My new steam book, for sale.

This is the first of many books of similar size and style that I plan on on publishing.  When all 50 volumes are done there will be a great deal of information on modern steam as well as on the history of steam technology.  Much thought and worry has gone into planning the organization of this material, and then I decided that given my maturity and lack of progress in making any kind of an outline for the books I might as well just start publishing whatever was the easiest get into print.  Later on we will include much of my opinions and thoughts about modern steam.  The plan is to transcribe the many interviews that I have had over the years with steam people, who are universally the most intelligent and interesting people in the whole world.  It should be interesting.

This book series was not entitled: “Modern Steam Engines: an elementary treatise upon the steam engine, written in plain language; for use in the workshop as well as in the drawing office.  Giving full explanations of The Construction of Modern Steam Engines; including diagrams showing their actual operation” because Mr. Joshua Rose already wrote that book in 1887.  The term ‘modern steam’ appears to have a floating time line.

These books are certain to become collector’s items and so you will want to take advantage of this opportunity to be ahead of that curve.


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Stanley 20 hp Cylinder


This is a prime example of a Goose Neck steam passage.  These are what happens when a slide or “D” valve is used and they are all bad.  The “Goose Neck” steam passage is long and wasteful.  It is clearance space, so it has to be filled with steam every time, a dead loss for that steam.  Then when exhaust comes through it the metal is cooled off and that needs to be re-heated with incoming steam.  The Mobile Steam Society people say that these kinds of valves, which are what Stanley uses, are the best thing invented to turn steam into water.

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Stanley 20 hp cylinder sawn in two.  Generally these old Stanley blocks have the valve face all spalled and galled from running with too hot a steam and too little cylinder lubricating oil.  I am assuming that was the case with this one.  Coburn Benson had this one prepared so that one could see the steam passages.  These are technically referred to as ‘Goose Neck Passages’ and they are very long thus making the engine very inefficient.  On the other hand it was a simple engine design and easy to make with the type of casting and machining technology of the time.

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Bruce Heppler Toledo



Bruce Heppler of Covina, California with his recent acquisition.  This is a homemade replica of an early 1900’s Toledo steam car.  Note the wooden wheels and tiller steer.  About the only original thing is the steam engine.  Everything else has either rusted or rotted over the years, hence the making of all new parts.  This type of a vehicle is the easiest and most affordable way to get into the steam vehicle business.

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Wood Fire Dune Buggy


This is my wood fired dune buggy.  There is a large fire box with a large dc powered centrifugal fan blowing air into the bottom of it so that the ashes and coals are burned and blown up the smoke stack.  The boiler itself is of Field Tube style.  that is not apparent looking at all of the insulation and sheet metal.  The largest diameter tube is a schedule 40 2 1/2″ pipe about 6′ tall with fins welded onto it and wrapped with a 1/2″ black iron helical coil.  The engine is a 2x2x2 Vee by Strath Steam out of Australia.  I abused it a great deal and it was not damaged.  Drive is by notched belt to a VW bell housing and transmission and clutch.  Note the condenser on top of the roof.  This is the vehicle that flunked the safety inspection at Burning Man and that is a very sensitive subject to this day.

Strath 2x2x2 Engine All Apart

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These are all of the parts for a very well designed and made small steam engine.  The over-hung crank has another part on the front of it so there is a shaft coming out of the front of the engine for auxiliary power.  In this case it drives the water pump and alternator.  This engine has piston valves and they are quite efficient.  As much of the engine as possible was made from castings that were then CNC machined.

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Technical Difficulties

We are attempting to fix all of the broken links involving the photos and thank you for your patience.

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Harry Peterson Boiler

1958_Peterson_5Installation of a Harry Peterson boiler in a Stanley.  In the 1950’s and 1960’s before Stanley cars became valuable and then people started making good quality replica Stanley boilers and burners using the authentic original designs there were very few options for a person who had a Stanley and they all had by that time either a rusted out or a burned out boiler and cracked or broken burners and pilots.


Harry Peterson was a retired Detroit policeman and he made many of his two drum Babcock & Wilcox design boilers with gun burners.  Here is a very neat installation in a condenser Stanley.PetersonFinished

I thank Kelly Williams for finding these original photos.  Some of the boilers were more circular, and some more rectangular.  They were made to fit the vehicle.  The rectangular ones fit in a Stanley just like a Derr boiler did.PetersonGuts

