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Killing the Steam Car

Posted by Garry Hunsaker 
Garry Hunsaker
Killing the Steam Car
July 27, 2004 11:44PM

I have, as many others have, wondered just why steam cars went extinct. There are several thoughts on this. Looking at the Stanley, I would have to say an incredible lack of innovation and modernization after about 1909 sure didn’t help. A cantankerous vaporizing burner, after the advent of the electric self starter, and the continued use of a slow firing fire tube boiler, all make me wonder how the Stanley Company survived as long as it did. Considering how innovative the Stanley brothers could be when they wanted to be, it is interesting to see how little real improvement went into the design.

White... Ahhh White, if only they had stayed with steam until someone came up with a truly reliable water tube boiler control, and a better burner system. Then switching to gas power, and their later diesel trucks, carried them a long way.

Dobel... After all I have read of Abner, there are times I would wish for a time machine so I could take him some meds for adult attention deficit disorder. It sounds me to like Abner spent way too much money on research, and way not enough money on real production.

Which begs me to ask, since I have been tied up with other bits this last year, has Jim Crank’s volumes on the Dobel’s come to print? There is much of Dobel’s later work of which I have only a passing awareness.

Then, I do wonder just how much of the steam cars demise was the fact it was a rather old technology locked into the concepts of how you went about laying out and building a steamer. Except for some of Dobel’s later sketches, in which he considered mounting the generator directly to the expander, most other proposed designs looked like a revamp of the Stanley. A few brilliant exceptions like the Williams Brothers aside.

I do wonder a bit, as a lay person, just how much research has been done on the flow of high pressure gasses in pipes, manifolds, and valves? How many try and take into consideration just where the heck is all that heat going? In reading through some of the recent posts, I think I am beginning to understand just how many hundreds of millions of dollars would have to be spent in basic research to bring small sized steam plants up to par with this centurys' technology. Then, I agree with much I have read here. A high end one off design, sort of cross between a Lotus and a Rolls, could have quite a market for a relatively small concern. And it might be the one way to raise the money to do the responsible research that needs to be done to bring steam engineering into the twenty first century. Then, if someone that really loves steam doesn’t do it soon, the folks that still ‘really’ know the ins and outs of steam enginering may have to be contacted by psychics.
Just ah Rambling
Peter Brow
Re: Killing the Steam Car
July 28, 2004 04:23AM
Hi Garry,

One thing to keep in mind is that in the USA, around 1925, half of all cars on the roads were Model T Fords -- a barely-updated 1908 gas car design, with crank start, hand throttle, cumbersome multi-pedal transmission, and manual adjustment of spark advance. Its engine and tranny were much shorter-lived & more maintenance-intensive than a Stanley boiler and burner, and its list of driver inconveniences and performance and durability deficiencies/quirks, far too long to reprint here, made a Stanley look like an effortless zero-maintenance everlasting ultrapowerful dream car by comparison.

Yet this was the most popular and common car of its day. And Ford too was often criticized & ridiculed for making few, inadequate, and over-delayed improvements to the 1908 design of the Model T. What made the difference was mass production. Stanleys, Whites, and Dobles, and all other steam cars, were shop-built and hand-crafted, one by one. T's and most gas cars by the 1920s were built on heavily automated assembly lines, at a small fraction of the consumer cost. Their production numbers were soon so vast that pre-1910 cars became a negligible fraction of the total cars on the road. The mass-produced gas cars were so much cheaper than shop-built steamers that most people gladly suffered all their relative deficiencies. The steamer was better, but too rare and expensive due to its manufacturer-chosen limited production and exclusive marketing.

I think it misses the point to compare the Stanley to modern gas cars, or to the very best gas cars of its day, which almost nobody drove. Compare it to the cars most people were driving, like Model T's, with no self-starter, etc.. Self-starters, btw, were rare on the road for many years after their 1912 introduction. Most cars on the road still didn't have them by the late 1920s. Some automotive history books give the impression that in the year 1912, all starting cranks on all existing gas cars were suddenly replaced with electric starters, and no crank-started car was ever built again. Far from the truth. As a side note, VW Beetles still had hand-crank-start in 1949!

