Steam Photos

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This is a portable steam engine at the Willits Steam Museum in Northern California.  You can tell that it is not a traction engine because the rear wheels do not have lugs on them and there is no steering mechanism.  This thing was pulled around by horses to provide power for threshing.  Back when this was made they had not invented electricity and so everything had to be riveted together.  Only solid fuel was available, either wood or coal.  This is very old technology and very little of that technology is of any value today.

December 2013  Here we are making steam on a cold winter day and making fire, same day.  This is our motorcycle boiler 4 1/2 gallon/hour kerosene Beckett gun burner and about .8 gallons of water per minute for almost 500 pounds of steam an hour at about 500 psi and 800 degrees F.  We are adjusting the controls at this time and sometimes the steam temperature fluctuates.   They tell me this happens a lot when a person does not know what they are doing with a monotube boiler.  The fire is unintended.  We have extra cooling air blowing around the combustion chamber and so there is a lean burn.  There is an extra nozzle in there so that at speed we can turn on a switch to the fuel solenoid and add a couple more gallons per hour of kerosene, sort of as an after burner.  It appears that when we overheated everything the last run, due to forgetting to hook up a ground wire and thus not pumping water for a few minutes until everything glowed red hot, the nozzle melted off the fuel line.  Thus instead of through a small atomizing nozzle we had fuel going in through a brake line.  At least we had good ignition.  This fuel delivery system needs to be perfected before we sit astride the motorcycle.  More testing is in the program.  Tom Kimmel

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Doble Auxiliary V-2 Engine



This is a Doble auxiliary engine designed for F-31 that was not used for such.  It is double acting compound piston valve.  HP is 1.531 inches, LP 2.575 inches and stroke is 2.00 inches.  Engine has ball-bearing mains.  Valve stroke is 25/32 inches maximum but there is a slip-feature eccentric for reversing and hooking up.  The high pressure cylinder is jacketed to receive exhaust steam from the HP cylinder before it goes into the receiver to go to the low pressure cylinder.  The piston valves are hollow with the center-cored passages allowing exit of exhaust steam which cools the valves.  The very large diameter flywheel/ring gear is for driving a generator.


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Doble “F” Engines



Here are Doble “F” engines from the Besler years at the Doble factory.  These were designed by Stanley Whitlock and most of them were sold overseas, mostly to Germany in the 1930’s.  You will note the piston valves between the HP and LP cylinders.  These photos are courtesy of Fred Lothrop and very valuable because this information is not elsewhere available.

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Doble “F” Boilers


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Doble “E” Engine


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Yuba Tractor

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Derelle & Marc Lothrop
April 9, 1950

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Names of the Parts of a Simple Steam Engine

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Applied Thermodynamics

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That Sunk Cost Feeling

By floating through the internet and also by looking at YouTube videos and by glancing at what the various green and sustainability people are thinking about it is apparent that many are thinking about steam as being viable.  This is correct.  Steam power is something that I have accumulated information about in order to assist anyone who has the resources to put into steam development.  One would think that new convert to the religion of steam would first of all do some research, find everyone they can who has experience boiling water, then make something that works so they can experience steam power, and only after all of that preparation go out and invent something.

Of course that is not how the world works.  What the new steam person invariably does is come up with an invention based on pre-conceived vague ideas about reality and then spends all of their disposable income getting patents; firmly believing that someone is going to steal their idea and get rich on it.  One wonders why this is so, why so many poor decisions are made sequentially.  I assume that a main reason is because we are dealing here with engineer types and engineers never ever read a book or do research or consider history to have any relevance to real life.

Almost always the invention is a new type of expander, which is the motor or engine that turns pressurized gases into rotary power.  Here again, one wonders about the reasons.  A steam power plant needs so many other improvements; for example a good burner and a good heat exchanger and water pump and, above all else, a good condenser.  These are not fun to invent and so they are not invented.  Because a steam engine (the expander) only has to work under a compressed gas it is much simpler than an internal (Otto Cycle) combustion engine.  Thus there are many more opportunities for creative mechanisms that do not involve the crankshaft, connecting rods, and wrist pins used in billions of IC engines and for the very good reason that they (the crankshafts and all) are mundane, pedestrian, and not creative enough, and actually get the job done.

