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california steam bus project

Posted by dullfig 
california steam bus project
February 03, 2015 02:13PM
Hello all;

I'm curious what happened to the california steam bus project. The documentary has glowing praise, the final report says it met it's goals, and yet I do not see steam busses on the street...

Re: california steam bus project
February 04, 2015 12:15PM
no one bites? does anyone know the backstory to this project? why did it just die?

Re: california steam bus project
February 04, 2015 12:25PM
It had a limited amount of funding and when that was gone, it was over. Didn't help matters that the steam programs were all part of the Clean Air initiative; when the 73 Arab Oil Embargo hit economy suddenly went to center stage. Since none of the clean steamers had particularly good economy relative to even relatively inefficient IC, that was it.
Re: california steam bus project
February 04, 2015 01:47PM
So it was a moving target basically
Re: california steam bus project
February 04, 2015 02:34PM
Since I worked on the project, permit me to make a few comments.
The Steam Bus Program was never intended to go beyond the three final selections, it was simply a demonstration of clean burning of fuel against the existing Diesel busses. In that it met the political goals.
The steam buses burned twice as much as the diesels, although clean.

Bill Lear had convinced himself that if his bus was successful, the follow up orders would be enormous. Talk about mad, he blew the roof off when he had to admit he blew a lot of his own money with no possibility of any return. Then came his Monte Carlo Chevy conversion with the same result. I later got that entire working powerplant on a cart. The car was a failure due to the turbine water consumption on starting.
Bill Broebeck just laughed and did his just for the fun of it, he liked steam. Nothing special, old Doble technology; but his ran the best of all of them.
Dutcher-Solar I never saw, it was in Los angeles, the other two were run in the Bay Area.

Each developer was given one million dollars and saddled with generating endless reports and timetable estimates, guesses really, when the goals were to be met. Which squandered a lot of money.

There is a good final report that Roy Renner wrote that is available.
Re: california steam bus project
February 04, 2015 03:28PM
Hey Jim, you've done some interesting stuff in your life smiling smiley one of these days we should get together over a cup of coffee and talk steam stuff.


Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 02/04/2015 03:29PM by dullfig.
Re: california steam bus project
February 15, 2015 03:44PM
Here is a little more information in support of what Jim Crank said. These were government money projects and thus done for political purposes. The main problem was the very little time (very short time) allowed to get the grant, set up a shop, hire people, design a steam system, make it, and worst of all, it all had to fit in an existing bus engine compartment. These were nearly impossible constrictions. The buses ran for a few months on a regular route, the political goals were fulfilled, and they were scraped. Brobeck was a nuclear engineer and I have the blueprints from that project that were preserved by Bob Barrett who had worked on the project. The engine and power plant are somewhere in Florida and the memory of who has them is lost. Purportedly it was for a private museum there. The SPS - Dutcher Industries bus out of San Diego with the Solar combustion chamber and monotube boiler was well-engineered, but it was only a one-off project and much was learned but could not be developed. I have a lot of photos of that project that were preserved by Dave Norton, the history keeper of the project. As an interesting side note: most of the SPS people had worked on the Lear project and were recruited to go to San Diego by Ken Wallis, the charlatan who had scammed Lear in the first place, although he was a very interesting and inspiring fellow, they say. It is all a long story and one worth studying. The main conclusions are, as stated, that any successful modern steam project requires both money and time and knowledge. It is not possible to make something in one year that is successful. And lastly, in answer to the question of what happened to the hardware; at that time there was no one with a building or the money or the interest to preserve and store these things. Tom Kimmel
Re: california steam bus project
February 15, 2015 05:39PM
Tom has it absolutely right. the whole bus program was designed to fail.
There was one other amusing thing though, Lear's bus and Brobeck's bus should have used each others transmissions. Lears bus was a shifting type, while Bills was a big version of the old Buick DynaFlush. Remember, high rpm and creepy-creepy.
Wallace was a typical imported snot who desperately wanted to hang on to his paycheck, until Lear finally wised up and fired him after wasting millions. Roy and i were forbidden to give Lear any data or advice directly, it had to go through Wallace first so he could put his spin on it.
The guys in Lear's shop did some neat things though, once Del Hood took over the bus and car projects.
Re: california steam bus project
February 15, 2015 07:04PM
So if the fuel consumption was high, no bus operator would have adopted the steam bus unless mandated by government. Typical government project, sinking money into something no one wants. When will it end?