Another thing to remember is that most people left the pilots burning on their Stanleys overnight in the old days, and rarely fired them up from cold. Not like today's justly treasured & pampered antique steamers, which are almost always shut down and started cold each running day for both fun and safety/insurance reasons. In the old days, with cars left on pilot lights, cold fireup time was of little or no concern for daily-driver steam cars.

Carburetors, ignition and cooling systems, and many other parts on gas cars through the 1920s, were far more cantankerous and maintenance-intensive than vaporizing burners.

I agree with your assessment of White and Doble, and yes, the Stanley brothers & their successors could and should have done more to improve their cars. Condensers, piston valves, electric pilot starting, and many other improvements, could very easily have been introduced much sooner.

If the Stanleys had tried mass production & mass marketing, especially around the time that Ford started doing so, the steam car might have easily replaced the gas car. 10 hp Stanleys cost the same as the first Model T's when those were initially shop-built, and they would have cost the same or less in mass production, while being very closely similar in most ways (size, weight, etc) except for far superior performance, easier driving, and lower maintenance. An oil separator and capacious condenser could very easily have been added at that time too, making the water consumption about the same (Model T's, with their very inadequate cooling systems & small water capacity, needed frequent water refills too).

But the Stanley brothers had no interest in low-cost mass production or mass marketing, while Ford and other gas car makers did. History records the smoggy, noisy results.

Graeme Vagg
Re: Killing the Steam Car
July 28, 2004 08:26AM

I think you have just about answered your own question with the comments made. I have been asking the same question after being fed a lot of information on the virtues of steam cars. If some of the advertising brochures used for all types of automobiles in the early days, the authors would be in court facing fraud and misrepresentation charges. Even today motor vehicle advertising is largely BS and made worse with trick photography and computer graphics that illustrate unrealistic feats of performance. Consumer laws now have heavy fines for any misrepresentation in advertising so I have no idea why unbelievable TV stunt sequences are permitted. I mention this because we are faced with over 100 years of advertising nonsense that clouds the real issues.

I am trying to develop a comprehensive picture of how the motor industry really developed but lack information on steam car production levels. The notes below are based on manufacturing figures at the aaca.org and stanleysteamers.com web sites.

What is emerging is that there may have been something like 200 steam car manufacturers trying to break into the market of a forty year period but all found the competition too fierce. There was a free market operating with designs for electric, steam and petrol engined cars coming from around the world and a lot of money being thrown at production - order of $350m by 1900 alone. Ford and Olds both started with a steam vehicle but saw the future in the internal combustion engine. Manufacturers had to provide demonstration vehicles, establish manufacturing and support facilities, find component suppliers, have start up finance and then find customers. Some (most) missed a few of the vital bits so didn't last long.

Olds was attracting more customers than Stanley from 1901 and had sold 5,000 cars by 1905 before introducing a "no frills" model that sold 5,000 units in its first year. Henry Ford had an initial company failure but started Ford Motor Company in 1903 and set a new land speed record at 91mph in 1904 with his Model B. Stanley engined cars got the record back in 1905 and 1906 but the 1907 car crashed and ended the steam speed attempts. It should be noted the steam record breakers were running on reserve steam capacity and had a very short range. Put them on an open road and they wouldn't go far or fast for long. By 1908 Buick was the largest car manufacturer in the world, selling 9,000 cars. The Ford Model T commenced production in the last quarter of 1908, selling about 6,000 in that period and 10,000 in its first year, and nearly double that in its second year.

By 1910, US car production had reached about 180,000, total registrations are given as 468,500. Based on Stanley production levels, and many no show steam projects in that period, I don't think the steam car percentage was very great by this time. I believe the battle was lost due to the overwhelming popularity of lower cost petrol engined vehicles well before the invention of the electric starter motor (first used for 4,000 cars in 1912) and the production line (1913-1914). Ford was already making 26,000 cars a month in 1912 and was up to 800,000 a year by 1915. The assembly time was down to 1.5 hours for the Model T by 1914.

While the Model T dominated the world motor scene, it did not receive sufficient upgrading and ceased production in 1927 after 15,458,781 being built. The delay in retooling for a new Model A, also cost Ford the auto manufacturing lead.

