//Ad libs: Steam heat

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Steam heat

I had the best time researching this week's cover story. Getting to ride in a 1924 Stanley steam car on a summer afternoon was a true thrill. It was a waltz into the past, when the roads were calmer, life was quieter, and a Sunday drive was a treat. And it was also pretty cute to watch photographer Norbert von der Groeben practically crow with excitement at the prospect of riding in the antique car.

I could definitely see why Jay Leno raves about his own vintage auto (check out a video of it here).

Fortunately, our drive was not as eventful as some of the early steam-car excursions. Here are some anecdotes from the Stanleys' early days, as recounted in the book "The Stanley Steamer: America's Legendary Steam Car," by Kit Foster:

"Everything went to perfection till he got to Kennebunk Port. There his steering bar broke while he was going at high speed, and the carriage ran plum into a ledge breaking both front wheels and damaging the body badly. Frank jumped, landing in a brush pile and escaped uninjured."
-- An 1898 letter from F.O. Stanley, who with his twin F.E. (Frank) developed the Stanley Steamer

"The press had a bit of a field day March 4, 1898, when former Mayor H.E. Hubbard of Newton was injured while riding with F.E. Stanley in the motor carriage. Headlined as an 'explosion' by both the Newton Graphic and Watertown Enterprise, it was nothing of the sort. Instead, the burner had 'puffed back,' and flame flashed against the car body. Afraid that an explosion was imminent, Mayor Hubbard panicked and jumped from the car, breaking two bones in one leg."
-- Kit Foster

"A lady can very easily learn to steer it. ... (I)t is steered by a handle bar very much as you steer a bicycle. ... She must know enough about its workings to instruct the stable boys whom she would have to hire to take care of it and clean it at the stopping places on the journey. Even without this knowledge she could, if the machine were in perfect order, take a ride of fifteen or twenty miles just as well as a man."
-- Flora Stanley, F.O.'s wife, 1899

Pictured: The 1924 Stanley Steamer owned by Palo Altan Channell Wasson. Photo by Norbert von der Groeben.