Lost Steam

The best ever modern steam vehicle was made by Scientific Energy Systems that started out being Steam Energy Systems (SES) and was written up in 1976 in the SAE technical papers #760652.  This was an underground mining vehicle based on the Jeffrey Ramcar, a four wheel drive 30 inch high car capable of handling 10 tons of coal.  The steam generator produced 900 pounds per hour of 1000 psi and 1000 degrees F steam.  Emissions from this system were one-tenth that of a diesel engine.

This underground mining car was sold at government auction in the late 1980’s to someone in Massachusetts and that is all we know.  The steam system control was entirely modulating with air, and fuel being metered to the steam generator based on throttle settings for power usage, so that everything was matched.  SES had made a 1974 Dodge Monaco steam car that had the best, smallest, and most efficient steam generator ever.  The work done on the clean air car transferred over to the mine vehicle.  I would like to find it.

Another lost steam car was a Delling three cylinder.  At one time about 30 years ago this car was rumored to be stored in a garage in the Watts area of Los Angeles.  Needless to say the search for it was futile.  The searchers survived the experience.  Delling had worked for  the Stanleys and then for Alma Steam and then we think with Tommy Derr.  Work started in the 1930’s and we do not know when it was completed.  We know that Gilbert Stevenson was working in the Newton, Massachusetts area in 1952.  The Delling engine was purportedly as powerful as the Doble “E”.  It would have been more sophisticated.

The Delling reminds me of the Leslie car that was either a 1938 Oldsmobile or Pontiac that went coast to coast.  I have the Leslie six cylinder engine.  It is the boiler that has disappeared.  The boiler was a LaMont forced circulation and re-circulation monotube and thus very advanced.  We all want to know what the circulating pump looked like.

In the early 1950’s a steam truck was made in the Elkhart, Indiana area by a fellow named Miner.  This is same name as past SACA president Sam Miner, an engineer who lived in Niles, Michigan all his life.  We have no idea if there was a relationship.  The schematic of the steam systems shows a LaMont type of a circulating pump.  There is a photo of the truck with engine and boiler installed.

A V-4 Staley or Coats engine was rumored to be still in a crate in a Bluebird Bus warehouse in Macon, Georgia.  Bluebird had a real interest in steam power and spent years in the late 1950’s attempting to do business with the Williams brothers to the extent of purchasing a 265 c.i.d. in-line 4 engine from them and installing it.  Rumors are that the bus was barely able to get out of its own way.  We have no idea what happened there.  The engine is in my possession and what we do know is that the last two lobes on the sliding camshaft are so small as to barely let in enough steam to overcome internal friction.  The Williams must have been aiming for high efficiency.  They missed whatever it is they were aiming at.

All of these steam vehicles, boilers, and engines tend to disappear over time.


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2 Responses to Lost Steam

  1. Jeremy R. Shepard says:

    Somewhere in the mid 1970’s I was offered a job at SES as a logic systems technitian. During my interview I was given a tour of the shop and saw two SES boilers..one installed in an auto..the other sitting on a workbench, without cover, burner or controls. It was the size of a “breadbox” (for two loaves) and entirely of stainless-steel tubing..fluted to increase surface area. It looked extremely well-made and expensive. The data given to me then stated “100 hp,1000 psi, 1000degrees F..within one minute of starting”. I mentioned that it must not carry much water in the boiler. My guide said “about a cup of water”. The construction of the vehicle was funded by a grant from the EPA and one of the goals was operation identical to a standard automobile, to include gasoline as fuel. I declined the offer of work as I was happily employed elsewhere and the work at SES was to be “until the project is finished”.
    My contact for SES was via a fellow volunteer at The Museum of Wireless and Steam, in East Greenwich, R.I. ( For a steam buff and amateur radio operator it is a wonderful place!)

    Jeremy R Shepard Chile

    • tkimmel3 says:

      November 8, 2013 Dear Jeremy Shepard, Thanks for the information. SES spent 7 years and about $7 million of EPA money and they ended up with a steam power plant that fit under the hood of a 1974 Dodge Monaco. That vehicle is on loan to me and is here in my shop in SW Michigan for anyone to look at. Much effort was made to fit everything under the hood, to make it freeze-proof, and to have large enough fans to condense every drop of steam no matter what the conditions. Besides all of those obstacles to good steam power plant development, the specifications at that time were for the power of a muscle car, meaning at least 150 hp. Needless to say much engineering work was wasted on irrelevant subjects. The oil embargo crisis came in 1973 and with it a complete change in the political winds where fuel economy was the issue and all steam work was dropped entirely. One of the SES people has the boiler in their shop and it is very compact–an excellent design. To make it compact there were very high air side and water side pressure drops. It also had finned tubing for the last two coils, the ones out of direct flame. At our steam meet here in September we had three of the SES people who had worked together on the project making a presentation of the history of their work. It was excellent. After work on the car SES worked on a coal mining vehicle called a Ramcar that used the same 4 cylinder in-line poppet valve engine but with a much larger and cheaper boiler. This was to use in a mine protected from explosions and designed to not emit any fumes. It was a good idea and worked and that unit is in existence but not in my possession. It was an interesting time and the work SES did was excellent and by now almost entirely lost. How are you doing in Chile? Tom Kimmel

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