Here is the two-drum boiler.  there were three down comers, which are the two tubes in the front of this photo coming out of the top drum.  the third down comer is in the back and out of sight.  The up comers were spaced as close together as possible and still get in a good double weld.  At the top a smaller horizontal pipe went into the top drum.  The 1909 Stanley we worked on recently with a Peterson boiler had a perfectly round design so that it fit in the car without changing one thing.
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Harry Peterson boilers had a reputation for sending about half of the heat up the chimney.  Some of them were down draft and with them the exhaust air exited at the bottom of the boiler.  The rumor is that there was always a scorched circle of grass under every Stanley that was fired up with a Peterson boiler.  The issue is always to make a compact boiler.  It needs a large combustion chamber and then some tubes.   With these large and thick walled tubes there was not a lot of surface area for heat exchange, hence some inefficiencies.  However, the boilers never scorched or melted.  Our boiler in the 1909 made steam in five minutes.  It was very easy to run with a gun burner, merely flipping a switch and letting the pressure transducer turn the burner off at the pre-set 280 psi.  A water level controller operated the pump by-pass.   With a gun burner one had almost unlimited fire.  One was not restricted to the amount of fire as in an original Stanley where a larger fire lifted the water off the bottom sheet and scorched everything there.  It was a convenience to have a gun burner and the cost was another gallon or two of fuel per hour.


This is a more oval shaped boiler.  The economizer coils were traditional pancake coils sitting on top of the boiler.  As many of them were in place as was room.  Exhaust was off the top just like a Stanley and then went down and under the car heating the water.  The gun burner fired in near the bottom and against a 1/4″ shield so that there was good combustion before the flames ended up going all around the up comers.  1958_Peterson_1This view from the bottom shows the three down comers coming from the bottom of the top drum.  The top drum was quite short and it had several screens to prevent surging or priming.  There was room for good steam-water separation.  A single coil in the fire box was the superheater coil.  It is not shown in these photos and it came after the throttle.  The flame and combustion products were all around the up comers.  The gap on the right where the two down comers are located is for the gun burner.  Thus these downcomers were out of direct fire, unlike the back one.


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Wood Burning Hybrid Steam Car Discussion on Cosmo Quest Forums

I accidentally found this interesting discussion.  I think that it started with someone wanting to burn wood and make electricity in the back yard and then the conversation drifted on to automobiles and trains.  Almost all of the common themes came up in this discussion and thus it is worthwhile to address some of them first.  Leno has done a lot to popularize steam vehicles.  He is a car collector and thus, by definition, what he owns are historic steam vehicles, both Whites, Stanleys, and Dobles, that were designed at the turn of the last century and manufactured when cars were just starting.  Thus it is a valuable service that Leno does to educate the public, however, one should not draw conclusions from 100+ year old technology.

People have been working on steam since that time and that is one of the reasons for my postings.  Stanleys did not have a condenser.  Whites and Dobles did.  Thus what one sees is steam being exhausted into the atmosphere from the engine.  All modern steam power plants have condensers.  It is not a major invention to do so.  There is discussion about the difficulty of controlling steam production when using solid fuel.  That is true, it is difficult as the fire continues making heat even after combustion air is cut off, however there are a great many solutions to that problem.  It is not a deal stopper.  At the least, a sliding plate can protect the boiler/steam generator from heat while stopped at stoplights and vent the heat to the atmosphere.  This will happen during only a small amount of time.  Or, one can design a heat buffer that absorbs heat from the fire while slowing or stopped to be used while accelerating.  That is exactly the principle of a hybrid car except energy is stored as electricity, a much more convulated  and inefficient system than storing heat.

When discussing steam engines the subject of the Stirling Cycle always comes up as it is theoretically more thermally efficient; also purportedly safer.  An efficient Stirling power plant uses exotic metals as the temperatures are 3,000 degrees F and there are not enough of those metals in the world to make enough Stirling engines to make a difference.  Then, the working fluid is hydrogen at 5,000 psi and one may want to reflect on that subject before making claims about relative safety.  Stirling engines are difficult to start and run at only one speed and have limited torque, making them further more impractical.

Mention was made about a condenser making a steam engine more efficient.  That is true for a large power plant as a cold body of water helps with pulling a vacuum by condensing the steam.  For practical purposes this is not going to make much of a difference in a small power plant or in a car.  As an example the old coal fired locomotives ran at 6% thermal efficiency.  That was because they needed to make a lot of power in a small volume, so much heat went up the smoke stack and because the railroads owned the coal mines so coal was so cheap as to disincentive quests for more thermal efficiency.  Modern steam power plants for cars are already in the 20% range and with a lot of engineering development work can get to 30%.  Also a lot of money.

It is true that Howard Hughes and Bill Lear worked on steam vehicles; each with their own eccentricities.  It is a long story and one little known.  They both used mono-tube steam generators and so making a light vehicular power plant did not make anything more liable to exploding.  The vehicles started from cold in less than one minute.  It is very easy to have either a pilot light burning to keep the equipment hot or to have a plug-in such as diesel trucks do in the winter to keep things hot until needed.  Thus it is very easy to have instant start-up.  These days with remote starting clickers, one can easily get the fire started while lacing up one’s shoes.  Therefore the slight delay in starting can be overcome and it is not a deal breaker.  Only bank robbers need instant getaway anyhow.

