Roadsteamers

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Roadsteamers

Postby Zor » 2016-08-14 08:38pm

We all know that in the 19th century Steam Power was a big deal for transportation. It meant that you could build trains and steamships and could go faster than 20km/h. Even so, you might have wondered looking back "Why did they not that engine on a train, shrink it down and put it on a vehicle with a steering wheel to make a free roving vehicle?" Well it was not for want of trying.

Road going steam vehicles (which i'm going to call Roadsteamers for sake of simplicity) actually predate steam trains. This was a fairly logical path of development as while rail lines were at that point mostly limited to mines while there were plenty of (admittedly by modern standards pretty crappy) roads about for use by carriages and wagons. The first Steam Train was made in 1804 by Richard Trevithick while the first first attempt at a roadsteamer was made in France in 1769 by Joseph Cugnot with this thing which he figured could be useful for towing about cannons.
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It worked, in the sense that when fired up it would move under its own power and could be steered about. Even so it was in no way a practical machine. It slow with a top speed of 3.6km/h (for contrast most people can walk at 5 km/h) on top of a bunch of other issues such as having a poor firebox and boiler system which needed to be restarted regularly, being front heavy and a lack of brakes. The last of which brought this project to a crashing end.

In 1801 Richard Trevithick experimented with steam road powered vehicles including the Puffing Devil (a recreation of which was made by some historians)...
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An all around better design than Cugnot's, but still with numerous deficiencies such as a lack of suspension and the fact that it was uncomfortable to drive. Moreover the orginal destroyed itself when he went out to the pub one day and kept it running while parked which caused pressure to built up. Even so he was undaunted by this and in 1802 refined his work into the London Steam Carriage.
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Now we've gotten into something which, while a bit wonky, actually looks vaguely serviceable in the capacity of a road vehicle that you'd want to ride. It has suspension, bra. It could also make a decent 13 km/h. Of course it still had problems. It's engine was still pretty damn inefficient and could only make 3 hp (which is less than what a pair of horses could provide) and it needed a horse drawn tender of coal to keep it stoked on trips of any length. Nifty as it was, it was not economical to run and a crash did it in. This did little to encourage confidence in investors in these road going contraptions.

Even so 19th century progressed steam engine technology became more widely applied and generally improved, becoming more powerful, more efficient and far less likely to blow up in the user's face. Among the areas in which they manifested themselves were in railways, which were more economical for transporting goods than small, slow road vehicles, each one requiring it's own mechanics and technicians and so forth. Despite this there was an area in which free range steam vehicles manifested themselves economically by the 1860s in a roundabout way, that of Steam Tractors. At the time a large amount of mechanically powered farm equipment to do things such thresh grain began to appear while things like rotary saws began to proliferate. To power these machines a number of portable steam engines were contrived that could be pulled about by horses to where they were needed. Eventually people got the idea to rig up these machines so that they could not only provide mechanical power, but also could be configured to move from point A to point B on their own and pull carts and similar. Aveling and Porter began manufacturing Steam Tractors in 1865 and soon people were doing the same in the United States and elsewhere.
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Such machines were expensive and slow, but they soon became economical. There was also some resistance to the idea of steam powered vehicles puttering around city centers making everything dirty(er) with their soot and fears of out of control.
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This manifested itself most notably in Britain with the Road Locomotive Act of 1865, which stipulated that Roadsteamers could not exceed speeds of 6.4km an hour (and half that in cities) which put a severe hold on development in that field for the next four decades in the UK. Work would continue however in the United States (done by the likes of Sylvester H. Roper in 1863)...
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...and in France (such as with this Steam Bus made in 1873 by Amédée Bollée called called L'Obéissante ).
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By the 1870s Roadsteamers had advanced by leaps and bounds from where they were at the dawn of the Age of Steam. The L'Obéissantecould reach speeds of up to 42 km/h, had a 20 hp engine, and had myriad mechanical improvements in pretty much every field and Bollée would continue to improve on his designs. Other technologies were beginning to show up at this time such as rubber tires which improve the performance of any roadgoing vehicle considerably. They were finally coming close to practicality. Even so they soon faced distinct competition. In 1886 Karl Benz made the Benz Patent Motorwagen, the first internal combustion powered car.
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While it's little early engine could not even produce one Horsepower, IC engines had a better power to weight ratio than steam engines, better fuel efficiency and had the advantage in that they could be turned on very quickly while a steam engine had to build up speed (which usually took about half an hour). Even so there was an explosion in the number of both types of vehicles and for about three decades Steam Cars were to some degree competitive with IC engine powered cars.