I believe there were some very good steam cars designed and built that could have been better than the 3 popular names you mention. However there is more to long term auto manufacturing that just having a prototype vehicle. It has to drive well and appeal to the public, remain up-to-date with advancing technology and performance improvements, be keenly priced, have a full depth of support and made and marketed by a sound, profitable organisation. The auto business is so big but delicately balanced by changing consumer preferences, that fortunes can be made or lost very quickly. It is a cut throat business and very hard to survive in. This market is quite saturated with an over supply of makes and models so the chance of breaking into this market with anything new would be very low, regardless of what you had. Being realistic, I don't see a steamer being good enough to survive in the mass market. A niche market exists for speciality vehicles and this is available for anyone who can develop a product and find customers to keep buying it. A good example of this is the classic Morgan sports car that has been virtually hand made for almost 100 years and still has a waiting list of customers that is several years long.

I would be prepared to enter the niche steam car market if I had a small money tree for a few demo models, using designs that required insignificant tooling costs. If it had popular appeal, I would give the design to China to produce. They are tooling up to make just about anything for a very low price. That is where the action now is.

Jim Crank was chasing up his publisher as recent advice was that the new book hadn't been printed. The SACA storeroom now has sets of Collected Papers by Abner Doble - 450 pages of new material-not all steam related.
A Doble is a pleasure to drive, but I wouldn't like to pay for a replica (0r an original copy either). Jim has done some restorations on these but no longer recommends this technology for modern use.

I agree we are running out of time to do anything. The people who grew up when the steam car industry commenced and died are mainly in the sky workshops by now. Modern text books do not mention steam cars any more. You need to pick up what you can from steam clubs and go from there.

Brian Drake
Re: Killing the Steam Car
July 28, 2004 02:00PM
According to a website on nuclear power, of all things, what really killed steamers was an outbreak of hoof and mouth disease in New York City. Because of the outbreak, officials closed down the watering troughs in NYC, which is what non-condensing steamers used to refill their water tanks. Horses were also banned from the city, so if you wanted to get around, you either took public transportation or bought a car, and there wasn't much point in buying a steamer if you couldn't get water for it.
Ben in Maine
Re: Killing the Steam Car
July 28, 2004 03:58PM
This outbreak was after the war,,,20--22 and I think most of the old steamers were in New England,,,NOT in NYC,,,,who would want to go there annyway???haha,,,After all we still run our cars and the watering troughts are now few,,,The Upton-Bethel [Maine] stage, a 08 Z wagon was replaced by 2model Ts when the boiler needed replacement,,,this was a common occurance,,,Cheers Ben oh yes ,,tip the station attendent that has the hose,,cb
Alan Woolf
Re: Killing the Steam Car
July 30, 2004 05:05PM
I cannot agree with your assessement of a Model T Ford being more maintenance intensive and difficult to drive than a Stanley. Believe it or not a stock Model T in good condition is a reliable vehicle.

I own a 1917 Stanley Model 730 touring and a 1913 Model T Ford touring. I have driven the Stanley about 17,000 miles with many of the miles being on week long tours in all kinds of terrain and weather. I just recently acquired my current Model T but I have been working on and driving all types of Model T's for the last 30 years. I am intimately familiar with both types of cars and a Model T wins over a Stanley hands down when it comes to quantity of maintenance and reliabilty. I just drove my T on a week long tour of almost 500 miles. The only problem I had was related to some bad tires. The car has been rebuilt mechanically and is still a hand cranker with the original ignition system. Driving it is easy. Get up in the morning check the oil and water, twist its tail, and go. No muss, no fuss. The Stanley on the other hand is at least a half hour ritual of pumping up fuel pressure, lighting the pilot, checking and filling water levels in boiler and tank and maintaining fuel pressure while getting up steam. And to add insult to injury I usually manage to ruin a shirt from brushing up against something that has cylinder oil on its surface.

I might also point out that to really compare the two cars you need to compare a 10 hp Stanley to an early Model T. A 10 hp Stanley will outperform a Model T in some areas but not by much. And a 10 hp Stanley is a much more fragile car than a Model T.