Always when steam power is discussed and such issues as explosions are discussed and then the wonders of Stirling engines there is the mention of a conspiracy of the oil moguls putting steam vehicles out of business.  That topic is both a straw man and a red herring, besides being nonsense as steam power needs some fuel to make heat.  Try to not spend too much time on that topic and instead spend it on developing a good modern steam power plant.  We all need one.   Tom Kimmel

Wood Burning Hybrid Steam Car discussion on Cosmo Quest Forums

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The Locomotive

The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company wrote a book in 1894, titled; The Locomotive. In the New Series, Volume XV, this article was published on page 185:

“The youngest son of John Drumheller, of Blanchester, Ohio, was experimenting in his back yard, on October 13th, after the manner of Watt. He had improvised a steam engine and was trying to run it by means of a boiler whose fundamental ingredient was a tin fruit-can.  The boiler exploded, scattering steam and hot water in all directions, and the boy was seriously scalded from head to foot.  An elder brother, who was watching the experiment, was also slightly burned about the face.”

Here is a bit of news from 120 years ago.  If a person looks at all of the YouTube videos of modern people making back yard steam things you will note that not much has changed in the last 120 years and any day things will start blowing up and giving modern steam a bad reputation.  What happens is that steel gets weaker when it is glowing a dull red color, which is what happens when the tank (boiler) runs out of water.  What else happens is that when water is boiled it will develop high pressures if it gets hot enough and is contained.  We have used monotube boilers which are technically steam generators because a boiler is a tank of water with a fire impinging on the outside of it.  Sometimes we use 3/8″ stainless tubing that has a burst strength of 16,000 psi more or less and sometimes we use 1/2″ schedule 40 welded black iron pipe that has a burst strength of 8,000 psi.  I have burst holes–tulip shaped holes–on several occasions in black iron tubing usually due to my errors in pumping water; actually always due to some problem with the water pumping business.  Our boilers are surrounded by thin sheet metal and the results of a burst tube is a loud noise and much steam and smoke and charcoal dust being blown into the air and nothing at all dangerous happening.  It is best to have a healthy respect for the explosive power of a lot of hot water under pressure.  With a monotube boiler there is not a pressure tank that can be turned into shrapnel and there is not a lot of water that will expand when pressure drops precipitously from an opening in the pressure vessel.  Try to be safe.  I was going to say try to use common sense, except that I have not  found it to be common enough.  Tom Kimmel

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Air Compressor converted to bash valve uniflow using reed valves


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Hadden Engine

This is the best small steam engine around.  It is available as a casting kit from Gary Hadden up in Holly, Michigan who has been making these little engines for years.  He has successfully run both steamboats and small steam vehicles with them.  This is the 3” bore and 3” stroke engine, double acting.

Before explaining the fine features of this engine that make it the best design around one needs to know what the competition is for small, meaning 5 hp to 20 hp steam engines.  Most available casting kits are old fashioned sliding (also known as “D” valve) engines with harmonic drive to the valve train.  Much better are piston (also known as “spool” valve) engines.  The best are poppet valves.  There are other issues that have to do with uni-flow, counter-flow, and clearance volume, and cutoff control. 

It would take a book to explain all of the subtleties of steam engine design and what we are doing here is simply making a bald statement of what I have learned. 

This engine is double acting uni-flow with a three-dimensional cam, roller cam followers, and poppet valves.  The crank system is exposed using the rod frame design and using sealed ball bearings.  The crank throws are over-hung with a chain sprocket in the middle of the crankshaft.

In consequence of these design decisions the engine has the greatest potential for thermal efficiency of any other contemporary available steam engine.  It is also designed to be fairly low revving and using low pressure steam of about 200 psi.  The over-hung crank design is not all that strong and the connecting rods are cast aluminum and so the engine is not designed for heavy high pressure use.  Of course it can always be engineered differently with more time and money.

The 90 degree cranks are intrinsically impossible to balance.  Therefore above 1,000 rpm there is a lot of shaking.  However, this is designed to be self-starting, a very important steam engine feature. 

The three-dimensional cam means that by moving the shift lever the engine can run forwards and backwards and be varied from low to high torque at any time. 

This is a good place to start for any small backyard or small steamboat or small Locomobile-type of road vehicle.  It will put out 10-15 horsepower.  The water rate should be close to 10 pounds and should be compared to a Stanley steam car water rate of close to 30 pounds.  When pounds of water rate are bandied about by steam people what is meant is the amount of water that needs to be boiler per hour to produce one horsepower.  It is a common, although approximate, method of showing thermal efficiency.

Gary also makes a 2” by 2” engine casting kit.  

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