Steam powered trucks endured for a bit longer in some narrow applications, but production of them ended in the 1930s.
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Re: Roadsteamers

Postby U.P. Cinnabar » 2016-08-14 08:59pm

I knew some of this already(particularly Cugnot's steamer), but this was well-done and intriuging, Zor. Thanks.
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Re: Roadsteamers

Postby SpottedKitty » 2016-08-15 01:43am

Interesting. No mention of the Stanley Steamer, though? It was never really what you could call mass-produced, but it was moderately successful and did stay in production for quite a while in the early years of the 20th century until petrol/diesel engines pretty much made it obsolete.
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Re: Roadsteamers

Postby Zor » 2016-08-15 01:58am

SpottedKitty wrote:Interesting. No mention of the Stanley Steamer, though? It was never really what you could call mass-produced, but it was moderately successful and did stay in production for quite a while in the early years of the 20th century until petrol/diesel engines pretty much made it obsolete.

Electric ignition did in Stanley Steamer. One of the advantages electric cars had over early IC cars was the fact that while they took some time to build up steam, all you had to do was to light up the firebox while with an IC car you had to crank it to get it going, which required a fair bit of strength and could break your fingers if you did it wrong. Once you got electric ignition all you had to do was turn a key and you're off.

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Re: Roadsteamers

Postby K. A. Pital » 2016-08-15 02:22am

NAMI-012, produced in 1949

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Re: Roadsteamers

Postby Broomstick » 2016-08-15 06:42am

Not surprisingly, Jay Leno owns a few steam cars (and a few electric cars, and a few IC cars....) The first part of this video features a steam engine on wheels. Pretty sure it's the Stanley Steamer. He's got a bunch of others, too.
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Re: Roadsteamers

Postby Broomstick » 2016-08-15 12:10pm

Here's a longer video on just the Stanley Steamer. Leno is upfront that this car is not original in all parts, but it does show how steam is pretty powerful.

This car has the distinction of being the oldest car ever stopped for speeding on an LA freeway - Jay was doing 75 mph in it, and he's had it up to 90 (145 kph). Not bad at all, but me, I'd like some seatbelts for that speed.
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Re: Roadsteamers

Postby SpottedKitty » 2016-08-15 02:29pm

Broomstick wrote:Not bad at all, but me, I'd like some seatbelts for that speed.

After watching just the intro part of that, I think you're taking the wrong approach. I wouldn't want a seatbelt, I'd want an ejection seat. :twisted: :roll: :wink:
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Re: Roadsteamers

Postby Zor » 2016-08-15 03:37pm

K. A. Pital wrote:NAMI-012, produced in 1949

Image

That never got beyond the prototype phase. There were a few attempts to revive steam cars in the 20th century, but they did not get far.

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Re: Roadsteamers

Postby K. A. Pital » 2016-08-15 04:22pm

Three were built, with some attempts to create successor models as well (NAMI-018). However, by 1955 these attempts came to a complete halt. The revival couldn't come as steam cars could not compete with gasoline or diesel in efficiency.
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Re: Roadsteamers

Postby Broomstick » 2016-08-15 04:41pm

SpottedKitty wrote:
Broomstick wrote:Not bad at all, but me, I'd like some seatbelts for that speed.

After watching just the intro part of that, I think you're taking the wrong approach. I wouldn't want a seatbelt, I'd want an ejection seat. :twisted: :roll: :wink:

Well, ya gotta remember - I used to fly amateur built experimental aircraft with minimal structure and equipment, basically, flying telephone poles and lawnchairs. In fact, some of the profusion of controls on that car remind me of the non-standard instrument layouts of some of my past flying machines. I don't mind the gushing steam, the potential for roaring flames, etc. but I don't like to fall out of fast-moving vehicles.