As to the boilers and burners. Burners typically need to be cleaned every few thousand miles and boilers don't tend to last too many miles especially in condenser cars where oil separation is a constant challenge. The longest lived boiler I have ever heard of was 25,000 miles and it was retubed once. There is always something leaking on the Stanley and we usually come home after a run with a check list of things that need to be attended to. It is typically small stuff but there is always something. And that is a common refrain with all Stanley owners that I know. The old joke about a Stanley needing two hours of maintenance for every hour it is driven is not too far from the truth. A well maintained Model T that is driven in a reasonable fashion will go many thousands of miles with little mechanical attention. One Stanley owner that I know who has crossed the country several times with his cars told me years ago that the most reliable cars on the cross country runs were Roll Royce Silver Ghosts and Model T Fords.

Having said that both cars are fun and I like them both for different reasons. Even with all of the challenges running a Stanley well is a very satisfying experience. After getting back from the week long tour in my T we got the Stanley out for a run. I kept thinking something was wrong with the Stanley and then dawned on me that I was running the same speed in the Stanley as I had been the week before in the T and I was expecting a lot more noise and vibration. The term "internal explosive" really comes to mind in that circumstance. One Stanley owner that I know always tells the gas car gents they only got "half a ride". And I think he may be on to something!


Peter Brow
Re: Killing the Steam Car
August 03, 2004 02:56PM
Hi Alan,
Thanks for your input; I was wondering if anybody had both cars and could comment from first-hand experience. I have spoken/corresponded with many people who owned one or the other car, and have read plenty on both cars. It may not be apparent from my comments, but I am actually a fan of the Model T!

On boilers, I have been told that Stanleys and other steam cars which were kept with the pilot light running on standby in daily service had much longer boiler life and started up much more quickly in the morning than you describe, with none of the pumping, lighting, filling, checking, etc. which today is very adviseable on an ancient, rare, and valuable antique car. I have never heard of a Stanley, or any steam car, being run this way in modern times. When the burner and boiler are shut down frequently and for extended periods, air gets in the boiler, things corrode, & tube ends and fittings expand/contract and loosen, to a much greater degree.

Model T and other antique gas car engines are run today with much higher quality oil than was available in the pre-1920s era, and usually with detergent oil to boot. This gives much better results. In the old days, gas engines used poor quality non-detergent oils (not even available today), and period motor manuals describe the frequent and laborious procedure of tearing down the engine to remove carbon, varnish, and sludge buildup. If not done regularly, engine life was greatly shortened. From what I have heard of both procedures, boiler cleaning is much less of a chore.

Modern (IC-optimized) fuels often have large amounts of detergent & other additives, which also skew modern steam/gas comparative results -- often more cleaning work for the steamer's vaporizer & jets, and less cleaning work for the gas car's fuel system and valves, relative to the fuels available when these cars were new.

Modern reproduction spark plugs, wires, brushes, hoses, belts, bearings, rings, and many other parts used today in antique gas cars, are generally made with much better materials and better manufacturing/service techniques than were common when these cars were new. That too gives much better durability/reliability results with antique gas cars today. Improved parts are often used on antique steam cars, too, so the effects of modern improvements on the overall comparison are debatable, probably varying considerably from one pair of comparison cars to the next.
A recent thread on the Stanleysteamers.com SteamGazette forum included reports of 100,000 to 150,000 mile service life for a new Stanley engine, before major rebuilding. How long did an original Model T engine and transmission last?

There are so many things I wonder about in this comparison, like valve grinding/materials, rings, heat treatment, rebabbiting/motoring bearings, etc.. The Model T owners I have discussed these things with so far have often described using very modern materials and techniques for rebuilds, not the things used in pre-1930 factories or motor shops, outlined in the old motor manuals I have. I don't know if anybody uses those old techniques and materials any more, too labor-intensive, short-lived, and imprecise.

The thermosiphon cooling system on the Model T was notorious for overheating on hills, and spark and gear control was much more work during driving than the throttle control of a steam car. Have these often-reported problems been eliminated in modern Model T's?

