every alien they encounter seems to speak English and have a humanoid body.
How often have I seen ammo shoot bullets by being in a fire.
How often have I seen a lit cigarette set a pool of gasoline on fire.
How often have I seen a silencer render a AR-15 nearly inaudible.
When was the last time you saw a car collision result in a explosion in real life?

It’s entirely possible to make an electricity free car though. Diesel engines are one way. There’s also steam and other external combustion engines designs.

Another possibility for cranking a diesel is the inertia starters used on a lot of large piston aircraft engines and WWII tanks.


Truth is that if electricity had never been harnessed we’d all be riding horses and lighting with oil lamps. Mass transport would be via steam engines.


Even though technology has advanced so much, it is kind of sad to say that as humans, we have become too complacent of our past achievements that we are stagnating (innovatively-speaking). Even today, electricity is produced based on turning a coil in a magnetic field, a >200 years old technology. Only the method of how the turbine is rotated has changed. Electricity is a clean form of energy that is easy to produce, distribute, control and scale. So, no one has bothered to look for another form of energy like that.

It is true for cars too. Even the most expensive cars available today has an internal combustion engine, which is based on a technology that was invented over a century ago. The efficiency of such engines are not more than 25% (in some cars, they tweaked it to go up to 45%). It means 55-75% of the input energy goes wasted. We simply don’t have a better technology yet.

Maybe your novel could explore possibilities of tapping in to Earth’s core energies (thermal, magnetic and gravitational) !!

At first I thought you have to get your facts straight for the novel. If it is a fiction, go crazy, invent a futuristic technology (who knows may be some day, some scientists who read your novel will invent such a technology). Take a little idea from “Green Lantern”, where the civilization on that planet depend on the planet’s core energies or from “Dragonball Z”, where “Super Sayans”, extract energy from every living thing around them, and create your own version. Why waste time looking into diesel engines? There is only so much you can get by beating an almost dead horse :slight_smile: