It took the Royal Navy 41 years (1898 - 1939) to change their ships from burning coal to oil. It's taking the nations fleet of Aga range cookers a little longer and of course a third revolution is now well under way as oil and gas Aga range cookers (we now know them as the 'fossils'!) are converted to electric!.
In the early 1960's all Aga range cookers were still running on coal and a young company called DON Heating Products starting manufacturing a conversion kit. This company was eventually acquired by Allied Ironfounders (then owner of the AGA trademark) and factory built oil cookers were sold directly.
Simon got in touch recently with the story of DON Heating Products and his own part in the creation of oil fired Aga range cookers! Here is his Aga range cooker saga!
"My family were in the leather trade and in 1962 and I was 19 doing what they now called work experience in a Tannery in Bristol. Not a pleasant job.
We lived near Wrington and our next door neighbour said that he had joined a firm in Taunton making conversions for solid fuel boilers. Could he experiment on our Aga range cooker to see if it could be converted. It worked..after a fashion!
I helped him with the conversion and he persuaded me to join him at Don Oil Burners in their Nissan hut base on the Belvedere Trading Estate Taunton.
The business prospered and within a few years we had built a brand new purpose built factory where we could manufacture the burners and do research. About this time we were finding that some cookers were sooting up and that the cast iron bases were crumbling due to the excess heat in the fire box. The ¾ ID feed pipe and elbow into the burner base was getting too hot and the oil was vaporising in the pipe rather than the vapour chamber in the burner base, causing the burner to surge from low to high yellow flame producing oily soot which blocked the flues and eventually coming out of the partly open fire door. Not a great scenario. Lifting out a heavy barrel covered in oily soot was not much fun! A collapsed burner base made even more soot.
We made baffles to try to keep the pipe cooler and put a large hole in the centre of the burner lid. We found a foundry in Cardiff to make chrome nickel bases and lowered the burner by using a very small bore stainless steel pipe so the oil reached the vapour chamber before it vaporised. The burner was lower so oven temperatures were improved.
This was a success then we had to replace all the hundreds of old cast iron bases we had supplied even if they had not crumbled. This was a necessary but expensive exercise.
Once the problem was sorted we approached Allied Iron Founders in Wellington Shropshire [at the time owners of the AGA trademark] and they redesigned the cookers to take the Don Burner. The first prototype was installed in my neighbours kitchen. When he sold his house the new owners threw it out. I found it in a heap, collected it and it is still in our kitchen today, the top having been re-enamelled and looking as good as new 50 odd years on!
I went to Australia in 1967 for 2 years and then joined my family firm in the leather trade. I gather Dons struggled during the oil crisis in the mid 70’s moved to Wellington in Somerset and worked on solar panels but not sure if they still exist."
What a wonderful bit of history! Don Heating Products were acquired by AGA Rangemaster Ltd in 2011 and I believe it has now been shut down. Thank you so much for sharing your story Simon, anyone else have any?!