Don't you just love how that car sounds like a steam-powered train? Well, of course it does, same sort of propulsion, but we're not used to seeing/hearing that in a car.
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Re: Roadsteamers

Postby Sea Skimmer » 2016-08-15 05:36pm

Zor wrote:Electric ignition did in Stanley Steamer. One of the advantages electric cars had over early IC cars was the fact that while they took some time to build up steam, all you had to do was to light up the firebox while with an IC car you had to crank it to get it going, which required a fair bit of strength and could break your fingers if you did it wrong. Once you got electric ignition all you had to do was turn a key and you're off.


That problem was overcome for steam, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flash_boiler

Could get you going in a second or two, this was the only reason steam cars were able to survive past the first gasoline cars at all as far as I can tell. Steam trucks lasted because they had a fuel economy advantage over early IC engines for a time.

Steam vehicles were replaced for the same reason steam locomotives would a few decades later, steam was fundamentally very maintenance intensive. It could be plenty reliable while actually running but you just needed to throw man hours at the things to keep them going well.

This is still true of steam power plants today, they all employ huge numbers of workers, and the reason why the only steam ships being built now are nukes. They just love to corrode the crap out of themselves, while an IC engine is circulating a bunch of lube oil around the combustion chamber, which goes bad itself, but can be regularly replaced.

It isn't for nothing that car radiators blowup more then the engine blocks.
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Re: Roadsteamers

Postby Broomstick » 2016-08-15 06:32pm

Sea Skimmer wrote:
Zor wrote:Electric ignition did in Stanley Steamer. One of the advantages electric cars had over early IC cars was the fact that while they took some time to build up steam, all you had to do was to light up the firebox while with an IC car you had to crank it to get it going, which required a fair bit of strength and could break your fingers if you did it wrong. Once you got electric ignition all you had to do was turn a key and you're off.

That problem was overcome for steam, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flash_boiler

Could get you going in a second or two, this was the only reason steam cars were able to survive past the first gasoline cars at all as far as I can tell.

And... Jay Leno owns one of those, too. He actually explains how this all works with an interesting visual aid.
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Re: Roadsteamers

Postby Sea Skimmer » 2016-08-15 07:17pm

That's awesome, the engine is completely non integrated. Thus the huge amount of maintenance vs eventually just swapping a gasoline engine with a hoist.
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Re: Roadsteamers

Postby Zeropoint » 2016-08-31 07:57pm

I wonder if, with today's tech, we could make a steam-powered heavier than air aircraft.

Sigh. Why is all the cool and flavorful technology in the past and future? Probably because good systems are boring by definition--you don't WANT your power plant to start getting exciting. :P

Edit: and because we get bored with what we see every day, of course.
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Re: Roadsteamers

Postby Broomstick » 2016-08-31 08:48pm

It was done with 1933 technology by the Bessler brothers - link
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Re: Roadsteamers

Postby Simon_Jester » 2016-08-31 09:39pm

Zeropoint wrote:I wonder if, with today's tech, we could make a steam-powered heavier than air aircraft.

Sigh. Why is all the cool and flavorful technology in the past and future? Probably because good systems are boring by definition--you don't WANT your power plant to start getting exciting. :P

Edit: and because we get bored with what we see every day, of course.
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Also, people tend to think of technology they can maintain themselves as "cool" in a way that technology which is a black box is not. But black-box technology tends to be more efficient and capable, because it can be designed to require more advanced tools and greater precision to make.
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Re: Roadsteamers

Postby Sea Skimmer » 2016-08-31 10:05pm

Just the fact that black box style design physically won't get dirt inside of it starts to make a big difference... and steam is just totally against even trying to do this. Steam wants to increase its elaborations rather then reduce them when improving itself and so engineered itself out of a job. Fine on a power plant, on a plane it's eating up space for fuel.
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