In general, antique cars, both steam and gas, are maintained and operated very differently today than they were when new, and subtle, nearly indetectable differences in oils, fuels, and replacement parts (design, fabrication, and materials) give very different results. Modern comparisons of antique cars are troublesome at best; I rely on reports from when these vehicles where new.

Not to demean your accomplishments in restoring, maintaining and running antique automobiles, but a really accurate & scientific modern comparison of antique steam and gas cars would require costly, painstaking replication of seemingly minor but actually crucial factors like fuels, oils, metallurgy, typical (often dusty) road and maintenance/operating conditions, etc, which would not be worth the effort. The best we can do is estimate, and such estimates are unavoidably endlessly debatable and, come to think of it, therefore also not worth the effort. I'd rather continue to build my improved steamer, optimized for the modern world, than debate my views on why the old ones disappeared from production decades ago.

These caveats aside, and returning to the main subject of this thread, I don't think that an absolutely as-built Stanley could have competed in all ways with as-built Model T's or other gas cars of the era. I do think that a _mass-production_ Stanley or other steam car, incorporating better materials, components, and production techniques which were well-known and road-proven at the time, could have outdone a mass-production T or other antique gas car in virtually every department.

Many of the reported deficiencies in Stanleys are direct or indirect results of their shop-built production methods. Automation and mass production often improve the accuracy, simplicity, and durability of components, both directly, through the production methods & needed design changes themselves, and indirectly, through more road experience with more cars and more profits available for factory research and development work. Quite often, building more units automatically means building better units. Ford and other mass-production genuises knew this, the Stanley brothers and other steam car makers didn't seem to care much.

If some carmaker had mass-produced and mass-marketed steam cars, yet the cars failed to sell, I might agree that steam car technology at the time was inherently inferior and that the better machine (IC) had won in a fair fight. I would like to believe that the world is fair, that what happened had to happen, that the best technology always gets a fair trial and always wins.

Alas, the world is a little more complicated than that. Nobody, to my knowledge, even tried to mass-produce or mass-market steam cars, not even people like the Stanley brothers and the White Company, who had the knowhow, funds, credit rating, and successful track record to make a credible attempt. Mass production is the key to better, more affordable, and successful cars. With nobody even trying mass production, steam car technology didn't get a fair test against gas car technology, which did receive mass production.

Not that they "should have", just that (IMO) if they had, then we'd all be driving steam cars today. But they didn't, and we have to move ahead from here. Whether or not old steam car technology could have competed with old gas car technology, there seems to be little doubt that existing steam car technology needs major improvement if it is to compete with modern gas car technology. The only way to find out whether this can be done is to try it.

Garry Hunsaker
Re: Killing the Steam Car
August 04, 2004 11:27AM
From the posts I have been reading here and there, White was outselling Stanley several times over before they forced themselves out of steam. Personally, I have never read about what White’s production procedures were. But as Jim Crank pointed out in another thread, it was old man White that pulled the plug on the steamers. Rolland was still in development of new designs. Apparently, as Jim pointed out, there is, or was, a three cylinder White prototype engine in the works when the company left steam behind.

Given the advances WWI created in materials and engineering, White’s use of a front mounted engine, and it is not hard to guess White would have been the one to bring all of the components into a single package. I would hazard a guess, and say White could have been where Ted Pritchard was in the sixties, well before WWII. Myself for one, I do believe very few IC cars of the thirties could have touched such a machine’s performance.

Those of us that are just old enough to remember what America was like, before things like Vietnam and Watergate took the steam out of that beautifully naive belief in ourselves, we can remember just how much in love the twentieth century America was with technology. And not just any technology, it always had to be the brightest, shiniest, and newest idea on the block to catch the publics imagination. Infernal combustion was that bright new toy in the earliest days of that century. My guess is steam auto manufactures were to some degree were as trapped by the image of what steam was and should be, as was a good part of the general public. IC was still young enough it was consuming vast amounts of research from everyone including the government’s aeronautical interests. All of this interest in IC vastly accelerated its development over what many saw as steam having already reached its zenith. Like the head of the patent office in the eighteenth century that told the President, “everything that can be invented has been invented”, this was far from true.