Re: california steam bus project
February 20, 2015 03:59PM
Fuel consumption: The problem of fuel consumption was implicit in the whole project having too short a time for completion. That is why Jim Crank and I say that it was a project destined, although not designed, to fail. As with most politically inspired projects there were other agendas at play, and the short memory of the electorate was one of them. Also no one in government had experience with engineering development. There is always a problem with fuel economy in a steam engine. However, that can be worked with but it involves experimenting with several engine designs to get to high thermal efficiency. After the SPS-Dutcher Industries steam bus they got a contract to design and test a high efficiency steam engine. They came close and that report and a follow up study by Roy Renner of that report are both available from the SACA Storeroom. As you can see it was a little late in the day to do theoretical test work with a single cylinder steam engine to perfect the development of an efficient steam engine after the three buses were made. Maybe it should have been done before, what do you think? There are two other factors: to begin with the whole political purpose was for clean air and no smog, which the steam buses accomplished. Therefore fuel efficiency was not all that critical, and was not part of the original specifications. Thirdly, cheaper fuel could have been used. Any vehicle, such as a bus, garbage truck, or concrete mixer, runs out of a central yard where it comes back to every evening. Thus it can be fueled up with a specialty fuel. These city buses were not going cross country to New York City. And finally, there is the issue of the drive cycle. A steam bus is ideal for stop and go traffic as it is the perfect hybrid, using stored power. Therefore, if fuel economy is measured by steady highway speed driving, then there is a false conclusion. A bus spends most of its time stopping at red lights or picking up passengers. Then it accelerates and coasts where regenerative braking would be very useful, something that can be done with a steam accumulator tank. Whereas, a diesel bus has to run a very noisy engine at a high idle while standing, thus wasting a lot of fuel during most of its drive cycle. I am sure that this was not taken into account when making comparisons. There is an interesting story, for another time, about the SPS bus and an acceleration test. Apparently, no one who designed it had ever ridden in a bus and so it was not designed (the steam generator that is) for acceleration, only for steady highway speed driving. There are many lessons to be learned from the history of steam power. It is important that we learn the correct lessons. Tom Kimmel
Re: california steam bus project
February 20, 2015 06:46PM
Alright, let's put the steam bus project into the prospective that existed at that time.
Yes, the steam bus program met it's prime goal, the reduction of smog.

True as Tom said, the program was not actually designed to fail. but we knew it would just on the fuel consumption rate alone. None of the host bus companies could begin to afford to waste that much of their operating budgets on fuel and especially on what was to them an unproven technology that was not in production by an established vehicle manufacturer. Let alone the parts and future service problems.
So we got busses that were due for major overhaul anyway to play with. Why not, the government was paying for it.
1) Smog and the natural villain to everyone, especially in the Los Angeles basin, the automobile, got the blame, only several later reports said it only contributed 28%, the rest was industry in general.

2) Yes, the Rankine cycle could burn it's fuel cleanly and that was the number one goal to shut up the eco-nazies and vote pandering politicians. The real loony one was CA Assemblyman Nicholas Petris who tried to introduce a bill banning all gas cars and got laughed out of the committee meetings, I saw this happening. Then introduced a bill giving a developer of a smog free car a $$25 million dollar award. Only problem was nobody allotted the funds to this. Again much snickering in the committee meeting.
A friend of mine Frank Lanterman was the Chairman. Frank bought the huge Wurlitzer out of our Fox theater in S.F. and installed it in his home. His brother Lloyd was a SACA member and a steam enthusiast.

3) At the stage of development then of automotive steam, 1200 psi @ 750°F was about the norm, so fuel mileage of #2 Diesel was half of what a working bus got. None of the busses were fully tested that I know of, Lears trundled back and forth on the Embarcadero here. Broebeck's across the Bay also on flat ground.

4) The government funding was one million for each developer, although the demanded paperwork ate up a lot of that. Generating absurd constant estimates for technical success and timetables for meeting the design goals, talk about moving targets, and totally ignoring the fact that none of them, except for Broebeck, had one clue about how to go about it. The ridiculous assumption was that the powerplants would work straight off the drawing boards, quite similar to the deluded in Florida.
They hired outside real experts, or at least people who knew what a steam car system was supposed to look like. Lear fumbled around and finally had Barber-Nichols design his turbine and gearbox, which was supposed to run on the new miracle fluid, Learium. Otherwise known as DeLerium or heavy water, which it wasn't.
Brokeback went with old and known Doble technology and succeeded quite well. He soent exactly one million. Besler Developments built his steam generator for him.
Dutcher-Solar I never saw, they were in LA.

5) Once the year had ended, the three busses went away, never to be seen again. Renner and I wrote our reports for Robert Ayres, of IRT in Washington and that was that. SACA Stores.

