Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe diesel is the same as number two home heating oil, which is REAL close to kerosene.
I used EXCLUSIVELY kerosene and once in awhile took a few cups of No 2 out of the oil tank.
I prefer it to paint thinner because the solids settle quicker (when you use a rotating three rinse system similar to what KTC mentioned) and the natural oils in the kerosene/No2/diesel help preserve the fibers of the china bristle brushes.
Housepainter, I believe the smell of diesel in your father's shop was so pungent because it was the exhaust. Granted, the smell of kerosene/No 2/diesel ain't too pleasant, but it's not the same smell as being stuck behind a belching log truck inching it's way over the Continental Divide.
BTW, spinning brushes out in a five with your head over it IS NOT HEALTHY !! Just ask my liver and kidneys !! The mist funnels it way up into your face and into your lungs and then your blood stream. A paper mask does NOTHING.
A little tip to somewhat alleviate that onslaught of spinner spray: take a top of a five and cut a hole big enough for the spinner and the largest brush you use. Basically an oval hole about 2" wide x 5" long. Use the cover when you spin. MUCH less spray comes up outa the five. AND thus reduces the smell in the customers home, not to mention the lessening of hazardous solvents in your system.