Category Archives: Steam Powered
The Doble brothers’ dedication to the use of steam power in automobiles bordered on the fanatical. Long after others had abandoned the concept, their continued devotion to the type would eventually result in some of the most remarkable steamers ever produced.
Our article today deals with their earliest efforts. Together, they assembled the little buckboard seen below between 1906 and 1909 while still in high school, using components salvaged from a wrecked White but incorporating an engine of their own design.
With the assistance of his brother John, Abner completed his Model “A” in 1912, seen below, after dropping out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The second prototype, the Model “B”, incorporated many innovative features. The use of a honeycomb radiator to re-condense used steam virtually eliminated water loss, dramatically reducing the need for refills.
A twenty-five horsepower engine enabled it to reach a top speed of 75 miles per hour with a zero to sixty time of 15 seconds, a blistering pace for a road car at the time. The full mechanical details of this car can be found in The Automobile magazine at the bottom of this post.
Abner drove a Model “B” from Boston to Detroit in 1915 with the goal of attracting investors. He was able to raise $200,000 with which he established the General Engineering Company to produce a new car in 1917, the ill-fated Doble-Detroit. The design incorporated still more advanced features including simplified controls, electric firing, and a very rapid start up.
It was initially well received but issues with quality control and production are said to have kept it from living up to its potential. It was Doble’s contention that war time material shortages contributed to these failings. You can find more steam related information and photos on The Old Motor. Photos courtesy of The Bancroft Library.
Leon Serpollet and his brother Henri, early French steam car pioneers, worked together to perfect the flash tube boiler that introduced an efficient and new way produce steam. The exact date that their innovative system was first built appears to be unknown, but after further development it went on to make steam power in an automobile more practical because of its advanced design and quick steam output.
A steam tricycle was built in the late eighteen-eighties to test the system and it soon convinced others of the merit of the design. In 1898 the brothers met Frank Gardner, a wealthy American and the Gardener-Serpollet Company was soon formed. Shortly afterwards, one of the best-engineered early steam cars to be found entered the automotive marketplace.
The flash-tube or mono tube boiler as it is also known, turns a small quantity of water into steam quickly and it also has the ability to provide a continual supply to the engine when correctly designed. The new boiler also reduced the long period of time it took to get a conventional unit up to a useable pressure. Linking it to the advanced four cylinder engine Serpollet designed, resulted in a fast and powerful performer.
The Gardener-Serpollet success story soon resulted in Leon setting a new World Land Speed Record at 75.06 mph on April 13, 1902, driving the “Easter Egg” in Nice, France. He then turned his attention to producing the Gardner-Serpollet and the Serpollet Steam Tram until his death in 1907. Top photo from the Peter Helck collection courtesy of Racemaker Press.
The photo above shows what appears to be a 1904 Serpollet racing car. It is unknown at this point if it did in fact ever take part in a competition event. If you can tell us anything about this unusual car wearing a large steam condensor mounted out front, please send us a comment. Photo via Isabelle Bracquemond courtesy of Varia.
The photo below shows a slightly later 1906 Gardner-Serpollet engine, which clearly illustrates the advanced enclosed design and the camshaft actuated poppet valves. More information, photos and illustrations can be found at the source of the photo, Grace’s Guide. You can also view a 1903 Gardner-Serpollet in the collection at the Larz Anderson Museum.
* Update * at the bottom of the post.
If you have been a reader The Old Motor for a while, you know that we like steam-power and everything that goes along with it, so it makes sense to use it to bring in the New Year and our fourth season of publishing the magazine. I grew up hearing the sound of the steam whistle at the Eagle Lock Company in the Terryville, Connecticut, a small factory town. It announced the start and the end of each work day and was used as a call to bring the fireman to the station when there was a fire, but perhaps the best tune it played was the “no school” message on a snowy winter morning.
Watch and listen to the many sounds of the steam whistle heard in the interesting video above, as it brings in the New Year at the Pratt Institute.
* Update * Keith Willams at the New York Times reports:
“A longstanding Brooklyn tradition might end tonight with a blast – literally. Since 1965, Conrad Milster, the chief engineer at Pratt Institute in Fort Greene, has blown in the new year with his private collection of steam whistles. But the loud whistles marking the start of 2014 might be the last to be heard”.
You can read the rest of the very interesting story by Keith Willams at the New York Times. Just below you can see another short video showing Conrad Milster operating some of his incredible collection of whistles at previous new years event at Pratt.