Once the basics were worked out, the IC system lent itself more readily to mass production. Steamers were still hanging components anywhere they could find a place to stick them. Building a car, that must have multiple tubing and pipes run from one end to the other to connect all its components, is not conductive to efficient production. In the end, what White or others, might have, could have, or should have done , is a bitter sweet melancholia for me.

Where I am at, and I suspect a few others as well, is we are having to go back and try and pick up the pieces of an engineering system that has not had any real development in the last forty years. There are no authoritative modern steam automotive publications we can turn to to answer our questions. Of course, that is do to the fact almost no one is building anything at this time, and we have no real data on performance from such endeavors. And what we luckily can pick up from groups like this one, are lacking the basic research needed to create more accurate models of what is actually occurring with all the heat being produced in the total system. What little research there is generally well predates World War II. From what I can gather of reading some of the engineering types that do choose to share their thinking on these lists is, some of the ‘beliefs’ in what is happening in a reciprocating steam expander can, and probably should, be questioned as to the accuracy of the seventy year old concepts upon which they are based. Add in Jim Crank’s continual pointing out that basic things like piston rings need a good hard look at, and I wonder how many are capable of seeing what might be practical, and what are just our own pipe dreams. (And yes, I am way guilty of the dreaming part myself)

With the exception of the work Ted Pritchard has done, again as Jim previouisly pointed out, most of the rest of the ‘research’ during the last blossoming of interest in external combustion, were firms created to take advantage of government handouts of money in the 1960s. Most of which seemed to totally ignore what had been accomplished before in, their attempt to reinvent the wheel. The few ‘real’ private efforts were either way under funded or, as with Lear and others, saddled themselves with engineers that had at best rather poor practical understanding of what they were working with.

The chance steam might have made a real impact on the automotive market probably died with the White Steamer. What concerns me now is the practical. This is what works, and why, may pass through our fingers as we continue to dream of what ifs. Don’t get me wrong, what ifs are a lot of fun. What can be even more fun is putting cutting tools to metal in a design; we know is both reasonably to build and to drive on regular basis. For those of us that have been blessed to be able to play with steam in its various forms through the years, we can live with draining down the excess water from the boiler on restart, or clearing the engine of any possible water before we get under way. However, unless someone can create a steam system that is as convenient and idiot proof as its modern IC counter parts, the steam auto will remain a hobby for collectors, home builders, and the ‘unique’ individualists that might be willing to put up with the classic steam car start up procedures on a low volume production rather expensive steamer.
Still thinking...

Re: Killing the Steam Car
August 04, 2004 01:09PM
Hi Garry

Thanks. You must be talking about me. As I don't think anyone else here is questing some of the old theories. Except a few nut casses with no understanding of theodynamics. He has been kicked off and his posts deleted. So you wont find the idea that no expansion is the most efficient way to go.

There is a managment theory that puts two worker types together for the best results. Basicly there are two types of interest. Doers and thinkers. A thinker by them self will never realy get started. Always will be finding better ways. A doer will jump right and cobble something until it work. What the doer produces may work but will most likely be unmaintainable or high cost etc. Not a thought out product. Ok for a 1 UP maybe. But for production it is generally not the best. Put the two types to gether on a project and the doer can implement the thinkers ideas. A thinker needs a doer partner. The two together will produce the best product in the time aloted. I am mostly a thinker. Been thinking about steam car designs for over 40 years now. Never started on one yet.

There are unrefutable theodynamic laws. These have been proven. It is the application of these that can be wrong. I am really only at odds with the Stumpf uniflow theory. The engines results are not in question but the reasion. I believe that high compresion is more responasble for the uniflow high efficiency. And if that is the case a high compression counter flow engine would be a better choice for automotive applications. And over all efficiency of a high compression counter flow engine would be better with varing loads. I would use clearance to advantage. Varing clearance cutoff and compresion to maintain a constant expansion ratio with full compression to inlet pressure. The higher the clearance the shorter the cutoff and the less steam used. Power is proportional to the steam used. Variable power over a wide power band with almost constant efficiency. But this engine can still operate at low expansion ratio and less to no compression when more power is needed. Throttling would only be used at very low RPM for smothe running and self starting. I would target for 0 to 15 MPH being in the throttling range. 15 to 80 in the constant expansion range. Above 80 increase cutoff for more power at a cost in efficiency.

