2012 Concours of America at St. John’s: Firing Up & Starting A Stanley Steamer

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Watching these videos of Gerald Szostak firing up his 1910 Stanley 61 Toy Tonneau and then fiddling with the various valves and pumps to get steam up demonstrates one reason why steam power lost out to gasoline. Electric cars, of cars, started immediately. Gasoline powered cars took a minute or two to get everything set in terms of spark advance and other settings and then cranking it over by hand. Steam cars, though a lot of time to get going. Szostak told me that it takes about 15 minutes to get steam up. The Stanley steamers also had open cycle steam engines without condensers to recycle the steam back into water. Szostak said it gets about one mile per gallon of water and that the tank holds 25 gallons of water. That meant stopping every twenty miles or so to refill the water tank.

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In order to keep brass era cars on the road reliably many owners have retrofitted them with things like oil filters, electric fuel pumps and electric starters. Those alterations seem to be allowed by show judges. In this case, this Stanley has been modified to use Coleman camping fuel (aka “white gas”) in its burners. The handle that Szostak is pumping in the video is to pressurize the fuel system. Once in operation, it’s very quiet, and sounds like a subdued steam locomotive. The Stanley engine was rated at 20 horsepower, but that was a rating based on the steam that could be generated at a steady rate. Under maximum steam pressure, the Stanley probably would have been rated at 100 HP or more. What really got the Stanley moving was the 700+ lb.ft. of torque available at 0 RPM! There was no gearbox, the engine was connected directly to the rear axle, and the rotating mass of the wheels and brake drums were used in the place of a flywheel. Reverse is effected by rerouting the steam to run the engine backwards. Szostak rocks the car backwards and forwards to get all the water out of the system and then just chugs off.

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