Thus the steam world is cursed with Tesla turbines, every possible vane motor imaginable,   cam engines, ‘Z’ cranks, which are not bad if done properly as in Peter Scott-Brown’s design, swash plates, and, worst of all, flexible shafts.  What a person should do when thinking about steam is study Professor Stumpf’s 1922 book where he listed 7 principles on the first page of how to make an efficient steam engine.

One of the principles is to not have any steam pressure leakage.  To conform to this principle there should be the smallest possible sliding surface so that as small a seal as possible  is needed.  That is why in IC engines pistons are round, bore and stroke are more or less ‘square’ and piston rings are used.  Because the piston is round the ring can be made with some spring to it so that it naturally seals.  Some other subtle points help, such as having the piston grove sufficiently larger and deeper than the ring so that pressurized gas can get behind the ring and further push it out against the cylinder, providing more force than just the spring in the ring.  Many of the above-mentioned less than ideal expander designs have flat surfaces that need sealing, very long sealing surfaces compared to that needed for a round piston, or point contacts that cannot be sealed with any type of a mechanism.

A second principle of Stumpf has to do with leaking heat.  A steam engine is a heat engine.  A lot of work is done to achieve efficient combustion and even more work is done to get that heat exchanged into making hot steam.  One does not want to lose any of that hard earned heat during the expanding process.  Many factors are at play and the main one has to do with surface area.  Heat is lost, radiated or whatever, convected, across a metal surface.  As a simple geometry lesson, the three dimensional shape that has the greatest volume to surface area is a sphere.  We have not figured out how to use spheres as an expander shape and therefore we use the next best geometric shape; the cylinder.

And so what happens is that the starry-eyed inventor does not read Stumpf, does not think that understanding history will help and, in fact, thinks that the creative juices will be stifled by the acquisition of any knowledge, and then they spend tens of thousands on patents.

The January 21, 2013 New Yorker magazine has an editorial on p. 24 about the New York Jets quarterback.  The title is “That Sunk-Cost Feeling”.  The Jets have contracted to pay over $8 million next year to a mediocre quarterback and are now trying to figure out what to do.  This is a classic economic dilemma.  In a purely rational world the amount of money being contracted would be irrelevant to decision making.  And here is the best sentence to be quoted in toto: “But in the real world sunk costs are hard to ignore.”  Because: “Abandoning a project that you’ve invested a lot in feels like you’ve wasted everything, and waste is something we’re told to avoid.”  The phrases ‘throwing good money after bad’ and ‘cutting one’s losses’ are bandied about.   “Giving up on a project, though, means that somebody has to admit that he shouldn’t have done it in the first place.”  “The problem is that patience is often simply self-justification”. This is in reference to sticking with and working further on a poor idea.  When an idea is monumentally bad sometimes even more money is thrown at it.  Psychologists call that “escalation of commitment.”

The reason for going on and on about this subtle economic point is because it explains to my satisfaction why no one thanks me when I point out to them what monumentally poor designs they have patented for their steam engines.


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Steam Engine INvention

Specifically I am looking at the 1986 patent #4,01,170 and usually I look these up on PatentFetcher on the internet.  The reason for discussing this patent and its basic idea is because this is typical of the kind of idealistic thinking people do who want to make a steam engine and who do not know how to build a fire or make a boiler/steam generator.  Usually these inventors are also weak in the area of basic physics.  Many inventors start with the concept of a water injector based on the diesel fuel injector.  This way a small amount of water is injected as a fine spray into the clearance volume of piston engine and one avoids steam intake valves and a complex valve train.  We should be thankful that an engine complete with piston, piston rings, and connecting rod is used and go easy on these idealists.  The inventor is quite please that he has figured out how to make clean power, and to quote: “In addition no polluting gas exits which is released into the air via the exhaust system, what is safe for people, animals, plants and forest preserves.”  Most of the heat to run this, admittedly a heat engine, comes from a “glowing filament” up near where the spark plug would be in a regular IC engine.  We are given no hints as to where the power comes from for such a glowing filament.  It appears that his inventor has prescience and has preceded the plug in electric car people who think that electricity comes out of the plug in the wall without any combustion taking place at the other end of the wires.  The rest of the heat needed to vaporize the fine water spray comes from the heat of re-compression of steam that is left in the cylinder after most of the steam has exhausted out uniflow exhaust ports.   This is a standard steam design with arguably many fine and attractive features–that is the uniflow exhaust and high re-compression of the approximately one-third of the steam that is left in the cylinder for re-compression.  I have found no further work being done with this invention.

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