This could put the powers that be in a tizy.


Post Edited (08-04-04 14:56)
Alan Woolf
Re: Killing the Steam Car
August 04, 2004 04:46PM
I agree it is hard to make a direct comparison with the two cars. My observations are pretty generalized and based on actual experience but not controlled scientific study.

A couple of addtional points are in order for this comparison. The Model T Ford used some of the best materials of any automobile on the road including the high priced Pierce Arrows, Loziers, and Packards. Henry Ford became interested in metallurgy early on and he employed some of the best metallurgists of the day. I think if you talk to anyone with a 10 hp non-condensing Stanley you will find they have broken something. If not their time is coming. The 20 hp non condensing cars are better but they are just a lot more fragile than many cars of the time. The condenser cars are much more stout but that takes away from their speed and acceleration.

I agree that carbon in the cylinders from poor oil was a problem for the Model T and other cars and required regular head removal and cleaning. A Model T engine would probably last 10k+ mile in the old days before needing an overhaul but a Stanley boiler would probably not last much longer especially on a condensing car or in an area that has very hard water with a lot of minerals. The 20hp and 30 hp Stanley engine rarely needs attention as long as it is well oiled, however, as I said earlier the earlier lighter engines were prone to breakage.

As for driving the T is probably overall easier. The thing about a Stanley is there is a good bit to monitor...boiler water level, oil winker, fuel pressures, steam pressure and then you have to watch the road. We kind of laugh about being bored driving a Model T or a gas car. The controls on a Model T may seem a bit daunting at first but they really are not that bad. The spark lever is pretty much set for general driving and it takes a bit of getting used to shifting with your left foot and controlling the throttle with your hand. It is just a bit of hand/eye coordination and practice. A good running T will climb hills in rolling terrain in high gear and shifting is primarily conducted in traffic. The Stanley is nice because it has no transmission and just opening the throttle and moving off with full torque at zero rpm is great. Even my big heavy condensing Stanley will out accelerate about any gas car from a standing start. We suprised a kid in a Camaro a few years ago not once but twice with the Stanley. That is one of the advantages of steam that is really obvious.

I have heard the stories about pilot lights being lit and staying lit full time to keep the boiler warm. I do know a couple of guys who have been using this practice while traveling cross country on three to four week trips. For them the big advantage is to have a "hot car" at their disposal. It shortens the warm up time in the morning. I don't think you can easily determine if there are any advantages to boiler life by keeping it hot full time.

A female friend got to ride in a couple of different Stanley's including mine last year. She rode with me on day trip in my Model T just recently. She commented that she liked the steam cars better. So I guess if you judge by feminine intuition steam cars win over internal explosive cars! :>


Garry Hunsaker
Re: Killing the Steam Car
August 05, 2004 12:29PM
Hey Andy

No, no way am I questioning the laws of thermodynamics. And I do agree, some people’s misunderstanding of them is utterly amazing. (My understanding of controlling steam generators tends to fit in this category) I still have an old aeronautical engineering friend who thinks you could inject super critical water into a cylinder from a six inch block of material heated up to hold enough mass to do the job. With my very limited understanding of engineering, I can not convince him otherwise, nor will he do the basic reading and calculations to show him why this will not work in any practical way. He just keeps insisting ‘I’ should try it. (No, I haven’t bothered to drag the Steam Bible out to his place to show him just how much heat it takes to convert water to steam at the same pressure.)

What has been pointed out in some posts I have read are, the old ‘untested’ theories as to why the uniflow was efficient. Were the water droplets that were being assumed to be swept out with the high velocity of large exhaust port openings actually contributing to the efficiency? Since computers have finally reached the point of doing some rather remarkable modeling, has anyone tried to simulate the total of what is ‘actually’ going on inside any steam piston expander, as its rings leak, and its cylinder gives up heat to the environment? Heck, what modeling has been done on the flow of steam though inlet valves? Would it be more effective to design a steam inlet to create non turbulent flow into the cylinder to perhaps reduce heat transfer to the cylinder wall and head? Or, is the loss of energy created by the turbulence of the incoming steam in some way adding to the efficiency of a design by assuring a more uniform temperature of the working gas?