Then the whole idea evolved into that Clean Air Car Program with a notable lack of real world usable running cars. Lear's Chevy didn't run, Williams brothers cloaked theirs in obsessive secrecy and were dismissed as kooks, Dutchers' ran supposedly and I got it donated to Jay Leno's collection, SES came up with some sound engineering, that car exists, Besler's was driven from Emeryville to LA twice with not one problem, although it was not funded by this program; but by GM as a private venture, Tom Kimmel has it now unrestored, GM has their converted Pontiac. Aero-Jet destroyed theirs on advice of their legal people. The rest I probably forgot about faded into obscurity.

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 02/20/2015 07:09PM by Jim Crank.
Re: california steam bus project
February 21, 2015 01:17PM
Interesting stuff.

One thing that occurred to me is that most steam development programs put a lot of effort into the expander, as if that was where all the engineering challenges are, when in fact it seems the boiler is the big hurdle. Looks like engineers decide that "hey, it's just a pipe coil, no mistery here", but in fact building a monotube that will efficiently and effectively transfer heat from combustion to the water is a big challenge. A well built uniflow expander is almost a known quantity. I wonder if it is because the expander looks like an IC engine, and grabs the attention of the prospective steam designer.

Re: california steam bus project
February 22, 2015 09:40AM
I would not say that the steam bus people put a great deal more effort into the expander than into the other important steam power system components--burner, condenser, heat exchanger, water pumps, and control systems. it is just that they had to have an expander and none were available on the market. There is a long lead time in getting patterns made, castings cast, machining done, and then there was only time for one of these to get made. Brobeck used a GM two-cycle diesel short block as the basis. Of interest is that their first engine was a three cylinder in line and when converted to steam it bent the connecting rod. Therefore, they went next with a V-6 GM two cycle diesel crankshaft and put the three cylinder steam engine on top of it. With wider crank throws (whatever those things are called) they could put two connecting rods side by side, thus being able to take the force of high pressure steam. SPS came up with a very clever poppet valve control system that used high pressure water to go through a rotary valve to actuate the poppet valves. It almost worked. It was completely controllable with cutoff, forward and reverse, all controlled by a lever. Unfortunately no one could keep small metal filings out of the system and it jammed up all of the time. They ended up with a much more conventional piston valve design. I still think that a bus drive cycle lends itself ideally to a steam power plant which is quiet, does not have to idle noisily while loading and unloading, has stored power for acceleration, and can use regenerative braking. Plus there is the whole roof for a condenser. The rules for the California buses were that the steam components had to fit in an existing bus. These were unreasonable rules and caused much unnecessary engineering work. I see that in California these days the CNG (natural gas) buses get to put the compressed gas tanks up on the roof which is where a steam bus could have put the condenser. Favoritism was shown.
Re: california steam bus project
February 22, 2015 10:50AM
Do you have pictures/drawings/sketches of the water operated valve system? I'm familiar with hydraulic valves controlled by piezoelectric pilots for four strokes, and something similar might work for steam.

Lohring Miller
Re: california steam bus project
February 22, 2015 03:13PM
Steam generators, even the old Doble ones reached 85% net thermal efficiency. SES really improved this and Ken and I carried it further by applying basic logic to what is already a superb design, read our paper.
Lear's bus generator was really good once Wallis was kicked out of the company, the others in the Clean Air Car program did well too. The Lamont system for the best heat transfer rates and the smallest and most compact package. Blue flame burners for clean combustion.

Control systems got fantastically complex, unreliable and fragile because what goes on when is a rare bit of knowledge and people had all sorts of strange ideas on how a forced circulation generator really worked. Preferring to add computers and electronics in place of knowing the basic principals, the Band-Aid on top of a Band-Aid approach.

The big problem with the bus and car programs was that there was no suitable expander available, so almost everyone went off inventing the wheel all over again, thanks to an astounding lack of knowledge on how to do it. Or, like Bill Broebeck, he did what was immediately suitable to answer the program fantasies and needs. nothing radical; but his bus worked very well. Also, he knew quite well, unlike others who poured their own money into those programs, it was a one shot deal with no follow on.

It still needs the most careful and intelligent analysis on just what to do. What does seem reasonable after months of calculations and years of hands on experience is: Single seat poppet valve lifting to open, uniflow exhaust with an auxiliary exhaust valve to control compression, minimum clearance volume, the best possible insulation and piston head heat barrier coatings, much better piston ring sealing, possibly those laminar rings and single acting to achieve a reasonable speed.

Problem was and is, no two steam car enthusiasts will ever agree so everyone goes off chasing his dream and that is the enjoyable aspect of it. Some get realistic and the dreamers go off chasing impossible fantasies.
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