The Revolutionary Tinkerer
One of Anthony Barker’s better known inventions was the Kent-Barker Log Fire which transformed the world of indoor heating.Anthony’s heater (an early homemade prototype made from an oil drum) was the world’s first fully enclosed high efficiency wood burner. His patented heater was sold internationally by Kent Heating, a subsidiary of Shell Oil.
Inspiration came from his teen years. Whilst on a camping trip, with an ill wind and snow covering the ground, Anthony used a derelict old drum found lying close by and a piece of rusty galvanized iron to create a fire. He rolled the iron to make a tube, cut a hole in the drum, inserted the make-shift chimney and set up the ‘stove’ in the lee of the tent. The end of the ‘chimney’ bent inside the drum making it difficult for smoke to escape. It had to travel back over the wood where the hot gases were recycled above the burning fire before finding a way out. The heat was fierce but the concept was safe and clean. “That interlude gave me great ideas” Anthony said.
A major setback occurred in May 1975. The winery bulk store and workshop were destroyed by fire. Charred wood and stacks of broken and smoke-stained bottles were all that remained of the area that house dry stocks, bulk sugar and bottled wine regard for sale. Recently inherited antiques, some wedding presents and furniture were housed in the workshop at the time due to planned house renovations. It was enough to make Anthony think seriously about ‘tossing it all in’. And then…along came the inspirational log fire was re-borne.
After mastering the design the model was set up in the winery, putting out some 15 kilowatts of heat. One evening some men walked into the wine shop to the cheery welcome of a fire glowing behind its glass door. They came to buy wine but….they were engineers working for Kent, exploring the feasibility of wood as a future fuel for their heaters.
Kent started manufacturing the Kent/Barker log fire in 1978. The downwards airwash which helped to keep the glass door clean was perhaps the most innovated and led to the majorityof manufacturers world-wide to adopt similar systems. He settled for $2.00 each for the first 500 sold and 50c a stove thereafter. Some time later the company was sold and the design modified, terminating his right to royalties.