I think there may be a fair amount of room to do some high level computer modeling, that then should be backed up with laboratory testing. But without NASA’s budget, I am not sure who would have the need to do this research. With out this kind of information, we are still working with what was known, and guessed at, in the nineteen forties.
Then, all of this is pretty much me making a series of wild guesses...
PS: Your idea of a variable compression ratio has much merit. It is the complexity of such a design I am not yet ready to deal with. With no budget and, no idea how I am going to come up with even basic tooling or materials, I am sticking with Hyper KISS. That means home made cupola iron and remelted Cummins diesel pistons. It looks like I am aimed at a three cylinder double acting piston valved uniflow. I am still hunting a crankshaft from an old two cycle Sabb, and that looks like driving a Stephenson Link valve gear from a cam shaft. The one advantage being, I can put the valves on the bottom of the cylinders. I still have to model it out, but I think it is possible to allow the piston valve to open an exhaust port during start up at long cut off, and close the port once the linkage is hooked up, for at least part of the stroke. Though my guts says, that will be at the wrong part of the stroke the exhaust would be open.

In other words, I’m looking at something of a uniflow of 1930’s level of tech, with modern gaskets, seals, and rings. If I can get one running, then I can start to play with making changes on a subsequent version. The first step being to add some form of centrifical automatic cut off that has feed back from the throttle position. And, it would be nice to tie the cylinder drain cocks into this as well. And or, start playing with varying the compressing ratio, which probably means I should consider a floating valve in the head to allow excess pressure back into the steam inlet. Then, the floating valve from the beginning to help deal with a water slug in the cylinder is probably a good idea as well. Though how to do this without adding a steam passage in the head is something I am still puzzling. (There might be room in the steam passages from the valve to do this.) And yes, once I have a few basic components figured out, I need to make a physical mock up to see just what can go were. From there, who knows if I am gonna live that long?
Re: Killing the Steam Car
August 05, 2004 01:20PM
Hi Gary

The constant expansion variable clearance engine is not easy. Don't think it can be done in a single expansion at high pressure and RPM. The idea requires the cutoff to go down to almost 0 for low power. At 1000 PSIA and exhausting in the 20 to 30 PSIA range the maxcutoff if one could have 0 clearance is around 4%. 0 to 4% cutoff or even 0.1% is next to impossable. Going to a compound is al so tricky. Balancing power between stages. How for out of power balance can the stages be before noticable effects apear. A 3 stage compound allows a lot longer cutoff to get the expansion. The variable clearance can be done in lots of ways. My first aproach is a multi crank arangement with two pistons per cylander between cranks. By shifting the phasing between the crank shafts you can get an effective variable stroke. One piston leads the other. The real TDC occurs when the two pistons are equal distance from TDC. One past it and the other ahead of it by the same number of degrees. This also gives a variable displacement. Lower displacement with higher clearance. Adds a bit more power range as at max clearance we have min displacement and that is also the min cutoff producing the min power. The problem is using a resolver(actuallt two resolvers and a main shaft) puts a high torque load through the phase shifting mechanism. I don't think it would hold accruarcy for very long due to normal ware. The phasing needs to almost spot on. But it would work as proff of concept. Another choice is a wobble plate type engine. I posted drawings of it on another thread. The wobble plat angle is adjustable. It has the same effect as in the multi crank. The stroke is varied by changing the plate angle.

The whole thing requires a micro computer control. One thing I would like to try instead of throttling at low speed. Is a short duration palsed inlet valve opening at any time were it would normally be open in the throttled overlaping method. It would only be open a very short time and pressure would not come up to full pressure. The duration would conrtrol the cylander pressure simular to throttling. My valves are electronicly controled so this would only require programming the controler and no hardware required for throttling.

The variable stroke seams to work out the best giving a double power control of displacement and cutoff. More power range in this mode.

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