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Stanley Steamers drive interest in automotive history during Parkersburg stop

Mark Turner of Detroit, the owner of a 10hp 1923 Stanley Model 63, talks to local residents about his steam-powered car during a stop that included 17 cars, known as Stanley Steamers, Wednesday at the Oil and Gas Museum in Parkersburg. (Photo by Brett Dunlap)

PARKERSBURG — The technology of steam cars may not have any practical modern applications, but the owners still like taking them out and showing how far technology has advanced since the early 20th century.

More than a dozen Stanley Steamers in the Mid-West Steam Car tour parked at the Oil and Gas Museum at 119 Third St. in Parkersburg for a few hours on Wednesday. Residents looked at the cars and asked the owners questions about them while they were parked in the Matheny Motors lot.

The cars went to Marietta later in the day for events there, including a night parade drive with kerosene lamps. The cars came from Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Maine, Iowa and elsewhere.

Paul Hoblitzell, president of the Oil and Gas Industrial and Historical Association, which runs the Oil and Gas Museum, said they had around 200 people during the four-hour visit.

Residents were interested in the historical aspects of the cars and how people went from the steam cars to the gasoline-powered vehicle they have now, Hoblitzell said.

Bo Kirkpatrick of Cincinnati, owner of a 1909 Stanley E-2, talks about how the boiler in his steam-powered car works during a car tour stop Wednesday outside the Oil and Gas Museum in Parkersburg. (Photo by Brett Dunlap)

“Everything went great,” he said. “It is history. It is part of the yesterday we need to remember.”

Oil and Gas Museum volunteer Larry Wiseman said he made it a point to be at the museum on Wednesday.

“This is the infancy of the automobile,” he said. “Some of those are quite nice. We don’t think about cars of this period to be this nice.”

Many of the cars are run on steam produced by burning kerosene to heat water in a boiler in the vehicle.

Many people who visited the museum on Wednesday had not before seen a steam-powered car, Wiseman said.

Arles Allender of Parkersburg and others look at a Stanley Steamer on display for a few hours Wednesday outside the Oil and Gas Museum on Third Street. (Photo by Brett Dunlap)

“Steam is still being used when you need big-time power,” such as ocean-going vessels, he said.

The technology of how the cars operate is similar to how a steam locomotive works, “but with a lot of differences,” said Bo Kirkpatrick of Cincinnati, owner of a 1909 Stanley E-2.

Many trains burned wood to heat the boiler, then coal and then fuel. Many of the steam cars burned kerosene or a gasoline mix.

His vehicle, known as a “single fuel car,” has always burned gasoline, primarily “white gas.”

“I have had to monkey with it to burn pump regular (gasoline),” Kirkpatrick said.

Around 17 Stanley Steamers came to the Oil and Gas Museum at 119 Third St. in Parkersburg for a few hours on Wednesday as residents looked at the cars and asked the owners questions about them while they were parked in the Matheny Motors lot. (Photo by Brett Dunlap)

The burner is under the boiler beneath the hood. The boiler consists of 492 copper tubes. The fire is beneath that and the heat rises through the tubes with the water all around it. The steam gets sent to the engine through throttle valves.

Someone would have to preheat the boiler with a pilot light so it can vaporize the water. Some cars took 10-25 minutes to be able to heat up to be driven. Others could take 30-45 minutes to heat up.

“Driving it is pretty easy,” Kirkpatrick said. “Operating the steam plant and driving at the same time, you are doing both. You are busy and can’t day dream much. You have to know a lot to run these. There are a million ways for you to goof things up.”

Manufacturers got gasoline cars to the point where the average person could operate them easily.

“The average Joe had trouble with these,” Kirkpatrick said of the steam cars.

He believes the technology is going in a different direction and doesn’t think steam can be adapted for modern use.

“You might do it but it would take a lot of effort,” he said.

The focus is now on electric cars.

“I just don’t think there would be any advantage,’ Kirkpatrick said. “The opportunity has passed by.”

Mark Turner of Detroit, the owner of a 10 hp 1923 Stanley Model 63, said the owners of the steam cars bring them to an area by trailer. They then drive around from a central point, this time Marietta, during a visit.

“By the end of the week we will have put 600 miles on these cars,” he said. “That is a lot for these cars.”

Many of the cars on display were 10 hp-20 hp. Another car was a 30 hp car that could cruise at 65 mph. Turner’s car usually cruises around 35 mph.

He couldn’t go anywhere Tuesday because he had a flat tire and a steam leak he had to fix. There were two cars down with problems on Wednesday.

Turner’s car had a full backseat where others just had a rumble seat. Other models, made at a later date, had a condenser that recollected the steam to be condensed to water and used again, he said.

His car’s boiler was heated with a 50/50 mix of gasoline and diesel. Its mileage is10 miles to the gallon. The car carries 16 gallons of gasoline and 28 gallons of water.

“Every 25 miles we have to stop,” Turner said.

With advances in electronics, he didn’t think steam could be effectively revitalized today.

“Around 25 percent of the steam you make is lost,” Turner said. “Then you have a loss to convert it from fuel to steam. No, I don’t think so.”

The car tour will travel today to McConnelsville in Morgan County.

Brett Dunlap can be reached at bdunlap@newsandsentinel.com

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